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These days more people are asking us “how can I make my dog less anxious, hyper, stressed?!” We’ve got answers!
While nosework (a.k.a. scent work), is far from the only way to help reduce anxiety in your furry friend, it’s certainly a fun, simple, and versatile option. But maybe you’re new to the activity, or think it’s only for certain breeds, so let’s start by introducing you to the world of Odors 101.
What is nosework?
Sniffing to make sense of the world around them is the most natural of activities, which makes it a fun project for our canine friends. You’re basically encouraging them to get really good at working with you to do something they’ve already got a knack for.
Will this make my dog less anxious? you ask… You bet it will! Just like with people, building on strengths makes dogs happy.
In a nutshell, nosework involves teaching your dog to recognize specific scents, and be able to sniff them out. There are some breeds with more finely honed talents than others, but just about all dogs can be trained to scent work for various reasons:
- Competition: dogs can compete in a number of scent identification challenges. They’re tasked with finding a variety of key scents, in different locations like vehicles and indoors spaces.
- Professional Searching: Working dogs may use advanced scent skills, partnered with their human handlers, for search-and-rescue after disasters like storms or collapsed buildings, for hunting, for drug or firearms searches, and similar critical roles.
- Fun and Focus: Yup, nosework makes your dog’s brain work and body move. It encourages them to focus hard—and they get to enjoy your praise and rewards along the way! All of which are among the best stress relievers known to dog-kind. Plus, you may be able to train your dog to sniff out other things that matter to you; we’ve taught dogs to recognize scents from owners’ caps to cold hard cash!
When can dogs be trained to work with scents?
Training dogs to differentiate between scents can start early, even with neonate (under 3-week-old) puppies. Recent research suggests starting scent awareness training just after birth helps dogs be even more at ease in the world, and possibly more successful in identifying complex scents later on, too.
What if your best pal is an older puppy? Or even an adult dog? You can start anywhere from 8 weeks on—never let it be said that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. That’s just not true!
Making a game out of this fundamental sniffing behavior gives dogs an opportunity to get to work—something most of our pup pals really love to do. And when you accompany that with praise and rewards, you’re making it extra enjoyable, while further strengthening the bond between you and your four-pawed investigator.
How will nosework make my dog less anxious?
- More confidence: Succeeding at work, and receiving rewards from it, is as good for dogs as it is for people! Confident canines go through life more calmly, and are less likely to react intensely when something new crosses their path. Dogs that practice scent training also learn to be more focused and take cues from their handlers (you!), which can help them become less reactive.
- Less bored AND less frazzled: Dogs that don’t get enough mental and physical exercise tend to be higher-strung. Focusing on a scent and searching for it offers essential mental stimulation along with an outlet for their physical energy. And while high-energy breeds may also want to run, remember that working their brains (and ours) is also hard physical work. Start in short intervals and work your way up.
In short, nosework will help your dog feel happier, more at ease, more trusting of you (or whoever their handler is), improve their ability to focus, and be less stressed… which in turn reduces unwanted behaviors ranging from digging to barking to shredding your furniture!
If you have an opportunity to get started in a class setting, that’s even better because you’ll be learning the right steps together, including how to avoid the distractions offered by other people and dogs—something that’s more likely to create success in the “real” world.
Either way, we encourage you to give Nosework a try, and discover a simple, fun-filled way to “make my dog less anxious.”