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It’s common knowledge that a dog’s sense of smell is far stronger than a human’s—forty times stronger, in fact! In the same way you enjoy listening to music or viewing a beautiful painting, your dog enjoys experiencing the world through his nose. As your dog ages beyond his young, spunky years and toward his senior years, he may not be able to run as fast, jump as high, or take long walks like he used to, but one thing he still loves to put to use is his nose.
Nose work is an excellent activity for dogs of all ages, but can help keep senior dogs and those that otherwise aren’t as “spry” mentally and physically active. It’s a low-impact exercise that gets him off the couch and gets the gears in his brain turning. Though scent hounds like Bloodhounds and Basset hounds were bred for trailing scents, all dogs have powerful noses and any dog – blind, deaf, young or old – can benefit from nose work.
What is nose work?
Nose work is an activity that puts your dog’s natural scent detection abilities to work. It is not professional scent detection or obedience work, but rather a recreational sport for any dog that likes to use his nose.
The recreational sport of K9 Nose Work evolved as a spinoff of professional dog training for scent detection jobs. Though not all dogs can be professionals, any dog is welcome to participate in the sport. K9 Nose Work is officially sanctioned by the National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW). Competitions use three official scents: birch, clove, and anise, with birch used as the beginner scent. There are four locations for searching, including interiors, exteriors, containers, and vehicles.
Practicing nose work at home
Getting your dog involved in nose work is easy and requires as little as the dog treats you already have. Using treats or toys that highly motivate your dog, simply hide them around your home, underneath or behind obstacles for your dog to find.
Another great tool for nose work is the snuffle mat. A snuffle mat is made up of strips of fabric that mimic grass. You can hide treats in between the strips for your dog to sniff out; this brings out your dog’s natural foraging instincts as he works to find each tasty reward. You can buy a snuffle mat or easily make your own if you’re feeling a little crafty.
If your dog is particularly skilled, you may be interested in taking his nose work to the next level with a Certified Nose Work Instructor (CNWI). These classes will help prepare your dog for official K9 Nose Work competitions, but you can still enroll in classes without plans to compete. Whether or not your dog ends up in competitions, Nose Work classes are a great way to challenge your dog’s nose (and brain) in new ways.
The benefits of nose work for senior dogs
Growing old can lead to cognitive decline for senior dogs that are spending more time sleeping and less time partaking in activities. Signs of cognitive decline include altered behaviors such as increased anxiety and irritability. Aging can also be accompanied by symptoms like confusion, depression, or unwarranted aggression. Encouraging your dog to put his brain to work on a regular basis is a great way to keep him mentally healthy as he ages.