Thursday, November 15, 2012

Learning K9 Nose Work® From a Certified Instructor

In K9 Nose Work, Certified or Associate Nose Work Instructors (CNWI or ANWI) are the best teachers. A CNWI has completed an extensive certification process, learned from the masters and proven her ability to teach others. An ANWI is in the process of becoming certified, and has gained enough knowledge and experience to be an effective teacher. Anyone serious about having fun in K9 Nose Work should be training regularly with a CNWI or ANWI (going forward in this post we'll use CNWI to stand in for either type of instructor) if one is located in their area. The value of an expert watching over you, providing well-timed instruction and sharing keen insights exceeds the total value of all the things you could do by yourself. So, always always always, take advantage of the best teachers in K9 Nose Work.

Here are a few reasons why a certified instructor is so crucial to your dog's - and your - success in K9 Nose Work.


Identify the proper pace for learning - future success in K9 Nose Work is largely dependent upon the strength of your dog's foundational skills. Starting out with a CNWI will ensure that your dog progresses at the right pace for learning, and that any issues with training can be identified and fixed early.

At each stage of your learning, a CNWI can assess how easily your dog is picking up new concepts and achieving success. A dog may be advancing in skill level, but have a problem area that requires special attention, like distractions in containers searches.

Set up and adjust search exercises - a CNWI will have various planned exercises for you and your dog to do; some of these exercises will require real-time adjustments to ensure the dogs are able to be successful, and to keep things fun for everyone. An exterior search area might need to be reduced in size because the environment is too distracting and the dogs are wandering, and struggling too much.

Just as important as knowing when to adjust a search is knowing when not to change things. A CNWI might set up a threshold exercise in an exterior doorway and notice that the wind is blowing the odor away from the doorway, and the dogs are not catching the odor until they get out into the search area and downwind of the odor. The dogs may not be finding odor in seconds like some threshold exercises work, but the class is able to see how wind changes what would have been a quick and easy search.

Explain the details of a search so you can learn - CNWIs know a lot about how odor moves and how and why dogs choose to work odor in a particular search. Even when your dog does not have easy success in a search, the explanation of what was going on can make your training day well worth the time and effort.

Share observations of many dogs in the same environment - a CNWI sees lots of dogs working the same searches and running the same exercises; you can benefit from her observations of how the dogs are similar and/or different when they work.

Keep you from holding back your dog (literally) - a CNWI is a keen observer of every K9 Nose Work dog and can often tell when something great is about to happen in a search. For example, a dog and handler team may be struggling a bit with a hide on some bleachers - the handler might be restricting the dog to a small area surrounding the hide - and the CNWI will say, "let your dog move just past the outside corner of the bleachers." The handler allows some movement, and like magic, the dog picks up scent, bee-lines across the bleachers to the hide and alerts! Without this kind of help, the dog struggles to the point of giving up, which can lead the handler to direct his dog to odor and miss a great learning opportunity for the team.  

Help you to learn the philosophy of K9 Nose Work - there is an art to teaching K9 Nose Work. A CNWI must facilitate a role reversal, helping the dogs to become more independent and their handlers to give up control and become better observers. There is also an art to practicing K9 Nose Work on your own.

Training with a CNWI will help you to remember that every solo practice session should focus on fun and success for your dog, and that if you think your dog is struggling in a search you should try to manipulate the environment (place an object near the odor) to help him succeed. The belief here is that your dog will gain much more from your indirect help in a search than if you were to lead him to the hide.

What can you do about those times when you're out doing some K9 Nose Work on your own? With no CNWI to guide you, you'll want to make sure that the searches you set up for your dog will be fun and achievable.

What Can You Do Without A CNWI?

Anything with primary reward or paired odor & reward - to help dogs start off in K9 Nose Work it's important for many of them to get immediate gratification for the task at hand, in most cases that means making the hides self-rewarding. While there are many things that can be done to increase a dog's search skills even at the self-reward stage of the game, it's perfectly fine - and beneficial - just to engage the dog's desire to hunt by setting simple hides.

Practice by running searches you learned in a workshop or class - just like in The Parker Videos DVD, which shows how one handler took a single day of workshop training and turned it into months of fun with her dog.

Remember to choose searches you have a good understanding of when practicing with your dog on your own. If your search goes wrong and you can't seem to help your dog by manipulating the environment, have a plan to recover him - a quick and easy hide nearby.

Take every opportunity you have to expand your learning and challenge your dog under the expert guidance of a CNWI. Enjoy time alone practicing with your dog and perfecting your skills as a team. And, prepare for a lifelong journey with your dog in K9 Nose Work!

Happy Sniffing!

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