Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The K9 Nose Work® Practice Group

If you're in a weekly K9 Nose Work class or you've attended a workshop, it's safe to assume you're hooked on the activity and you want to practice more than just once a week. You can always practice with your dog alone, but you'll be missing out on the many benefits of practicing in a group. Luckily, the K9 Nose Work culture and community of handlers make it easy to form a group (or groups) that will enhance your overall K9 Nose Work experience. Here are a few ways you can start a group, and a few things you can do with your group.

1. Make a Group Out of Fellow K9 Nose Work Students

The easiest way to start a practice group and know from the beginning what you're getting into is to look to the handlers sitting to the left and right of you in your weekly class. K9 Nose Work promotes a culture of mutual respect and support, and this is what you will find at classes and trials. If you're the extroverted type, you should have no problem forming friendships with your classmates and organizing a group. If you're more the wallflower (me), just relax and be open to any invitations you get from those social butterflies and you'll be just fine.

2. Use Social Networking to Form a Group

If your classmates have hectic schedules or live too far apart from each other and you can't seem to bring a group together, turn to the internet. There are official yahoo groups for K9 Nose Work (ask your CNWI/ANWI for invitation to the groups) where you can find people in your area training at the same level as you.

3. Go to a Drop-In Class

If you're not having any luck getting a group together, then try attending a drop-in class offered by a CNWI/ANWI. You'll get extra practice in, and chances are, you'll meet a few K9 Nose Work enthusiasts like yourself and be that much closer to forming a practice group.

As you continue to train in K9 Nose Work weekly classes, at workshops, and once you begin competing in trials, you'll meet more and more K9 Nose Work handlers and become part of the greater K9 Nose Work community, forming friendships and increasing your opportunities to start or be part of a practice group.

What To Do With Your Practice Group

Once you've formed a practice group, you'll want to have a loose agenda for each training session. Since you're all attending a weekly class, many of your ideas for the practice group can come from exercises/searches your CNWI/ANWI teaches, but you'll still need to get a little creative to get the most out of your practice sessions.

1. Take Advantage of a Variety of Training Locations

A big part of training in K9 Nose Work is to practice the activity in new environments. By yourself it can get tiring looking for new places to  do searches. Each person in your practice group has at least one new location or object to contribute: a house or office, a car, a park no one else knows about, etc. If all your practice group does is get together periodically at a new location to revisit the searches done in the most recent class, the experience gained for all the members of the group and their dogs will be well worth the effort.

If you run out of locations, start thinking about businesses that might allow you to work your dogs on the premises. Petco and Home Depot are two great locations to train, and they come with plenty of distractions! Penny Scott-Fox, CNWI, was the first K9 Nose Work handler to train at big box stores and other busy locations. She dubbed the training, "Extreme Nose Work!". You can read a feature article about her and her dog, Turner, here. Just remember to ask permission before searching on private property, and always take care to leave the property in the same condition you found it so that all K9 Nose Work handlers can continue to have access to the greatest variety of search locations.

2. Set Hides to Surprise Each Other

Whether your practice group is made up of handlers who know each other very well or you're all just acquaintances, you can help each other immensely by all participating in setting hides for each other.

If you know your fellow handler has a habit of ignoring his dog's behavior changes when the dog's working bushes or trees (maybe the handler has experienced false alerts in these areas in the past) setting a multiple hide search with one hide in one of those problem areas can help confront his false alert fears and begin to trust his dog again in those areas.

If you're setting hides for a handler you've never worked with before, you'll probably set something you're familiar with, but the handler may never have encountered that type of search, and without too much effort on your part you'll have introduced this handler to a new search scenario. It's great for the team searching, and great for you, because you get to see how this team works the search and if it's different than what you've seen before.

3. Run Exercises For Each Other

To give your practice group some variety you can work in a few exercises here and there. One of my favorites is what the founders of K9 Nose Work call "running bunny". This requires at least one person in addition to the handler performing the search exercise. You can do running bunny with one hide or several. The game works by moving the hide(s) during the search so the dog is chasing after the odor as if it were a live rabbit darting around a field.

Another great exercise to do when you have extra bodies is a reward timing exercise - no clever name. Set up several hides on a desk or table and use a couple of people as spotters to confirm the dog's sourcing of odor for the handler. This allows the handler to focus on the dog and bring a timely reward, and it gives the spotters more practice recognizing the exact moment a dog finds source odor.

Practice groups can be a great supplement to your regular training, but they're also just a great way to develop camaraderie among fellow K9 Nose Work handlers. Wether you meet on a regular basis, or just get together occasionally, you'll be enhancing your overall training in K9 Nose Work and having a lot more fun!

Happy Sniffing!


  1. One of great things about K9 Nose Work is the camaraderie among the dog-and-handler teams. Most of us want the others to succeed, try to help when we can and feel each other's pain when someone has to take another run at a title.

  2. I'm not clear using "a couple of people as spotters to confirm the dog's sourcing of odor for the handler"--if the handler is focusing on the dog, won't the handler see the dog has sourced the hide? Is the idea that the handler may not recognize it as quickly? Can you elaborate on what the spotters are able to do that the handler is less able?

    1. Very good question.

      In this exercise, the hides placed on the underside of the table are not visible to you, the handler - unless you crouch down to see under the table, which is not a habit you want to start. So, as focused as you may be on your dog, how do you know he's gone to source (and i mean put his sniffer right on that tin)? You need the spotters - sitting or laying on the ground 15ft or so from the table - to utter a "now" or raise a hand to signal the exact moment when your dog is on that odor source and you should reward.

      Ideally, this exercise helps in several ways: your dog gets a very clear reward for being right on source odor. He gets this clear reward reinforced in close succession with the two or three hides on the underside and legs of the table. He makes quicker decisions when in odor because he's rewarded the first time he goes to source, and he's not getting rewarded for being six or eight (or more) inches away from source. And, if you repeat the exercise and move the hides, he learns to discriminate source odor from lingering and pooling odor (an easier task because he's getting the accurate and timely rewards).

      For you, the handler, having a spotter signal the moment your dog has sniffed right on source odor allows you to observe what your dog looks like in the lead up and when he sources the hide.

      In the table hide exercise, you could not be this accurate on your own. You might recognize signs that your dog has found source odor, but what if he's alerted on pooling odor six inches away, or what if he goes to source quickly but you're not sure and you don't deliver the reward? In the first case you're telling your dog that sometimes getting close to an accessible odor is good enough. In the second case, you're telling him that going directly to source might not be what gets him the reward, so maybe he should try something else.

      An exercise like this helps you communicate very clearly with your dog that going to source odor gets him a fast reward. Then, when it's up to you to watch your dog in a blind search and to call alert when you believe he's found source odor, he'll be more accurate and you'll be more confident, and the two of you will be a successful team.

      I hope this was the elaboration you were looking for! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Happy Sniffing!