Nosework has grown in popularity immensely over the last few years, and this is such great news for dog owners.

Now it does not matter if you want to compete in the sport of nosework or just train your dog to use his or her nose effectively for fun, enrichment or mental satisfaction for your dog, and you, it can provide a great outlet for dog and human alike.

What can a dog’s nose do?

Well probably a lot more than you might think.

Often people try and measure the power of a dog’s nose by making the comparison between a human and a dog.

So, you will see claims of the dogs nose being 40 times more powerful than a humans to 4000!

The reason for the difference I feel is that some are talking about the surface area of the olfactory glad and some are talking about how many receptors the dogs nose has compared to a humans.

I don’t know or really care how many times greater the dogs nose is than mine, because the performance isn’t measured in just those attributes for me.

We need a dog that is motivated to “sort” many odours and zone in on a target odour.

Dogs can draw in many thousands of odours in a breath but their skill lays in being able to sort through them.

I find that to be successful in odour work, a dog must overcome many hurdles and to do so, he or she will need drive to push over and or through these hurdles.

Things like sorting through many odours, environmental hurdles such as unstable or slippery surfaces, wind, rain, noise etc. Visual distractions too such as people, other dogs, moving items also may be a distraction.

Duration needs motivation too, a large search area may be tiring or even physically challenging too as well as other distractions. The dog also may simply not find the target odour and become disinterested as the reward has not come soon enough for this dog.

Amazingly, with good training most dogs will outperform your expectations many times over.

Medical benefits of the nose.

Many of you will have heard that dogs can now sniff out cancer in patients and other incredible things, well not only is that true, but they can do a lot more than that.

In fact, if you can capture an odour, you can imprint it as a target odour for the dog and teach the dog how and where to find it.

I have worked with many people who have diabetes, and their dog has been taught to indicate to them when they have high and or low blood sugar levels.

Dogs that can indicate that an owner is going to have a seizure too.

The Nose at work

Dogs for years have been detecting things that humans cannot see or smell, explosives, narcotics, animals to hunt, tracking people or animals, you name it and the nose has been utilised, better than any machine can do, still.

So now that we know how incredible the dogs nose is and its potential, what can you do with your dogs nose?


I have helped families teach their dog to find their kids by scent. We take odour samples from each kid, just a cotton ball swab from the skin and imprint this odour (or multiple) onto the dog.

Then we get the dog to find the swab, finally changing that to the children. Then we challenge the dog with changing environments and other elements, it is a great party trick.

The shell game

After the odour has been imprinted in the dog, you can play the 3 shell game, this one (

The odour is hidden under the “shell” and you move them around and then leave them presented to your dog.

The dog highlights the one with the odour (pea?). Again, a very cool game.

There are hundreds of games like this.


ANKC Obedience has scent discrimination exercises, one in which an item is dropped and the dog is heeled away from it. Then the dog has to “seek back” to the item and retrieve it. I think I saw Lassie do this when the family dropped their keys in the paddock when I was a kid.

There is also another exercise in which 15 objects are placed in an area, 3 are leather, 3 wood and 3 metal. The handler touches one and it is dropped into the pile, the dog must find it and retrieve it.

Nosework as I mentioned is growing and that is great because it has low formality and just about every dog can do this well, if it is taught correctly.

At this stage there are 3 odours used in Nosework, Birch, Anise and Clove and the sport starts with a test called the “Odour Recognition test”.

This is where often many boxes are placed on the floor and the dog has to indicate to the handler when they have found the odour.

The dog is given a 3 minute time limit.

Recently, one of the puppies I bred who is training for Nosework did her ORT (Odour recognition test) at 10 months of age.

It took Herzhund Drama just 9.3 seconds out of the 3 minutes allocated to find the target odour!

She was also ready for the next level, Nosework 1, but they do not allow dogs to compete until they are 1 year old.

Drama looks forward to it.

I run a short course of 6 lessons (10 hours), spaced to suit the client, which will take almost all dogs from start to ORT and beyond.

This course can have 2 dogs in the course and 2 handlers, but it is not a group class. Click here to read about it. (Course)

This is Paddington, self-made superstar, detecting Birch oil for Nosework.


Paddington and Katie

Tracking is also another great activity and can be taught many ways to have varied effects, from air scenting to footstep tracking, all have their merits.

At work

I have run courses for a number of Government Departments and private companies on scent work, not always are these run on how to detect the target odours, many times they may be about building drive and commitment in the dog and more about handling.

Odours may be: –

  • Various Narcotics
  • Various explosives
  • Bugs and insects
  • Plant material
  • Medical conditions
  • Human odour for locating humans

And other more specific odours

Dogs are incredible when trained well, I feel they can accomplish much more than we are even getting from them now.


Age is no barrier, in fact puppies learn these skills incredibly well and I have begun imprinting puppies with odour as early as 3 days old.

Here is a video of my 6 – 7 week old Malinois finding Birch oil.

How do you get started?

I am going to start by telling you about many experiences I have had with dogs not doing well in scent work, so you can see the benefit of investing in the right training.

Many people start by experimenting in many different ways, it is not long before their dog has learned something, and they get keener to advance.

99% of the time, the way they have experimented at the beginning is going to really slow future progress as the dog has learned, and somehow reinforced the wrong message.

Just like all training with dogs, it is harder to re teach the right way than teach correctly the first time.

It certainly can be done but it is going to cost you more training time by guessing and getting it wrong than holding off and starting the right way.

My process involves: –

  • Developing drive
  • A communication system
  • Odour imprinting
  • Handling skills
  • Search area definition
  • Environmental challenges
  • How the nose actually works
  • Overcoming distraction
  • Building duration

The handler and dog are taught these through theory and practical exercises and train between session to advance through the various levels.

After the 6 session course, many clients decide to keep the training going by doing a lesson every 1 – 3 months in which we keep advancing their dog/s.

Everyone has a great time and learn a lot, but the real benefit is developing a relationship with your dog in which the dogs ability, will exceed anything you can do alone.

A team forms where the dog has point at times and at other times you do, a true partnership that relies on each other’s skills.

If you have a pet, competition or working dog, all of them can benefit from this work, if you have a very nervous, anxious or hyper dog it can really help them learn impulse control too.

Whilst those dogs can take a little longer, they really can gain mental strength this way and this can form a valuable part of a rehab program too.

Maybe it is time to get your dogs nose powered up!

Just email us to get started

About SteveK9Pro

Steve Courtney is a Nationally Accredited Canine Behaviour Specialist, Obedience Trainer, Law Enforcement Dog Trainer and ANKC Breeder. Steve has been training dogs all his life and in these articles he shares with you his experience...

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