What Is Scent Work?

Scent Work, sometimes called Nosework, is a fun dog sport for any dog!!!

Okay, what is it again?

Scent Work is teaching dogs to hunt for a target odor. Scent Work dogs first learn to find essential oil of birch. The birch scent is initially paired with food. Just like Pavlov rang a bell and then fed his dogs, we pair the birch odor with food to create a classically conditioned response. This is the same way police, military, and medical detection dogs are trained.

Once Scent Work dogs get the idea to look for birch, owners then have the fun of building up the dog to hunt for that odor in many different places. It’s a game of find-it that can be played anytime and anywhere! After 6 months or so of training, many Scent Work dogs are ready to start competing. Some owners never want to compete but use Scent Work as a great way to spend time with their dog. Owners also use the game to help burn off a busy dog’s energy or keep an older dog interested and active.

Who is the ideal Scent Work dog or Scent Dog handler?

Any dog with any person!!! Any breed or mix of dog from 4 pound Chi-weenies to 150 pound Great Danes love Scent Work. Puppies can start training at 8 weeks. It’s amazing to see how fast youngsters pick up the game. Older dogs, who may have slowed down a bit, can have lots of fun and young busy dogs who need a job are all candidates to be great Scent Work Dogs. Dogs who have physical disabilities can also join in on scent games. Since dogs work one at a time and mostly on leash, Scent Work may be helpful for dogs who are grumpy with other dogs, too.

Handlers are all sorts of people. Unlike agility, Scent Work handlers don’t have to run fast or be very coordinated. It is almost the opposite of formal obedience because the tables are turned. You don’t cue your dog-the dog cues you! You also don’t have to have a purebred or make your dog look pretty. You _do_ have to learn to read the subtle cues your dog gives as he is tracing odor. Once he finds the hidden odor, be generous with food or toy rewards. Spending time playing scent games with your dog is an awesome way to build a deep, mutually rewarding relationship.

Where can I train?

Anywhere. Literally. Any. Where. The only equipment you’ll need is a dog and a scented cotton ball tucked into a small container like a pill box. From a tiny Harvard Square apartment to a beach on Cape Cod, anywhere is a perfect place to play.

Classes taught by Kate Bigger, president of Performance Scent Dogs, one of several national scent sport organizations, are held in Cambridge and Boston. You can find other trainers and competitions all over the USA and Canada.