Monday, July 23, 2012

The K9 Nose Work® Trial Experience

If you've never competed in an NACSW™ sanctioned K9 Nose Work trial, the following post from Jaime Fellows, CNWI, offers a vividly detailed account of what it's like. The day is long, and the searches can be brief, but intense. The atmosphere is one of integrity and respect, and competitors are supportive of one another. The experience is amazing, and it only gets better as the sport continues to grow.

Be sure to check out the website for the NACSW to learn more about trials and to volunteer at a trial in your area. And, if you're new to K9 Nose Work and reading this post, it may be helpful to know that the average dog/handler team spends one year learning and practicing K9 Nose Work before their first trial. So, all you newbies, take your time to prepare for the challenges of trial, and remember to keep it fun!

A Competitor's Experience at the Denver, CO K9 Nose Work NW1 Trial June 4, 2011 
by Jaime Fellows, CNWI

Friday morning leaving Santa Fe was hot. There was a dusting of ash coating the deck and chairs outside. There were two large wildfires burning in Arizona, as well as a fire north of Taos [New Mexico]. I glanced at the sky full of smoke and wondered if our dogs would have trouble with the smoke affecting the searches in Denver as well. I had the car packed, and loaded ready for the trip. A quick drive into town to pick up Amy [Cox] and Ridge.

We were on I-25 headed north by 9:45 am. Lots of smoke from the wildfires. 

I-25 heading north

The drive north was uneventful. A quick lunch in Trinidad [Colorado] and back on the road. We arrived at the hotel in Golden around 4:30 pm. We made contact with the rest of the Santa Fe group and had a quick dinner.

Saturday morning we were up and outside by 6:30 am walking dogs and preparing mentally for the day ahead. Bandy, my Malinios seemed in fine form. We set some practice hides across the street from the hotel to warm up for the trial. Dogs hit and worked the hides quickly with enthusiasm.

Amy Cox and Ridge practice

The morning was cool enough that I felt like wearing a light jacket. Amy and I speculated about weather conditions that might affect how the odor would travel at the trial location. We discussed possible strategies and pitfalls we may encounter. We were on the road to the trial by 7:50 am.

Denver Academy is a welcoming campus. There were two ponds complete with ducks, frogs, and a large red eared slider turtle. Amy spotted a snake, although I did not get to see it (fortunately). The parking in the South East lot was ample, and we found a large cottonwood tree to park under. Peter and Marianne Westen were already there, and had signed up to volunteer to steward.

Marianne and Peter Westen at Denver Academy

Seneca [Townsend] was there as well, helping Dana Zinn and her students set up for the trial. Nancy Brown arrived and signed in as well. We were given team assignments. The teams were created as a way of meeting other K9 Nose Work exhibitors from different areas. Each team has three dog/handlers, and each gets to pick the element that they feel they are best at. I chose exteriors, as Bandy has a lot of experience with different kinds of exterior searches. He is a strong, fast dog and I felt confident he would represent well. 

A running order had been decided, and we were way down on the running order, #25. Sen and Onyx were #26.  Nancy and Amy were further up the list, and I was happy that they would get into the search areas before they got too contaminated and before a large volume of odor had built up. It was beginning to warm up, so off to the car to lose the jacket, and give Bandy a quick walk to acclimate.

Competitor sign in at Denver trial

At 10:45 am the competitors had a "walk through" with Amy [Herot], Barbara [Schwerdt] and Ron [Gaunt] who were officiating the trial. We were allowed to see the search areas and ask questions. I felt good about the container search area, which was outside against the east side of a building, in sort of an alcove. There were twenty identical cardboard boxes on the ground in sort of a big semi circle. The exterior search area was a covered patio area at a junction between two buildings. Part of the area was gravel, medium sized river rock and the rest was poured concrete. There were a few low benches, and a metal bike rack. Off to the side of the search area there was shrubbery. I felt certain I knew where the odor would travel in that location, and formed a strategy.

Running order

The interior was down a long hallway into a class room full of small plastic seated chairs for grade school kids. There were stacks of chairs on the left side of the room, and a dry erase board and some more chairs on the other side of the classroom. The classroom was carpeted. I had no idea what to expect in that search area, but formed a game plan in case time started to run out on that search.

