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The Nose Knows
Ta Da! Introducing Nose Work (aka Scent Work), a sport that English Setters naturally excel at and enjoy.
Nose Work is a fairly new (about ten years old) sport that takes advantage of a power that dogs naturally possess, finding things using their keen sense of smell and desire to hunt. Nothing smells better than a Nose Work dog, and English Setters are particularly good at it.
In a beginning Nose Work class, dogs find bits of food that are hidden in open containers such as cardboard boxes. Nose Work class is described as an “obedience-free” zone where dogs work in an enclosed, secure area without the presence of other dogs and do not have to sit or heel or do any of those human-defined behaviors, only exercise their innate talents. As the class progresses, the types of “hides” with food gradually become more complex but only as the dog can easily handle the new challenges. This sport is intended to be pure fun for the dog.
During training, the owner learns to read the dog’s body language and know when he’s hot on the trail of a scent or just gathering information. Because of this need to observe closely, the sport develops a strong partnership between you and your Setter. It is as appropriate for puppies as for advanced obedience dogs and for all types of dogs in between. It is a great confidence builder as the dog learns he is the team leader, the one possessing all the skills, and the human is lost without him.
After the dog is proficient at finding food hides, he may graduate to target odors – birch, clove, and anise – with one drop placed on a Q tip and hidden for the dog to find in closed containers both indoors and outdoors. Once proficient on odors and after passing an Odor Recognition Test (ORT), the dog and handler can choose to enter Nose Work Trials and earn titles (NW1, NW2, and NW3). But, you can go on forever just setting hides for fun in various new situations if that’s your choice.
My girl Eliza absolutely loves her Nose Work class and drags me into the building whenever we go to class. Our practice sessions with hides around the house and yard and about the town are fun for her too. The sport is highly portable. In fact, it’s important for you go to many different places to practice. We take her nose with us wherever we go, and the sport requires very little equipment, just various types of containers and food, or later on, a nose work odor kit. Once you leave the safe, secure area, practice sessions are conducted on leash or long line.
If you wish to look into competition and titles, you can check the web site of the National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW), http://iframe.nacsw.net/, the group that sets the standards governing the sport of canine nose work and, at present, the only official sanctioning and organizing body for canine nose work titles and ORTs. This sport was inspired by the training methodology of detection canines and borrows elements of that training for recreation.
Some may find that their dog is so good at Nose Work and they as a team enjoy it so much that they would like to go on to other activities that center on a dog’s ability to scent, such as Search And Rescue, picking up bird scent when hunting, and working scent articles in utility class in obedience. Alas, you may find you have to keep food put away in your house to prevent your Setter from exercising his scent work skills on your kitchen counter. When it comes to using his nose, there is probably no limit to what your Setter can do.