Sunday, June 17, 2012

K9 Nose Work Seminar: Introduction

For a human, I'm pretty sensitive to smells. I am easily overwhelmed by a wide variety of odors, ranging from the flowering basswood tree in my backyard to the perfumes that people wear to the laundry detergent aisle in stores. But my nose is nothing compared to my dog's; while I probably have around 5 million olfactory receptors, she has somewhere around 220 million!

Despite the fact that we dog people know that our canine's ability to use their nose is far superior to ours, we don't usually let them engage in their natural desire to sniff and search out smells. Still, it's important that they get a chance to do just that, which is why I was so excited to have the opportunity to attend a K9 Nose Work seminar recently. This seminar, presented by Jill Marie O'Brien and Kimberly Buchanan, introduced participants to the basics.

So, what is K9 Nose Work? Well, primarily, it's an activity. When the folks behind K9 Nose Work held the first class in 2006, they just wanted to have some fun and explore what their dogs could do. As more and more people discovered it, it naturally evolved, and now there are even organized competitions held by the National Association of Canine Scent Work.

The cool thing about K9 Nose Work is that it is suited to all dogs, even those with special needs. Reactive dogs, shy dogs, dogs with low impulse control, even dogs currently living in a shelter setting can benefit from this activity. It tends to build confidence, act as an awesome stress buster, release the pressure on the dog, help dogs focus, and burn both mental and physical energy!

My favorite part of the seminar was watching all the dogs work. In the morning, Jill and Kimberly gave a presentation, and the afternoon was devoted to working spots. It was really cool to watch the shy dogs become more secure and confident and the hyper dogs to settle down and focus on the game. And they aren't kidding about it being a good workout- Maisy was so tired when we got home that she chose to sleep in favor of eating supper!

This seminar was an introduction to the activity of K9 Nose Work, and in my next post, I'll share some of what I learned (and what I'm doing with Maisy now). After that, I'll touch briefly on the next steps, and talk a little bit about competition. In the meantime, though, I'd love to hear from any of my readers that are doing Nose Work with their dogs. How did you get started? Where is your dog at now? And what benefits have you seen from doing it?


K-Koira said...

I haven't done any official nose work with either of my dogs, but have been working on training Pallo to find lost or dropped items that smell like me. He is pretty good at finding my cell phone or my keys if I drop them when we are out on a walk, though he gets distracted easily if there is a ball to find instead!

Joanna said...

I've been doing Nosework with Dragon for about a year, but we don't practice very frequently, since we're more focused on agility, obedience, and tricks.

He can do indoor, outdoor, box, and vehicle hides, but he still needs work in new and distracting environments before he's ready for competition. He's passed the ORT for birch, though.

I find it boring to practice, since I have to be more passive. I know that for other people, that's totally the draw of the sport. He loves it, though, and that's why I stick with it.

Laura Holder said...

Thanks for posting about this. There is finally a certified instructor for nose work in my area and Oscar and I are totally signing up for the next session. While I enjoy doing physically active things like agility with Oscar, I love that nose work allows dogs of all types to compete. A huge YAY! for that. :)

Shannon said...

I also haven't done official nosework, but it sounds like a lot of fun! I've started tracking with Sienna, and I noticed that it helped her confidence quite a bit. Lately I've been playing "find the hidden toy" games with her. I'd love to do nosework at some point, but we're mainly focusing on obedience right now.

dogbehaviorscience said...

I've found nosework to be invaluable. Specially for an old dog, who might have painful joints and can't run or is losing his sight. A dog who knows the game can still engage in activities to keep his mind occupied.

Kristen said...

We've done a different type of scent work. My dog was NEVER searching for food (for this task the dogs are even proofed against food fairly early on).
HOWEVER since that training, Griffin now seeks out EVERY CRUMB of treat in my dirty clothing. Every piece of cereal under the counter. Everything. Before he was happy to leave he catches scent and has to do something about it. No more leaving him loose with my snacks nearby!

K9 Nose Work Blog said...

It's great to see a post on a K9 Nose Work seminar. It's not too difficult to imagine what scent detection work is, but to see it firsthand - especially to see new dogs introduced to the activity - is always exciting. You get to watch these long dormant instincts emerge from the dogs as the instructors expertly manipulate the environment to allow the dogs to teach themselves how to hunt and to be self-rewarded for their efforts.

One commenter mentioned finding nose work practice "boring", because she had to take a passive role. Another way to look at this is as an opportunity to understand your dog in a whole new way. Almost every dog sport is based on humans commanding dogs to perform some kind of trained response. In K9 Nose Work the dogs learn from problem solving and self-rewarding. The humans are only manipulating the environment to provide opportunities for learning, and do not command the dogs to perform.

K9 Nose Work is actually a very demanding activity, it just happens to be demanding in ways that almost any dog can handle. When a dog searches his body temperature rises, breathing and sniffing becomes more intense, and he covers a surprising amount of ground chasing the scent. Add in the mental challenge of processing all of the information being brought in by his nose - dogs devote almost 1/3 of their brains to processing scent - and the strength needed to remain extremely focused on the task and you've got an activity that leaves most dogs dog tired for the rest of the day, and that's after only mere minutes of searching.

I enjoy agility and have a very obedient dog, and I've found K9 Nose Work fits perfectly into our world. I use my shoulders to guide her when searching, just like when we run the agility course. What I love about doing both sports is that agility is a fun test of how well I can communicate the sequence of jumps and equipment, and K9 Nose Work is a fun test of how well my dog can communicate the presence and source of hidden odor.

The last thing I'll say is that K9 Nose Work is great because the game can be played anywhere you can take your dog, and there is no end to the challenges you and your dog can face in K9 Nose Work.

Please check out the official K9 Nose Work blog to learn more about the activity and sport:

Happy Sniffing!

Jeff McMahon