Using Nosework to Help Solve Behavior Issues

Lets face it, most people have busy, hectic lives filled with work, cooking, cleaning and a thousand other tasks.  The average dog on the other hand does not have a “job” to keep them busy and is often bored. Some dogs handle this boredom well, but others develop anxiety or other behavioral issues.

For millennia, we’ve bred dogs for utility; herding livestock, pulling sleds, hunting, and many other useful activities. As we’ve migrated into more urban populations over the last few centuries, dogs have shifted from a workplace aid to a family companion. Although most of us are no longer in need of these specific traits we’ve bred for, the genetics, which were altered for this purpose have not changed. Without a job to do, a dog may feel out of place, which can result in common behavioral issues such as excessive barking, anxiety, fear, and even aggression.

Suburban K9 trains many dogs with behavioral issues and we often recommend that the owners develop a “job” for their dog both to give them purpose and as an outlet for their mental energy. The job is not a magic fix that will instantly cure the dog’s behavioral issues, rather it is part of what we call a “Lifestyle Adjustment Program” or LAP.

A LAP is much more than a simple training program.  It is a highly customized plan that helps an owner combine obedience training, fun jobs that give the dog purpose, and overall lifestyle changes in order to help the dog live a life free of stress, anxiety, aggression, and fear.  

When creating a LAP, we almost always recommend that a dog owner incorporate basic obedience commands.  These commands are the dog’s foundational job. We find that many clients are quite surprised when we then incorporate a fun job into the training.  The job will vary based on the situation, the dog, and the training goals.  The last portion of the LAP includes simple lifestyle changes. For example, we discuss when and how to feed and exercise and how to modify negative behaviors when they arise. Obedience, a job, and overall lifestyle changes are combined to help the dog and the owner achieve the lifestyle they are looking for.

There are many potential jobs for a dog, but one of my favorites is nose work.  Roughly one third of a dog’s brain is used in conjunction with their sense of smell. This is a remarkable amount of brain power!  Chasing a ball on the other hand requires very little brain power.  Over a lifetime of spending time with dogs and training thousands of them I have seen the power of “mental exercise”.  Many dogs become so used to playing fetch that it soon takes an hour of playtime to simply get them tired.  A high energy dog or a dog with a lot of stress and anxiety will quickly get his energy back and be ready for another session of fetch.  If you take the same dog and teach him how to use his nose to search for particular objects you will see a much different result.  Generally a half hour of intense nose work will tire him out more than an hour of fetch.  Even more importantly, the dog will have a sense of peace after the session rather than just being tired.

Nose work teaches your dog another way to look at the world.  Many dogs use their eyes too much and do not use their nose enough.  This can easily get them into trouble.  Dogs that have issues with aggression, have high prey drives, or that cannot focus when stimulated typically use their eyes much more than they use their nose,especially when over stimulated.  Utilizing their sense of smell is an additional step which helps the dog make a decision rather than simply a primal reaction.  Teaching a dog to find his favorite toy inside the house will not immediately transition to making the dog less reactive, but teaching the dog to utilize their nose more often will help lead to the desired results when incorporated into a LAP.

When we create a LAP for a client we generally recommend specific times the dog should perform their job.  If a dog has aggression towards other dogs we often practice nosework while other dogs are around.  This is due to the fact that it is much easier for a dog aggressive dog to be around other animals when he is busy.  Every time he is exposed to other dogs without showing aggression, his behavioral issues are slightly reduced.

Teaching dogs how to use their nose in a productive manner will make solving their behavioral issues much easier, and it is also exciting for the owner.  There is nothing more rewarding to an owner than seeing a dog start to learn something new.  If you are interested in doing nose work with your dog there are many ways to get started. You can watch videos online, buy a book, or consult your closest Suburban K9 trainer.  Keep in mind that there are many other potential jobs as well.  It is important to pick a job for your dog that both of you will enjoy!

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