Vehicles looked pretty straight forward, three vehicles parked facing the same way with about 4 feet between them. Wind or lack of it would be important in the strategy for this search. Container search and exteriors would be run first, then a lunch break, and then interiors and vehicles.

We finished up the briefing and got ready to go. First dog was "on deck" by 11:15 am. I watched the first dog run the warm up boxes, then off to the container search. The dog would be searching while the judge, the judge's steward, the gate steward and the timer observed. The next dog got on deck warmed up and got into the holding position out of sight of the area of the first search, which was quite a ways away. Holding areas are set up between each search area to allow the next person to be on deck and ready to work. It makes things run a lot faster in a large trial like this. It also allows reactive dogs some space away from other competitors, and dogs. Logistics are critical in setting up a K9 Nose Work trial.

Center, from left: Barbara Schwerdt, CNWI; Ron Gaunt, co-founder
K9 Nose Work & NACSW; and Amy Herot, co-founder K9 Nose
Work & NACSW, brief competitors 

Eventually we were on deck and worked one round on the warm up boxes. We waited in the shaded holding area for several minutes before the steward flagged us up to the next holding station under a portable canopy to wait to run the container search. After a few minutes, the gate steward came to get us. We were shown the start line and asked if we had any questions. I held Bandy's collar and stepped behind him to start. We waited for a few seconds until he had a chance to scan the area, then I said "search!' and he flew off the line. He touched four boxes in quick succession, then bolted up to where the line of boxes started to curve. He was on a box, and digging at it. I called "ALERT" and dove to the box without waiting for confirmation. I rewarded at source as Ron affirmed that it was the correct box. I did not want to incur a fault for my dog destroying a box. Ron laughed as we were leaving and asked me if we could go any faster. I knew it was a fast search, but learned later it was only 9.35 seconds!

We were escorted to the exterior search. Not much waiting. We lined up and I gave the search command. Bandy hit odor almost immediately and had it locked down in a matter of seconds. He pawed at the end of the bike rack, a hollow metal pipe supporting the bike rack. I called the alert, and Barbara confirmed. Well done Bandy! Another fast search.

The last few dogs ran the two search areas, then we took a lunch break. I learned that Amy and Ridge had just narrowly missed the container search. Their exterior search went well, and they logged a quick time to boot. Nancy and Cody had done well in the container search and exterior as well. Sen and Onyx had good times in container search and exterior, but Onyx was feeling poorly. She is a fast, fast dog but was loosing ground as the morning wore on. It was now starting to get hot.

We finished up lunch, dog walking, and got ready for the afternoon elements. I do not remember what time we got on deck. By that time I was coughing a lot and my energy had waned. Bandy wanted to get back into his crate in the deep shade of the cottonwood tree and sleep for the afternoon. I figured I had better wet him down to keep him cool and comfortable for the next elements. A couple of us wet our dogs down and got ready to go. The interior element was next. We waited for what seemed a long time in the holding area outside the building. I was hot, and not feeling great. The cold I had the previous weekend started creeping back up on me. My mouth was dry and I again looked up to the sky filled with haze from the fires burning to the south. We were called and we went up the stairs into the building. It was a long hallway walk to the classroom search area. We had to wait again outside a door to the classroom.

Bandy kept trying to bolt up a flight of stairs across from the door. I knew he had odor, and I hoped we would not have to wait much longer. Bandy continued to spin up and started grabbing at his leash, and at my clothing. Finally the door opened, and we lined up. I could smell the birch in the closed room. I unclipped Bandy's lead and gave the search cue. He started more deliberately this time and headed toward the front of the classroom about six steps, then gave a hard head hook to the left and trotted between a row of chairs. I kept moving to the front of the classroom to see if he would follow or if he would stick to that row of chairs. He kept moving although he was showing a lot of interest in that row.  Bandy came around that row of chairs and cruised the next row only to circle back to the row that had interested him initially. I circled around keeping my eyes on Bandy. I stopped, then slowly started to back away. Bandy began poking his nose under the last three chairs in that row. I could see him "chattering" a little each time he pulled his head out a little. I knew he was very close to source. Finally he stuck his nose into a corner of the seat of the chair and his foot was on the way up when I called alert. Barbara confirmed. I was glad that element was over.

