Nosing Around

October 22, 2012  

The author shares how his rescued pit bull became the first pit bull to obtain her Level 3 K9 Nose Work® Title and explains this fun and challenging activity

By Steve DeTata

Her nose twitched taking in air particles even before we approached the start line. Some of those particles passing through her 220 million olfactory receptors clued her into the location of what she was looking for. Juliet, a 6-year-old rescued American Pit Bull Terrier was about to begin her first search area of her K9 Nose Work® Level 2 Trial. Trust your dog. This phrase had been engrained during every training session leading up to this point. She knows what she’s looking for and where it is. In 28 seconds, she would find it.

Created in 2006, K9 Nose Work is a civilian version of detection dog training. Instead of searching out drugs or explosives, dogs search out Q-Tips scented with oils (birch, anise and clove). To test dogs and handlers of their proficiency, timed trials are held across the nation. Trials are comprised of four search areas (exterior, container, interior and vehicle) where the dog must find the allotted number of hides (hidden scent items) in a specified amount of time. At the Level 1 Trial, there is one hide per search area. At the Level 2 Trial, there can be one or two hides per search area but the handler is told in advance how many are present. At the Level 3 Trial, there can be zero to three hides per search area and the handler is not told how many are present. The handler must tell the judge when the dog has found everything in the search area before time runs out.

Juliet’s Story

Juliet was abandoned when she was 1.5 years old. Her previous owner boarded her at Alicia Pet Care Center and never returned. Alicia Pet Care Center is owned by Dr. Matthew Wheaton, who started The Pet Rescue Center, so Juliet became one of the first dogs to be saved by The Pet Rescue Center.

We met Juliet in December 2008, after our pit bull Tiki passed away. We donated her cancer medication to The Pet Rescue Center, and they asked if we would like to foster Juliet. She had been living at The Pet Rescue Center for nine months and had not found a home. Less than a month later, we were failed foster parents.

Finding Nose Work

One day while reading BADRAP’s blog, we came across an article written by Linda Chwistek, a Certified Nose Work Instructor, describing the sport of K9 Nose Work and how it was a great activity for pit bulls. Fortunately for us, a certified instructor, Julie Gaunt, taught classes very close to us. Julie just happens to be the daughter of Ron Gaunt, one of the founders and creators of K9 Nose Work.

Juliet has now been active in the sport for two years. She did not pass her first two attempts at the Level 1 Trial, but in October 2011, she became the third pit bull in the country to obtain her Level 1 Title (there are now seven pit bulls with their Level 1 Title). By comparison, there are 71 Labrador Retrievers, 54 Golden Retrievers and 53 German Shepherd Dogs with their Level 1 Titles. Just three months later, Juliet was going for her Level 2 Title.

Trust Your Dog

Juliet was one of the last dogs in the running order, and when we approached the exterior search area, there seemed to be a nervous energy in the air. We later learned 18 dogs before her had eliminated (peed) in the search area, which is an automatic disqualification. This is an unusually high amount. The exterior search area was a grass median in a parking lot that was approximately 50 feet by 70 feet. During her second Level 1 Trial, Juliet decided to pee on the grass in the exterior search area and was disqualified, so being faced with this huge grass area was not a comforting position.

My plan was to work her along the paved edge perimeter of the grass area to get her focused on searching and then work our way to trees and other areas on the grass where the hide could be placed. Juliet had another plan. Upon giving her the search cue of “Go Find It,” she took off running straight across the grass median to the opposite end of the median and found the hide in 28 seconds, twice as fast as the second place dog. Trust your dog.

Juliet went on to have the fastest time in the container search and fastest overall time. She became the second pit bull in the nation to obtain her Level 2 Title and the first pit bull to obtain a first place finish in a trial.

A Good Match

Pit bulls are especially suited for K9 Nose Work due to their play drive, tenaciousness, stamina and desire to please. That said, Juliet once broke out in the zoomies during a search (just goes to show how much fun she was having). Juliet is particularly food motivated, so it is fairly easy to tell when she has found what she is looking for. The look on her face alone is priceless, as if to say, “I found it! Right here! Where’s my treat! What’s taking you so long?”

