Frequently Asked Questions about Nose Work

What is nose work?
Nose work is scent detection for pet dogs. With time, dogs learn to search for a specific odor in containers, buildings, exteriors and vehicles.  It is "urban hunting" for dogs where the prey is an essential oil rather than an animal. 

What kind of dog do I need?

Any dog can do this - you don't need a working dog or a young, agile dog or even a well-trained dog. You can do this with a reactive dog, a shy dog  or a dog with a physical disability.  Plus, your dog needs no prior training.

What supplies do I need?
All you need is your dog, good treats and some card board boxes to start playing the fun game of nose work.

What do I need to know?
Nothing - no previous dog-training experience is necessary. You don't even need an understanding of scent detection or anything like that. This is FUN scent detection, not K9 police scent detection dog work. You simply stand back, watch your dog work and reward him.

Why would I want to do it?
Simply because it is FUN!!  Nose work is to police dog scent detection as a rodeo is to ranch work.  It is a sport.  Dogs LOVE it!

What do I gain?
After a few short weeks, your dog will become more calm and more confident as your dog learns to focus on the search.  Plus you will alleviate your dog's boredom.  A bored dog is often annoying - barking, digging, scratching, destroying.  A tired dog is a content dog and a content dog is a good dog.

Where can I learn more about Nosework?
This is the web page from the people who invented this sport: 
.  The United Kennel Club will soon have information about titles and has a Facebook page with a list of trainers and info at United NoseworkWag It Sniff It games are growing.  And The Dog Scouts of America also offers titles.  (Although we suggest a different training approach.)  However, most people do this for the fun of it and not to pursue titles.

Thanks to Jennifer Wytmens, Training Assistant at Gentle Touch Pet Training, for FAQ ideas!
Most people engaged in dog sports for fun are familiar with the use of clickers for training dogs.  Clicker training is based on B.F. Skinner's discovery and definition of operant conditioning.  Nose Work training is based on the other arm of learning, Ivan Pavlov's classical or respondant conditioning.  Although we usually consider anxiety to be unpleasant, it is often quite the opposite.  Dogs who are taught how to play the nose work game with classical conditioning are anxious to play because it is a ton of fun for them!

Dog Training: Classical conditioning
 by: Hannele Hoffren

Russian psychologist, Ivan Pavlov, discovered Classical, or in the terminology of behavior analysis respondent conditioning, in 1920s. It seems that classical conditioning was discovered by chance. Pavlov was investigating dog´s digestion when he noticed that the most experienced dogs that he had been testing began to salivate before the samples of food were presented to them. He started to investigate this systematically. Throughout Pavlov´s experiment, dogs were exposed to a wide variety of arbitrary stimuli (example bell and light) presented contiguously with food. Pavlov has a special laboratory constructed in which the experimenter and a dog were separated from each other in soundproof rooms. Discovery was that conditioned stimulus (bell) began to trigger the same reactioning (salivate) in dogs that unconditioned stimulus (food) did. The associative bond between the conditioned stimulus (CS) and the unconditioned stimulus (US) is strengthened when the CS consistently occurs just before the representation of the US and is weakened when the CS and US occur independently of each other. So classical conditioning is unintentional and subconscious reaction to a certain stimuli.

It is important to understand how classical conditioning works and hopefully a few everyday examples will do that. Most dogs respond readily to sound of doorbell ringing and after several repetitions, in which the bell signals the arrival of someone at the door, the dog may begin to example bark. The dog has learned to correlate a previously insignificant event (doorbell) with a significant on (visitor) and now when the doorbell rings the dog dances with excitement anticipating the visitor´s entry and greetings. But what starts to happen if dogs owner doesnt open the door when doorbell rings? After several sessions of nonreinforced exposures to the bell, the dog will gradually inhibit its anticipatory reactions and finally ignore the sound altogether. We can say that the conditioned effect has been extinguished.

Classical conditioning has also an important role in the development of anxiety and fears. For instance, dogs easily develope fears associated with the veterinary clinic, especially if they have undergone painful procedures there. It may help to prevent negative associations to the veterinary clinic when we provide dogs or puppies treats and other pleasurable experiences while being examined. But what if dog doesnt eat in that situation? Its probably too stressed (or not hungry) and you have to start giving food to the dog earlier (example in the hospital parking lot). Lifelong phobic reactions can also occur as the result of a single traumatic event and dogs suffer a broad spectrum of phobic fears, most of which are established and reversed through classical conditioning.

But does Pavlov have anything really good information for us to use in dog training? You may have heard about clicker training. When we examine clicker training through classical conditioning, clicker is conditioned stimulus (CS) and food (or some else reinforcement) is unconditioned stimulus (US). Clicker is a mechanical device that makes a short, distinct "click" sound which tells the animal exactly when they're doing the right thing and its combined with positive reinforcement. You can also use something else than clicker, example light, whistle or some other sound. Other important information of Pavlovian conditioning is counterconditioning. It plays avital role in the learning and unlearning of emotional reactions. So in dog training, resolving fears and other problems (example phobias, separation anxiety and aggressiviness), classical conditioning may be required. Classically conditioned responses are largely autonomous and independent of central control, unlike instrumental behavior. Dogs dont choose to feel fearful or anxious. To be controlled, an aversive emotion like anger or fear, must be countered by the elicitation of an ever stronger and incompatible emotional response. - your one-stop source for free articles.

all content copyright 2012 A.M. Carricato, V.M.D.

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