Trial grounds at Denver Academy

On to vehicles...We were escorted up and checked in with Ron. I stuck my pinky finger in my mouth and held it up to see which way the wind was wind. We were led to the start, and I waited for a few seconds to see if Bandy would catch odor. I do not think he had odor, so we started walking toward the vehicles. Bandy decided to go around the white sedan on the left first. He showed no interest until we rounded the front of the white sedan. Suddenly he sped up and disappeared around a black 4X4 truck parked in the middle of the three vehicles. He did a whiplash turn midway down the side of the truck and worked his way back to the right wheel well. Bandy crawled up on the tire with his front legs, shoving his head down in the wheel well. I began backing up to give him room to work. After a couple of seconds he moved back down close to the edge of the wheel well.. I could tell he was at source and called the alert. Ron confirmed.

I was relieved, and satisfied that we had completed our elements. I felt tired as Bandy and I walked down the prescribed exit path toward the larger pond at the center of campus. The shade and the green was so inviting. Other competitors were sitting on the grass, and milling around talking to one another and comparing notes.

We assembled at the gymnasium for the awards ceremony. I felt a swell of pride for our group, Amy and Ridge placed on their team event, Sen and Onyx also placed on their team event. Nancy and Cody earned their NW1 title. Everyone from Santa Fe represented well, and I am really proud of their handling skills, and professionalism in this sport. Bandy and I placed first in the container search, and second in exteriors! We also placed first on our team event. I was especially proud of a fellow instructor who I met in California last year, Linda Bramkamp, and her dog Indy Bear. This is Linda's fourth attempt at an NW1. At every trial previously Linda and Indy had missed qualifying by a hair. This time she did it in style, not only did she pass, but she placed third over all!!! Great job Linda! It is worth mentioning that Indy Bear is pretty reactive. So the lesson is, slow and steady has the race. If you keep at it, you will prevail. Dana's group represented well too, and I am amazed at the range of differing dogs that came out to trial this weekend, from a huge brown Newfoundland to tiny Chihuahua mixes, and a 14 year old BC who is a smoking hot competitor. That is the message of K9 Nose Work, "any dog can do it!"

This sport is challenging in that the weather conditions, and air movement within a building are ever changing. It can radically affect your dog's search. Ron likes to say "it is a horse race", meaning many factors can affect your search, and it changes from moment to moment. Another factor I found especially challenging is the wait time between elements. Your dog can totally tune out and fatigue during that time, and if you have not conditioned mental and physical stamina in your dog, that downtime will be challenging.

Nancy Brown at Denver Academy
Dana Zinn (center) instructs competitors

Many, many thanks to Dana Zinn for organizing and executing this trial. This was no small undertaking. Thanks to you, and your crowd of willing and able volunteers who pulled this weekend off without a hitch!! You did a great job!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Setting Better Hides

One of the great things about K9 Nose Work® is the portability of the activity. Anywhere you can take your dog, you can do K9 Nose Work. If you’re just starting in the activity and using boxes, load up the trunk. If you’re on odor, you can get a cool little travel kit that fits in your glove box (visit for official odor kits & supplies). With your dog and your supplies, all you need is to know how to set hides that will be fun for you and your dog, and that will challenge him while being within his abilities.

Sounds simple, huh? Well, yes and no. If you’ve received the right training you should be able to put out your own hides, but what if you try to get ahead of your training, or you have a friend or family member set a hide for your dog, only to have the search go horribly wrong – a cotton swab placed in the interior of a vehicle or an odor tin set seven feet off the ground above a public restroom stall. Too many of these poorly placed hides can result in a dog that cannot find success and loses interest in the activity. Luckily, dogs are forgiving, and most will shrug off an occasional bad experience and happily await a properly set hide with a real chance for success.

What you’ll read in this post should not be considered “instructional” in the sense that you can just go and try it with your dog. Rather, you should use this information to compliment your training with a Certified Nose Work Instructor (CNWI) or attendance at a K9 Nose Work Workshop. Certified instructors know how to maximize learning and success for you and your dog, and they know how to guide you through a difficult search that could otherwise result in a setback for your dog. In my experience, it’s always best to use class and workshops as the setting for introducing your dog to new and challenging search scenarios; then, to go out on your own into other environments and reinforce your dog’s learning by setting up similar searches.

