Monday, December 31, 2012

A K9 Nose Work® "Dog In Bloom" By Paula Nowak, CNWI™

As the activity and sport of K9 Nose Work continue to grow rapidly throughout the country, more dog and handler teams are finding opportunities to build their skills in classes and to enter competitions, experiencing new kinds of success. Achieving success - or watching others achieve it - at any level of class or competition can create an expectation of continued success, and can sometimes cause us handlers - often unintentionally - to put a lot of pressure on our dogs to perform. As handlers, we can easily forget who our dogs were before K9 Nose Work and what kind of awe inspiring transformations they've undergone since their journeys began. Most importantly, we can forget that K9 Nose Work is and should be all about the dogs. Paula Nowak's post is a wonderful reminder to treat our dogs with care and patience, playing the game at their pace and enjoying the unique journey we each share with our dogs, as well as the joys of belonging to a community of likeminded dogs and people; all the while knowing that, in time, beautiful things will happen for our dogs in K9 Nose Work.

A Dog In Bloom
by Paula Nowak, CNWI

A rose in bloom is very beautiful, smells good and can brighten someone’s day. It’s a flower that symbolizes love for many people. This flower is also very beautiful while it is still just a bud and as it gradually opens up it slowly progresses to full bloom, which is when it reaches its full potential. The rose’s bloom cycle (the time from pruning the plant until bloom) can be anywhere from 6 to 8 weeks.  Ask anyone who enjoys these flowers and they will tell you it’s worth the wait.

A typical Intro to K9 Nose Work group class covers a 6-week period. During this time each dog has a short amount of time to search within an hour or a little more once a week. In many cases, in this small amount of time once a week, or even within the first week’s session, you’ll see a change in the dog’s level of security and confidence for those dogs who are fearful. The same is true for those fearful dogs that have their first K9 Nose Work experience at a workshop. It’s amazing to the observer how much a dog can change in such a small period of time. For dogs that are in a 6-week course you may see a large change in behavior of various sizes each week.

The “bloom cycle” for a dog to build confidence through K9 Nose Work is very different than the bloom cycle of a rose. There is no set time frame to expect a dog to change in confidence and that is a hard realization for some owners. There is really no guarantee as to when the dog will make progress, but I can attest that it’s very much worth the wait!

Recently, a student in an Intro to Nose Work group class had a fearful dog that had a very challenging time with mild noises or new objects in the search area.  On week 6, he initially thought a folding chair lying flat on the floor was going to kill him. By the end of the night he was able to work a simple hide near the “killer” chair. His mom really felt like he’d progressed, but saw the other dogs in class progressing faster and it seemed she wished he’d been able to progress more. Fast forward to his 7th week (week 1 of his second round of K9 Nose Work) and he was a very different dog. He was much more confident than the previous week. Everyone who’d seen him the previous week, including me, was shocked at the amount of confidence. From that week forward he continued to amaze us by searching in different environments with a new confidence.

It’s sad to think we might have missed his blooming moment, had his mom stopped at his first 6-week course thinking he wasn’t progressing fast enough. The impact K9 Nose Work has on a dog’s behavior cannot always be predicted, but the results time and again show how much it can help them build confidence and help them bloom into a more balanced dog.

Post a comment sharing your dog's "blooming moment" or other special achievement that you gave your dog time and support to realize on his own terms in K9 Nose Work.

Happy Sniffing & Happy New Year!


  1. My Nose Dog is a very gentle Rottweiler with some shyness in her.During the first 5 weeks of Nose Work, she would keep a cautious distance from the box containing the hide. Our instructor suggested feeding her from boxes to give her confidence. Later on, during class,a hide was placed on a window sill. It took lots of encouragement to make Annie understand she needed to climb on the bench in front of the window to find the hide. 5 months after we started Nose Work,I see a happy and more confident dog who not only climbs on park benches and picnic tables, but has also successfully passed her 3 ORTs!

  2. Nosework has been wonderful for my dog, but he didn't have a specific "blooming moment." His "bloom" happened slowly, over a long time.

    My dog is hyper-vigilant and anxious. He is overly-excitable and has trouble controlling his emotions. On walks, his eyes dart everywhere, and at the slightest movement or sound, his whole body tenses, ready to explode into action.

    Nosework has taught him how fun it is to use his nose. Now on walks, he uses his nose a lot (instead of never), and as long as he's sniffing his environment, he stays calm and centered.

    My dog is reactive to many things, including dogs, bicycles, skateboards, squirrels -- basically, anything that moves (he's got an enormous prey-drive and almost no built-in frustration-control). Nosework, over time, has taught him to focus. Now, when he's searching, he can ignore many of those triggers. He is very gradually learning to use this self-control when he's not searching as well.

    Nosework has also taught my dog to wait patiently for his turn while he can hear other dogs having fun without him. This may not seem like a big deal to most dogs or their owners, but in the beginning, my dog needed loads of help to avoid a melt-down while waiting. At first, he wore a calming aromatherapy collar and a Thundershirt sprayed with DAP, and I crawled my head and shoulders into his crate to calm him with Tellington Touch (special kind of massage) for about a half hour before each class, and again between his searches. Now he can do it all on his own, calmly and eagerly awaiting his turn. This new ability has spilled over into the rest of his life as well. He used to jealously guard all the toys in the house against our other dog; now when our other dog picks up a toy, instead of having a temper-tantrum melt-down, he either ignores her or politely joins in -- a huge change for the better. And he also can now wait calmly in the car while I run errands, which would have been unthinkable before.

    Nosework has changed my dog's life. It's like therapy for his broken brain. (He's smart but he appears to have the same trouble with his "executive function" that is described by people with TBI, Traumatic Brain Injury. He's been like that ever since he had a bad reaction to anesthesia.) He tirelessly tracks down difficult hides and loves every minute of it.

    I'm incredibly grateful to the founders of this wonderful sport, not only for inventing the sport, but especially for making it accessible to difficult dogs like mine.