K9 Nose Work:  One Sport Your Dog May Want to Sniff Out!

k9 nose work trainingWhat is K9 Nose Work?

In K9 Nose Work, dogs learn how to search for a specific odor or odors and find the source. It is a growing sport that is based on your dog’s natural instinct to hunt and sniff out prey. This fun activity will benefit your dog by building its confidence and exercise its mind and body.  You will enjoy watching your dog work and it will deepen the bond between you, even if you do not do it competitively.

K9 Nose Work was founded and developed by Ron Gaunt, Amy Herot, and Jill Marie O’Brien, all certified experts and highly accomplished in training K9 detection and tracking dogs for law enforcement.  Using their extensive experience in professional canine detection, these three K9 experts developed K9 Nose Work to give people and their pet dogs a fun and easy way to learn and apply scent detection skills.

How Do You Get Started in Nose Work?

K9 Nose Work is fun for any dog and the owner who wants to try it. Neither of you need any obedience or other training. This sport is a game that builds on your dog’s natural abilities. It is so easy to learn because your dog will love playing games that use its scenting instincts to find its favorite treat or toy.

Get started in this fun activity by locating a K9 Nose Work class or workshop taught by a certified Nose Work instructor.  Find the right trainer for you, your dog, and your goals. In Nose Work classes specifically, you should start by taking the Intro class to learn the foundational skills. The subsequent Nose Work class will introduce odor targeting.

When you begin Nose Work training, your dog will start the game by simply finding a treat or toy on its own, with no owner interruption. The dog will continue training that way for three months to one year, depending on the dog’s own pace of learning. During that period, the dog will develop confidence in its ability to achieve success in hunting and scenting. It also builds the dog’s mental and physical fitness, which is vital for your dog’s good health.  All the while your dog is learning new hunting skills in different environments, unimpeded by the owner.

As the dog progresses in its abilities, the search games become progressively more difficult.  They will include odor targeting, introducing multiple containers in the search and the concepts of exterior, interior, and vehicle searches, all of which are part of Nose Work competition events.

Nose Work Competition

If you are interested in Nose Work as a competitive sport, you should take regular classes to make sure you both have the skills needed to be competitive at that level. Once you and your dog become sufficiently advanced, you can participate in mock competitions to test both of your skills. Some owners use an experienced handler to handle their dogs in competition. You can get a lot of detailed information about the competitions time and location from the National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW™), the official sanctioning and organizing body for the sport of K9 Nose Work.  You should go observe them to see what is involved. These competitions are quite demanding. Observing a few of them will help you understand the etiquette and prepare for the challenges you and your dog will face.

Before you are eligible to compete in a NACSW™ competition, your dog must be able to identify the location of the target odor and the handler able to correctly call an ‘alert’ within a three-minute time period. This is called an Odor Recognition Test (ORT). To enter an ORT you must be a member of the NACSW™, and your dog must be registered with the NACSW™.  At an ORT at the first level of competition, you and your dog will have to search 12 identical boxes with one of the boxes containing birch odor.  You must be able to correctly identify when your dog has found the odor box.

After passing an ORT, you and your dog are eligible to compete at the Nose Work 1 (NW1) level. Please note that an NW1 trial is much more complex than an ORT.  At an NW1 trial, your dog must cope with distractions, environmental stressors, larger search areas, and the four elements of competition (container, interior, exterior, and vehicle). Also, your dog should be prepared to go from crate to work several times during the course of the competition.

The next level up is NW2. At that level, you and your dog should expect to find multiple hides in one environment, work through more challenging, less accessible “hides”, overcome food and toy distractions and alert only to odor, and manage a longer, larger search.

The highest level is NW3. This is a professional level of nose work. You and your dog will have to demonstrate that the dog can find an unknown number of hides in a search environment, you or the handler will recognize the search behavior in a dog when no odor is present (if there is a blank room), the dog and handler team can work through even more challenging, less accessible hides with varying heights and containment, the dog can overcome food and toy distractions in any environment and alert only to odor, the dog can manage much longer, larger searches, with the interior searches potentially being 12-15 minutes.

Whether you decide to compete with your dog or not, Nose Work training will enhance the relationship you have with your dog and your dog will become a more confident and happy inquisitive canine.

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