Case Study: a Wonderful Journey

Written by Christie Vereide, ANWI.

My journey with K9 Nose Work began about seven or eight years ago with my dog, Eja.  Wow, has it really been that long?  I’ve been having too much fun doing nose work to notice.

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Eja. Photo credit: Caprise Adams.

A short history of how Eja came into our lives – Eja was a Greyhound bred for racing.  He started racing training and then washed out for reasons we will never know.  He wasn’t in a single race.  We fostered him when he was about a year and a half old when he first “came off the track”.  He was our very first Greyhound foster.  He was very shy and anxious.  I was worried there was something wrong with him since he wouldn’t stop pacing and whining the first night we had him.  I called the adoption coordinator in a panic, but was told he would be ok once he settled in.

He was adopted and then returned about six months later.  We fostered him a second time.  He seemed shyer than when we first fostered him.  He would hide behind me if strangers tried to approach or touch him.  He wouldn’t take treats from anyone besides my husband or me.  Even though he had kennel training in his “racing” days, he didn’t like being in one.

Like Greyhounds, sighthounds (Whippets, Borzoi, and Irish Wolfhounds) are bred to hunt by sight, as opposed to scenthounds like Bloodhounds, Beagles, and Basset Hounds, who hunt by smell.  When I watched Eja in the yard, he would use his nose a lot more than my other Greyhounds.  I started to think about what activity we could participate in that would allow him to use his nose as he seemed to really enjoy sniffing.  I decided to take a tracking class with him.  It was challenging, but fun.  However, I was having trouble getting Eja to alert when he found articles along the track.  For those not familiar with tracking, here is a description of the sport.

I heard about this new sport called K9 Nose Work and thought it would help with Eja’s article indication in tracking.  The National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW) started K9 Nose Work classes.  (Check out this article for a more in depth description of the sport.)  I observed a class and thought, “What the heck is this?  This is like no class I’ve ever taken before.”  I had taken obedience, rally, tricks, and relationship building classes, to name a few, before observing this class.  It was so different, because the dog took the lead in the search and the handler was along just to support the dog when needed.  In most of the other classes I had taken, the handler is the one “calling the shots”, giving the dog a lot of cues throughout the class.  I emailed the owner of the training facility and described what I had seen.  I asked, “Is this an example of a typical class?”  It was, but I had a difficult time wrapping my head around the concept that the dog leads the search.

Eja and I started taking nose work classes and immediately became hooked.  All dogs are kenneled or confined in some way during class when they are not searching.  This was a big challenge for Eja at first.  Eja was always a momma’s boy and wanted to be near me, not kenneled; but the more classes we took, the more comfortable he was in the kennel.  He also seemed to learn the route to class and would get really excited at the end of our route.  It was a wonderful sport for him to participate in.  He became more confident around people and other dogs and he was more comfortable in his kennel.  So comfortable in fact, I could put him in the kennel and leave the room with him remaining calm.

I signed up for several classes, taking the classes with pretty much the same people.  We all progressed together.  We all loved it and didn’t care how late the class was, no matter if it went until 10pm!  The same people I had classes with years ago are still enjoying the sport.  I still see former classmates at many nose work events.  Some are now nose work instructors, nose work trial volunteer coordinators and nose work trial hosts, to name a few of the ways they have stayed active in the sport.  Most of them also still participate with their own dogs.  It’s a wonderful group of people, very supportive and friendly.  There are always new friends to make as new people become involved.

I decided in 2013 that Eja and I should start competing.  I had never competed with a dog before in any sport and the thought of it was a bit overwhelming at first, but I was willing to give it a go if he was.  Before we could compete in a trial, we had to pass an Odor Recognition Test (ORT).  On our third try, Eja passed the ORT in 2015 for the 3 odors in NACSW Nose Work; Birch, Anise and Clove.  During the first ORT in 2013, I was so stressed.  I thought, “Why am I doing this to myself?”  It became easier after that as I got to spend a good portion of the day with my best friend, doing what he loved.  He got his NW1 title in 2015 and NW2 in 2016. Below – Eja and I after getting his NW2 title, so proud of my boy.

It was around this time I started thinking about becoming a certified nose work instructor through NACSW.  I am currently an Associate Nose Work Instructor.  I started my other Greyhounds, Topper and Adam, in nose work.  They both love it as you will see in the example videos.

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Christie and Eja. Photo credit: Black Dog’s Photographer.

Here are some of the things I love about the sport –

  • Any breed or breed mix can enjoy nose work, not just Bloodhounds!
  • Nose work is a wonderful activity for senior and differently-abled dogs.
  • Special equipment is not required.
  • Obedience training is not required.
  • Shy and fearful dogs can gain confidence.
  • It’s so fun watching dogs use their hunting instinct to find food, toy or odor.
  • It’s really fun watching dogs searching vehicles and containers, similar to TSA dogs and police dogs. Although, nose work dogs are searching for legal, safe substances.
  • Nose work classes are set up specifically for most dogs to be able to participate whether the dog is fearful or reactive. (Dogs who are aggressive toward people are evaluated on a case by case basis)
  • The mental exercise exerted by dogs while doing this wears them out as well as if they went on a long walk. It’s a great game for high energy dogs.
  • Dogs can play the nose work game for their entire life, it will never get boring for them.
  • The bond handlers have with their dogs will become stronger as the handler learns to observe the dog’s alert behaviors and learn to trust that the dog has found what he’s looking for.
  • People can compete in nose work, but there is no pressure to do so. It is first and foremost an activity that is fun for both dog and handler.

There are four elements the dogs will search – containers, interiors, exteriors and vehicles.

You might be thinking, “What is the typical class progression?”

Typically, there are 3 classes – Introduction to K9 Nose Work, Introduction to Odor and Continuing Nose Work.

Introduction to K9 Nose Work introduces the sport to the dog and handler with foundation exercises.  The dog is searching for a favorite food or toy.  Containers are the element searched the most.  I usually try to introduce interiors, exteriors and vehicles as well.  This class may be taken multiple times for fearful dogs to gain more confidence before moving on to Introduction to Odor.

Introduction to Odor is exactly as it sounds.  The dog switches from finding food or a toy to finding the first odor, birch.  If all the elements are not already introduced, they may be in this class upon discretion of the instructor.

In Continuing Nose Work, the other two odors; anise and clove are introduced.  All four elements are searched.  This class may also be taken multiple times as more and more complex searches are done.

What questions do you have about nose work?  Would you like to observe a class?  You can email paws4umn@gmail.com for more information.  To see what nose work classes are available, please check out our class schedule!

I hope to see you in one of Paws Abilities K9 Nose Work classes.  I love sharing this sport with others!

Happy sniffing!

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