Nosework: Letting Your Dog Do What Comes Naturally

The nose knows

Nosework should really be called “noseplay.”

It’s said that every dog needs a job. And many talented canines are trained to use their senses of smell to perform such essential tasks as search and rescue and drug detection. But sometimes, like girls, dogs just wanna have fun.

And now there’s a way to oblige them, one that is sweeping the nation.

Nosework, the Sport

 Among her many pet-related endeavors  — including co-founder and executive editor of, President of Open Paw, and newest member of the Animal Cafe team — Kelly Dunbar is also A Certified Nosework Instructor through the National Association of K-9 Scent Work (the url is, incidentally.) In this week’s interview, Kelly explains the activity that has become a passion with her.

One reason that it’s so appealing is its inclusiveness. Unlike group competitions such as agility, nosework doesn’t involve other dogs or other humans besides the the handler, which means that shy dogs, reactive dogs… really, any pups that don’t feel happy with social interactions… can succeed in it. And there’s no second place or runner up in this sport; it’s just the dog improving upon earlier successes, getting better and better.

The Basic Framework of Nosework: Three Scents, Four Environments

Another beauty of nosework is that it can be done anywhere, from small urban apartments to open rural areas. It doesn’t involve much equipment, just Q-tips dipped in essential oils — birch, anise and clove, scents that the dog won’t encounter anywhere else — and a container of some sort, even a box. The other environments where searches are conducted are buildings, vehicles, and exterior areas.

Letting Go

Perhaps the most unusual thing about nosework is its contrast to standard canine sports that require the dog to live in our world and follow our rules. Here the dog is encouraged to follow his instincts, and do the driving.

“We’re always telling dogs not to explore,” Kelly explains. “Saying things like, ‘Get your nose out of that other dog’s butt, out of that person’s crotch…'” With nosework, dogs learn to feel comfortable doing what comes naturally.

Although treats are initially used to encourage the dogs, this is the antithesis of standard training in some ways. That is, the better behaved the dogs, the more used to following our lead, the more difficult it is for them at first.

In the beginning, it can also be difficult for some handlers, those who are, well, controlling.

As dogs gain confidence, however, the rewards for both partners are tough to match.

Listen to the interview. I dare you not to become an enthusiast, determined to try it with your canine playmate.


Edie Jarolim
Edie Jarolim

Ha -- that's funny! And cute. Shih Tzus are usually fairly regal, so it's fun to picture a little dirty faced guy sniffing away loudly.

Hanna at Dog Products
Hanna at Dog Products

I am willing to bet that my Shih Tzu boy will be a champion at this Nosework Sport. After all, that is the only thing he ever wants to do at public park, doggie parks, on walks around the neighborhood and when visiting friends and relatives — sniff, sniff, sniff.

It’s a good thing that he’s short and doesn’t have to bend down so far because the little guy always has his not in everything. And he sniffs so adamantly that it’s actually audible and his face is perpetually dirty.


  1. […] Kelly Dunbar, to the team and speaks to her about her role as a certified nose work instructor. Read more about Kelly and listen to the interview about canine nosework at the Animal Cafe site. Don’t forget to join the Animal Cafe team again next week when we […]

  2. […] and yes I made it up, but Edie Jarolim offered a great interview with Kelly Gorman Dunbar “Nosework: Letting Your Dog Do What Comes Naturally” which was an instant hit. She stepped into Eric’s shoes for a moment (big shoes, which […]

  3. […] interview with Kelly Dunbar – learn the details and discover for yourself the possibilities canine nose work may hold for you and your dog at Animal […]