Dogs sniff out fun in nose work classes

If you let it, your dog's nose can lead you to the fun and rewarding dog sport of canine nose work. Yes, it's called a sport but it doesn't require the rapid-fire pace of flyball or agility, just you following silently behind your dog as your dog's nose and brain work together to solve the question "where is that smell coming from?" And all that's required from your dog is her nose and eagerness to find the source of that smell.

K9 Nose Work was developed by Ron Gaunt, Amy Herot and Jill Marie O'Brien who, according to the National Association of Canine Scent Work's website, "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."

Your dog will learn to search for specific odors (birch, anise and clove) by first finding their favorite food. As training progresses, your dog will switch from searching for food to searching for odors with the food as a reward. Here's the tricky (and fun) part: you don't know where the "hides" are so you have to trust your dog. Rather than your dog relying on you for instruction as in obedience or other dog sports, you rely on your dog.

"This is often the hard part for most handlers, relinquishing control to the dog – it is hard for us to admit that they can do the job faster, and better than us," said Alaska Dog Sports trainers Pete and Lisa Summers. "However, it is a great way for the canine to build confidence, and as a team, trust and communication skills."

Did we mention the word obedience in the last paragraph? Well, guess what, no obedience required. So if your dog never quite mastered "sit," "down," "stay," don't worry, the two of you can still enjoy nose work because other than "find it" and "you're an awesome dog," you don't have to say anything.

But, you may be asking next, what if my dog is shy, fearful or doesn't get along with other dogs? No problem. Nose work is performed solo while the other dogs are crated or awaiting turns in their owners' cars. So nose work is the perfect activity for dogs who don't like the social pressure of other dogs. And it's the perfect activity to build confidence in shy dogs. In his years of training, Pete Summers has noted that "it has been amazing to see the dogs get so excited on class day. Wanting to get to the search area and find the odor, to make their handler happy, and of course get paid! We have seen dogs that literally have been scared of shadows thrive and forget their fears when playing."

Let's get over the next hurdle: you say your dog is not very physically active, is older, is blind, has three worries, the sport of nose work is all-inclusive. The physical demands on dog and handler are minimal so this activity is excellent for senior dogs (and senior handlers). And blind dogs have no problem excelling at nose work – after all, they are following their nose. Pete and Lisa have seen dogs with these issues gain both confidence and physical strength.

Here's the best part, and it happens to be Pete Summers' Second Rule of Nose Work: Have fun.

For more information on K9 Nose Work:

Ready to get started? Look for classes at Alaska Dog Sports or Alyeska Canine Trainers in Anchorage, or inquire with your local veterinarian or animal care organization.

Here is a list of certified trainers in Alaska:

Laura Atwood is a public relations coordinator at Anchorage Animal Care and Control.

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