Nosework for Puppies: Puppy Superstars, Nosework Style!

You don't have to be raising the next Nosework Star to get massive benefit from a little Puppy Nosework. In fact, you don't need to be interested in searching at all! However, if you play some of these Nosework games with your puppy, your puppy will really reap the rewards!

We all want puppies who are comfortable in the environment and eager and focused on their task, right? And what about empowerment and problem solving? Or perhaps a puppy who is comfortable interacting with the environment and enthusiastic for our food rewards? Does all of this sound good? Of course it does!

Let's explore some of those benefits! And then let's talk about how you can get your puppy started TODAY!

Empowerment to Explore with Nosework for Puppies

The confidence to work happily and enthusiastically in a new environment is critical for those future sports dogs… imagine that your puppy grows up into a dog with a lessened need to acclimate in a new location? Building the desire to interact with the physical environment means that your dog will see new places as opportunities and not something to worry about.

By seeking out a food reward, we cultivate a puppy's natural inquisitive nature. The act of searching is incredibly basic and powerful. By encouraging the puppy to search, we open a door that demonstrates positivity to the puppy when encountering something new.

In this photo, Prize is standing on a strange, new surface with confidence in order to reach her food hide.

Utilization of All the Senses: Teaching Puppies About ALL the Senses

Encouraging your puppy to use her sense of smell may seem counterintuitive to folks who are focused on training sports other than detection or tracking based sports. How many times have we heard people say "No Sniff"? Perhaps this worries you as well? 

Consider this instead…. Our dogs perceive the environment differently than we do. They primarily perceive it by smell. You can't change that…. But you CAN channel that curiosity into something productive that can be a soothing, enriching activity for the dog's entire life. A pure bonus of course will get all of your future Obedience Stars understanding how to work towards a scented object with focus and capability. Singling out that scented Utility article isn't a far stretch from understanding how to seek out a reward! Plus, it's FUN for the puppy!

Nosework for Puppies Can Help Teach Problem Solving Skills (Really!)

We would be remiss if we didn't talk about how searching builds problem solving skills. When the going gets tough, will your puppy dig deep and work, or will your puppy ask you "what's next?" You may be focusing on a handler driven sport, but think about this from a training perspective…. Wouldn't it be great if our puppies all naturally understood how to add 2 and 2 and come up with 4? Problem solving is about exploring possibilities and thinking outside the box. Searching can help the puppy to learn how to try new approaches to a problem without giving up.

In this search, watch how Prize understands that the hide is above her. She pulls back from the odor in order to find an alternate approach. This is an incredible demonstration of problem solving.

Confidence with Obstacles and the Physical Environment

Whether your puppy is going to be a Nosework Star, an Agility Star, or well…. Really ANY kind of Star, your puppy needs to be comfortable navigating different spaces and different obstacles. By encouraging your puppy to search for a reward on uneven (or even moving) surfaces, or by working around or under obstacles, your puppy is building proprioception. Proprioception is the body's ability to sense its location, movements, and actions which helps in moving an environment with comfort and without having to think consciously about it.

In this video, we see Prize climbing and navigating all sorts of objects, all the while building confidence in her footing.

Building Value for Food Reinforcers with Nosework

A side benefit of searching for food is that the activity increases the value of the food itself. Lack of food drive can be a challenge when training a sport dog. Not all dogs are blessed with strong food drives! In fact, I have a 13 year old Standard Poodle who would rather try to climb on a counter to steal pizza than be handed food in a bowl. Sometimes food that requires work to reach and acquire is more valuable than "easy" food.

Building Task Focus by Tapping into Hunt Drives

The ability to Focus is by far one of the biggest success factors of a good training session. It's also the first piece of the resilience puzzle. If you want a dog to become resilient and to work through challenges, you first need a focused dog. When you tap into your dog's hunt drives, you will be amazing at how much your dog or puppy starts to focus. The aspect of hunting is innate and it's just plain FUN. Your puppy will start to focus more and more as the task if searching gets more and more engaging. When focus is combined with problem solving, we build the all important quality of resilience.

Here's an example of incredible focus from a young puppy!

Nosework for Puppies? Yes Please!

Getting puppies engaged in Nosework is definitely beneficial to your puppy regardless of your future aspirations with your newest partner. The skills learned from searching as so incredibly transferable. Be aware though that these games are also highly engaging to the handler! You might just get hooked on a VERY fun sport!

And, these games can be done with puppies and dogs of all ages! Even if it's "just" for enrichment, you and your best friend will have a blast!

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