Canine Nose Work Improves Health In Shelter!

Brother Wolf’s Help Me Learn program empowers staff and volunteers to creatively engage and teach our most challenging animals.

Through this program, animals attend playgroups, classes, and one-on-one training sessions that help them learn the skills they need in order to be placed into great forever homes.

Last summer, we added canine nose work classes to our Help Me Learn repertoire. A dog’s sense of smell is five times stronger than that of a human. As hunters and scavengers, dogs explore their world through sniffing it. In nose work classes, staff members and volunteers hide treats in boxes or around a small radius of the environment. Once the course is set, the dog works to find the treats using his superior sense of smell. Nose work is great for dogs who are living in shelter environments because it can happen in small areas, it’s easy for staff and volunteers to learn, and dogs can benefit greatly from sessions as short as 5-10 minutes.

Any dog who can smell can do nose work, but our behavior team finds it especially valuable for dogs with a few specific challenges.

“We do [nose work] a lot with our heartworm positive dogs who are going through treatment and have exercise restrictions,” says Adam, a member of Brother Wolf’s behavior team. According to the American Heartworm Society, exercise restrictions during heartworm treatment and recovery is essential for minimizing complications. Exercise will increase a dog’s blood flow, which can force worms into arteries and capillary beds. Being restricted to calm leash walks and crate rest while undergoing and recovering from heartworm treatment minimizes the chances of discomfort, complications, and death.  

Nose work helps stimulate the brains of heartworm positive dogs without elevating their heart rates.

Nose work also benefits dogs who are fearful of the world. Since it relies on a dog’s natural instincts rather than pressuring him to learn something new, it can help build confidence in a scared dog by giving tasks he will be successful at. Repeated success helps shy dogs come out of their shells.

Very active and easily-excitable dogs benefit from nose work too. Getting them engaged and focused helps bring their arousal levels down. The energetic dogs love to work independently to find the treats and it tires them out quickly, making them less reactive when they return to the shelter.

Adam has seen vast improvements since incorporating nose work into our enrichment routine. “All of the dogs seem to have improved in their quality of life since starting nose work,” he says.

“I feel like their happiness within the shelter has definitely improved because of it.”



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