Getting started in Nose Work is not an expensive endeavor. Get a cardboard box. That’s right, just one. Put a treat (or, a toy, if your dog is that kind of dog, or if you are that kind of trainer) in it, while your dog is watching. Put it on the floor, and let your dog go and get it. Repeat. Move the box a little farther away. Repeat. Add another box, with no cookie / toy / whatever. Repeat. Add another one.
Aaaaaaaand, you’re off! Think up a cue word. Really difficult stuff, this…
Your little beastie will pick up on discriminating a “hot” box (one with the scent), from a “cold” one (has no scent, or has a “distractor” scent, at higher levels of competition) , in no time at all – they are hunting, so this is hard-wired.
If you are not a competitor, yourself, you are actually in luck – it can be harder for people who are involved in other dog-sports to learn to “back off, and shut up”, and let their dog “do its thing” (having said this, you don’t want to “back off” TOO far, and you shouldn’t refrain from opening your mouth, if success in the iteration depends on it!).
In other dog-sports, you want your dog “checking back in with you” – the “partnership” is more heavily weighted towards the handler. In Nose Work, the dog is in the driver’s seat, for the most part – the partnership is more heavily weighted towards the dog, and what it is doing, all by itself.
This is not one of those times where you are looking for that doe-eyed look of adoration, from your dog – you want your dog to be in full-blown Airborne Ranger mode, looking for the small woodland being, to gobble it down like the Wolf out of Little Red Riding Hood.
Well, OK, maybe that’s just me…
The point I am trying to make, here, is that your dog likes to hunt – you may have noticed that your dog “likes” to run agility (because your dog probably really DOES like to run, and maybe it likes to jump around, too), or that it “likes” to go into the obedience / rally ring (because it has been paid to do so, in one way, or another).
All dogs like to hunt – they don’t have to be “taught” that it is rewarding, they don’t have to be encouraged to use that huge apparatus at the end of their face (what we refer to as a “nose”). This is something they are hard-wired to do, and they only need the least amount of guidance, from us, in order to be able to play this particular game, and to succeed at it, and to really, really enjoy it.
You may end up finding yourself sitting back and watching an otherwise “spooked out” dog come right out of his / her little “shell”, when they are given the opportunity to go out and just BE A DOG. I have seen it happen, and if you spend only a little time with this sport, I’d be shocked if you don’t see it happen, too (it might not be your dog, — or, maybe it will be?).
It’s a beautiful thing. I can’t recommend it highly enough. See it happen, once, and then tell me that you’re not interested in letting your dog have a try at it.
If you do, however, I might just have the Men in White on my speed-dial, and you might have some ‘splaining to do…