WHAT IS K9 NOSE WORK?
K9 Nose Work is the specific term used to describe the canine scent detection activity developed by Ron Gaunt, Amy Herot & Jill Marie O’Brien. The three founders of the activity wanted to use their extensive experience from working in the professional canine detection world to give pet dogs and their people a fun and easy way to learn and apply scent detection skills, and so they crafted a new activity: K9 Nose Work.
In K9 Nose Work, dogs learn how to search for a specific odor or odors and find the source. Dogs start by searching for their favorite food or toy reward hidden in a variety of environments, increasing the challenges and adding new search skills as the dog progresses. Most people will choose to have their dogs learn to find the target odors used in K9 Nose Work: birch, anise, and clove; those looking to keep it fun searching for food or toy can still have fun and progress in the activity. Once target odors are introduced to the dog, he will search for the odor only and find its source, then get rewarded by his handler with his favorite food or toy reward.
K9 Nose Work introduces dogs to four different search elements: container, interior, exterior, and vehicles. Dogs build their hunt drive and learn foundational search skills in all four elements. Later stages of K9 Nose Work introduce advanced detection and handling skills to teams. Dogs are exposed to a myriad of complex search scenarios, while continuing to condition their foundational skills. Handlers sharpen their observational skills and learn when and how to take action during a search. Teams will practice searching to the competition standards set by the National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW), which includes searching for blind hides (location of hide unknown to handler), searching for multiple hides in a single search area, and, at the higher levels of competition, searching for an unknown number of hides in a search area.
K9 Nose Work is an activity that uses real-world environments and can be done almost anywhere. Every search has the potential to be a dramatically different & highly stimulating experience for both dog & handler, just by changing hide placement, or searching under different weather conditions. By participating in K9 Nose Work with your dog, you’re giving him the freedom to express and refine his natural talents, and he’s giving you a glimpse into how he “sees” the world.
Some of the many benefits of K9 Nose Work are:
- Dogs easily burn lots of mental & physical energy doing searches
- Searches can be done anywhere you can take your dog
- No prior training is required and no obedience is needed
- In classes, dogs work one at a time and rest crated or safely in a vehicle between searches so reactive dogs can enjoy the activity, too
- Shy or fearful dogs build confidence and overactive dogs put their energy into fun searches
- Stronger bond between dog & handler as handler learns to observe, understand, and rely upon his dog
THE TRAINING METHODOLOGY
Any dog can learn K9 Nose Work. The training methodology is designed to help pet dogs tap into their hunting instinct, learn independent problem-solving skills, and to build broad and solid foundational scent detection skills that will enable them to successfully face new and greater challenges in K9 Nose Work.
All K9 Nose Work dogs begin the game by searching for their favorite food or toy. They search in an obedience-free zone, without handler interruption or unintended correction. When dogs find the hidden toy or food reward, they play with it or eat it, self-rewarding and reinforcing their successful searching behavior. Many K9 Nose Work dogs will learn the activity searching for their food or toy reward for 3 months to a year. This time period before introducing a target odor allows for dogs to build their desire to hunt, stamina for searching, and skills for searching in many environments without the risk of failure, distraction or disinterest in the search. It also gives the handler time to learn how to observe the dog and to learn handling skills. In K9 Nose Work, pet dogs are learning a task that is typically assigned to world-class, specifically bred high-drive working dogs, so it’s important to move the training at a pace that will bring the best performance out of the dog.
Throughout a dog & handler team’s training in K9 Nose Work, the emphasis will always be on creating learning experiences for the dog and supporting his independent problem solving, not commanding him to perform a series of tasks in a predetermined manner. K9 Nose Work is all about the dogs and all about celebrating their amazing abilities.
WORKSHOPS & CLASSES
K9 Nose Work is designed to be a lifelong activity with endless possibilities for fun and learning. Structured learning opportunities are available to help you & your dog get the most out of K9 Nose Work.
Workshops & seminars are a great way to immerse your dog & yourself in K9 Nose Work and to observe other dog & handler teams learning the activity. Founders of the NACSW, its faculty, and approved Certified Nose Work Instructors (CNWI) are the only sources for official workshops & seminars. See the section on workshops for more information.
Classes are ideal for learning & improving upon the skills needed to have fun and be successful in K9 Nose Work. Classes are offered by independent instructors and typically meet once a week. Each instructor is granted the freedom to structure her classes to meet the needs of students in her area. All instructors will use the K9 Nose Work training methodology to introduce dogs to the activity and to teach them new concepts as they progress. Things you’ll learn in K9 Nose Work classes include:
- The importance of boxes
- Starting a dog on primary reward
- Moving the search beyond the box
- Patterns for more efficient searching
- Searching the elements: containers, interiors, exteriors, and vehicles
- Pairing to introduce a target odor
- Improving observation & handling skills
- Leash handling with short & long lines
- Proper reward delivery once dog is searching for target odor only
And much more!
Find an instructor teaching K9 Nose Work classes near you using our instructor listing tool.
The NACSW has released a DVD focusing on the progression of a dog & handler learning K9 Nose Work at home after attending an Intro to Nose Work workshop. The DVD is called The Parker Videos. See a review of the Parker videos on the K9 Nose Work Blog.
The NACSW is currently in production on more DVDs to enhance the K9 Nose Work learning experience. Check the news section of nacsw.net for information on new DVD releases.
COMPETITION IN THE SPORT OF K9 NOSE WORK
The sport of K9 Nose Work provides a venue for dogs & handlers to test their scent detection skills in real-world settings with blind (location unknown to the handler) hides set in timed searches representing each of the four elements of competition: container, interior, exterior, and vehicle. Learn more about competing in K9 Nose Work at nacsw.net
Competition K9 Nose Work may not be for every dog & handler due to location specific variables beyond the control of trial officials, such as: small search areas and narrow pathways to and from the searches that may not allow much space between spatially sensitive dogs and people who are strangers to those dogs, uneven terrain, long distances between areas, large search areas, loud and/or unexpected noises, highly distracting events occurring in close proximity to the trial location like marching bands, soccer games, industrial vehicles loading & unloading, gunfire from a firing range, etc. The best interest of your dog should always be considered first before entering a competition. For dogs and/or people needing an alternative to official NACSW K9 Nose Work trials, there are mock trial events, advanced classes teaching competition skills, and training groups that can set trial-like searches for each other. K9 Nose Work is all about the dogs, and we hope you’ll make the best decision for your dog when deciding how you and your dog will enjoy K9 Nose Work.
Let’s Get Sniffing!