A dog smells scents like we see colors. The vibrant colors that we see enrich our world, and that's exactly what smell does for a dog. We learn so much by looking around and taking in the world around us. A dog takes that type of information in through scent. For this reason, nose work for dogs isn't just for working canines. It's an important type of training that can be beneficial to any dog, no matter his size, age or breed.
This week I was able to speak with Gail McCarthy, instructor at Scentinel Nose Work Dog Training, about the importance of nose work for all dogs and the enrichment it can bring into your pet's life. If you thought nose work was only something that K-9 police dogs and hunting dogs needed to do, think again!
Gail explained to me that as long as your dog is motivated by food or a special toy, he can have a lot of fun with nose work training. Not only will it be fun for him, it will also be mentally stimulating. If you have a hyperactive dog, nose work can be especially beneficial for burning all that extra energy without strenuous physical activity.
Interview: Enrich Your Dog's Life with Nose Work
Gail's love of working with animals began many years ago when she was working with horses. After many years, her interests shifted towards working with Search And Rescue (SAR) dogs. She's know been working with canines for more than 20 years and has completed over 100 workshops and seminars to learn how to train focused, reliable, independent and efficient detection dogs.
Over this time, Gail has trained numerous SAR dogs on many different levels including dogs at the State Advanced Level and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Advanced Level Live Find Disaster Dog Evaluation. Although she retired from SAR work recently, she still continues to train dogs at Scentinel Nose Work Dog Training.
Why is nose work important for dogs?
When Gail first heard about the sport of K9 Nose Work back in 2009 she instantly knew she wanted to be involved with the sport. She thought it was a great way to bring the skills and training of detection dogs to pet dogs and their owners.
Dogs have a natural design to hunt, and this sport allows owners to tap into that while positively enforcing the dog's natural behavior.
Gail says the classes she teaches are exhilarating for both the dog and the handler. It's a simple training method, and most dog owners enjoy seeing the amazing things that their pet can do with his nose. It's also exciting for the dog, because he's using his natural abilities to have fun, while also engaging his brain to figure out the mystery.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of this sport is that it encourages timid dogs to come out of their shell. Because there is so much positive reinforcement for the dog while he's doing things he would naturally do anyway (sniffing around to find something enticing), it can show your timid dog that it's okay to be himself.
The motivation of the dog treats or toy will get him to go into areas that he may normally not be comfortable going. When he gets rewarded for participating, he'll learn that it's okay to explore without feeling scared or shy. This act of “hunting” as a team will also foster the bond between the dog and his owner.
And we can't forget the number one reason that all pet parents should be doing nose work with their dogs – it's fun! This is an activity that appeals to your dog's natural instincts.
It's a challenge, and it's exciting because he knows a reward is coming when his job is done. Not to mention, it will be fun for you to watch your dog complete tasks, develop his problem solving skills and eventually excel at finding things with his nose.
How to get started
If you think the sport of K9 Nose Work is something that you and your dog would be interested, you'll have two choices. You can participate in the training with the goal of competing in national trials.
Gail told me that there is a whole system of trials and competitions available for dog owners interested in K9 Nose Work.
If you're not into the competing aspect, you can use the sport simply as an enrichment activity for your dog. If you take Fido for a casual walk along the same path that you usually take.
This way he is burning a lot of physical energy, but mentally he's hardly being challenged at all. If this is the case, you may still end up seeing some behavior issues like nuisance barking, digging holes or destructive chewing.
You need to get rid of all your dogs energy, both physical and mental. Your dog needs to be mentally challenged. He craves mental stimulation, and unlike us he can't that from reading, watching television or solving a crossword puzzle. Nose work provides this type of problem solving and mental challenge for your dog. It gets his brain working!
No matter what your end result is, you'll go about teaching your dog in the same way. First you'll need to start with an easy task and gradually work up to more challenging jobs. If your planning on competing in trials, you'll likely want to work with a professional trainer, especially if this is your first experience with K9 Nose Work.
Many dog owners can't afford to work with a professional, and so don't feel it's necessary as they are only using nose work as a fun and enriching activity for their dog. All you need to do to get started is get yourself 10 boxes that are relatively the same size.
You can hide a treat or your pet's favorite toy in one box and allow him to find it. In the beginning, you'll probably need to show him where you're putting the reward or coach him until he finds it. Over time, you'll be able to hide it while he's out of the room and he'll be able to come in and find it without any help at all.
For more information and detailed instructions for teaching your dog nose work, you can read my Let's Talk column about The Importance of Nose Work for All Dogs.
K9 Nose Work for Returning Veterans
One of the most rewarding parts of my chat with Gail was when she told me about K9 Nose Work for Returning Veterans. It is a Facebook group that she started to give back to the men and women who have served our country.
The group works with the help of 90 instructors around the country who volunteer to work with veterans and their dogs to learn the sport of K9 Nose Work.
The instructors give foundational training to the veterans during a 12-week class. During the first 6 weeks they work on hunting and the next 6 weeks are spent teaching the owners how to train their pet to search vehicles and houses for suspicious items. Not only is the class beneficial for the veteran, it's a great way for them to spend some quality time with their canine companion.
I’d like to take this time to thank Gail McCarthy for speaking with me about K9 Nose Work and why it's so beneficial for every dog. Remember, this is an activity that can have positive effects on all dogs, no matter what age, breed, size or gender they are.
Make sure you check out Scentinel Nose Work Dog Training for more information about the sport, and if you're interested in K9 Nose Work for Returning Veterans you can find more information in their Facebook group.