So, as you read on, make sure you always consult with your CNWI or workshop instructor before attempting searches you’ve never done before. And, always obtain permission to search on property that does not belong to you.

Hides That Encourage Patterns

In the beginning stages of K9 Nose Work we want to encourage dogs to search freely and be self-rewarded, building confidence and a drive for the activity. This means lots of off-leash searching (when the area is safe & secure) and very little handler interaction. Free as we want them to be, we still want the dogs to learn how to search efficiently. This is where hide placement plays a big role.

Create patterns with your hide placement to help your dog learn to search parts of a search area he might naturally bypass. For example, corners in an interior area often “trap” odor, and your dog’s natural instinct is to cut the corners. If you introduce your dog to corner hides by setting odor in the corner of a room and letting him search around, he may find it, but most likely, he’ll struggle. The better way is to set boxes along the wall starting at the entrance to the room, including one in the corner, and ending with several along the wall beyond the corner. Take the odor box and place it first at the threshold right inside the entrance to the room, then repeat the search, moving the odor box down the line. As you practice this way, notice your dog’s increased expectation that odor could be anywhere along the wall. Now, he will begin to search the corner even when the odor isn’t there. To avoid creating too strong an expectation, finish with a free room search with hide placement away from the wall and watch your dog start off following the pattern, but break away to find the odor. That’s what we call odor obedience.

For advanced dogs, think about patterns in terms of the size and shape of a search area. Maybe a perimeter search is best, or maybe moving diagonally through the area works better. You can set hides and try the different approaches, or you can watch multiple dogs run the same hides and see which search patterns are most successful.

It’s easy to get excited about pattern searching because we handlers take a more proactive role in setting hides to teach a pattern, then encouraging our dogs to work in patterns through leash handling, body language, etc. Just remember that odor obedience is still king. Have a plan in mind for covering a search area, but let your dog take the lead. Allow him time to investigate an area when he catches odor – even if he zigs and zags around the room. Employ the pattern if your dog can’t seem to pin down the odor source, or if you have a large or busy area and time demands that the two of you have a plan to cover the area quickly and thoroughly.

Hides That Show How Odor Moves

We can’t see how odor moves. Our dogs can certainly smell it and we can watch them work to the source, but we still don’t know how that particular scent is travelling; we don’t know if it’s rising or falling, curling or swirling, moving quickly or slowly. And, even if we do have an idea of how the odor is moving, we often can’t be certain if that’s really what the dog is smelling and following to source.

Setting aside the mysteries of odor movement, there are certain hide placements that create a surprisingly clear picture of what’s happening with odor in a search, even if it may not be what we would expect.

One of my favorite hide placements presents the clearest picture of odor movement when the search scenario is set up for advanced dogs, but the principle at work is the same for a novice level search. An elevated hide on a freestanding object like a tree or a telephone pole, or a low overhang (like a sun shade canopy) will produce an odor plume, with the scent being faint or non-existent directly beneath the hide, and stronger some distance away from the hide. Watching dogs work a hide like this, you will see that they pick up the scent eight or ten feet away from the hide (depending on height of the odor source and wind conditions) and spend some time puzzling out the location of the odor from that position before going in to source it. In most cases, you could almost draw a circle on the ground to mark where that odor plume is falling, and until the dogs get out to that circle or beyond, they cannot work the odor to source. This fascinating scenario is a lesson to us handlers that being close to an object is not the same as being close to odor.

Vehicle searches offer several good opportunities for placing hides where odor movement becomes very clear. Use a vehicle with a running board and place the hide under the edge of the running board somewhere midway between the front and back of the vehicle. Depending on wind conditions, the odor will travel along the running board as if it were on a string. Your dog might chase the odor as it moves away from the source, bouncing back and forth before deciding to close in on the source. This type of search will help you develop patience and a better understanding of how your dog looks as he’s working towards source odor.

For another interesting search, try placing odor in a vehicle’s wheel well, then lining up a second vehicle downwind and parallel to the first. Depending on the wind conditions, you will probably see your dog spend a little time checking the downwind vehicle’s wheel well. This is a sign of odor pooling up and creating a puzzle for your dog. Pooling odor happens in many search scenarios, but it can be especially clear and easy to observe on vehicles. Use this as a chance to understand the difference between your dog in pooling odor and your dog on source odor.

