The best part of your dog’s walk is often when they get to spend time chasing after an interesting smell or exploring all the different odors of a favorite fire hydrant. Allowing your dog to spend time sniffing on walks is an excellent source of mental stimulation and can help keep both their body and mind active. The same way you enjoy taking in the beautiful scenery of the outdoors, your dog can’t get enough of all the different scents.
Allowing a dog to explore the environment through smell can help them learn a lot about their surroundings through their powerful noses. They have about 200 million scent receptors (compared to our 5 million!) and four times the brain ability than humans do to process what it is they are smelling. Nose work is a wonderful exercise that helps refine your dog’s scent detecting skills.
What is Nose Work?
Nose work is an activity you can do with your dog that mimics the tasks of professional detection dogs. It requires a dog to find and alert their human partner of a particular hidden odor amid other distractions such as toys, treats, etc. Nose work can simply be a fun activity where a dog’s favorite toy or treat is hidden for them to find. However, it can also be a more competitive exercise where a dog is trained to pick out specific scents, such as birch, anise, and clove. Once the target has been located, the dog receives a reward to indicate a job well done.
If your dog practices nose work at a more competitive level, there are four different search elements that they can be trained in: container, interior, exterior, and vehicle. Dogs start with simple containers like cardboard boxes and eventually graduate to suitcases and bins placed at elevated levels. Interior searches would be inside a building, often the dog’s own home, and can either be confined to one room or open to multiple rooms. Exterior searches can be more challenging as the dog will encounter many different and distracting scents as they search for the target. With vehicle searches, the target scent is located on the outside of the vehicle and can involve more than one to increase complexity.
Benefits of Nose Work
– When engaging in nose work, your dog will burn a lot of energy
– A wonderful opportunity for mental stimulation
– You will have dedicated time to spend focusing on your dog and this will improve the canine/human bond
– Dedicated time to spend focusing on your dog which will improve your overall bond
– Dogs can build their self-confidence and learn to complete tasks independently
– It increases problem-solving abilities
– Practicing nose work the potential to improve canine behavioral issues
– Dogs don’t have to have any specific prior training to get started
How Can You Start Practicing Nose Work with Your Dog?
Getting your dog started with nose work is quite simple; all you need is a collar, a leash, some sturdy cardboard boxes, and a favorite toy or treat – something they will be excited to find! In the beginning, distractions should be limited so that your dog can focus on learning the new task. It’s advisable that there be no other people or pets in the space with you.
You would start by having your dog watch you hide the food or toys in some of the boxes. Once they are hidden, walk your dog over to the boxes and encourage them to look for the targets. It’s important not to give any directions or hints as your dog is searching, and once they have found the targets, be sure to praise your dog for doing such a great job!
Once your dog has mastered the first step, using the same scent target, you can start making the hiding spots harder. To keep your dog challenged, you can also spread the search to multiple rooms and even take it outside.
We would love to hear about your dog’s experience with nose work! If you are trying it for the first time or if your dog is already skilled in nose work, please share your experiences in the comments.