Is it too cold to go outside to work the dog? Just can’t get yourself motivated to go play games or work on exercises? Maybe you have a new pup that is still too young for serious stuff or an older dog left on the shelf and feeling neglected. You may need to do nosework! Nosework is the newest dog activity and is sweeping the country. It is easy as the dog does all the work and the handler just controls the treats.
Begin with old, assorted boxes and a hungry dog. One great thing is that nosework can be done successfully by older dogs and older trainers. The idea got started in California as the brainchild of Amy Herot, Jill Marie O’Brian, and Ronald Gaunt. Seminars and classes are now held all over the country and matches and titling events are not far behind in a new venue.
The object of the game is just to mark a box, put the food reward in the box, mix up your boxes and turn the dog loose to find the right box. The handler gives no commands. When the dog finds and eats the reward, hurry over and give more rewards in the box and praise. When you are done rewarding, take the box from the dog, not the dog from the box. This part of the game is easier with two people, the handler and a helper to work the boxes. The handler needs to stand still and say nothing as the dog hunts for his reward.
To start, use cardboard boxes, nothing special, with or without flaps and different sizes. At first, use open boxes. As you progress, household items are added to the mix, like a vacuum cleaner, a bar stool, pots and pans or whatever else may be handy. Start indoors in a room like your living room, den, or garage. Begin with one dog at a time. As you get better, you can take the work outside or to other buildings, even vehicles.
You may want to begin with some really good, smelly treats instead of your usual training treats. After all, a new game deserves some new rewards! I’ve used salmon, blue cheese, ham hocks, chicken gizzards, mackerel, sardines, liverwurst, and other really pungent food bits. But remember, you will have the pieces in your hand and bait pouch, so keep that in mind. I finally settled on roast beef, home baked liver (with cinnamon and garlic), Spam, and cooked kielbasa. Whatever you use, it should be really rewarding as the game itself is so rewarding. Use pieces that the dog can eat quickly. If you have a toy-driven dog, the rules are the same; put the toy in the box and play at the box when the dog finds it.
As the dog progresses and begins to learn the new game, the hides get more difficult and challenging for him, and the scent changes if you decide you might want to try for a title. Titling scents are birch, clove, and anise. Even if you never want to go past the “fun stage,” nosework is still a great way to show off what your dog can do and a wonderful demonstration event. Best of all, it is a good way to keep both handlers and dogs active even indoors.