Find an exterior area with a hill and place the odor below the hill on flat ground. Start your dog up at the top of the hill and experiment with your positioning to the left or right of the hide. You’ll find that there is an optimal start position where your dog will pick up odor and immediately go to source, and an inefficient start that will result in a prolonged area search before finally homing in on the source odor. You can also place the hide on the slope of the hill and try starting off above or below the odor and working along the slope. These types of hide placement really make you think about giving your dog access to every part of a search area to increase your effectiveness as a team.

Hides That Break It Down

Any time you can set up searches that simplify concepts for your dog, you’re going to make quick and solid progress.

A whiteboard ledge creates a channeling effect on odor, causing it to travel along the ledge. Start your dog off close to the ledge to keep the search area smaller. Watch how he chases the odor, and maybe even leaves the area and comes back. A vehicle search with the odor placed under the edge of a running board can produce the same effect at a height that is more manageable for less experienced dogs.

A table and chairs is a great way to introduce less accessible odor. Start with the odor hidden under the tabletop with no chairs blocking access. Once your dog is expecting success under the table, add in a few chairs spaced out to make it possible for your dog to squeeze through and get to the source odor. For the last search, place odor on one of the chairs and surprise your dog with an easy access hide.

Once you’ve introduced your dog to these types of hides, you can try them out in more complex searches. Search an entire room, like an office break room; use the edge of the kitchen countertop to produce a channeling effect similar to the whiteboard ledge. For advanced dogs, place a trash can with a plastic liner at one end of the countertop. The odor may drift and collect in the trash can and confuse the dog a bit, but if the dog is experienced, he’ll work it out and learn a good lesson, too.

As you continue to enjoy K9 Nose Work, remember that it is your CNWI or workshop instructor who will teach you new concepts and make sure you and your dog are challenged, but still experience success. The searching you do on your own should be similar to what you and your dog have successfully achieved with an instructor. Don’t worry, that still leaves endless possibilities for keeping the searches new and exciting on your own. A change in environment, wind, temperature, or starting line can make the same kind of hide placement a completely new search experience.

There’s so much to discuss when it comes to placing hides that there may be a part two to this post… I haven’t even touched on multiple odors yet! Next week we get an exciting and insightful firsthand account of the trial experience from competitor & CNWI Jaime Fellows in the June 2011 Denver, Co National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW) NW1 trial.  

Monday, July 9, 2012

A Pair of Cool K9 Nose Work® Dogs

One of the great things about the activity of K9 Nose Work® is that it's inspired by professional detection dogs and the methodology used to train them, but it's designed for virtually all dogs to enjoy.

Many dogs would not make good professional detection dogs, for a variety of reasons, but all of these dogs could be great K9 Nose Work dogs. Cash, and Bevo are examples of two dogs with issues who are becoming great K9 Nose Work dogs. Two cool and unique dogs, their approach to scent detection work is almost an art form, with scent acting like a musical score that each dog interprets with his own dance.

Cash: The Odor Magnet

Cash cautiously moving about the Pasadena, CA
 training facility of Penny Scott-Fox, CNWI
Cash is a Collie-mix with extreme fear and confidence issues. Think a canine Bill Murray from What About Bob? (without the goldfish). Afraid of stepping out his own back door, Cash's K9 Nose Work training was prescribed as a tool for helping him deal with his fears and to gain some confidence; the hope was that he would participate in the game at the simplest level and have fun, too.

"Don't Hassle Me I'm Local" - Cash's homage
to Billy Murray from What About Bob
After months of training, Cash is "on odor" (searching for a target scent and being rewarded for finding it). The typical dog is only too happy to search for odor and attempt to gobble it up, and for good reason. K9 Nose Work dogs are first taught to search for a primary reward - favorite toy or treat - and are encouraged to "self-reward" in addition to praise and rewards from their handlers. In the transition from searching for a primary reward to searching for a target odor, dogs go through a phase known as "pairing". During this time, the dogs are searching for the primary reward and target odor paired together. This creates an association for the dogs between their favorite reward and the target odor. 

