One of the many benefits of K9 Nose Work® with the National Association of Canine Scent Work is how this activity helps balance a dogs mind. My background in Natural Horsemanship had me looking for a program for dogs where dogs are given a choice and we support them in “wanting” to do something for us instead of being “made” to do something for us. In K9 Nose Work®, you cannot get task oriented, you have to be quiet, observe and shape what you want.
All dogs can play and play now. How much more fun and inclusive can you get? That is a motto I can truly live in its entirety; though we do a screening process for human/dog reactive dogs and resource guarders so we can support the dog, instructors and class mates accordingly. K9 Nose Work® is the only sport in town where reactive dogs can participate as we work and run one dog at a time.
This program was built to support the dog’s natural state of mind while hunting, giving the dog a setting to use its natural instincts. All dogs have this skill and one third of their brain is dedicated to olfactory reception. We set up expectations for the dog, take that expectation away and then encourage the dog, by changing things in the environment. The dog then has to figure this next problem out all by using their nose, memory, drive, and natural engineering skills. By changing something in the environment and not going directly to the dog keeps you from being a primary reinforcer and or trying to help and give control back to the dog.
The dog leads the hunt and we the handlers relinquish the desire to manufacture the behavior, call it what it is – control. It’s a beautiful moment when humans have to be quiet and observe while the dog leads the hunt. This is how you learn the dog’s language so you can read where the hide is that you want the dog to find. When you do not manufacture the behavior, your dog works instinctively, quite nice for your own awareness, relationship with your dog, and or trial.
I have taken what I call a behavioral hierarchy that occurs while hunting and used this frame of mind to assist dogs in overcoming reactivity, sound aversions, environmental sensitivity, and lack of confidence by introducing the stimulus that gives the dog trouble at critical distances or doses while the dog is hunting. Now there is a strategy here where you have to be savvy to when to Plan B, hold or increase the pressure. K9 Nose Work® creates a “yippee” factor for dogs as it is ultimately the hunt that is the reward, not the finding of the odor and or your reinforcement, it is the hunt.
The pairing of food with the odor to build odor’s importance is what set off the light bulb of how I might introduce human scent by pairing clothing with food. I had a pit mix that was reactive to men; she was not afraid; she just did not want them to come close and provided a lot of distance increasing behavior. So I took the scent of a man who I wanted this dog to meet and paired with food and had her hunt for this scent for three weeks. The dog had to find the paired clothing in boxes, out of boxes, hanging in the trees, left out in the yard, etc.
Then I had the man who’s clothing she had been hunting come and meet her. The introduction was done after the dog had been walked and then run on that clothing odor again four times. I had the man who the dog was to meet sitting down, eyes averted, and lots of treats to give. I walked the dog at a distance to read the dog’s state of mind and slowly, but not sneaky, led the dog closer and closer moving in circles and changing direction until she was able to pass by the sitting man and take food as we moved on passed his chair. I was thrilled.
Using K9 Nose Work® we eventually had this dog not only greet this man, but walked on leash with him out and about. Total time to get this initial result was 5 weeks of just playing in boxes and allowing meeting a strange man to be fun ahead of time by creating the “yippee” factor first with his scent.
The founders also developed a shelter program with K9 Nose Work®. They are clear on the stress that goes with being confined in a shelter environment. Dogs benefit greatly by having an outlet for all their frustration and misplaced energy. I like to put dogs on boxes first and “drain their pipes” as I say before I start any obedience, counterconditioning, or manners work. This has proven to be very successful for dogs looking for their forever homes and the volunteers love having another outlet beside loose leash walking which can be a struggle.
K9 Nose Work® is not just about going to trial and winning in the latest sport sweeping the U.S. K9 Nose Work® is about mental and emotional fitness for your dog regardless if they are blind, deaf, shy, retired from the show ring, reactive, geriatric, have only three legs, or wheels for legs.
Handlers learn a heightened level of communication by learning to read their dog’s topography. Your dog is trying to communicate with you all the time. K9 Nose Work will teach you how to interconnect and have fun with your dog like no other discipline out there. Dogs do not think abstractly or have language acquisition, they are body language animals. There is much information when your dog is on pee-mail, or critter dung, or candy wrappers, versus odor. Handlers soon learn the difference and once your dog is odor obedient, I have found them to walk past a chocolate cake, ignore other barking dogs, and not even look up at a car backfiring when searching.
As you learn when dogs are on or off odor it is a priceless conversation to be a part of. I have watched over 200 dogs in trials now and it is still riveting to watch them work and overcome previous obstacles that would not allow them to be in public.
K9 Nose Work will get you out exploring and pursuing with your dog. The entire program is comprehensive in aiding and supporting your dog. The crating part of K9 Nose Work or “contained contentment “ is a valuable tool as well as the critical thinking and puzzles real life searching provides.
The classes travel after you garner your foundation creating more opportunity for your dog to have “yippee” factors away from home generalizing the behaviors you are working on and desire. The foundation classes provide puzzle solving desire to hunt, movement and sound, impulse control, and more. Some dogs the hunting skill is intrinsic while other dogs it has to be cultivated. This is where K9 Nose Work is magic, fun, and frolic. I use these very words when describing what this activity can do for YOU and your dog.
Its magic it really is and I have seen it help many, many dogs!
All photos and text courtesy of:
Julie Eskoff CPDT-KA CNWI
Rancho Mondo Northwest Canine Resource Center
For more information please contact the founding and governing body NACSW™www.nacsw.net