By Charlene Dunlap

January 2010


To begin teaching the concept of the scent detection game, I’m using baked liver.  I punched holes in the lid of a jar and put the liver inside the jar.

Each Step below should be practiced until it is clear that the dog understands the concept. 


I present the jar to Sydney so she can sniff it. When I see that she’s checked out the odor, I ask her to sit, and I click/treat. I always ask for a "sit" because I want "sit" to be the passive signal for the alert.  Ultimately, I want her to automatically sit as an alert signal for the designated odor.


I put Sydney on a stay and let her watch me hide the scent jar. I tell her to "find it." When she gets to the jar and sniffs it, I ask her to "sit", and I click/treat. I do this several times in different areas.


In Step Four, I’m having Sydney search boxes. At the beginning of each odor-alert training session, I present the scent jar to the dog and click/treat. Sydney is on a "stay" out of sight. I hide the jar in a box where there are several boxes on the floor spaced about four feet apart. I return to Sydney and lead her into the room, showing her the boxes. I tell her to "find it," asking her to sit when she does, and I click/treat. We do this several times daily for about a week.

The boxes are identical -- I move the box containing the jar rather than put the jar in different boxes as the odor would cling to the box and make it more difficult to find the correct one.


Next, we do searches in different rooms, only now I’m hiding the scent jar in spaces within the room. We do this in every room of the house. At this point, I’m hiding the scent jar only on the floor or up to her shoulder height.

Everything I’ve been doing with Sydney, I’ve also been doing with Jyah. This training session was after Sydney’s, and Jyah is checking places the odor jar has been.


This vehicle search is with Jyah. The scent jar is on the bottom rim of the first set of tires in the back. Scent drifts in open air, and Jyah is having a bit of trouble pinpointing where the jar is located.

Here, I’ve placed the jar inside the wheel canopy.

Sydney’s turn with the scent jar on the step is no problem!


In this clip, there is only one piece of liver left in the jar. The search area is about 1000 square feet.

Dogs used for drug detection, disease identification, and other critical nose work tasks are meticulously trained by professionals as lives depend on the dog’s ability to find and identify specific odors. Hobby trainers who want to teach their companion dogs similar scenting skills can use the experts' foundation training methods.  Recently, a recreational scenting dog sport was created based on this methodology.

K9 Nose Work originated in California as a dog sport and is sanctioned by the National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW). Nose Work trials are held for the purpose of competition, titling, or both. Currently, K9 Nose Work offers three titles: NW1 (Nose Work 1), NW2 (Nose Work 2), and NW3 (Nose Work 3). Each title's requirement gets progressively more exacting and difficult. See the following sites for more in-depth information: , ,

The Nose Work game is played both indoors and outdoors. Trials require an interior building search (one to four rooms depending on the title level), an exterior area search (designated by perimeter markers), and a vehicle search (one to five vehicles depending on the level). Any dog with an interest in scenting can compete and attain titles.

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From the beginning, I noticed that my Standard Poodles Jyah and Sydney were more scent reactive than dogs we’ve had in the past. Consequently, I’ve always played scenting games with them: find me (search and tracking), find a hidden toy (scent detection), find a scented object among several other similar unscented objects (obedience-type scent work). Thus, I was quite certain they would also have fun doing a scenting game of this type.

As I could find no one in our area who offered Nose Work classes, I decided to work out my own training protocol. I figured that the dogs already knew how to use their noses . . . I had only to teach them to show me when they located the designated predetermined odor.

According to the Nose Work for Fun website, three oils are used: birch, anise, and clove.  To teach my dogs the concept of the odor detection game, in the initial stages I used liver.  Liver is something the dogs are motivated to find.  Once they understood the concept of the game, my next step was to transition to one of the oils,  using liver and other motivators as a reward for correct alerts.

The above video shows our progress. I used a clicker in the beginning stages as it is important that the dog’s correct odor selection be immediately recognized. To a clicker-savvy dog, the click marks the exact moment he does something correctly (in this case, alerting to the odor) and is a bridge to the actual reward.  

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Many dogs I’ve seen being trained for professional scent detection work have high prey/play drive, and they seem to prefer playing tug or chasing a ball as a reward for correct finds. Play usually has the effect of ramping up a dog’s adrenalin for higher motivation. Since I train my dogs mainly for movie work, I don’t usually want them looking gung ho when doing behaviors. For my purpose, they should look as though they were doing (trained) behaviors as a normal part of their everyday life.

In Part Two, we will be working with anise oil.

Go to: Part Two