K9 Nose Work

In early 2010 I was looking for an activity that would be safe and fun to do with my young high drive English Shepherd Duke. He had Immune Mediated Polyarthritis which when out of remission was very painful and caused him to be both people and dog reactive. With him being reactive and physically limited I was desperate for a fun activity he could safely and happily do. My search lead me to the wonderful new world of K9 Nose Work with the National Association of Canine Scent Work. It did not take long for us to become quite addicted to the fun new sport! As I saw how beneficial the sport was to him, I decided to become a Certified Nose Work Instructor as well and open the fantastic world of K9 Nose Work up to other dogs and their handlers.

K9 Nose Work is a scenting sport. The National Association of Canine Scent Work was created by our three Founders who are Professional Detection Dog Handlers and Instructors in Explosives and Narcotics Detection. They saw the benefit of the activity for professional working dogs and thought of how beneficial it could be as a fun sport and activity for the general public, minus of course the real narcotics and explosives! NACSW: http://www.nacsw.net

Like Narcotics and Explosive Detection Dogs, our dogs are first trained starting to search for what is called a ‘Primary Source’ in cardboard boxes. A Primary Source is what your individual dog LOVES the most, food or a favorite toy. The first goal is to tap into the dogs natural searching and hunting abilities, as well as building problem solving skills, independence, and stamina. The longer you keep your dog on Primary before moving on to pairing with their first odor, the more solid a nose work dog you will have down the road. The first goal is to make searching for your dog fun and safe. For fearful dogs that are not confident, taking your time in training is important. Dogs that do not feel safe or secure with their environment may not search at first. Be persistent, as the game becomes fun, their environmental sensitivity will lessen.

So if we do not get to play with narcotics and explosives, what are our dogs searching for? They are searching for three separate odors of 100% Essential Oils (Birch, Anise, and Clove) on 100% cotton swabs. Level 1 is Birch, Level 2 is Anise and/or Birch, and Level 3 and higher is Clove, Anise, and/or Birch. Our dogs can ultimately locate Birch, Anise, Clove, or any combination of the three odors. Like Narcotics and Explosive Detection Dogs, our dogs will go into a search area and find all and any odors they have been trained to find. There is no need to let them sniff a specific odor, then go find that specific odor, as they automatically will find all odors.

To give odor value to the dog, we pair the first odor of Birch with the dogs’ Primary (food or favorite toy) hidden in containers. Later, for Anise and Clove, we pair them with the foundation odor of Birch to give them value.

We have 4 Elements in which our dogs do their searches: Containers, Interiors, Exteriors, and Vehicles. Currently there are opportunities to Trial at 4 Levels: NW1, NW2, NW3, and an Elite Level. Each Level increases the difficulty of the search. This is accomplished by varying the number of hides, locations of hides (accessible or non-accessible), surfaces of search areas (asphalt, cement, dirt, grass), types of containers (from cardboard boxes only to a combination of miscellaneous containers like cardboard boxes, metal paint cans, purses, suitcases, etc.), containers with distractions (food, toy, and miscellaneous distractors), number of search areas, number of vehicles in a search, height of hides to name a just a few.

K9 Nose Work can be just a fun activity for handlers and dogs at home, or for more competitive folks the NACSW offers Trialing opportunities that are Full Trials and Element Trials. At Full Trials dogs compete in all 4 Elements and the trial runs all day. Element Trials consist of one Element and run a half day. Each type of Trial have their own rules, guidelines, and formalities. Think of them as different fun flavors of ice cream; some may love one over the other, others may love both trialing opportunities!

For those who want to have the experience of trialing, both the Handler (annual membership) and Dog (life time membership) must first become members of NACSW. From there the dogs need to take what is called an O.R.T. (Odor Recognition Test) for each individual Odor and pass in order to qualify to enter a Trial. Passing the O.R.T. does not tell you if your dog is trial ready or not, it simply tells you and the NACSW if your dog recognizes the odors.

K9 Nose Work is different than other dog sports as it is 100% obedience free. Dogs that have or do not have obedience training may participate, as obedience does not apply to our sport! K9NW is all about scenting; the dogs use their nose to search and locate their hides. The dog truly is the one in control! Our Motto is: “Trust Your Dog”. The dog is the one who is searching using its nose to find the hides, they are in total control of their job. The human job is to become first a student of their dog, and second a student of odor. Handlers need to learn how to read their dog’s change of behavior (breathing changes, head snaps, paw slams, tail wagging changes, etc.) and alerts (the dog communicating to you they have found the hide and are at source for example, the dog looking at you as if to say “I have found it, now come pay me”). In addition, Handlers need to learn about how odor works and moves in different environments (inside and outside) and weather and search area conditions (heat/air conditioners on/off, temperatures from cold to hot, windy to no wind, cracks, channels, different heights, pooling odor, converging odor, etc.). It may seem a little complicated at first, but truly is a very fun journey and fantastic bonding experience with our dogs!

You may ask, how do you know if your dog would make a good K9NW Dog? Here is where the fun begins as the basic requirement is they need to have a nose and be mobile enough to do their searches, alongside of their human handler.

What are some of the benefits of Nose Work? Nose Work provides fantastic mental stimulation, resulting in a very happy and tired dog. Do you have a dog that is fearful, afraid, or environmentally challenged? Nose Work builds confidence in dogs one search at a time; it constantly amazes me the positive difference it makes changing their lives for the better! Do you need a way to connect with your dog, become a team? Nose Work teaches you to truly trust your dog, strengthening your bond. Do you have a dog with physical limitations? Nose Work is not physically taxing, which opens up the field to young puppies, senior dogs, three-legged dogs, and neurologically challenged dogs to name a few. As a Handler, did you used to run Agility with your dog, but now cannot handle the speed and turns to keep up with your dog and the sport? Nose Work is a great alternative!

NACSW K9 Nose Work is taught based on the principles of our three Founders on how Explosive and Narcotic Detection Dogs are trained. NACSW Certified Instructors teach K9 Nose Work Classes based on their Certified Instruction Program. Only Certified NACSW Instructors (CNWI and ANWI) may offer the trade marked K9 Nose Work Classes. K9 Nose Work is taught differently than other searching activities and sports like Search & Rescue, Tracking, Medical Detection, and other Detection Activities (examples: Truffles, Mushrooms, Turtles, Bed Bug Detection, etc.) There are other venues of Nose Work not taught by the NACSW, just like agility having different venues, there are different venues of Nose Work. Remember there is no right, no wrong, just different. Keep an open mind and most of all always keep it safe and fun for your dog!

How do you get started in this great sport? First I would highly recommend looking to see if the NACSW has a Certified Nose Work Instructor (CNWI) or an Associate Nose Work Instructor (ANWI) in your area:
http://www.nacsw.net/instructors . What if you do not have a Certified Instructor in your area? The NACSW has a DVD about K9NW. Check out Parker Videos – ‘How One Dog Got Started In K9 Nose Work’ DVD at www.dogwise.com

Article and photos by Cindy C. Smith a Certified Nose Work Instructor and owner of The Right Steps Dog Training Business in Fair Oaks, CA— www.therightsteps.com ; she is owner, handler, and best friend of two English Shepherds and one Belgian Malinois.

Happy Searching!

©2015 The Right Steps & Cindy C. Smith. All rights reserved.

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©2015 The Right Steps & Cindy C. Smith. All rights reserved.


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