Once dogs have had plenty of success with pairing, the target odor can be hidden alone, and the dog rewarded once he goes to the source. As you can guess, most dogs charge the odor as vigorously as they would if their favorite treat was paired up with it. Not Cash. Cash developed a peculiar behavior around odor, one similar to the effect of magnetic polar opposites. Once Cash was within several feet of the odor, his head would bob from side to side, and every attempt he made to close in on the odor seemed to be met by some mysterious repelling force. Only once Cash's owner stepped in to provide support and reassurance that a reward was coming would Cash move closer to the odor source.

Cash being "repelled" by odor on the yellow mop bucket

As Cash continued to train, his behavior remained consistent - actually becoming more intense. Since the activity of K9 Nose Work is all about fun for the dog, Cash and his handler were never forced to conform to any type of standard alert behavior (such as a sit at the odor source). Instead, Cash was encouraged to express himself in his own way and find joy on his own terms. As long as he was consistent in communicating the source of odor to his handler and she could consistently read it, the game was a total success. Sure, it might be difficult for Cash to enter competitions, but reflecting back on his journey, it's a minor miracle he progressed to searching for odor only, and searching a variety of environments. Anything is possible in K9 Nose Work 

Cash getting close to odor
Recently, Cash has begun to approach the odor source more independently, as if he's slowly developing a magnetic attraction to the odor; he even gamely participated in an exercise designed to help dogs to offer a clear signal when they discover the odor source. Cash offered a sit. It's bittersweet to see this special dog shedding his quirky behavior, but maybe this is his signal that he's game to play at K9 Nose Work for a lot longer.

Bevo: The Misunderstood Malinois 

Bevo is a Belgian Malinois. This is one of the breeds that define the term: working dog. The Malinois is used in numerous areas of detection and protection, as well as in dog sports as a top competitor. This is not to say these dogs are the Roomba of the dog world: just set them loose and watch them clean up. To the contrary, a Malinois requires expert handling and attention, as well as a commitment of time that few pet dog owners could offer. Bevo comes from the working dog world, bred to be a superstar in the detection field, he couldn't make the cut, and was retired before he even got started.

Bevo's handler, a law enforcement professional, took him on as a pet dog, hoping to give him an opportunity to have a fulfilling life. Knowing Bevo failed at detection work, his handler thought he might give Bevo a chance to shine in the sport of K9 Nose Work. From the beginning, the dog ran like a split-personality; one moment he'd be crazy about a squirrel squeak toy, the next moment, he'd shut down. Bevo's handler experimented with numerous types of toys and treats, and could not find anything that kept the dog's interest.

Belgian Malinois, Seven, with owner & K9 Nose Work
co-founder, Amy HerotBevo was not available to be 
photographed in time for
this blog post
It was becoming more and more evident just why Bevo couldn't find a place as a working dog - who would spend so much time and money on a dog that wouldn't perform? Luckily, K9 Nose Work isn't exclusive to dogs who perform quickly and easily. Over the past few months, Bevo has shown flashes of brilliance when searching - an intensity to rival the best of his breed - and the relationship he's building with his handler grows stronger each time they find success in K9 Nose Work.

Whether Bevo becomes the amazing K9 Nose Work dog he has the potential to become, or just continues to have those flashes of brilliance, one thing is for sure, without K9 Nose Work he would never have gotten to show the world what he was really capable of achieving.

Cash and Bevo are examples of how easy it is to start virtually any dog in the activity of K9 Nose Work®, and how therapeutic it can be for dogs with issues.

Next time, you'll find some tips for setting better hides.

Happy Sniffing!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Georgia K9 Nose Work Camp April 2012

This is a special post to share some great footage of K9 Nose Work® dog/handler teams having the time of their lives at Camp Coleman in Cleveland, Georgia. Everyone raves about the K9 Nose Work® Camp experience, and I can't imagine a single dog or person who wouldn't benefit from the instruction, camaraderie, and total immersion in  K9 Nose Work® that camp provides.

Take a look at this video put together by Leah Ganglehoff, CNWI.

Wishing you were at camp right now? Hurry over to the Dogs Of Course website and register for the fall camp in Poyntelle, PA!