The founders of K9 Nose Work have been offering courses to shelters to teach staff how to implement elements of the training to benefit dogs in their care. Since pit bulls typically have a longer length of stay in shelters, they would particularly benefit from the K9 Nose Work shelter enrichment program. From the K9 Nose Work website: “An area of great promise for the use of K9 Nose Work skills has been as an enrichment activity and potential rehabilitation tool in the shelter environment. In environments where time, space and resources are often limited, the need for low cost and effective activities for the dogs becomes invaluable. As enrichment programs have become a major component for many shelter and rescue organizations, the K9 Nose Work shelter program strives to offer dogs an activity that allows them to express their most natural behaviors – scenting, searching and hunting – while giving shelter staff a fun and creative new way to engage the animals in their care.” Many shelters across the country have implemented the K9 Nose Work shelter enrichment program with great success. It provides the dogs with an incredible mental and physical workout that alleviates stress and boredom that can come with living in the shelter environment.

Every dog can do K9 Nose Work. No prior training is necessary, and it is particularly suited for “reactive” dogs because dogs search one at a time with no other dogs present. All dogs love to smell and hunt and that is what K9 Nose Work is all about. It taps into a dog’s inherent abilities and provides owners a fun game to play with their dogs.

For additional information on K9 Nose Work please visit their website.

Postscript: On June 18, 2012, Juliet entered her Nose Work Level 3 Trial and finished in second place. She obtained her Nose Work Level 3 Title, becoming the first pit bull in the country to do so.


UPDATE, June 2015:

2015 Nationals 1Juliet went on to obtain her Nose Work 3 Elite Title in 2013, becoming the 9th dog in the country to reach that level.  She competed at the 2014 NACSW National Invitational, where the top 31 teams in the country competed (she was the only Pit Bull).  She beat all of the teams on the first day of competition, finishing in first place and was 1 of 12 teams to make the Finals.  She went on to compete at the 2015 NACSW National Invitational last weekend (again the only Pit Bull), where the top 36 teams in the country competed.  At the age of 9, she made the Finals again (only 1 of 4 teams that made the Finals both years).  She finished in 6th place overall and had second place finishes in two of the four searches at the Finals.

There are currently 38 Pit Bulls that have their Nose Work 1 Title, 14 with their Nose Work 2 Titles, and 5 with their Nose Work 3 Titles (including Juliet’s sister Bella).  Juliet is still the only Pit Bull with her Nose Work 3 Elite Title.

Way to go, Juliet!!

2015 Nationals

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12 Responses to “Nosing Around”
  1. barbaraleeanderson07090 says:

    Woo-hoo!  Congratulations Juliet…..way to set the bar high, girlfriend!  We’re all very proud of you AND your “parents” for all of the hard work.

  2. Lilabetc says:

    Yay Juliet! I also have a female pit bull who is doing Nosework and she absolutely loves it. She passed her ORT in birch in 17 seconds and we are waiting to get into our first level 1 trial (currently on the wait list). I am also teaching Nosework classes and all the dogs are having so much fun!

  3. RachelBrownRichards says:

    I SOOOO wish Nose Work classes were closer to me. I used to do SAR with my Lab and would love to do Nose Work with my PItties. Inara already has a significant about of Tracking training under her belt. This would be a breeze for her. 🙂

    • StubbyDog says:

      @RachelBrownRichards Rachel keep looking, or better yet, start Nose Work in your town. Your dogs are very talented and it would be great for them to have yet another skill they excel at.

  4. Janiceanne says:

    Yay for Juliet! My pittie Sam recently finished his first nosework training class, and he did really well. Even better, I think he was the first pittie the instructor ever trained, as was evident by his apprehension. However, by the end of the 6-week course, Sam was the star pupil! (I think it also helped that the only other student was a Daschund who attacked Sam, and Sam just stood there!). We plan on going for certification,encouraged by the trainer!

  5. larshine says:

    Way to go, Juliet! You’re a super star.  And you’re an inspiration to others, including me.

  6. NicholeRyanStaib says:

    i’m so proud of all of you guys that have your babies in this field! if mine could move like that (he’s got arthritis), i’d put him in it!

  7. molly1956pamela says:

    Great work Juliet.  Keep it up.  We are very proud of you.

  8. Matt.S says:

    Way to go Juliet! Keep reppin’ for pibbles in the sport you love!

  9. ReneeMKeller says:

    Wow Juliet is quite impressive!!!  Im also very proud of you guys!!  WOO HOO!!!