Dogcharmer: Nose work

Playing hide-and-seek is good for your pup.


Hi Tom:

Jeremy suggested I do some nose work with Bodhi, so I wanted to ask you where to start. And what are the benefits of doing this work? I’m sure it would be fun and help continue my relationship building with the dog. So where do we begin?

Maybe this would also be interesting to your readers who follow your column in the Times.

Thank you, and be well my friend.


Dear Neil,

Love the question — thank you. Love it because Bodhi is a Dobe, and because my Dobermans, Michelle and Mikey, whom I trained as search dogs, found three people alive, and several not. Michelle found two alive, and Mike one. Jeremy, an apprentice of mine, is great at helping families harmonize with their dogs. He suggested that you start the “nose work” because he knows that Dobes are great working dogs, and just happier when they have a job to do, which is the case with all dogs.
Actually, all animals share the ability to feel. Fish use tools. Pigs, if domesticated, are as smart as a lot of dogs. Monkeys place twigs to mark trails they like to use. Birds feign injury to lure predators from their babies. Mice squeal with joy after having been taught to play hide-and-seek, with the reward being a belly rub from the human trainer. And as for the domestic dog, for so many of us, he’s a “family member,” a four-legged “significant other.” Wanna make him happy? Bodhi will LOVE the cerebral connection to you. You tell him “Go find!” and to please you, Bodhi gets the joyous, fun, mental and physical stimulation of using his extraordinary nose to find hidden “stuff.” Doesn’t get much better. 

You want success to build on success. Start simple. A treat put under his nose, “Sit — stay!” Back up facing him, showing him the treat. (He’s staying.) Place treat out of sight, but let Bodhi kind of see you place it. Perhaps bend down several times before placing the treat. Graduate to his finding a hidden toy on the command “Go find!” Then he gets the treat when he finds it, and brings it to you.
Use specific names for items, that’s CRITICAL — you want success building on success. When he fails, do not be negative, just be neutral and restart. Be creative hiding things. Start with everything hidden on the floor, bring them up when he’s “got it.” It may be sooner than you think. Engage the whole family — make it fun! If you want Bodhi to get started with finding “hiding” people, that’s another question. Enjoy.


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