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  • Kristin Elmquist

Canine Scent Work: What's all that sniffing about?

You and your dog enter the training ring and your dog goes into hyper-sniffing mode, 

so excited to find the ‘bunny’ that you wonder what transformed your gentle companion into an efficient, focused, hunting machine. Welcome to nose work!   Nose work brings out your dog’s natural hunting instincts. Training generally starts by getting a dog excited about hunting for hidden treats or a favorite toy.  The dog is immediately rewarded when he finds the treat or toy, building even more excitement for the game. As a dog becomes more skilled, training advances to container searches and interior, exterior, vehicle and even buried hide searches.  In advanced classes, dogs perform searches that build endurance as well as discrimination between the odor “source” and other 
environmental distractions. In such situations, dogs seek specific odors (such as birch, anise, clove or cypress) infused on cotton swabs and hidden inside tins, straws or other objects. Once the dog has found the object, he then must signal to his handler.  In some scent work organizations, dogs are training to find their handler's unique scent signature and participating in human scent detection competitions.   Based on the principles of detection dog training, owners learn to “read” the dog when he has found the ‘bunny’ and reward him for the great job. The challenge for the human side of the nose work team is learning to trust the dog and let him be in charge; after all, he is the more skilled hunter, and his nose is thousands of times more sensitive than a human’s!  One example often used to illustrate the discerning and powerful nose of a canine is that when a pot of stew is cooking, we humans smell the blended aroma of the meat, vegetables, stock and seasonings. In contrast, however, a dog can tell you how many pieces of meat, potatoes and carrots are in the pot and where you bought the ingredients! Scent work (it's also called nose work)  is an activity that can start at any time in a dog’s life and can enrich their lives 
for many years. In class, we see dogs at 12, 13 and even 15 years of age playing the game of “find it” and having a wonderful time! Disabled dogs can do scent work as well, making this one of the few canine sports accessible to most companion dogs.  The sport of scent work is growing rapidly, not only in the United States, but globally with organizations in Canada, Europe and even Australia. The sport offers skill levels and titling competitions. Some of the US national organizations include AKC, NACSW – National Association of Canine Scent Work, UKC – United Kennel Club, and Performance Scent Dogs. Classes are available at several schools in the Twin Cities and you want to work with a Certified or Association Nose Work Instructor (CNWI/ANWI). To find a CNWI or ANWI, go to www.nacsw.net. Try scent work and let your dog’s nose lead you both to a lifetime of sniffing fun and enrichment!  


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