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K-9 Nosework



Doesn't the sport of K-9 Nosework look fun? I love it because it's a chance for the dog to be the expert at something, and maybe it's just me but the dogs seem to be so happy that us humans "finally" have a way in to their fascinating world of scent! What a great way we can connect with our dogs!


Nosework is part of our new program "Give a Dog a Job" but I like to also teach it as part of a confidence-building regime for shy or anxious dogs -- it works so well for this that many trainers now are automatically adding it to their program for shy dogs!


K-9 Prodigy's Nosework program is taught slightly differently than most other Nosework classes you might attend with your dog. In many classes, the dog is first trained to search for food, and then the odor is "paired" with the food, and then eventually the dog understands to search for the odor alone. I use the detection/police dog method of never having the dog search for food alone but instead introducing the odor immediately and teaching the dog to choose the odor over the food, then beginning extremely simple searches almost immediately. I greatly prefer this method over teaching to search for food, because a) it's much faster!, b) the dog already knows how to use its nose, so you don't have to "teach" that by using food, and c) it is less confusing to the dog in upper levels of competition when some containers contain food and some contain odor! In fact some of the older videos in this blog show this puppy Halo (she's six months old now) passing by beef jerky and potato chips in order to get to her trained odor!


The sport of K-9 Nosework is designed to simulate professional detection dog work. The first level of the sport is what's called an "Odor Recognition Test." (This is what Halo is prepping for, in this video.) The Odor Recognition Test is just a series of closed containers/boxes with one box holding the scent and the other ones empty. Once the dog demonstrates that it can find the scent, it is eligible to move up to further competition. In this practice video, I'd marked all my containers "No" or "Yes" so that I wouldn't get mixed up, but in the competitions all the containers look the same and the handler must call out "Alert!"


Different venues that the dog must search in include interiors (such as a classroom), exteriors (such as a church), a vehicle search, and a container search (such as an airport baggage claim.) For many handlers, one of the highlights of the sport is that the trials are set up in a way that allows fearful or leash-reactive dogs to participate -- the dogs compete one at a time, and milling around/downtime such as you'd see at an obedience competition is minimized so the dog is not stressed out between runs. It's also a good sport for dogs with disabilities such as deafness; as long as the nose still works, the dog is good to go!


Nosework is one of my favorite things to teach! Halo will be entering her Odor Recognition Test in early August, at age 7 months. Wish us luck, but wouldn't it be fun to come join us? Many dogs can successfully prepare for an ORT in 6-8 weeks so there's still time!

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