Photo of nosework lab. The arrow is pointing at a hide in a nosework box.

Nosework Training in the Lab

Hunter’s Heart scent detection training is inspired by Andrew Ramsey (renowned law enforcement canine detection trainer, who helped advise the United Kennel Club while creating its nosework program). 

We use the nosework lab to quickly and clearly teach the dog how to search systematically, and motivate the dog to love to find the target odor. The rewards based method we use in the lab is proven to work well, clearly and quickly, for dogs of any breed or size. We recommend this method for the highest chance of success. Carla (the instructor) will talk you through the method step by step in the lab. This post will tell you what to expect so you are fully prepared for nosework drop-in lessons.

The photo shows a typical “lab” setup. This lab is just the arrangement of various boxes and drawers for the dog to search, typically in an L shape. 

In our nosework drop-ins, the dogs generally start learning to find very high value food. 

At first, the dog sees the food being placed in a bowl in the closest drawer. After several repetitions, the dog becomes more enthusiastic and confident about going to the bowl to take the food. Once confident, the dog goes behind a barrier so he can’t see the bowl with food being hidden in the closest box. The dog remembers where the food is and goes there quickly.

Next, we move the food to the second closest drawer, then the third, and so on. Over time, the searches become longer and more difficult, but in very gradual progression that ensures the dog will continue to enjoy success. 

No matter the level of the dog, each dogs is always rewarded every time they succeed in finding the target odor. Even in nosework competition, the handler may reward the dog for every search. At first the target odor has no value for the dog. But over time, the dog forms a positive association: target odor always means that rewards are coming! Target odor makes the dog feel good (like many humans feel good when they eat a chocolate sundae). 

Advanced dogs progress to finding food “paired” with a mixture of target odors. Gradually, we leave the food out and the dog searches for odor alone. Ultimately, dogs that are competing in nosework learn to ignore food and toy distractions in the search area to find the source and earn their rewards. It takes hundreds of successful searches to reach this level, but searches should be fun starting with your very first session. 


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