Four years ago a scrappy little spaniel puppy showed up on the Seattle Animal Shelter foster list. I wasn’t a foster parent, but I was a case manager for foster parents so I got the email. I don’t know what it was about this little pup that made me suddenly want to pick her up and foster her and “get her well socialized and quickly adopted out” but I did.
Mimi came home and never left. When I realized what I had on my hands was a VERY active Brittany puppy (I think the first day we had her she tried to climb the ivy wall) who, it turned out, was smarter than the average bear. I KNEW I was going to have to do a lot more than just bring her to the daycare every day. This dog needed mental and physical gymnastics.
I think I read about K9 Nosework in an article in Whole Dog Journal or saw something on a yahoo list about an upcoming workshop in the area. It basically said Nosework was a new dog sport that brought out a dog’s natural hunting ability without having to go out and kill things! WOW. YEP that was it. I signed up for a 2-day workshop when Mimi was around 5 months old. That was the other thing, there was no age requirement or obedience requirement – in fact the less your dog focused on you the more likely she was to “hunt” independently. I watched her in the workshop gobble up food from boxes that were set out, but then I mentioned to the workshop leader that she really loved ball. So we brought out her ball and rewarded with that!
Suddenly my little pup was on fire and a Nosework monster was born. My biggest job was to make sure she got rewarded quickly and had fun. She was exhausted after the workshop. I was hooked not because my puppy liked it so much but because I knew my older dogs (both notorious food hogs) would love the game. I also thought it would be a great thing to bring to our clients who have old dogs, young dogs and lots of dogs with a ton of energy! The mental game of Nosework is tiring for dogs and short sessions will give you a much needed rest afterwards.
I decided to pursue certification and attended a series of workshops where I learned about the SPORT of K-9 Nosework. It is a competition sport but it doesn’t have to be. That’s the beauty of it, you don’t need a lot of stuff to do it and you don’t have to compete to get all the benefits of the game. Two years ago I became a Certified Nose Work Instructor (CNWI).
Mimi and I compete in Nosework and in Agility. I love them both and I think she does too but I know that for her Nosework has the edge. She will work a “hide” (sniff for a target odor) until she gets as close as she can to source; I love watching her work and have become pretty good at knowing when she’s “in odor” and know when to call “alert” but that is not why I love Nosework so much….
I love my students. My proudest moments in Nosework have not been my own titles but watching my students progress. One of my students is a very shy dog, or I should say, WAS a very shy dog. Her owners started doing Nosework with no intention to compete. They just wanted to see if Gracie could work in an environment with strangers and in strange places. The day Gracie got her Nosework 1 title- I burst in to tears of joy. She got her NW2 title the same day Mimi and I got ours (after fewer triesJ). I was again reduced to tears. I have watched her turn in to a different dog and her owners credit much of it to K9 Nosework. I have very old dog students and very young ones. I have a blind dog who is the most amazing creature to watch that I have ever seen. I sometimes have to remind myself I’m teaching and narrate while he works because watching him find the hide is so special.
My own 11-year-old dog has never been easy by anyone’s definition. He will likely never even take an odor recognition test because he is so bad in the car and they are so rarely close to us. I still love to watch him play the game. He will search for his cookies and he will search for the target odors too but it doesn’t really matter to me what he does as long as he is having fun and THAT is what K9 Nosework is about – having fun with your dog.
I still think all dogs should take puppy classes and Basic obedience classes and be good citizens if they can, but Nosework doesn’t discriminate. Dogs work alone, so they can be a little reactive and they don’t have to have beautiful manners, they just have to have a nose. Every dog is different and we expect our dogs to fill many places in our lives: They are companions, soul mates, pals, spoiled kids and a myriad of other things that we need. K9 Nosework lets our dogs just BE DOGS for a little while and we get to come along for the ride. It’s a pretty great ride to be on.
For more info on the sport of K9 Nosework you can check out www.nacsw.net or just contact Erica and join a class!
Erica Wells CNWI
Dogs Day Out
6733 15th Ave NW
Seattle WA 98117
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Erica is a Certified Nosework Instructor and teaches all levels of K9 Nosework at Dogs Day Out. She is also available for private and semi-private lessons. She is a volunteer with the Seattle Animal Shelter and helped write their behavior training manual. In addition to her volunteer work with SAS Erica has started a Nosework Shelter Dog program at the Seattle Humane Society and hopes to get one started at SAS soon!
Erica also teaches our summer “Agility for Fun “ course and can direct folks who want to get “serious” about agility on where to go. She is our Day Care Manager and Dog Walk Coordinator and knows all the daycare dogs secrets!
In her spare time Erica spends most of her time training and competing with her 4 year old “failed foster” Mimi in agility and K9 Nosework with the occasional Field Fun Day thrown in for “real” birds. Keeping down the home front is 11.5 year old Jaxx, “the best big black dog ever” who mostly naps and wonders why his food bowl isn’t full all the time. He does like a good walk and a good swim now and then.