How to Have the Most Fun in K9 Nose Work®

The activity and sport of K9 Nose Work® is designed to bring the joys of searching and scent work to virtually all dogs and people. What you and your dog can get out of K9 Nose Work® is limited only by  your dog's interest and your own creativity.

Whether you and your dog are just considering starting K9 Nose Work® or you've been enjoying the activity and sport for years, here are some important tips for getting the most out of your K9 Nose Work® training and maximizing the fun for you and your dog.

1. Get in the right mindset from the beginning

Part of the K9 Nose Work® philosophy is that dogs are at their happiest when we allow them to learn on their terms, using their natural abilities, especially their amazing sense of smell. So, curb your desire to "teach" your dog the activity, and, instead, watch how he learns through problem solving and self-rewarding. Have the mindset that your dog will be teaching you.

When you do have the possibility of influencing your dog in a search keep your communication with the dog as "obedience free" as possible. Avoid any commands other than a command to begin the search, and allow your dog plenty of independence. If your dog comes to you looking for a free treat, or waiting for you to give him an obedience command, do nothing. Ignore the behavior, avoid eye contact, walk around and shrug your shoulders. Your unresponsiveness lets your dog know that he has to take the lead in this activity, and when that's clear, he'll gladly accept the challenge.

When practicing outside of class, think about all the ways you can be an "invisible" helper. When helping your dog learn, make use of the search environment and bring the search to the dog's skill level, rather than expecting your dog to struggle. Avoid steering your dog to source odor, or otherwise leading your dog to source odor. If you feel your dog is just not getting it, make things a little easier. Success is the most powerful motivator. Only humans take pride in having to struggle at something challenging to achieve a reward. Think like a dog.

In general, the less you interact with your dog in the beginning, the better, but there are exceptions, so remain flexible. If your dog has behavioral or physical issues and requires assistance to enjoy K9 Nose Work®, every effort should be made to make sure the dog is having fun. The guidance of a Certified Nose Work Instructor (CNWI) or associate instructor (ANWI) will ensure that dogs with special needs progress at their own pace and have only positive experiences.

2. Make sure the reward you're offering is always tops on the dog's list

This goes double for people with picky pets. Most dogs will happily search for a wide variety of treats and toys, but even the easy to please dogs will sometimes crave a little variety.

In the beginning, you need a reward that your dog will brave the dangers of the unknown (boxes at first, and then various objects like umbrellas or shop vacs) to get to - not just once, but over and over again. When you attend a class or workshop, bring a variety of treats or toys and don't be afraid to borrow something new from a fellow handler. As you progress, change things up to keep your dog's interest piqued. If you're a competitor, try changing rewards between trials to see how it affects your dog's search intensity, but be careful about making any changes on trial day.

* There are two types of reward in K9 Nose Work®: food or toy. When beginning the activity, whichever reward type your dog prefers should be the type you stick with. Your dog should build a solid foundation seeking out a single reward type (if it's food, it can change from jerky to cheese to bacon, etc.), and progress to demonstrate a clear and consistent proficiency in searching for the reward paired with a target odor, then the target odor alone. Once a dog is solid on searching for odor alone, it is at the handler's discretion to switch between toy and food rewards, but this is not usually needed, because the dog has built a strong desire to find odor and be rewarded with his usual reward type. In the case that your dog loses interest in the reward you've been using, switching to the other reward type is a possible solution, but a solid foundation would need to be built again with this new reward type.

 3. Remember, it's always blind for the dog

When the location of the source odor is unknown to the handler, it's referred to as a "blind hide". Only dogs with a strong foundation and handlers with a good understanding of K9 Nose Work® should be attempting blind hides. It's best to have a CNWI or ANWI setting blind hides and monitoring you and your dog to prevent any setbacks in the dog's training.

In general, it's more beneficial to train on non-blind hides, after all, every search is blind for the dog. The main reason it's best to know where the hide is located is so you can provide a fast, clear and meaningful reward for the dog's discovery of source odor. Another benefit of non-blind hides is that they allow you to observe your dog and take note of how he works the area, giving you insight into certain behavior changes that signal when he's working odor.

