No, we’re not talking lifts, nips, or tucks.
What activity can you do with your dog, where how big, how agile, or how old she is doesn’t matter much? Besides rubbing her belly, that is. (There’s nothing wrong with that.) Nose work!
How do you keep your senior dog, who is a little less active, engaged and happy? Nose work!
What can you do with your dog if you are the one who can no longer zip around an agility course, cavort on a Frisbee® field, or dance to salsa music in a K9 freestyle dance competition? Nose work!
What costs very little but results in a happier, healthier dog and a stronger bond between the two of you? Nose work!
A dog completely engaged in doing nose work is a confident dog…
No human can do what the average dog can do with her nose. Not with our own noses, not with our technology. (There are no HALs that search and rescue, no drug or bomb-sniffing R2D2s. No bedbug sniffing widgets. Why even try to invent one when we have our canine friends who so willingly, joyfully, and brilliantly use their noses?)
Dogs experience the world first and best through their noses. However, “Few pet dogs have opportunities to use their noses for a tenth of what dog noses were designed to do.i”
Cindy Mauro’s Pomeranian, Wylie, assists with a vehicle search.
Officially known as K9 Nose Work, this sport is gaining popularity, and one reason is your dog doesn’t have to be young and fit to do it (neither do you), but it may keep your dog (and you) younger and fitter longer.
Nose work is fun, great exercise, builds confidence in shy dogs, improves focus and strengthens the bond between the person and dog engaged in the sport together.
It burns mental and physical energy in a good way, without being stressful. Nose work will get you and your dog off the couch and doing something she is born for. Senior dogs, dogs with diabetes or arthritis or other handicaps can do this.
The point of it all couldn’t be simpler: to test “a dog’s ability to use his powerful sense of smell to locate a specific odor against the backdrop of many others.ii” The sport plays to a dog’s amazing sense of smell and natural desire to hunt.
The sport has no special breed or size requirement. All a dog needs is a nose. The only requirement for you is that you enjoy seeing your dog have a good time. The training has one object only…to be fun for your dog. Because there is always a win at the end, dogs soon dive into the sport overcoming their own timidity and even other serious issues, such as separation anxiety and fear.
You can take your dog to a group training class, but in the classes the dogs are worked one at a time, making it an ideal activity for dogs who are timid. And while the sport is also touted as being ideal for dogs who are reactive with other dogs and people, when looking for a class or instructor, discuss this point thoroughly before signing up, as I found this restriction notice on the K9 Nose Work site:
“RESTRICTIONS: Dogs must be capable of handling confinement during the class, either crated away from their handlers or in a properly equipped vehicle.
No dogs with any aggression towards people.”
So, while the dogs work alone, getting in and out of the work area, depending on the facility where the classes are being held, may require some interactions with other dogs and people that you should be aware of.
The training starts with your dog finding food. The search areas start with cardboard boxes, interior rooms and expand to more complex spaces, with more places (including vehicles) and a wider area to search.
During the training process, the food is gradually replaced with a scented object. The training is slow, methodical, and builds step by step as the dog “gets” it.
Says Amy Herot, one of the original trainers who developed the sport, “Watching dogs hunt – and watching the light bulb go on for them that they are allowed to hunt – is a beautiful and inspiring experience.iii”
Handlers have to learn to pay attention, close attention, to their dogs. What does your dog do when she finds the scented object? Build on that. Don’t start right in trying to teach her to sit or bark or whatever you might have in mind when she “finds.” Let her tell you.
Don’t let the words “sport” or “classes” put you off. You don’t have to have competition as your goal. There are levels of competition if you want to go that route. Cindy Mauro, who uses nose work in her behavior modification work with dogs, urges people to not let the competition become about the ribbons. It should always be about enriching your dog’s life.
Cindy Mauro with some of her canine trainees.
Like Cindy, many trainers use this process as a tool to solve behavior problems with dogs. To you and the trainer, nose work may be a tool; to your dog, it is always a game, a game that appeals to and fulfills her natural instincts. A dog completely engaged in doing nose work is a confident dog, a dog who is not anxious, or afraid, or aggressive. Even if your dog does not have issues, this activity can enrich her life and your life together.
You don’t need good weather. You can set up cardboard boxes in your house, in your garage, laundry room or basement. You can work in any safe area, indoors or out.
A final note: Don’t be intimidated by the rules and regulations you see on the official sites. This is a new sport, and it is evolving. The rules are evolving, too.
No human can do what the average dog can do with her nose.