Canine Scenting: A Nose for Fun

Test your dog’s scenting ability with canine nosework.

Dog World ExtraIf you’re interested in teaching your dog how to detect specific scents and giving it a chance to test its skills against other dogs, check out canine nosework. The sport was developed to give all dogs – even those in the urban jungle – the chance to follow their hunting instincts, build confidence, and burn lots of mental and physical energy.

Competitions are typically held in pet-training facilities, community buildings, parking lots and grassy fields. Canine competitors follow the scent of one of three essential oils found on cotton swabs hidden in cardboard boxes. When the dog locates the source of the odor, it alerts its handler.

The National Association of Canine Scent Work sets the standards that govern the sport of canine nosework. Competitors can earn NW1, NW2 or NW3 titles, based on the number of odors detected and the complexity of the search. Dogs may also earn the Harry Award, a special award for dogs that show “extraordinary ability and spirit in nosework.”

“People have always worked dogs to retrieve things, like throwing balls or fetching the paper,” says animal behaviorist Nicholas Dodman, B.V.M.S., Dipl. ACVA, ACVB, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, Mass. “That’s fun for a retriever or a sighthound. But scenthounds live in an olfactory world we can only imagine.”

Canine nosework is especially fun for scenthounds (those breeds developed to hunt using their sense of smell), but all dogs can play.

For more information about canine nose work, visit

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Behavior and Training · Dogs