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How to start practising nosework with your dog

What is nosework? And how do you start practicing? Many dog ​​owners are curious and want to try training or competing in the sport. Here you can learn more, from how to start training at home to how a nosework competition is done.
Close up of a happy Border Collie

What is nosework?

Nosework is a dog sport where the dog gets to use its sense of smell to search for scents in different environments. It gives the dog both mental and physical stimulation and is a fun activation for both dog and handler. 

Nosework can be easily adapted based on experience, resources and knowledge. Therefore, it suits the vast majority of dogs and owners, regardless of breed, age, knowledge and time.

The nosework instructor advises:

The fantastic thing about Nosework in particular is that it suits all dogs and owners. Because we train with the dog's main sense in focus, all dogs find it fun and stimulating. It can be adapted to all types dogs, from big to small and young to old. You can choose the areas you want to search in and the level of difficulty, making it possible for injured or sick dogs and handlers to practice as well.

The positive thing about letting the dog use its sense of smell is that we promote and contribute to better mental health in our dogs, while we have fun with the dog and get a better relationship. Many dogs who have fears or other behavioural problems are often helped by nosework to cope with their everyday life better. In addition, it is easy to train and does not take much time.

How do we start practicing nosework?

Step 1

You can actually start practicing nosework at home in your kitchen without any aids whatsoever. The first step is to get your dog to use its nose and search. The only thing we need is your dog's favourite food or treats.

You can start by getting your dog to search for treats you have hidden, for example in the kitchen. You, as the owner, don't need to do anything, but let your dog use its sense of smell and instincts to hunt for food. this gives them an outlet for their natural behaviour.

This is a self-rewarding exercise that most dogs enjoy.

Step 2

Once you know your dog understands the first step, you can start hiding the treats a little better. Slightly different heights and in different nooks and crannies in the kitchen, but all the time so that the dog can access and eat them.

After a few repetitions of these exercises, your dog will usually have understood what to do and be motivated to search. This favours the training going forwards. Your dog gets the memory of the training and becomes sure of what it has to do.  

Step 3

The next step is to introduce the specific scent that you want your dog to look for. It is then placed together with the treat. For your dog it makes no difference, they have already learned that in this situation they should look for treats. When the dog then finds the treat, it also smells a the scent. Start with a strong scent, such as eucalyptus.

Your dog will quickly learn that finding the matching scent means a treat. The treat is associated with the scent and it takes on an important meaning for the dog.

Nosework instructor advice

  • Start training in a distraction-free environment - e.g. indoor
  • Exercise for short periods in the beginning
  • Bring out the favourite treats - the tastier the reward, the higher the motivation
  • Always reward when scent is introduced

Try and make the environment as disturbance-free as possible when you first start. It may therefore be good to start indoors to avoid disturbances outdoors such as other interesting smells or passing dogs. 

You should also bear in mind that the better the reward (treat) you have, the more motivated and interested your dog will be and the more important the scent will be. If we want the dog to struggle to find the scent, then it has to be worth looking for.

It is also important that once we introduce the scent and include the scent in the training, your dog must get a treat every time they sniff the scent. If your dog only gets a treat sometimes, there is a big risk that the value of the scent decreases and your dog could lose motivation and interest. 

Consider training for short periods at first. Dogs get more tired than you think, especially if they are not used to it. 

Nosework competition - How does it work?

Does it feel like nosework is your and your dog's thing and you want to try competing together? In order to start competing, your dog needs to pass a scent test. The scent tests differ between classes and are done to ensure that the dog recognises the scent/scents used for the particular class you want to compete in. Nosework has three different competition classes, for each new class a new scent is added. There are four different stages, which apply to all classes: container search, indoor search, outdoor search and vehicle search.


About the nosework instuctor

Sara Peiper Nosework Instructor

Name: Sara Peiper

Education & competition: Sara has been a nosework instructor since 2015, she has also competed. As well as instructor in General Obedience and Freestyle.

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