What is Nosework?

Learn about this new scent detection sport and how it can help your hyper, shy, fearful or reactive dog.


Dog's have incredible noses. We have about 5 million cells devoted to smelling; dogs have up to 220 million. They also have four times the brain power devoted to processing scents. We smell "banana bread", but a dog smells each individual ingredient. Dogs can detect the ink on money, cancer cells, low blood sugar and much more. Think about that the next time you're impatiently waiting for your dog to finish sniffing yellow snow! What are they interpreting?


With that much brain capacity dedicated to scent, imagine how much energy you can burn if you encourage your dog to sniff. Enter nosework! This new sport is inspired by working drug and bomb detection dogs. It's a fun search activity for all dogs including puppies, seniors, injured or blind dogs, fearful and reactive dogs (yup, that's pretty much all dogs).


How It Works

Bombs and drugs aren't exactly practical (or legal), so dogs search for essential oils. Your dogs’ nose is so powerful, he can detect one tablespoon of sugar in the amount of water it would take to fill two Olympic-sized swimming pools. Finding potent, minty birch oil is no problem!


To begin with, odor is hidden in one of

several containers. We use food rewards to teach the dogs to perform an alert behavior in response to the odor. We gradually make the game more difficult by hiding the odor in larger rooms, and eventually outside, and on vehicles.


Nosework Builds Trust

There are so many things I love about nosework. In this sport, the dog knows more than his human handler. When he finds the right odor he uses his body language to say, "Here it is human! Bring treats quick!". The dog is in the know, and the humans have to learn to read and trust their dogs. That's true partnership, and it's pretty powerful, stuff!

Nosework builds confidence, focus, and provides healthy mental exercise.

Nosework Builds Calm

Generally, dogs are calm and focused while they search. They're using those 220 million cells

and all of that brain power devoted to scent. Most dogs are pretty exhausted after a long nosework session, some are calmer and better able to perform other training behaviors. I do nosework searches before a walk so my dog is less worked up when we head out. It works! Tiring out a hyper dog without having to go for a 10 km run is always a win, especially when it's -30!


Nosework Helps Fearful & Reactive Dogs

I've had a number of students observe how chill the vibe is in nosework classes. Sniffing is a natural calming signal for dogs, they use it to communicate appeasement and encourage others to calm down. Fearful or reactive dogs who participate in nosework seem less stressed and more confident in classes (we give them a safe place to wait their turn). Dogs who spook in the washrooms learn to confidently search them like pros! Over time, shy dogs build a positive association with searching, being in new and strange places, and having other dogs around. Plus their mental exercise needs are being met. Win-win!

Nosework is a sport, but for dogs who are struggling with fear or reactivity, it's therapy.

If you have a dog who could benefit from nosework training please contact me. I offer classes and private in-home nosework training.

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Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner