The Behavioral Benefits of Nosework
Created: Jan 23, 2017
Recently I gave a webinar on this topic and it’s so front of mind that I thought a blog was appropriate!
We all hear that Nosework is good for the reactive dog or the dog needing confidence.. But WHY???
Recently I read an article in Psychology Today called “Smells Ring Bells”… you should look it up. It’s utterly fascinating… Anyway, the part that interested me was how scenting passes through the limbic system and that other senses don’t. Hearing and Seeing is more “cerebral”. Scent goes right through our fight or flight processes and our emotional memory. Have I gotten your attention???
In the canine brain, 1/8th of the brain is dedicated to olfaction. WOW. Just WOW.
This is a cross section of a canine skull and brain. You can actually SEE the olfactory lobe! And check out the equipment dedicated to olfaction. Bottom line is that our sweet pets and companions live through their noses and perceive the world in a very different fashion than we do.
So if 1/8th of the canine brain is dedicated to olfaction AND we have the opportunity to develop strong emotional connection to scent related activities because of the routing of olfaction through the limbic system… what does this mean??? It means that we have a huge opportunity to leverage Nosework in a therapeutic sense.
How? We work the dog under threshold… meaning in a calm state… in nosework and then transition the dog, very slowly and very carefully, to an environment that may contain triggers.
I’ve seen this first hand with my Miniature American Shepherd, Why. Why is a low confidence, reactive dog. In fact, a year ago he had a visual threshold of about a 100 yards with other dogs. He was highly reactive. I couldn’t even interact with him in my front yard.
He would lunge and bark… true story.
Now, he’s working towards NW2 and can be within 8 feet of another dog without reacting. He’s confidently searching novel locations. Working in novel locations at all before Nosework wasn’t even a possibility.
That’s the most amazing part… he is so much less reactive.
I established a very positive Conditioned Emotional Response (CER) to Nosework with him by teaching him Nosework AT HOME where he was comfortable and under threshold. He patterned success and confidence and developed emotional memory associated with searching. Only then when he was confident at home, did I take him on the road. Even then, I started minimally… he searched three boxes…. in many, many locations before I started setting searches.
Nosework is therapeutic. That much is definite… however keep in mind that you need to always train your dog under threshold. In a lot of cases, dogs can go to an in person class and be just fine… but there are those that literally can’t cope in that environment. These are the dogs that truly benefit from the sport. However, they often don’t benefit from in person, stressful classes. Luckily there are options for training! The online format is perfect for these dogs.
If you have a reactive or low confidence dog, consider Nosework… it can literally be life altering for these dogs.