Blind hides do come in handy when testing a dog and handler team's performance for an upcoming trial or to see how well the team has learned new concepts they've been training on. Just remember to keep the training positive for the dog. If the dog or handler is struggling with the search, adjustments should be made for the dog to have success. Taking a step back and simplifying the training may feel remedial to the handler, but dogs do not have pride and will only feel too happy to learn from easier searches.

4. It's not how much you practice, but where

A weekly class in K9 Nose Work® will ensure that you and your dog advance your training at a pace that is right for your dog. If you feel the need to do more training outside of class, it's far more helpful to set up easy searches in new environments, than it is to try and push your dog to do that high and deep hide the two of you struggled with in the previous week's class.

The benefits of searching in new environments are innumerable. For starters, your dog learns to expect a K9 Nose Work® search to happen anywhere, not just at the weekly class facility or at home. This especially comes in handy if you compete in K9 Nose Work®, as trial locations are often completely new to the competitors. New environments also expose your dog to new distractions. The more distractions your dog works through successfully, the better.

Next time you travel with your dog, have some of his target odor with you and plenty of high value reward and just pick a public place to set up a fast and easy search. Parks are great, alleys, the sidewalk in a new neighborhood. You'll see real improvement in your dog when it comes time to do the challenging hides in class.

5. Watch other dogs and handlers search

One of the challenges of handling a dog in K9 Nose Work® is that it's hard to know what you're doing wrong - or right - when you're out there doing it. One solution is to have yourself videotaped. If you can't do that, watching others do the same search as you and your dog can help you recognize and fix your own weaknesses.

When you watch your fellow K9 Nose Work® students and their dogs, keep an eye out for the way each dog finds the hide. You may see a pattern emerge where every dog who approached the hide from the left finds it straightaway, but every dog who doesn't struggles for some time. Watch the handlers, too, and see how much effect body language has on the dog's searches.

Take what you learn from observing other teams and test it out in your own searches. A classic example is switching from the standard 6ft leash to a long line (10ft or longer). It takes some getting used to, but the benefits of maintaining a loose leash without having to dash all around the search area are well worth the effort.

6. Stay in the right mindset (forget already? go back to #1)

At a certain point, your dog will have the kind of skills that win talent shows in Great Britain, and you will become obsessed with K9 Nose Work®. Resist the temptation to place expectations on your dog, or yourself. Remember that it's still your dog who leads the team, and your greatest contribution is minimizing your potential to interfere in the search.

When your dog has built up the stamina and resilience to take on more challenging searches, there will be times when it feels like the two of you have failed. Most likely, you'll fail in competition. When it happens, you will begin to analyze the performance and will probably conclude that you need to have more control over your dog and the searches. Don't let yourself go down that path.

Instead, go back to the basics. Set up simplified versions of the searches you're having trouble with and allow your dog to have success and learn independently. Remember that easy and frequent success is what motivates your dog, not grueling, tormenting struggles. Yes, your dog needs to be "pushed" to advance his skills, but it's a very fine line between a tough search that ends in success for the dog and one that creates confusion and stress, and requires recovering the dog. Use the expertise of your CNWI or ANWI when attempting to challenge your dog (and yourself); they will help you develop "invisible" ways to aid your dog in those difficult searches. A few small changes in leash handling, or the way you cover the search area with your dog can mean big strides forward in your training.

If you do have to analyze your searches, place the highest value on the information your dog sends you while searching. You can hold a finger to the wind and guess how it's blowing, but it won't matter if, at your dog's level, the air is stagnant. Your dog will tell you all you need to know about the difficulties of a search. You can then use that information to alter the search environment and give your dog a better chance at success. For example, if you're doing a difficult container search, include some kind of barrier near the container with the target odor to give your dog a surface to catch the odor on and work it back to the source.

As you go out to practice and enjoy K9 Nose Work®, remember that it isn't just about practicing and competing at ever increasing levels of difficulty. That's certainly fun for the humans - and for the dogs when success is achievable. K9 Nose Work® is also about deepening the bond between human and canine, and finding a new kind of respect for your dog as you begin to understand his world and how he communicates, a little more.

Above all, keep it fun for your dog and it will be fun for you, too. Titles and ribbons are nice, but a fast wagging tail and a happy pair of eyes staring up at you waiting for a reward should be your ultimate goal.

Happy Sniffing!