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Sniff Out Fun With K9 Nose Work

K9 Nose Work is a truly amazing activity. It is fun for dogs of all ages, sizes, and physical abilities. It can wear out a high-energy dog yet is easily modified for more sedate dogs. It lets dogs take the lead and gives people a brief glimpse into the incredible powers of a dog’s nose. Most importantly, it offers a great opportunity for people to bond with their canine companions through the teamwork and communication that develops through participation.

K9 Nose Work was created eight years ago by three professional detection dog handlers in Southern California. They saw how much their dogs enjoyed searching and felt that pet dogs deserved a chance to have fun using their noses, too. This skilled team went right to work developing a method of teaching scent detection that would be fun and motivational for pet dogs of varied temperaments and physical abilities. They also focused on making the training easy for people regardless of their physical abilities and previous dog-training experience. The result is a fun game people can quickly learn to play with their dogs that requires minimal space, equipment, or setup time.

In a K9 Nose Work competition, dogs search interior and exterior spaces as well as containers and vehicles, for hidden cotton swabs that have the scent of birch, anise, and/or clove essential oil on them. The humans’ job is to watch their dog closely for behavior changes that indicate that the dog has picked up traces of the odor, to support the dog during the search, and to recognize when the dog has found the source, and call the “alert.”

While competition is a fun activity for many teams, it isn’t necessary. The true magic happens during classes, where an impressive variety of dogs can be seen enjoying the game and the growth of teams can be appreciated week by week. One wonderful benefit of K9 Nose Work is the confidence that it can help build in shy or worried dogs. Being given the chance to take the lead in an activity that comes naturally to them and getting so much support from their person can help a dog’s confidence build by leaps and bounds. Mollie, a cattle dog mix, was adopted from an animal shelter as a sick puppy. Her rough start led to Mollie being worried about new things, but K9 Nose Work has helped her associate new things with a fun game, and her confidence has soared.

Watching dogs with physical limitations shine is also a regular occurrence in K9 Nose Work classes and competitions. Blind, deaf, and three-legged dogs are all on an equal playing field when it comes to using their noses. Prancer, a 10-year-old Boston terrier with motor control problems, has followed his nose to an NW2 title. Prancer’s size is no obstacle either. In fact, he is far from the smallest dog successfully participating in this sport.

Although K9 Nose Work is uniquely suited to the needs of dogs with physical limitations, it is also a very effective way to wear out a high-energy dog. Scenting provides mental stimulation as well as physical exercise, a combination that offers the perfect recipe for doggie relaxation. The fact that a game of nose work can quickly be set up in the house on a rainy day or in the yard before heading off to work makes it an easy way to enrich a dog’s day and deepen the human-canine bond.

More information, videos, a list of certified instructors, and an event calendar are all available on the website of the National Association of Canine Scent Work,

Laurel Scarioni of Pawsitive Results is a professional dog trainer, behavior consultant, and certified Nose Work Instructor who offers group classes and private lessons in Sonoma County. She has been helping dogs and their people build relationships based on mutual trust, respect, and fun for more than 10 years. For more information, visit, email, or call 707-292-5862.

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Main article photo by: courtesy of Lisa Kretner