I have two competing shepherds and one mixed breed I used Nosework as a confidence builder for.
Nosework Births Inspiration
Nosework is growing more popular. Convenient and portable, you can take the sport anywhere. You can use rooms in your home or places in your yard. If you live in the city, you can use the building’s entrance—stick that tiny scent tin in the crack by the door or on the sidewalk.
If you’re new to the sport, hold on to those shipment boxes or packages you receive from Amazon or eBay. If you’re more seasoned and your dog is on odor, use your own kit. Make sure the scents and tins are in airtight containers to avoid “contamination." The scents are pungent and will linger long after your training session.
With your supplies handy, all you need is inspiration. Believe it or not, there is a science behind placing a hide. It may not be as easy as it sounds.
If your trainer has given you a solid nosework foundation, you should have an idea of how to place a hide to challenge the dog but not so tricky they become disillusioned and/or bored.
If you get ahead of yourself and try to emulate hides that are above your dog’s abilities, or you have a random friend or family member place the hides, the search could end in disaster. Stick to your dog’s level of training. If the dog is “paired” (treat with the hide), then continue with pairing. If the dog is an NW1 dog, don’t place hides that are NW3 level. It’s the same idea if you just learned pre-algebra and then you’re handed a calculus test. That’s not a fair deal.
As with any sport, it is best to find a certified instructor (CNWI) to learn nosework and attend workshops. Certified nosework instructors know the best teaching methods for each individual dog and how to develop long-term success with you and your dog. Then it will be up to you to go on your own and reinforce what you’ve learned by setting up similar searches.
Be sure to consult with your trainers first before attempting any new strategies as you could accidentally set up your dog for future failure if you confuse them. And as always, seek permission to set up searches on properties that don’t belong to you.
Beginner’s nosework is about letting the dog search freely, build confidence and drive for the hunt. Off-leash searching is great as it leaves them free. (Be sure the area is safe for off-leash.)
Be creative in your placement of hides to help your dog learn how to make independent choices such as searching areas he/she might typically bypass. Corners trap odor, but your dog could miss it if they don't utilize a perimeter check. A good strategy for learning corner hides is to set boxes along the molding, starting at the entrance into the room, and gradually moving the odor, each time your dog searches, to every box until it sits in a corner. Your dog’s body language will tell you there is a growing expectation the odor will be along the wall.
But to avoid their expectation the hide will always be in a corner, finish the training with another search, this time the hide is not in a corner. The dog will begin his/her search, following the “pattern” you have taught them but then they will branch out and look for the hide elsewhere. This teaches them the hides are always changing.
Odor is sightless, but dogs show us what it looks like as they follow it.
It can rise, fall, spiral, or swirl, and it can move quickly from air currents or move slowly. Even as we watch our dogs work the area, we cannot be 100 percent certain they are following the source as the odor is constantly competing against every other smell in their environment. This is why hide placement is so important.
I observed a search in which birch was placed in a small cabinet. Every dog alerted on the vanity cabinet in the bathroom, on the other side of the wall. Trainers did not know there was a small, exposed pipe in the wall where the odor was sucked in from the cabinet and into the bathroom…
Elevated hides (doorways, trees, bird feeders, poles) emit an “odor plume” (think like a geometric cone). The odor will be faint near the ground and stronger the closer to the source. Dogs will pick up the odor, no matter the height of the odor or air currents.
The dog will follow the source outside of the imaginary cone, and once they move outside the “cone of odor” they will zero in on the hide.
A great tool to use for vehicle searches is a magnetic key box. Small and compact with a sliding lid, you can control how much odor is released and with the magnet, it sticks to the vehicles.
Vehicles have unlimited possibilities. Foot rails or decorative grooves in the sides of a truck or car are all perfect for channeling. Environmental conditions take over naturally—wind direction will push the along the running board. Your dog may chase the odor away from the source, following the scent. Don’t pull them off of odor. Let them work. They will return and find the odor. Vehicle searches demand patience and understanding of your dog’s body language.
Another technique: You place the hide in a wheel well and park another vehicle next to the source, slightly downwind. Again, wind direction is a factor and also your friend. You will be able to visualize the hide’s scent pooling between the two vehicles, the wind carrying the odor to the other vehicle and back again. Your dog may leave the area, chasing the odor to the engine, to another wheel or even circling around to the other side of the vehicle. Don’t pull them off odor let them work and, without leading them angle them closest to the car. Standing between the vehicle/odor and your dog is counterproductive.
The searches you set up on your own should match the concepts your trainer has taught you. This ensures you as a team remained challenged, and your dog enjoys success. Remember that changes in your environment including wind, temperature, and even where you start your dog can all help make each search a new and exciting experience.
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