Friday, January 18, 2013

Intro to K9 Nosework

And now for a blog post related to training in honor of the month of January! :)

For the past year or so I have been working with Bourbon in the sport of K9 Nosework. K9 Nosework emerged a few years ago and has been growing steadily since inception. It follows the same premise and training ideas incorporated in detection training for drugs and bombs, except it brings it to the companion dog level. Dogs of all ages, sizes, personalities, and difficult quirks (aka Bourbon's dog aggression/reactivity, LOL) can compete. And because only one dog works at a time it is the perfect sport for reactive or shy dogs.

Getting Started

Very little is needed to get started in nosework. The handler needs at least 5 cardboard boxes and the dog's favorite toy or treats. Whether you are using food or toys is not relevant, only that your dog is motivated to hunt for it. So it must be something that your dog really, really loves. Not likes, but LOVES! The goal in the beginning is to help the dog build their desire to hunt and scent independently.

Start with 5 or 6 boxes and then with time and experience the
number and difficulty can be increased.
You'll want to keep one box seperate (and mark it so you remember!) to use as the food/toy box. At this point, you want to limit cross-contaminating the other boxes because you want to keep it as clear cut as possible for your dog so they experience consistent success. The boxes are used to help the dog learn the game and it can become a cue in the beginning that the game is on.

When starting, working with a training partner is helpful, but not mandatory. If you're working by yourself make sure you can restrain your dogs so you can entice them and hid the reward without them following you from box to box. So with your dog restrained, start pretending to hide their reward and mix it up so the dog doesn't see which box has the hide (you still use the same box, just move it around). It's like playing a shell game - although their probability of guessing right is much higher than ours! As soon as your dog shows ANY level of interest in the box with the reward, praise them enthusiastically and give them more treats or play tug with their toy right at the box. REWARD AT THE BOX!

Make sure to keep your sessions short and fun. Usually a dog gets three or four 'hides' each turn, and about four turns per training session. The goal is to make the hide easy at first, building the dog's confidence and enjoyment of the hunt. Also, limit using any obedience commands when building the search desire in your dog. It's important that the dog learns he is in control of this game and you need him more than he needs you. The dog's focus should be to obey his nose, not his handler.

Bourbon in Action

Here are a few videos of Bourbon doing some basic level searches in our living room. You'll have to excuse the camera technique as it's hard to stay with your dog and reward your dog while filming, LOL. But you should be able to get the idea and put an image to descriptions above.

Bourbon doing a basic search

The second Bourbon search

The third Bourbon search with slight elevation

The Handler's Goal

As you'll see in the videos, the handler does very little other than follow the dog. In fact, the less the handler does for the dog, the better. Easy for us, eh? Actually, it's really hard for us to let go of the need to help our dogs. So what the handler needs to focus on (so that they aren't tempted to help the dogs) are observational skills. Make sure you know when your dog has caught the scent and how to tell if they are 'in odor'. K9 Nosework is all about the search, the hunt, the find. For fun or competition, K9 Nosework is a terrific sport for both people and dogs (this is the one sport where the dogs knows more than the person at the end of the leash!).

Some Resources

The National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW)
The Parker Videos
The Canine Kingdom of Scent (I have actually ordered this book but haven't read it yet! It might inspire some future blog posts!)
True Dog Blog entry on Nosework (written by my friend Amy)

Happy Sniffing!

No comments:

Post a Comment