Features August 2009 Issue

A Fun New Dog Sport, "Nose Work"

Fun nose work, or K9 nose work, is a new sport that tests a dog’s ability to use his powerful sense of smell to locate a specific odor against the backdrop of many others. Although handlers take their dogs to group training classes to learn the game, only one dog is worked at a time. As a result, this is an ideal sport for dogs who are shy or reactive around people or dogs. It is also ideal for people looking for a sport that is less physically demanding on their dogs and isn’t populated by over-the-top, high-arousal dogs (and handlers). At the beginning levels of training, dogs are encouraged to “find” their toy in a box. Lavish praise, the toy, and treats reward the dog for his efforts. Later, the toy is hidden in a box among other empty boxes, and the dog is rewarded for finding the box that conceals his toy. Once the dog gets hooked on the game of “find it,” an essential oil such as birch, anise, or clove is used. A miniscule amount of one of these essential oils is placed on a very small cotton swab. The dog is rewarded for sniffing the container to indicate his find. This essential oil is then placed in more and more difficult locations for the dog to find. As the dogs learn to play the game, handlers learn how to closely observe their dogs so they know when their dog has found the scent. This “indication” behavior is an important part of the training process since handlers will use their individual dog’s behavior to start rewarding their dog for “indicating” their find. Amy Herot explains why this is important.

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