Article by Trainer-in-Training, Kelsi Long

All dogs know how to use their nose, it’s an instinct they’re born with; but have you ever thought about putting that instinct to the ultimate test? Nose Work is a fun dog sport for both you and your pup! It is mentally stimulating, can be physically challenging, very rewarding for your dog and relies 100% on their nose. From the standpoint of being the handler, it’s amazing watching your dog work. Created in Southern California in 2006, Ron Gaunt, Amy Herot and Jill Marie O’Brien wanted to give pet dogs an outlet for a behavior that comes so naturally to them.  The objective of this sport is to find hidden odors in different elements. The dog and handler work as a team to navigate the environment and accurately alert to the odor that has been hidden. Any dog can compete in this sport, but the most commonly seen are Bloodhounds, Beagles and German Shepherds.

k9 nose work training

Candace and Ruger practicing Nose Work at Valor K9 Academy – Spokane

Nose Work is for everyone!

One of the best aspects of this sport is the fact that there are no specific training or obedience requirements to get started. To begin, just hide your dog’s favorite food or toy around the house and watch as they work their way from room to room searching for it. Start with easy hides first, this will help build your dog’s confidence, hunt drive, and endurance for searching. Start to increase the difficulty of hiding the reward as your dog gets better and better at finding it. These searches can take up a year to practice, but once your dog is ready for the next step, you can start pairing a scent with their favorite reward. Popular scents used in nose work include birch, anise and clove. For example, if you are hiding your dog’s favorite Kong toy, put a small amount of birch on their toy and have your dog search for their favorite reward again. As they progress, you will eventually fade out the Kong toy and use it simply as a reward for after they find the odor. Odor’s can be hidden in containers, interior rooms, exterior environments and even vehicles. A dog must be comfortable searching through all four of these environments according to the National Association of Canine Scent Work rulebook.

k9 nosework dog sport

Adi and Cash learning Nose Work

The Rules

“The mission of the NACSW Trial Division is to make the sport of K9 Nose Work safe, fun and fair for the dogs and dog lovers through the sanctioning of all K9 Nose Work Odor Recognition Tests and K9 Nose Work Trials”, this comes directly from the rulebook as well. In order to enter a competition, a dog must be 6 months old to begin with the Odor Recognition Test (ORT). A dog has to be at least a year old to compete in trials. Handlers can be as young as 13, however they do need to be accompanied by an adult on the course until they are 16 years old. All dogs have to be healthy and up to date on vaccination. Wolves, coyotes, foxes, any hybrid breed, and lactating bitches can not participate in the competition.

k9 nose work article

Cailee and Murphy doing Nose Work

Requirements to compete

In order to reach the competition level, a team has to pass the ORT. From there a team will go through Elementary Specialty Trial, Nose Work Level 1 through 3, Elite Division and Summit League Trial. For the Odor Recognition Test, a team has to search through 12 cardboard boxes (indoors or outdoors) and alert to an odor accurately. Results can take up to 14 days, so if you are looking to enter your dog at competition level quickly, make sure time is allotted for the ORT. There are different requirements for each level of competition; numbers of odors change, multiple search areas can be added at different levels, and once you reach the Summit League Trials, the competition lasts for 2 day and can include anywhere from 6-10 searches.

What are you waiting for?

In the end, dog’s noses are incredible, and Nose Work only proves that further. Equipped with millions of olfactory receptors and the ability to separate the air they breathe from a specific scent, help a dog to excel in this sport. No prior obedience or training is required to get started, just your dog’s favorite reward! Watch their confidence grow, hunt drive develops, and witness their endurance grow. It’s also great bonding between the owner and dog. All dog’s need a job, Nose Work could just be the perfect fit for yours!

k9 nose work training

Eric and Chloe doing a more difficult Nose Work search


Sources (articles linked):

Dogs Sense of Smell

What is K9 Nose Work

The Founders

AKC Scent Work

National Association of Canine Scent Work

NACSW Rule Book