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What is Nose Work for Dogs?

K9 Nose Work is “scent detection class for pet dogs.” That is what I used to say. But now I know, it is so much more.

Novice dogs learn their first lessons on cardboard boxes, hunting independently for hidden treats. With experience, the searches becomes more complex. Students gaze in awe when a dog locates a tough hide.

This is the work dogs are hard-wired to do. It is intuitive and feels good.

Hardwired in every dog

Many of the same dogs return, year after year. Our class list include the exuberant, methodical, shy and everything in-between. There is no “right” kind of dog.

As a dog’s skill develop, so too, do their human’s. Together the duo gently merges into a dedicated search team.

Some teams test their skills at trials, traveling to new places to compete and returning with ribbons and happy memories.

Dogs love it!

Students report the number one reason for continuing to take Nose Work classes is because “dogs love it!”

Nose Work is not about training the dog to do something. The skills are there. Our task is to provide opportunity for dogs to use and perfect them.

Along the way, dogs train our observational skills. Soon we learn their scenting ability reaches far beyond our imagination.

We are “students of the dog” and they are the most amazing teachers.

Never long enough

A dog’s life is never long enough. This week marks the passing of another valued Nose Work dog. Let me tell you about Shiloh, a beautiful senior black Labrador mix.

Shiloh started Nose Work five years ago. Her happy, friendly nature made her popular for after-search pats and treats.

Like most of our dogs, her excitement coming to class started long before entering the training centre. Meatballs and gear prep were tip-offs that it was going to be a great day.

A recent change to her health revealed a rare blood cancer. Devastated by the news, her mom and all of us knew our time together was limited. As her body began to fail, we expected her enthusiasm for Nose Work to also wane. But here is the thing - it didn’t.

Although she approached the search area with a slow gait, once on the search, her energy quickly returned. Brilliant as always, Shiloh found all the hides and her happy, wagging tail did not go unnoticed.

Nose Work feels good to dogs

Is it the rush of endorphins in anticipation of the find, the memory of a favourite game, the strong human connection or the love and support of community? I am sure it is all of that and so much more.

Shiloh’s last search was the day before she chose her peaceful passing at home. The memory of that search has a special place in my heart - right beside the others who also enjoyed Nose Work until their final days.

Then what is Nose Work?

I think it is a gift we give dogs to do what they love - hunt with their noses and solve challenging scent problems. It taps into a deep passion and instills optimism.

For humans, it opens a window into the dog’s world, where we can learn how scent moves and witness our dogs’ special talents. It cements a bond of love and respect.

As Shiloh crosses the rainbow bridge, I hope she is greeted by other dogs who can’t wait to share stories of their favourite Nose Work searches. Happy sniffing, my friends!

What does your dog like to sniff and find?

About the Author

Bonnie Hartney is a Certified Canine Nose Work Instructor

(CNWI) with the National Association of Canine Nose Work. She started K9 Nose Work classes with her White Shepherd, Lily in 2010 under master teacher, Ann Gunderson. Bonnie is the owner of Ocean Park Dog Training in Surrey, BC. Canada, where she teaches puppy socialization, teen manners, K9 Nose Work classes.

Photo credit to David Leer


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