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K9 Nosework: An Up and Coming Dog Sport

I'm a Nosework student. I have two competing shepherds and one mixed breed I used Nosework as a confidence builder for.


Canine Nosework

Canine Nosework is a rapidly evolving dog sport, requiring dogs to locate “target odor” by using their sense of smell.

So, what makes this such a great sport for dogs and owners?

  • Prior training is not needed. Trainers like to build a solid foundation of searching by using boxes with high-value treats in them. It may seem very basic, but it’s an excellent technique that helps make the dog’s drive.
  • Dogs of any size, shape, and temperament can do Nosework. (I knew a chihuahua who was deaf and blind and at NW2 level)
  • Dogs are kept in their vehicles, allowing a distraction-free zone for each canine as they work in the training area. This is for safety reasons as not all dogs are dog/human-friendly. It is also a good habit, as you are required to keep your dogs in your vehicles, unless to potty, during trials.
  • As the sport has gained popularity the cost has risen, but the complexity of the training is low. And the mental stimulation is high—a win-win.
  • The best part about this sport is it can be practiced anywhere: your backyard, your home, parks, parking lots, vehicles and more.

How Does It Work?

Dogs see the world with their noses, and even better, with wet noses.

A trick in Nosework: If your dog's nose is dry, carefully wet it with water; it helps the scents stick better.

Unlike humans, the canine nostrils can smell independently.

The left nostril detects birch, while the right smells recent pee spots, shoes, and potato chip crumbs. Their noses also inhale and exhale through separate nasal passages. Exhaling occurs through the slits on the sides of their noses, which is then inhaled again, taking in bigger plumes of scent. It is this amazing ability that makes dogs such phenomenal Nosework competitors.

Introduction to Nosework focuses on helping your dog build a passion for finding their favorite toy or treats in cardboard boxes. These could be packages that have come in the mail, like via Amazon or eBay.

When the dog finds the treat praise and generous rewards are crucial to boosting the dog’s drive to continue using its nose; this is especially helpful for timid and less confident dogs.

The treats used should be high-value food: pork, cheese, hamburger, happy meals, you name it—and only be used for training. The dogs will be more driven if the favorite treat remains a novelty. If the dog has food allergies, then a favorite toy can be a substitute.

Once the dog has confidence in searching out the desired treat or toy, more boxes are added, making the game more complex as the dog then has to differentiate which package holds their treat/toy.

Once the dog understands the game, trainers will introduce the following essential oils. Birch will always be first.

  • Birch
  • Anise
  • Clove

Birch is the starting odor for dogs. Be advised: The Nosework community uses a specific type of birch oil. The best way to ensure you are teaching your dog to find the right odor is to buy from a credible K9 Nosework site.

Other odors are presented later once your dog is solid on birch.

A small swab is dabbed with the birch oil. (Small amounts of oil are used as the scents are powerful). *The best way to keep everything contained is to use a baby jar. Put the swabs into the baby jar and add oil. Close the jar and shake.

These swabs will then be placed in small tin containers with holes, hidden and paired with the dog’s favorite treat for an instant reward each time they find the tins. The swabs can be hidden without tins.

As time goes on, the hides become more challenging to find.


Is It for You?

It is important to remember that Nosework is not the same as professional Scentwork Training, nor is it obedience. The most unruly dog can train in Nosework.

This sport is for any dog and their handler. Handlers learn to closely watch their canine friend, reading body language that tells them when to call “alert” as the hides are found. And the dog learns a fun sport that comes naturally to them.

Each dog has its own unique “indication” when alerting to the odor. Some will vocalize, sit, lay down, or look up at their owners. Still, some will barely indicate at all they found the odor and will cruise on by. (I have a chihuahua mix who does that)

Those types of dogs are the best teachers when it comes to body language in the Nosework world.

This sport is for everyone and it's a great way to bond with your dog. If the dog is timid, this sport is amazing at confidence building. (There was a female Golden Retriever who was afraid of her own shadow. She started the very first class, frozen in fear and almost two years later, she was as avid a searcher as the other canines.) If they are high-energy, it gives them an outlet. (My youngest German shepherd is of working-line. It takes a lot to tire her out. Nosework has been a saving grace for both of us.)

It is easy on the handlers. (There was a woman in my class who had advanced Parkinson’s.) The most important thing for handlers is being able to read their dog for indications of when they find the source. (My mixed breed loves Nosework, but when he's in an unfamiliar environment, he does not 'alert' on source.) It's been a learning curve trying to find any indication he may give for 'alert.' So far, it is very difficult. Some dogs may be like that. However, if you have a good trainer they will help you overcome this and work towards strengthening the dog-handler bond and bringing up the dog's drive to find the source.

The sport is also easy on the dog.

All they need is their nose!

Where to Find a Trainer?

It would be worthwhile to seek out a certified Nosework Instructor (CNWI). There are many variations to this sport, and an instructor who participates in trials, whether volunteering and/or competing, is a wealth of information. Plus they understand the details, which is key.

Don't feel awkward about interviewing instructors to get a feel for their teaching and training styles. Ask if you can audit a class. And also look for instructors who like to switch up their locations/environments. Training can get quite stale, especially for the dog, if all they do is search the same old interior training facility room.

Online classes are available too, if you'd rather watch and learn, and implement what you've learned on your own to get a feel for the sport, before you decide to seek out an instructor. Just be sure it is a credible website, such as Fenzi Dog Sports Academy.

So, grab a dog and some treats and you'll be ready to start your journey together to learning a fantastic dog sport!

Stay tuned for more articles regarding this fun, new dog sport!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Regin St Cyr