Nose Work Training for Your Dog May Be the Best Activity You Haven't Tried Together Yet
Discover your dog’s natural sniffing talent when you try your hand at nose work. Here’s why it may be the easiest, least expensive, most rewarding thing you do together.
The nose knows! A dog's sense of smell is incredibly sensitive and powerful. They literally see and understand their world by way of smell. So it makes sense that one of the best ways you can enrich your dog's life is via their awesome snoot.
Nose work training is the perfect activity for any dog of any age and thankfully, getting started in this doggie-centric exercise is simple to do and loads of fun for both you and your canine best friend.
What Is Nose Work in Dog Training?
Nose work, or scent work, is focused on our dog's most powerful gift: their nose. Inspired by professional scent detection canines, and just a dog's ability to use their sniffer, dog training dedicated to this fun activity includes teaching your pup to recognize, find, and alert-to different scents.
Most commonly, dogs are taught to recognize three different scents—starting with birch, then anise, followed by the harder smell of clove. Those scents are hidden in different locations, ranging in "easier" to find locales like plastic containers and boxes to more complex exterior and interior spots like vehicles, lockers, or heavily packed closets.
Nose work isn't basic obedience training and it is not meant to be focused on teaching your dog manners. Instead, the goal is simple: To empower your dog to employ their natural instinct to whiff and sniff.
5 Reasons Why Nose Work Training Is Good for Dogs
Sniffing might be your dog's favorite pastime, and it's one of the most important things you can let them do on walks, in your yard, and in your home. Here are five reasons why nose work is just the thing for you and your doggo to do together.
1. It's Great Canine Enrichment
A dog discovers and understands their world by way of their nose. Whether they are smelling each mailbox on your walks or inhaling the scents of those treats you stuffed into their Kong, using their nose engages their mind in a very stimulating and enriching way. Learning to recognize and find new smells gives your dog a unique and super rewarding challenge. It's a game they were born to be good at!
2. It Builds Your Relationship With Your Dog
Taking part in nose work with your canine BFF is an excellent way to grow your relationship, learning alongside each other in a positive way. When your dog gets to take part in an activity that encourages them to be a dog, and you reinforce them for it, there is nothing better for confidence and trust building. Plus, by understanding what your dog wants to smell, or doesn't, and when or where they want to smell, you can gain a better understanding of their emotional well-being.
"There is no ... prouder moment for me and my dog than when he finds that first really tricky scent and lets me know effortlessly," says Brenda Wendt, professional conservation detection canine trainer and handler. "It has taught me so much about my dogs."
3. Your Dog Feels Happy and Confident
Nose work doesn't require your dog to be an obedience champion. Instead, it encourages your pup to make their own choices, achieving automatic reinforcement. This in turn builds your dog's critical thinking skills, patience, and confidence.
"Dogs want to smell, they love to smell, and you are reinforcing them on top of them reinforcing themselves, fun engagement time with you, and new opportunities to get out and about. It's a total win-win for everyone," Wendt says.
4. It's Easy to Begin and Easy On the Wallet
It doesn't take much to get started in this excellent activity. Initially, you probably don't even need any scent work equipment. You just need your dog, something to smell (OK don't be gross!), and boom, done! You can set up scents in your home or in your backyard. Grab some treats or your dog's delicious dinner and go for it.
"Of all the ways to enrich your dog's life, nose work is one of the simplest and cheapest to start," Wendt says.
Of course, as your dog gets better and better at discovering all the amazing scents you leave for them to find, you can invest in scent work kits or take classes dedicated to building the skill. And if you are the competitive type, organizations like the National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW) offer memberships and then trials you can compete in.
5. Any Dog Can Do It
All dogs love to use their exceptional snoots, so nose work is for any dog, of any age, and of any breed. Your canine pal doesn't have to possess any other quality other than just loving to follow their nose. But of course, there are some dogs that might find this particular sport to be THE.BEST.THING.EVER.
"For the especially driven dog or high-energy dog, nose work provides them a job that they are innately talented at," Wendt says. "It is more stimulating than fetching a ball or just going for a walk around the block, so breeds with more energy might find they prefer it over any other activity."
Nose Work Games for Dogs to Try at Home
If you want to incorporate scents into your dog's daily enrichment routine, you can start right in your living room. Simply place a few of your dog's favorite treats under a towel and let them sniff them out (or try a snuffle mat!).
Once they make that an easy feat, try hiding treats in open boxes left over from late night shopping sprees, and place the boxes in easy-to-reach spots like behind your couch or on a chair. Then, let your dog enter the room and encourage them to find the box and discover the treasures hidden inside.
Once your dog is a pro at this, you can try different locations in your house, varying the size of the box, or use other household items that you can hide treats inside. Over time, your canine will be an expert at sniffing out the goodies and then you can try moving the game outside.
It's great fun to watch your dog enjoy using his super sniffer. And maybe one of the easiest ways to bond with your four-legged companion.