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What is K9 Nose Work®?

K9 Nose Work® is the specific term used to describe the canine scent detection activity developed by Ron Gaunt, Amy Herot & Jill Marie O’Brien. The three founders of the activity wanted to use their extensive experience from working in the professional canine detection world to give pet dogs and their people a fun and easy way to learn and apply scent detection skills, and so they crafted a new activity: K9 Nose Work®.

In K9 Nose Work®, dogs learn how to search for a specific odor or odors and find the source. Dogs start by searching for their favorite food or toy reward hidden in a variety of environments, increasing the challenges and adding new search skills as the dog progresses. Most people will choose to have their dogs learn to find the target odors used in K9 Nose Work®: birch, anise, and clove; those looking to keep it fun searching for food or toy can still have fun and progress in the activity. Once target odors are introduced to the dog, he will search for the odor only and find its source, then get rewarded by his handler with his favorite food or toy reward.

K9 Nose Work® introduces dogs to four different search elements: container, interior, exterior, and vehicle. Dogs build their hunt drive and learn foundational search skills in all four elements. Later stages of K9 Nose Work® introduce advanced detection and handling skills to teams. Dogs are exposed to a myriad of complex search scenarios, while continuing to condition their foundational skills. Handlers sharpen their observational skills and learn when and how to take action during a search. Teams will practice searching to the competition standards set by the National Association of Canine Scent Work® (NACSW℠), which includes searching for blind hides (location of hide unknown to handler), searching for multiple hides in a single search area, and, at the higher levels of competition, searching for an unknown number of hides in a search area.

K9 Nose Work® is an activity that uses real-world environments and can be done almost anywhere. Every search has the potential to be a dramatically different & highly stimulating experience for both dog & handler, just by changing hide placement, or searching under different weather conditions. By participating in K9 Nose Work® with your dog, you’re giving him the freedom to express and refine his natural talents, and he’s giving you a glimpse into how he “sees” the world.

Some of the many benefits of K9 Nose Work® are:

  • Dogs easily burn lots of mental & physical energy doing searches
  • Searches can be done anywhere you can take your dog
  • No prior training is required and no obedience is needed
  • In classes, dogs work one at a time and rest crated or safely in a vehicle between searches so reactive dogs can enjoy the activity, too
  • Shy or fearful dogs build confidence and overactive dogs put their energy into fun searches
  • Stronger bond between dog & handler as handler learns to observe, understand, and rely upon his dog

Training Methodology

Any dog can learn K9 Nose Work®. The training methodology is designed to help pet dogs tap into their hunting instinct, learn independent problem-solving skills, and to build broad and solid foundational scent detection skills that will enable them to successfully face new and greater challenges in K9 Nose Work®.

All K9 Nose Work® dogs begin the game by searching for their favorite food or toy. They search in an obedience-free zone, without handler interruption or unintended correction. When dogs find the hidden toy or food reward, they play with it or eat it, self-rewarding and reinforcing their successful searching behavior. Many K9 Nose Work® dogs will learn the activity searching for their food or toy reward for 3 months to a year. This time period before introducing a target odor allows for dogs to build their desire to hunt, stamina for searching, and skills for searching in many environments without the risk of failure, distraction or disinterest in the search. It also gives the handler time to learn how to observe the dog and to learn handling skills. In K9 Nose Work®, pet dogs are learning a task that is typically assigned to world-class, specifically bred high-drive working dogs, so it’s important to move the training at a pace that will bring the best performance out of the dog.

Throughout a dog & handler team’s training in K9 Nose Work®, the emphasis will always be on creating learning experiences for the dog and supporting his independent problem solving, not commanding him to perform a series of tasks in a predetermined manner. K9 Nose Work® is all about the dogs and all about celebrating their amazing abilities.

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