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0 Comments | May 25, 2012

Nose Work

It’s a beautiful day in Fife, Washington, and True and I are competing in our very first Nose Work trial.  This is my first experience at a Nose Work trial—or really, any dog sports trial at all.  I’ve always chosen activities based more on mutual enjoyment than whether we could win ribbons, which I think puts me in line with the majority of dog lovers out there.  But even when we have participated in activities that allow the opportunity to compete, I’ve chosen to keep us on the practice field.

Some of this has to do with time.  Competing in dog sports is quite a time commitment.  Today, we arrive at the trial at 8:30 am, after driving for about an hour and a half.  We won’t head home until at least 5:30 pm, after the debriefing and the awards ceremony.  All told, we’ll be gone from the house for close to 12 hours.  If all goes well, True will spend less than 5 minutes of that time actually searching for scent.  Who said dog people aren’t crazy?

Another factor is that, in most of our activities, we get plenty of satisfaction out of training and practicing in class and at home.  I was never motivated to take our agility training to the next level—just practicing the jumps and tunnels for fun has been enough for me.  Obedience, for me, has always been about having a dog that is well behaved at home and in public, not competing in trials.  So what has me here in Fife at 8:30 am on a sunny, breezy Sunday morning?

I started Nose Work training with True as a way to give her a chance to use her nose.  As a beagle, she spends much of her life ruled by her nose, and a good portion of it being called away from whatever she found so fascinating.  I wanted her to have a chance to follow that nose, to use her strongest skill and get rewarded for it.  I had originally been looking for tracking classes, but finding those in my area was proving difficult.  When another dog trainer nearby mentioned that she was training her dog in Nose Work, a new type of scent training, I was intrigued.  I read up about it and decided to give it a try.

True took to Nose Work right away.  The first lessons were all about finding cookies, which was quite alright with her!  Eventually we introduced the dogs to scent, and the game started getting harder, changing from searching boxes to searching rooms, vehicles, and even outdoor areas.  True’s behavior made it really clear that this had become her new favorite activity.  She would jump to alert when she heard me get the scent containers out, dance in anticipation if she saw me holding her harness, and only reluctantly wait her turn when another dog in class was doing a search.

Training in Nose Work with True was quickly becoming as fun for me as it was for her.  Watching her eagerness, reveling in her skill as she indicated her find correctly time after time, seeing her in her element, well…it was a lot of fun.  And so I began looking for other places and opportunities for us to practice.  Of course we continued practicing at home and in class, but we also started looking for places farther afield—friend’s houses, parking lots, shopping centers, even the hotel room when we went on a trip.  I sized up places we went based on air currents, hiding places, and whether they might allow my dog in for a search.

Eventually I realized that something was lacking in our training.  In Nose Work, finding the scent is only part of the process.  The other part is alerting your handler, and having that handler recognize the alert.  In the majority of our training, I knew exactly where the scent was hidden, so I knew right away whether True had found it.  Even when someone else had hidden the scent for me, they were right there if I had a question about whether True was in the right spot, or whether she might be distracted.  I wanted to know how we would do with our new skills without a safety net.  I knew she could find the scent.  I wanted to know whether we could communicate to each other well enough for me to know when she found it.  The place to try that?  A Nose Works trial.

So here we are, eagerly awaiting our turn.  For me, an exciting (and somewhat nervewracking) chance to test our skills.  For True, another opportunity to do one of the things she loves best in life—use her nose.