Welcome to the Wonderful World of K9 Nose Work®
Are you interested in trying something new with your dog? Are you and your canine pal in a bit of a rut? Whether you’re a dog sport enthusiast or you’ve never even thought about activities beyond walks around the neighborhood, K9 Nose Work is a great option for expanding your horizons with your dog in a way that is fun and inspiring, and puts your dog in the driver’s seat.
Over the last decade, K9 Nose Work has been growing in popularity, and with good reason! Participants experience numerous benefits from the activity, whether they’re competing or just having some fun at home.
What is K9 Nose Work?
K9 Nose Work is an activity where dogs search an area for a particular odor. Sounds simple, right? It is! That’s part of the beauty of it. However, the process of teaching dogs that the odor in question is the thing to search for is a bit more complicated. That’s why starting out in a class with a certified National Association of Canine Scent Work instructor is a good idea.
It’s important to understand that K9 Nose Work is both a fun activity and an organized sport, and that you can enjoy it and benefit from participating whether or not you ever choose to compete.
Unlike other dog sports, Nose Work is entirely portable, which means you can simply enjoy it in your home or yard, at a friend’s house, or wherever you find yourself with a little time and an interested dog!
Who should try Nose Work?
All dogs make use of their highly attuned and specialized noses, and because of that, all dogs can enjoy and benefit from participating in K9 Nose Work.
Have you ever stopped to notice just how enthusiastic dogs are when they are using their noses? Often the human world doesn’t allow them a chance to sniff for as long or as thoroughly as they might like, and that’s part of what is so great about this sport. It doesn’t just allow dogs to use their noses – it is the whole point!
Beyond the ability to engage in this deep-seated instinct, K9 Nose Work is a dog-directed activity. Unlike an obedience class, where the humans make decisions about which dog behaviors happen when, in Nose Work the dog makes the decisions, learning to use their nose to gain access to a desired resource (usually food or a toy).
In particular, Nose Work classes are set up such that dogs always search one at a time and rarely, if ever, encounter each other on their way to and from the search area, which makes it an ideal activity for dogs who are uncomfortable around other dogs. The search area can also be set up so that dogs do not need to interact with lots of unfamiliar humans, so dogs who are shy around strangers can also participate (so long as the dog will not show aggression toward humans).
Sounds good, sure, but what will K9 Nose Work® do for my dog?
That depends! Most people who participate in a Nose Work class report that their dog gets home afterward and crashes (in a good way), exhausted from all that sniffing and problem-solving. Nose Work burns a lot of canine brain energy. For dogs who might be experiencing boredom at home, this means they don’t have to find other ways to expend that energy such as destroying prized objects, barking, digging, and so on.
People with fearful dogs often see their dogs becoming more confident after starting Nose Work. It’s not entirely clearly why, but it may have to do with the autonomy and self-direction the dog experiences while engaging in Nose Work practice, and the confidence that comes from repeatedly succeeding at a problem-solving task.
Pet parents whose dogs are wild with energy and hard to focus often note that these dogs tend to be more relaxed after the introduction of Nose Work to their routine. Again, this is likely because the self-directed nature of the activity requires them to focus on a single (extremely enjoyable) job, helping their brains get better at completing a task without their owners’ instruction and management.
Even if your dog is an absolute angel, and you’re not experiencing any kind of behavior challenges, K9 Nose Work is a ton of fun. There’s plenty for humans to learn, from canine body language to how scent travels on air currents. Watching dogs learn how to search, and seeing their growing enthusiasm for the activity, is what keeps participants coming back for more. Many pet parents compare their pride in their dogs’ success to what they experience when watching their human children thrive during a favorite activity.
I don’t want to compete. Why do I need a class?
Again, many people who take K9 Nose Work classes don’t ever choose to compete. That’s totally fine. However, starting off by taking a class is a great way to learn some of the foundations of the activity, including how to raise the difficulty level so your dog can still be successful, how to troubleshoot when a search goes awry, and even creative ways to hide odor so the game stays interesting for your dog and you. Plus, it’s just lots of fun!
What happens in class?
In a typical K9 Nose Work class, there’s a little bit of talking at the beginning (discussing the day’s plan, answering questions about people’s experience practicing at home, etc.) and then a running order is established for that day’s class. Dogs enter the search area one at a time following the running order, and do a few searches in a row, with the goal of gaining or building on a particular skill. Then they are returned to the spot where they are crated and the next dog comes in to do the same.
Typically, there are a few rounds of these runs, then a brief period of talking to discuss the day’s lessons and how to practice at home, and that’s it! When you aren’t running your own dog, you will be able (and encouraged) to watch the other dogs and handlers, so long as the search area is big enough and the dog isn’t bothered by your presence.
What are the prerequisites for taking a Nose Work® class?
You do not need to have taken any classes with your dog prior to enrolling in a K9 Nose Work class at the Inquisitive Canine, and your dog does not need to have any obedience training. However, dogs coming to Nose Work classes should be:
- Comfortable spending time alone in a crate or other confinement system, in an unfamiliar place. Many people successfully crate their dogs in their cars between runs, so long as the weather allows it. You may also bring a friend or family member to act as a Dog Nanny, should your dog need to be with someone. Note: your dog will still need to be well clear of the search area when other dogs are working, even if they are being tended to by another person.
- Comfortable around humans, including strangers. Shyness or mild caution around people is acceptable, but dogs who have growled at, lunged at, or bitten humans are not good candidates for class.
If you are interested in participating in K9 Nose Work but your dog is not a good candidate, consider borrowing a friend or neighbor’s dog as a stand-in. You can then bring the skills you learn with that dog home for your own pup to enjoy. Trainer and Certified Nose Work Instructor Joan Hunter Mayer is available for private training to help your dog overcome any specific behavioral challenges if you would like to work toward enrolling in a Nose Work class.
Ready to embark on a fabulous new adventure with your canine friend? You won’t regret it. Check out the events calendar to see available classes, or contact us if you would like more information about K9 Nose Work.