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Independence or Free for All - Does Your Nose Work Dog Need to Learn Obedience?

If there is one thing we preach in our nose work classes, it is independent searching.  We want the dogs to lead the search.  We practice a lot of off-leash searches so that the dogs can paint us a picture of what the odor is doing.  In our opinion, independent searching is the key to success in trialing.  But what does that mean?

You may have heard the term “Nose work is an obedience free zone.”  The reason for that is that we want to get our dogs out of operant thinking and checking in with their handlers and we want to give them the freedom and permission to do what they need to do to find the hide.  If we are muddying the waters by asking them to heel to the start line and to sit before searching and recalling them at the end of the search - we can be adding some confusion for our dogs and possibly pulling them from odor.

BUT – we strongly believe obedience is important outside of nose work!  If your dog is wild and you have no relationship, that is not helpful for any sport you want to do.  Obedience has become a bit of a dirty word lately.  Okay, so let’s replace it with manners if that makes everyone feel better?  When obedience or manners training is done right it should be FUN for your dog and they should want to do it.  Your relationship and bond with your dog should grow stronger if you are working together in a fun and positive way. 

A dog celebrating after an obedience exercise
Screen shot of me and Daisy celebrating after finishing an exercise for a video submission..

One of the reasons we are so excited to bring C-WAGS Obedience & Rally to our area is because we think it is fun AND important to bring obedience back.  It shouldn’t be a dirty word!!  In all of my “free time” lately I have been working a lot on learning everything I can about C-WAGS.  I have been attending trials, training my dogs for video titles and I have recently been approved as a C-WAGS obedience judge.  And you know what – we are having a BLAST!  Check out some of Daisy’s comments from our most recent submission:


I have to tell you how impressed I was watching your run. There is no way I would believe that Daisy is over 14 years old and deaf.  She seemed so energetic, happy and in tune with you.  And you and she did quite well in all the exercises.    


But what does all of this have to do with nose work?  More than you think! Having great obedience skills and manners shouldn't stop your dog from working independently in nose work. The two are not mutually exclusive. When I see a dog pulling their handler through a search area, but not necessarily searching I always wonder, what is happening?  What does this dog do at home?  What is the relationship between this handler and dog?  Or when I see a dog just glued to the ground, completely ignoring their handler and having no interest in the search – what’s going on there?  Where is the connection?

As teams move through the upper levels nose work starts to become a dance, the dog leads, but the handler might say, hey, while we’re here, can we just maybe check this real quick?  Oh, there’s nothing here? Okay, let’s move on.  It should be that smooth.  It shouldn’t involve begging and pleading and coercion to get your dog to take some quick direction from you during a search. You should have a strong enough relationship with your dog that they can take direction when needed while still independently searching.

And we’re just going to save why it’s important to have some manners and relationship with your dog when navigating the parking lot at a nose work trial, coming and going from class, walking by another dog’s crate, etc. for a future blog post! (We have a lot to say about that!)  In the meantime, we hope you’ll join us for an obedience/manners class so you can build that relationship with your dog.  You can find all of the classes we offer here:

Lori is passionate about strengthening the bond between owners and their pets. She is thrilled that she can devote herself to teaching Nose Work classes, both in person and virtually. 

In addition to instructing classes at Do Over Dog Training, Lori works with students virtually through Scent Work University.  She is also a member of the NACSW Trial Staff and works with several departments within the organization.  If you’re looking for Lori on a weekend, you’ll most likely find her at a trial!  Lori spends many of her weekends at trials as she is a Certifying Official and Judge for NACSW and also a trial official for AKC, USCSS and C-WAGS.  If she’s not out of town working as an official, she is most likely hosting a trial or event locally. 

While Nose Work is her passion, Lori also enjoys teaching Dog Parkour and C-WAGS Obedience & Rally classes.

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