What Is Nose Work? Training, Competition, and Best Breeds

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Your dog has 300 million olfactory receptors in their nose. That’s a staggering amount compared to the human’s 60 million. This article will discuss Nose Work and how it utilizes your dog’s keen ability to smell in a fun and competitive way.

What is Nose Work? Nose Work is a sport in which your dog tries to identify a scent with only their nose. While it can be just a recreational game, it’s also a competitive sport in which many dog owners participate. Nose Work requires mindful training for scent identification.

A dog can experience many benefits from participating in the sport of Nose Work. There are even some competitions that offer spectacular rewards for its winners. Read on to learn more about Nose Work and how you can get your dog started.

Nose Work Explained

The use of dogs in scent identification has stretched for decades, if not centuries. Dogs have been used to identify drugs, bombs, missing people, and criminals. However, they’ve also been used recreationally on hunts with the social elite and for matters of survival with ancestral humans. Nose Work is an activity involving canine scent detection. It was created by Jill Marie O’Brien, Amy Herot, and Ron Gaunt. They had worked in the world involving canine scent detection professionally and wanted to make a competition out of it. Nose Work was born.

Generally speaking, Nose Work requires a dog to identify an odor and locate its source. There are four different types of elements that a dog will be introduced to as they achieve various milestones in their detection skills. These four elements are vehicles, interior, exterior, and containers. Once they have moved past these elements, further advanced search scenarios are introduced to them.

There are many benefits that a dog can receive from learning and performing Nose Work. Perhaps the most important is that it keeps them mentally and physically stimulated. If a dog requires a lot of activity and likes to use their mind, then Nose Work can be the perfect game to keep both mind and body stimulated and exhausted.

Nose Work can also be performed virtually anywhere, so your dog can easily get started with the game. Even if you’ve never trained a dog before with Nose Work or don’t know much about scent work, you can easily learn. There isn’t prior experience required to get your dog started with the game.

Another benefit that some dog owners discover is that it gives their shy dogs confidence. Scent is something that all healthy dogs possess. It’s natural for them to identify different smells. Being praised for this natural ability can easily bolster and give confidence to even the shyest or fearful dog. Finally, it benefits the dog because they get to spend time with you. That’s their favorite thing to do.

Getting Started with Nose Work

Perhaps one of the best things about Nose Work is that any dog can join. If your dog is excluded from other physical games because they may not breathe well or have a bad back, they can still enjoy Nose Work. The point of training is to help your dog develop problem-solving skills, hone their hunting skills, and develop and build on scent detection skills.

Training Basics

Training typically begins by having the dog search for their favorite toy or food. It’s typically performed in a room that’s comfortable. You or your handler are not able to help or interrupt the dog while they search for their toy or food. Once they find their favorite item, they receive an immediate reward of being able to play with the toy or eat the food. This part of the training can last from either three months to a full year. It depends on how long it takes for your dog to build that foundation of scent detection.

You may want to consider signing up your dog for a scent detection workshop. These are typically led by certified handlers and trainers. They’ll teach your dog how to search through containers, searching outside of containers, going through the four elements, helping handlers with their own skills, leash handling whether it’s a short or long leash, and when and how to properly reward your dog when they identify the scent.

Nose Work Basic Training In Action

What to Expect at a Nose Work Competition

Now that you’ve finally signed up your dog for a Nose Work competition, you might be unsure of what to expect. First, you should understand that this isn’t a competition between other handlers and their dogs. There isn’t a first or second place. It’s all about how well your dog finds the objects and identify the scents. As they show and improve their skills, they’ll be rewarded titles. You may be given a special award, however, if your dog seems to perform the best.

There are numerous types of competitions. Each one may involve a different element. There may be an interior competition while another may be focused solely on containers. Some may cross with a different kind of scent work like tracking. You should be aware of which competition you’re signing up for at the start.

Once you arrive at the competition, you’ll sign in and be given a time for when your dog performs. Until that time, you have to wait in the parking lot with your dog. It’s part of the official competition rules that your dog is always either in the car or in their crate beside the car. This is to ensure that your dog doesn’t interfere with the performing dogs. Once it’s your turn, you’ll be taken directly to a practice room first. Then your dog will be taken to the real deal. They’ll perform and then you wait for the results. You can either go home and wait for the results to be posted online, or you can stick around for the awards ceremony.

For the actual search, a judge will tell you how many objects are hidden, where the start line and the boundaries are, if your dog can be off-leash, and the time limit.

Nose Work Titles

There are six titles that your dog can win.

  • NW1 – your dog displays proficiency in one specific odor.
  • NW2 – shows proficiency in two odors with increased difficulty in the search area.
  • NW3 – proficiency in three odors and a more difficult search area.
  • NW3 Element Titles – given to those who complete a particular element three times.
  • NW3 Elite – rewarded when you win all three NW3 titles.
  • Element Specialty Titles – which involves proficiency in an extremely difficult or longer search in a specific element.

Handlers and dogs are also given awards and titles dependent upon their performance overall in the trials and their individual element placement.

Best Nose Work Dog Breeds

While all dogs can be taught Nose Work, there are a few breeds who already have an instinct for hunting and scent detection. Some breeds you might want to consider are the Bloodhound, the Basset Hound, the German Shepherd, the Labrador Retriever, the Belgian Malinois, the English Springer Spaniel, and the Coonhound.

Related Questions

Are there other scent sports for dogs?

There are a few other sports that involve a dog’s sense of smell. One of them is called Tracking Trials. This sport involves a dog tracking down a person or article down a scent trail. Another popular scent sport is that of hunting or Hound Trailing. Both of these require the dog to hunt down an animal during a hunt.

Barn Hunt is yet another scent sport! Learn more in out What is Barn Hunt article.

Can you win prize money at nose work competitions?

Each competition might offer a different reward. For example, the rewards given at the National Association of Canine Scent Work offers titles and a trophy. Thus far, Nose Work isn’t a competition between owners. It’s focused on awarding your dog different titles as they become more proficient. Official Nose Work competitions don’t yet offer money as a reward.