Tuesday, January 15, 2013

What is Nose Work?

What is Nose Work?

Nose Work is a sport that allows dogs to use their natural sense of smell to searchfor a particular scent. Nose Work is geared towards pet dog owners who want to do more with their dogs and it’s ideal for virtually any dog!

This fun and exciting sport is quickly growing in popularity on the West Coast, but it is ever so slowly making its way to Florida.

Working dogs that use their noses to find a target odor might be searching for narcotics, explosives, or even bed bugs. While many of the same techniques are used, one of the biggest differences between a working detector dog and Nose Work dog, is the specific odor that is being hidden. In the beginning stages of Nose Work, dogs search for whatever motivates them. It could be their favorite toy or maybe some yummy treats. These rewards are hidden in boxes, dresser drawers, or other containers. Over time, these rewards are paired with one of three target odors that are used: Birch, Anise, and Clove. All essential oils. Eventually, the dogs are transitioned to searching for only the specified oil and then receive their reward once they have found the other odor. The oils used for this sport are very easy to find and are relatively inexpensive, making this something you can do from anywhere!

Depending on how serious you get about the sport of Nose Work, you could either just let your dog have some fun with this game or you can actually get involved in competitions and your dog could earn titles for this. As of right now, there is one organization, the NACSW (National Association of Canine Scent Work) that is the only organizing and sanctioning body for this sport. They are the ones holding trials and events. However, stay tuned, because the UKC (United Kennel Club) will soon be offering a titling event for Nose Work as well. This is very exciting because I have found that since this sport has not yet caught on in Florida, it’s very difficult to find events that are even remotely close to the southeast.

I was introduced to this amazing sport last year when I attended a two-week Nose Work course out in CA with my dog Cowboy. Since then, I have worked hard to progress Cowboy’s skill level and I have even started teaching Scent Work classes at Doglando in hopes of drawing more attention to this sport!

Last weekend, Cowboy and I participated in our very first ORT (Odor Recognition Test)! This is a test that all dogs must pass before moving on to trials. The purpose of this test is to prove that your dog knows each odor he will be searching for and that each team has actually put in the work. Thus not wasting anyone’s time come trial day.

ORT’s are hard to come by here in Florida. We missed an opportunity to be a part of an ORT in November in Gainesville when Cowboy decided to get sick that very weekend! Fortunately, I found out about another ORT being held in January. This time around, Cowboy (in good health) and I were able to make this one. Even though we had to drive all the way to Alabama in order to do it!!! But, rest assured, Cowboy and I have clocked many miles together in my car, so we hit the open road! It was a fast and easy trip and best of all, Cowboy passed both of his tests!

When we arrived at the location of the ORT, it was about 42ยบ outside!!! Brrrrrr…. For an ORT (and really any trial/event), you are asked to keep your dog crated in your vehicle and only outside to potty. Because Nose Work is a sport that is very inviting of all dogs no matter their size, breed, age, and temperament, you do see many dogs that are reactive to other dogs and/or people. And that’s okay because they are not required to come into contact with anyone other than their own handler. This puts less pressure on these reactive dogs, which allows them to be able to excel in this sport. I also discovered that everyone was very respectful of other dogs’ space and nobody allowed any on-leash greetings or interactions between dogs. A red bandana was passed out for those dogs to wear that did have some reactivity issues, so that other teams would be that much more vigilant about ensuring adequate space was given so as not to cross any dogs tolerance threshold. I decided to take a bandana for Cowboy to wear. Cowboy does have issues with other dogs coming into his space. And although I think he would’ve been just fine in this situation since I was the one managing him on-leash, I wanted to be sure I was giving him every chance at being successful that day. So, Cowboy wore his red bandana. Red is his color anyway, so he didn’t mind so much. After dressing Cowboy up, I had a moment to think about what we were about to do. I was itching to get this thing over with. I was nervous, but very excited too! I was confident with Cowboy’s ability to find the two odors he was to be tested on, but, I also questioned whether I had done enough to ensure his success…because after all, if he didn’t pass the test, it was my own fault, not his.

At 9:30 in the morning I looked at the running order for the day. 18 th. Last. Cowboy was going to go last. I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not. It gave me more time to stress, but it also allowed Cowboy time to get his bearings. I guess it also allowed the odor to sit in the box longer, which could only be a help to us, right?
So, we waited for our turn. There were practice boxes outside in the parking lot. Most teams chose to use these boxes to get last minute practice in and to warm their dogs up for what was next. When it was our turn, I decided to just skip the practice session and go straight to the test inside. I hadn’t done any searches outside before. And even though Cowboy knew what to do with the boxes, I didn’t want him to be so distracted by all the smells and things going on around him that he would not be interested in searching. That would’ve set a very bad tone for the actual test and I didn’t want to go there.

The test was very quick. In order to pass, your dog has 3 minutes to find the odor once his nose passes the start line. As the handler, it’s your job to read your dog and then let the judges know when he found the odor by saying, “Alert”. Luckily, Cowboy’s alert is very obvious because we have worked a lot on it. He did great! Sure, he diddle daddled and frolicked around a bit taking in his new environment, but, after (a very long) minute he was in the game. His time was 1:42 seconds. Not the fastest, but, definitely not the slowest either. The second test went much smoother and quicker than the first. Cowboy started actively searching with only a few seconds of me giving the search command and within 35 seconds, he found the second odor! Woohoo! I was so proud of him on that day. He had no idea why he was being drug on a 10- hour car ride, why he had to stay in a hotel the night before and why he was holed up in the car all morning long. But, as always, he willingly followed me and gave it his all.

The next thing in store for us will be our very first trial! There is one being held in Gainesville in March and you better believe Cowboy and I will be there!


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