Cute -- but can it sniff?

Frankie has the cutest nose in the world, a little black button of a sniffer. I have a tough time keeping myself from touching it, much to his annoyance.

But I have to admit, I’ve never thought of it as particularly effective. He just doesn’t seem to use his nose as much as other dogs do. When we’re on the trail, he rarely tugs on his leash to try to sniff at anything.

It’s true that he’s often aware of my putterings around the kitchen, and it’s not noise that rouses him from his slumber because we live on a busy street. It’s also true that, when we’re outside, he’s probably more concerned about keeping up with me, his protector, than about checking out his environment.

But what about his squeaky carrot, his favorite toy? He loves to toss it around at home yet often can’t seem to locate it by scent. That’s one of the many questions — most of them of more general interest — that I asked Kelly Dunbar, a Certified Nosework Instructor through the National Association of Canine Scent Work during my Animal Cafe interview with her about this new sport.

 What it is

K9 Nose Work was developed in southern California in 2006 by Jill Marie O’Brien and Ron Gaunt, certified trainers who had worked with dogs using their noses in a professional — and serious — capacity for police and detection work. Their awareness of how much their charges enjoyed their employment gave them the idea to extend it to a sport that pet dogs could also benefit from.

What Makes it Frankie- and City- Friendly

Unlike tracking, which has also become popular, K9 Nose Work doesn’t require your dog to put his nose to the ground in wide open fields. Instead, your dog learns to find certain designated scents by sniffing the air in a variety of locations, including boxes and vehicles.

And it’s a one-on-one, handler-dog activity so shy guys like Frankie don’t have to interact with strange canines or humans.

At least in the long run. Initially, both team members need to be instructed in how to let go and allow the dog to literally follow his nose, forgetting most training techniques they’ve previously experienced.

But What About Arizona?

As you’ll hear from the following interview, Kelly assured me that Frankie could learn how to do this, that all he needed was a bit of motivation. I got very excited at the idea of giving my little guy more confidence, and even fantasized that I could become an instructor eventually (yes, I’m ready for another career). But then I discovered that there are no K9 Scent Work classes in Arizona, so I can’t even learn how to work with Frankie, much less teach anyone else to do it.


Listen to the interview to find out why I was so excited about this sport. And then find someone willing to come to Tucson (or Phoenix) so we can enjoy it too, y’hear?  Send along a picture of that little furry Frankie face if you need to.

23 thoughts on “K9 Nose Work: A Sport Even Frankie Can Love”

  1. Even though there are no classes around, I am sure you can read up on it (which I’m sure you already have, and watch videos about it! Perhaps you can work on it at home.

    1. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m not very self-motivated — an odd statement coming from someone who is self-employed, but there you have it; I guess paying the bills serves as an incentive. So unless I have the structure of a class, I’m unlikely to do anything that’s purely recreational. But I’m motivated to try to find a class 😉

  2. By your description, this sounds like a fun alternative to agility training for those of us who just want to frolic, rather than compete. Couldn’t listen to the interview, as one of Archie’s last acts was to sever the computer’s speaker wire. Pesky to the end!

    1. Ha, ha — he is pretty stinkin darn cute, isn’t he?! That (uncropped) image is on a greeting card, cocktail napkins, and a refrigerator magnet — the photographer and the card company agreed with you — but Frankie doesn’t get any royalties (nor do I)!

  3. I can relate to the need for a class. I like the accountability and sociability of a gathering.

    But if you want to give a simple exercise a try, I’ve posted a description of the first three (of six) nose work classes Honey and I took at the SPCA. They’re in a tab at the top under “intro to K9 nosework” and can be printed out as a PDF to help you set up.

    I’d encourage you to pursue this with Frankie. I think you’d be amazed by him.

    In our class, we had one very shy girl who was very tentative and deliberate in her searching. Each week, we watched her tail set higher and higher as she gained in confidence. It was just amazing.

    Honey searched like a dervish. Sped around the room at lightning speed. It really is an activity where every dog’s personality comes out.

    BTW, my instructions don’t incorporate using scented oils. Our instructor just had us working with smelly treats. I hope she offers a more advanced class soon.

    1. Ok, I’m convinced, thanks! How can I resist an opportunity to show that Frankie’s not just a pretty face? I’ll check it out and report back.

  4. I haven’t done a formal NoseWork class yet but my little nosy beasts have had a few intros. A Reactive Dog class I coach sometimes usually throws in a little nose work, as it is such a great way for shy or reactive dogs to apply themselves and build confidence.

    And I share your fascination with noses–they are such salty little packages of joy!

    1. Ha, I love that description of noses — salty little packages of joy!

      All these comments are really inspiring me to try it — even on my own if need be.

  5. I’ve been impressed with how quickly K9 Nosework is taking off, but not surprised — it’s so much fun for ANY dog, including dogs that have issues that prevent them from doing other sports like Rally or Agility. Right now, two of the best dogs in class are a Collie, a Chihuahua, and a Puggle. You should see the Chihuahua work — she’s incredible. AND she is 12 years old, too.

