Winning By A Nose
by Sandi Pensinger
Nose Work is a terrific scent detection training activity that helps a dog gain confidence and allows them to use their mind and muscles in addition to their amazing sense of smell. Unlike some dog sports, there is very little pretraining needed or equipment to buy—and it’s portable! Nose Work teaches your dog the fun of hunting for specific scents. One dog works at a time, so this sport is suitable for reactive dogs. (A reactive dog is a dog who lunges and barks at other dogs while on leash.) It does not matter what breed, size, physical condition, age, obedience level your dog is, or even if your dog is blind or deaf. Almost any dog can learn to follow his nose.
Dogs have 220 million scent receptors to our five million, and they have four times the brainpower devoted to processing scent. There simply is no easier way to bond with your dog than to provide mental enrichment and exercise with the sport of Nose Work. Even with lots of exercise each day, it is a challenge to stimulate your dog’s brain, teach him to focus, and tire him out as quickly as a few Nose Work searches can.
Here are some of our stories about dogs who have overcome challenges through Nose Work.
Lexi, a Doberman, had a front leg amputated last fall because she has bone cancer. She diligently hunts to find the scent in a variety of locations. She indicates the scent by excitedly wagging her tail; then Andee, her guardian, calls “Alert!” and Lexi earns her reward. Andee chose Nose Work classes to keep Lexi’s mind active and to improve her quality of life. Mission accomplished!
Webber is a high-energy, five-year-old Vizsla who came to us originally for a Reactive Rover class. Webber was diagnosed with mast cell tumors last fall, which were removed and then he was put on chemotherapy. Jenny, his guardian, limited his activity for a few days when she realized he was bouncing back and needed to channel his energy. When he is searching, he is completely focused on the hunt and has an amazing nose. He has made great strides with his dog-to-dog reactivity because he chooses to follow his nose and earn his reward rather than bark and carry on about at the dogs around him.
Mickey, a gorgeous brindle Boxer rescue, is also dog reactive. His guardian, Laurie, had a rough time walking him in public because he made such a ruckus. After a reactive-dog class, Laurie signed him up for Nose Work and he has excelled. The change is remarkable.
Jobie and Jude came to Nose Work classes after taking several puppy and obedience classes. Jobie is an excitable, adolescent Miniature Schnauzer. He is completely obsessed with balls. We set up a search next to a basketball court one day, and while he was searching, two players came to watch him while dribbling their ball two feet away. We were completely amazed when Jobie took one long look at the ball and went right back to his search!
Scotty is a loving but anxious Terrier mix, a rescue dog who came to his first Nose Work class and hesitantly walked into the room with slow, stiff legs and peered cautiously around. By his second class, he was wagging his fluffy tail and had us laughing and enjoying watching him communicate with his guardian, Cindy, about the fun scent game. Each class he gets a little more relaxed and confident.
Barkley is an energetic Poodle-Bernese Mountain Dog. He can be wary of some new people but when he is doing his scent work, he becomes absorbed in the hunt. It is such a pleasure to see him happily show Rosemary, his guardian, that he has found the scent treasure. Their celebrations of success and progress are heartwarming to watch.
Nose Work is for dogs of all breeds and mixes of all sizes, from Bitsy Mae, a three-pound Papillion, to Earl, a 130-pound French Mastiff. And all dogs, from four-month puppy to senior age, all have the desire and talent to use their nose.
If you’d like your dog to try a class, look for an experienced, professional trainer. You’ll learn some amazing things about what your dog can do in Nose Work!