In many ways, our dogs are walking noses. Sniffing is how they make sense of the world, so activities that incorporate their sense of smell are a sure-fire way to make them happy. There are many types of nose work for dogs, from scent work with different organizations to various sports like tracking, Earthdog, or Barn Hunt. And AKC Scent Work can help enhance them all.
Dogs Are Built for Nose Work
We, humans, have five million scent receptors in our noses. Dogs have over 200 million! They descended from wolves, so it’s no surprise their predatory heritage left them with a keen sense of smell. That means nose work isn’t about teaching dogs how to smell, it’s about providing a structure for something they are doing anyway. In other words, sniffing with rules.
Ron Weaks and his Grand Basset Griffon Vendéen participate in several types of nose work-related activities, including scent work, tracking, and barn hunt. These scent hounds were developed as hunting dogs, so nose work lets Lexey do what she was bred for. Weaks appreciates his dog’s heritage, both man-made and natural. “I get a kick out of seeing dogs following instincts that have been developed for thousands of years.”
Nose Work with Other Organizations
Besides AKC Scent Work, there are several nose work organizations including the National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW) and United States Canine Scent Sports (USCSS). Although they all challenge dogs to detect hidden odors, there are some differences in the details. For example, NACSW and USCSS include vehicle searches whereas AKC Scent Work has a buried element and a handler discrimination division.
Participant Shaefer Sides takes part in both the NACSW and USCSS as well as AKC Scent Work with his Beagle, Buddy. He finds the different activities in each organization keep the sport enjoyable. “I think new challenges continue to develop in the scent work trial setting; new ways to test the teams. Those new challenges continue to make scent work an interesting new sport.” Rather than targeting his training to one particular venue, he practices generic problems that can be applied across any of the scent work trial situations.
He also appreciates how involvement in various organizations provides even more trial opportunities than he would otherwise have with only one group. “I haven’t had to travel outside the central Texas area to trial, mainly because the other venues have helped to grow the interest and involvement from the dog sport community.”
Jennifer Redfern also values having multiple sources of nose work competitions. She competes in both AKC Scent Work and NACSW with her German Pinschers. Although she finds there are difficulties such as differing rules, the unique scenarios in each organization provide her dogs with new training and testing challenges. “Quite a few nose work competitors go back and forth between the different organizations to increase knowledge and to increase playtime fun for their beloved canines.”
Other Sports That Use a Dog’s Nose
Redfern has found nose work has boosted her dog Winston’s performance in barn hunt as well. Barn hunt involves dogs locating rats (which are safe in aerated tubes) hidden in a maze of hay bales. Thanks to nose work, Redfern is more aware of cones of odor, how odor moves, and how her dog detects a scent. “This helps me better understand why my dog moves around the barn hunt course the way he does. I have more ability to recognize when he is ‘in odor’ and when he is very near to the source of the odor be it sourced from essential oils or from warm-blooded animals.”
Jennifer Kimberlin also participates in barn hunt with her Standard Schnauzers and agrees that knowing when her dogs are in odor is invaluable. They had hit a wall in barn hunt, but with scent work training, both her dogs have since earned their Master Champion titles. When thinking about her dog Derby, Jennifer says, “Once we moved into the higher levels of barn hunt and had to move faster, I was able to pick up on his signs he was in odor and know when he found the rat faster due to watching his signs. He learned to trust that I was watching and listening to him.”
Weaks also participates in multiple nose work-related sports including barn hunt and tracking. Because barn hunt and scent work both primarily use air scenting to locate the source of an odor, he is able to use some of the same training methods for both sports. He calls it doubling up on training. On the other hand, he sees tracking and scent work as cousin sports. “The goal in tracking is to find the path, or track, the person laid out as well as the articles. If a dog only air scented to find the article, they may be off track enough to fail the test.”
Kimberlin and Derby have also dabbled in tracking, and she says scent work has helped them by teaching Kimberlin patience and trust. “Derby brackets a lot when tracking, but because of scent work, I can see his body language and know he is in scent rather than smelling a squirrel.”
“Working in several nose work sports is greatly beneficial,” says Kimberlin. Each sport allows her to meet different trainers with unique perspectives. “They also approach scent differently, so you can take a bit from each one and spin it into what works for you and your dog.” Finally, she appreciates how training and trialing in different environments helps to proof her dogs for the other venues. The variety of experience means that she will be ready no matter the circumstances.
Give AKC Scent Work a Try
With all the benefits AKC Scent Work can bring to other nose work activities, it’s definitely worth a try. Even if you don’t compete, you could see a boost in your other nose work sports. Plus, your dog will have a ball. Sides thinks AKC Scent Work is just as exciting as agility’s teeters, tunnels, and dog walks. Although the dogs are using a basic tool and talent, “Watching the dog change his direction, watching the dog quicken his pace, watching him work the odor problem to find the source – that’s the ‘wow’ in Scent Work.”