Sniffing Away the Winter Blues: Intro to Nosework

By Lauren Jones Wenzel, Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Instinct Englewood

Snowstorms. Ice. Sleet. Freezing temperatures. Salt on the sidewalks. None of those make for enjoyable outside playtime with your pup!  If you have a young or high energy dog, winter can present some real hurdles to providing enough physical exercise.

Believe it or not, mental exercise can be as effective as physical when it comes to tiring out your dog.  Canine nosework, or searching for an odor or treat in different environments, can be a great way to give your dog a fun, mentally stimulating activity that can go anywhere you do, indoors or out.

Dogs have incredibly powerful sniffers, and the amount of information they take in just from odor is exponentially greater than what we get.  It takes a lot of their brain power to focus that amazing sniffer, so teaching them to actively hunt for odor can really tire them out – it’s like doing tough crossword puzzle, or having a challenging day at work for you!

Ready? Let’s get started!

Introducing Your Dog to Nosework

  1. Give a verbal cue like “Go Find It!” and toss a treat in plain sight for your dog to get. Repeat several times.
  2. Next, after giving your cue and tossing the first treat, quietly place a second one on the ground while your pup is getting the first. When pup turns back to you, give your “Go Find It!” cue again, and let him find the second treat. Repeat several times.
  3. When your dog is starting to understand the game, you’ll hear him start to sniff when he hears the cue and see him actively searching with his nose.
  4. After several short sessions, you can try hiding the treat first, with your pup out of sight. You can use a sit/stay if your dog has as solid one, or someone can hold your pup around the corner or put her in another room.
  5. Start with the treat in the middle of floor, where it’s easy for your pup to find it. Give your “Go Find It!” cue and release your dog to search for it.
  6. If your dog is doing well, gradually start to make the treat more difficult to find. You can add a few open boxes, or place the treat on a low shelf, or just behind or under a piece of furniture. You can also hide something like a stuffed Kong instead, so that once your dog locates it he can take more time enjoying eating it!

Watch the video below to see Instinct Englewood Camper Douglass during his very first introductory nosework session, then read on for some extra tips to ensure you and your dog have a fun, engaging training experience.

Nosework Training Tips:

  • If your dog looks at you for help or starts to offer obedience behaviors, don’t make eye contact – just show your empty hands and casually move around the space (you’ll notice this happen in the video at the 12-second mark). We want to show your dog that you aren’t the source of the rewards and she has to use her nose to get them.  Your movement around the space can also help show your pup where the parameters of the search area are, so she can be sure to check the entire space.
  • Don’t stare at or point out the treat to your dog with your hands or feet. You want to move around the space, maybe changing direction (clockwise vs counter-clockwise for example) to help your dog catch the odor, but if you keep pointing out the treat your pup will stop searching and just wait for you to show him where it is.
  • Keep sessions short and sweet – just 3-5 minutes is enough to give your dog a great brain workout.
  • Don’t make things too hard, too fast. We want to make sure your dog is building LOTS of confidence in their ability to search and locate the odor of treats, and avoid them becoming overly frustrated and giving up.

Want more? Check out www.nacsw.net for a Certified Nosework Instructor near you, or for more information about Nosework as a competitive sport! And, if you want to learn more about how and when dogs use their noses to navigate the world around them, read our blog post: To Sniff or Not to Sniff: Does Your Dog Follow Her Nose?

Happy Sniffing!