  6. Hi Edie,

    I audited the Introduction to Nosework class last year taught by Jill-Marie and the core concepts of that class are pretty simple. Most of the class was spent watching various dogs do the basic exercise. So you might actually be able to get by just fine simply by watching the video or reading the descriptions offered above because the concept isn’t more than about a paragraph long.

    I opted not to follow up with the Introduction to Odor class because I was able to transition our dog at home from searching for a treat to searching for an odor – we bought one of the kits their company sells with three scents and a small container with a magnet on the back.

    Our dog had something of a head start because we already had him doing Hide and Seek in the house for treats. And fairly shortly, actually, we quit using the boxes and containers that they use in the Nosework class and went back to hiding his treats in various places in a room because it was so much more challenging. It was obvious to Jack after one or two tries what the boxes and containers were for.

    We weren’t looking to compete – we just wanted a way to keep our dog’s brain busy.

    I’m hoping they might eventually put out a basic version of the concept in book form. At our class they had something like 10 participant spaces and another 5 or 10 audit spaces where you came but didn’t bring your dog.

    One of the challenges I saw, if I had brought my dog, is that the dogs were kept outside in crates or vehicles and brought in only during their turn to practice. Since we don’t do any competitive dog sports, we don’t have the fancy crates and cooling shields and vehicles designed for a dog to spend a lot of time in. Maybe not a problem for a dog Frankie’s size, but our dog is 55 pounds and would need a full sized crate and significant shading, etc. to stay in the car like that. So it was in some ways designed more for people who routinely compete in dog sports.

    1. Natalie, thanks so much for your input! As you know, I can’t give Frankie too many treats and hiding his dinner would not be practical since it’s not kibble (and he would never be inspired to find it if it was). But it’s great to know about the possibilities.

      As for the car, that’s a BIG problem in Tucson, where you can’t leave your dog in a car, crated or not, for about half the year because of the heat. Luckily, I just heard about a woman who studied in Colorado and is coming back to Tucson to teach… so she’ll be aware of that issue.

  7. Yes, I hope they arrange for someplace where the dogs can be kept indoors. That was my assumption about how it would be done when I signed up to audit it and was very surprised to find that the dogs had to stay outside – I was very glad I hadn’t signed up to bring our dog. It wasn’t Tuscon hot, but it wasn’t cool either. I think the class was in July in the Sacramento, CA, area.

    They use high value rewards. Mostly food and very powerful food attractions like hot dogs with a strong scent to follow. But some dogs who were more motivated by toys more than food learned to search for a toy and it probably would have been pretty easy for Jack to find one of his toys that’s been thoroughly slobbered up with his own scent. We do that at home sometimes.

    Would there be something nonedible that Frankie would love to search for?

    I was a little frustrated with the trainers. I wrote and asked them about what would be taught in the follow-up Introduction to Odor since I had already transitioned our dog to finding a scent, and she couldn’t/wouldn’t tell me. The system seems, to me, to currently lack documentation. There wasn’t an explanation for the process in outline form or presented verbally and no handouts.

    I just started corresponding with someone who offers Life Skills classes and Nosework classes so I’m hoping maybe she can give me a better idea of how the rest of the training proceeds. I keep getting the feeling that it’s heavily geared toward competing in events but maybe I’m confused.

    1. It’s kind of funny: Frankie loves his squeaky carrot toy but he can’t always find it when I throw it; I see him sniffing around cluelessly when he’s two feet away from it! That’s what made me wonder during the interview if Frankie was suited for this activity.

      Thanks very much for all your feedback on this. Maybe because it’s comparatively new there isn’t much documentation. You’re right, a book would be a great idea.

      Keep me posted on any progress you make in finding a good class.

    2. Natalie – the official websites for K9 Nose Work are great resources for more information: and

      depending on your personal goals (and your dog’s), the activity of K9 Nose Work easily transitions to the sport of K9 Nose Work which offers a multitude of challenges and rewards as you and your dog increases your skills. If you have any desire to enjoy the activity or the sport to it’s fullest, it’s best to seek out a certified instructor to take classes with – especially if you have your hands on an odor kit. Your dog’s nose is sensitive beyond comprehension, and improper handling of the odor can create setbacks in your training, sometimes really messing up your dog’s ability to understand the task at hand and communicate it effectively. While K9 Nose Work is something any dog/handler can get into, it requires the learning and practicing of advanced skills if you want to move beyond the beginning stages.

      Imagine walking onto an unfamiliar school campus in some city you’ve never been to and being told you and your dog have 4 minutes to search an area the size of a football field for an unknown number of “hides” (target odors) from 1-3. The hides could be anywhere within that area, even 4 feet off the ground, and they will never be visible. Pretty daunting. Now, imagine that you and your dog could one day perform that search, under pressure, and your dog finds the hides and communicates clearly to you, and you trust him/her.. and you’re both successful!

      If that sounds cool to you, that is just one aspect of high level competition in K9 Nose Work. It takes a lot of training to get there, but it is rewarding beyond belief.

      Just some things to consider when wondering if you can get by teaching your dog K9 Nose Work without taking classes from a certified instructor.

      Happy Sniffing!

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