By: Erica Wells
Erica is a Certified Nose Work Instructor (CNWI) through the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She teaches Agility and K9 Nose work classes, both sports she participates and competes in with her rescued Brittany Spaniel, Mimi and newest monster, Gator.
I am passionate about dogs using their noses. The dog olfactory system fills the majority of their brain and their sense of smell is light years beyond our own. We are only just scratching the surface learning about the magic of what dogs can smell and what they can teach us through the use of their powerful nose!
My introduction to the sport of K9 Nosework began when my newly adopted Brittany puppy was about 5 months old. She was a VERY busy puppy, far busier than any dog I had ever owned and the first puppy I’d had in about 20 years! While she got plenty of exercise and we did plenty of training, something was missing. I saw a flyer somewhere about a workshop coming to town about “the new sport of k9 Nosework” for dogs of all ages-so I went! It was transformative. Suddenly, my crazy puppy had an outlet using her nose for good and not evil! The only issue was that she wasn’t very food motivated, I mean, she really didn’t care about food at all, BUT she was already a crazy ball dog so we used her ball. She hunted for stinky treats in boxes and got rewarded with her ball. 10 minutes of playing the game and she was actually able to settle, it gave her an outlet and made our training sessions for the “boring stuff” more productive when we trained after doing a bit of Nosework. I was amazed at how well the game worked and wanted to find out more-so when the National Association of Canine Scentwork (NACSW, www.nacsw.net) had their first instructor training course outside of California I signed on and the rest is history. Ive been teaching K9 Nosework for 8.5 years now and loving every minute of it.
The sport has grown and grown with multiple venues signing on including United Kennel Club (UKC) and American Kennel Club (AKC) but many folks in my classes just want something to do with their dog, they don’t compete and don’t plan to compete but those dogs’ noses are just as sharp and as amazing as any competition dog. In NACSW the venue I do most of my trialing in we use the target odors of Birch, Anise and Clove. The dogs hunt for these odors on vehicles, interiors, container searches (think card board boxes, backpacks, luggage, tupperware-almost anything goes) and the dog’s job is to “alert” the handler that they have found their target odor. Some dogs do this by looking at the handler, lying down, sitting, a light paw or a nose freeze. There are MANY different alerts but the one thing all the dogs have in common is they stop sniffing! It’s our job to know if they are telling us they have “FOUND IT”.
One of the things I love about Nosework whether it is the dog hunting for cookies in boxes or competing at the highest level (in some venues) dogs who are reactive can still play the game. It is a wonderful way to enrich a reactive dogs life-even if you are just heading out to a sniff spot-why not bring a long some containers and hide some treats or toys for your pup to find or just bring hands full of kibble and spread the love around for him like a canine treasure hunt! Their noses are amazing and they LOVE to use them. My elderly reactive dog who was also a terrible car dog loved to play the Nosework game at home. He did learn the target odor birch but mostly he just wanted to find food, wherever he could!!
Most Nosework classes will accommodate dog reactive dogs because dogs work solo. Each dog has a turn in a Nosework class and no other dogs are present. They are either beyond a barrier, crated in another area or in cars when it is not their turn. I've had some dogs who are even people reactive in my classes. We can make almost anything work so that every dog has an opportunity to experience the fun of Nosework. After teaching for so many years I've also seen something magical happen in dogs whose confidence was lacking and exhibited shyness or fear in the early classes. As their owners worked with them, they started to open up. It is truly a joyful experience to see a dog who when first came in to the search area would not even get near the open box full of cookies to a dog that sometimes even in a few weeks time was happily running about the room HUNTING for their treasure. It has literally brought me to tears on more than one occasion.
My little “parma-foster” now almost 10 year old Mimi led me in to Nosework and then to the wonderful world of truffle hunting which I LOVE because it gets me outdoors on trails in the quiet wet winters of the PNW. She also led me to my second Brittany, Gator, now 2, who is using his nose on counters, in competition, in the truffle forest AND in a bird field in hunt tests and field trials and I may even learn to fire a shotgun! That is something I NEVER thought I would be doing. Never say never. Your dog’s nose really is the path to many a splendid thing!
You can find me on facebook at k9snifftimeseattle.com, @k9snifftimeseattle on instagram and teaching classes through:
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