Nosework is the sport of scent detection. Very recently it was recognised by Dogs New Zealand (New Zealand’s ‘Kennel Club’) as a discipline in it’s own right – and competitions will be coming to a place near you very soon! Apart from the fun of competing with your dog, the benefits of teaching nosework as a skill are many. It is easy and cheap, requires very little space or equipment and any dog can do it.
In essence, you teach the dog to recognise, search for, and indicate, a specific odour. In organised classes the odours are usually clove, anise and birch. However, if you just want to play around with the skill for fun you can easily just use a scented teabag.
Dogs LOVE to do nosework.
From the dog’s point of view, it is a great game. Dogs LOVE to use their noses and searching out a specific odour in exchange for food or toys is the perfect way to engage their brains without causing over-arousal or aggravating previous injuries. Searching activates the ‘seeking’ system in the brain; the system that humans tap into when we go bargain hunting, berry picking or even bird spotting! It is the act of engaging with the environment in a meaningful way to gain rewards. It is both very pleasurable and calming. If you have a nervous or shy dog it helps build confidence and resilience without stress. If you have a busy, hyper dog it calms them down and teaches them to focus and concentrate.
Nosework is always done on an individual basis – one dog works at a time. So, even if you are doing nosework as part of a group class, there is only ever one dog present. This means it is ideal for dogs that are not usually suited to group situations. If your dog is worried about new people, it is easy to set the environment to be free of anybody who might worry them.
Nosework can be like ‘therapy’ for dogs.
Nosework has been repeatedly shown to help shy dogs build confidence. The behaviour of searching is intrinsically rewarding for most dogs – it’s a totally natural behaviour, free from human pressure and the dog is never wrong – they’ve just not found the target yet. This allows the dog to relax and get involved in the task; they start to focus and forget about their worries as they are so involved in the job at hand. Over time they start to associate the search situation with fun and great things, which helps them feel better in new places because we pair ‘slightly new situation’ with ‘search’ repeatedly.
Nosework will tire your dog out.
Nosework is perfect for puppies that are not old enough to do hard exercise as it’s a great way to work and tire the brain without over stretching the body. A few searches around the house or yard and your dog will sleep quietly all evening. It is also great for dogs recovering from injury or illness who have to have their physical exercise curtailed.
Here’s a video of Breezy doing a blind interior search for birch. Breezy is searching for a tiny vial with a hole in one end. Inside, there is a cotton tip with ONE tiny smear of birch oil. ‘Blind’ means I have NO idea where it is! I have to check with my husband when Breezy indicates to know if he’s correct or not. To make it even trickier, this is the fourth search in this area for this session. That means he has to dismiss the residual odour left by the previous three hide locations.
What’s not to love?
All in all, it is a great skill to teach your dog. The benefits go far beyond the obvious and greatly outweigh the effort required to get started. Why would you not give it a go?
– Sarah and the Gan
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