Nosework and other scent sports

It seems not a week goes by without reading or being asked if Nosework interferes with other scent sports, whether being tracking, scent articles or more recently field hunting.

We’ve all heard these types of concerns before with other sports. I was told by a conformation judge to wait until my dog had her CH before I did agility or obedience. When agility first hit the scene, people were worried that agility would ruin their obedience dog.  We found of course that this was not the case!

Do I think Nosework interferes with other scent sports? Absolutely not! In fact, I’ve found the opposite to be the case in that it complements them.

The reasons?

  1. Working in multiple scent sports makes you a better scent dog handler. You become stronger at reading a scenting dog, building a stronger bond that encompasses trust and teamwork.
  2. A dog learning how to work scent and solve scent puzzles will carry over into the other scent sports.  
  3. Applying same principals of value for “source” can improve article indication on your track.
  4. Draws on the dog’s natural ability to use their nose, providing more opportunities to satisfy and channel their instinctual drive.

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Remember that dogs are VERY contextual. They know the difference between a field with a start flag and a nosework search element. They know the unique smells and feel of the gear used in field work, tracking and nosework. They likely will already be “in odor” at the start line for nosework, knowing their job is to search for the oil scent. In tracking they’ll see the start article and your different routine for starting. They’ll know the difference between the setting of an obedience ring with a pile of articles and a room with containers. They’ll know what their job is and as long as you are mindful with your approach and training skills, it can be a win-win all around.  Your dog will appreciate playing in multiple activities and you will be beaming with pride in their delight and success!

When it comes to tracking, the biggest concern I hear is air scenting verses nose down tracking. I have yet to see this be a concern. From personal experience, Savvy and I got our TDX while actively training and trialing in nosework. A friend with a Bernese Mountain dog trialed in NW2 on a Saturday and got their TD the next day with a beautiful nose down style on the track! This particular team started both sports around the same time.

With real life detection dogs this is not a concern also. Dogs will both air scent and “track” to find what they are searching for. Dog’s are quite savvy about using their nose and know when to use which for each situation.

When I was recently asked if Nosework would interfere with field hunting, I reached out to Cassia Turcotte, a fellow FDSA instructor who is teaching Gun Dog classes and who also trains in Nosework. This is what she said:

“It shouldn’t be a problem at all – I totally agree, dogs are very contextual. Plus, I think that learning how to work scent will only help them in the field (residual versus source is a concept we apply frequently in contaminated bird fields)… I’ve done nosework with both of my dogs that are running at the master level this year.”

If you want to be more cautious, you could start them at different times and train them on different days. Specifically I would not start scent articles and nosework at the exact same time – since one is teaching to find a particular odor (and your scent is on everything) and the other to find your scent. I will wait until my new puppy is actively searching odor before I start teaching him to find MY scent for the obedience scent article exercise. If your dog is already trained on obedience scent articles then you should be fine to start nosework.

Are there exceptions? Sure. There may be dogs or circumstances that tell you it’s better to offset these activities.  Some dog’s thrive off of doing multiple sports, others may be happy and more successful with focusing on one or two sports at a time.  You know your dog best! I hope this provides more information for you when considering the sport of Nosework!!

5 comments

  1. I did find that my dog was more air scenting on the track than nose to the ground. If we passed a tree or a bench, he would scent up and down and around. He also cut corners and often whole legs of tracks to get to the article.

  2. Hi Becky – since I’m fascinated by this topic :), which sport did you start first or were they at the same time? There are unknown variables that we may never know … would your dog have tended to cut corners even without having done nosework because I know that some dogs will do that. When searching up and down and around the tree and bench, perhaps the track odor was pooling/caught there so might not be so unusual to check out … and Nosework experience could potentially enforce doing that.

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