What the nose knows
Consider that your dog has a talent, a gift if you will. Like any nurturing caring “parent” don’t you want to encourage that gift and let your dog enjoy the pure bliss of actualizing his potential? We have only a small concept of what the world of looks and smells like to our dogs. The canine nose is powerful indeed. Beginning with the fundamental design, it is nearly flawless. A wet sticky tip that can collect small specs of dust and air-born odor as it is stirred up. A long chamber (sorry flat faced pooches) that delivers information in a direct path to the brain. Scent is just information to a dog, it may be able to tell them what was here, where something is located like a map on an invisible grid, or more precise information about another animal like species, sex and even the ability and willingness to mate. Dogs have a Vomeronasal organ that sits on a bone above the mouth in the back of the nose. This is a receptor site for all the information a dog gathers when it sniffs another dogs scent, be it urine, feces, pheromones or even just a trace of food or something super scented that inspires the pooch. The greatest gift of the canine nose may be the technique in which they sniff. They have figured out that pushing air out of the nose when close to the object stirs up molecules and then they collect on the wet nose or get snorted greedily into the abyss that makes up the nasal passage. Listen next time your dog is engaged in scent for the exhale. So we have this gift how do we let them use it?
One of the fastest growing canine sports or activities if you will is that of Canine Nosework. Simply put it is an organized systematic process where we strengthen the dogs ability to follow it’s nose. This is truly a great activity to get involved in with your dog. It relies on trust, team building and self rewards. The best part is the dog always wins the game. Even at canine nosework trials where they have hidden odor for the dogs to search for, the judge will lead the handler and dog to the odor they missed so the dog gets the sense of finding it and winning the game. Canine Nosework is now a nationally recognized organization and trainers are getting certified to teach this great activity across the world.( http://www.funnosework.com/) Much of the skills and exercises come from scent detection training exercises utilized by our military to train tracking dogs. Scent detection dogs who search and detect harmful elements, explosives, drugs, molds, and even medical ailments in humans like seizures and tumors. Those wonderful noses can “see” a world that is invisible to the human experience. Our pitiful sniffers can barley tell if the milk has gone off before we pour it in our mouth.
The best way to think about scent is everything has a distinct odor for our dogs whether it is an object, person, place or even the weather outside. Dogs have way more olfactory nasal scents than people. It is tough for us to understand these sniff first ask questions later creatures when they smell and taste something we find repulsive. Watch next time your dog proudly sticks her head out the window, sure the wind and sun may feel great as it zips through their hair but watch the nose as it pulses and recieves information at 60 miles an hour and you may start to get why your dog loves that sensation so much. My nosework instructor told me to think about odor like we see smoke especially when trying to watch a dog detect odor in a windy area. Smoke moves similar to how scent must appear to a dog, strongest at the source and thinning as it moves and drifts away with lingering elements and traces further from the source.
Canine Nosework is a sport for all dogs. From working police shepherds to little old ladies with lap dogs. ANY DOG CAN DO IT! I have seen it help some under-confident dogs the most. These scardy unsure pooches who wince at strangers advancing pets and sudden noises turn into brave sure working companions as they take to the search. It is an amazing transformation to watch.
For more information check out nosework at American Kennel Club events or look for NACSW trainers in your area. In Washington I highly recomend my teacher Miriam Rose, (http://nwnoseworks.com/). Noseowork can be something you do for work, fun or as a competitive sport. They hold trials and you can compete as a team working against the clock to find and detect the odor as fast as possible. Scent detection is done professionally ranging from bed bug detection dogs to human remains. Dogs are used to find scent all over the world for tons of different activities. At Good Dog Training we are always saying work the brain before the body, this sport takes minimal physical effort for you to exercise and spend time with your dog, just some time to set up hides. In the beginning dogs search objects like boxes and everyday items for food rewards. Eventually dogs are moved to odor detection paired with food and play rewards.