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Nose Work for Reactive Dogs- Indy's Story

As a pup, Indy had plenty of exposure to other dogs, people, objects etc. I had gotten her to be my next urban search and rescue (USAR) partner and was an experienced handler/trainer. She was not my first german shepard. I did all the right things with her. We went to class every week. We had training every weekend. We were always on the go.

However, Indy became extremely ill when she was about 6 months old. I watched helplessly as she became extremely fearful and leery of people after everything she was going through. The vet eventually said they did not think she was physically up to the USAR and job which would require 2 week deployments. However, they did say wilderness search and rescue was ok for her to continue with. For a long while I kept trying desperately to get her to like people, but it just was not in her. After continuing to see her behave fearfully around people and start to exhibit all the signs of starting to become a reactive dog, I decided she could no longer continue to train for live find work.

Having an active working dog with no job is not good for anyone. Indy needed a job. Not knowing what else to do, I decided to try her with human remains detection (HRD) work. I wasn't expecting much from it. However, Indy quickly took to this work and loved it. It seemed to be a relief to her that she no longer had to find live people. She far prefered being tasked with finding a scent. It did not take long for her to learn to find the scent and indicate. Search work can be difficult. There is no room for reactivty or a fearful dog. But there was drastic improvements in both once she switched discplines and learned her job. She became so focused on her work she no longer cared about other dogs. Her reactivity became minimal, and so to did her fearfulness. A few years in she suprised me by starting to seek out attention from other people, even strangers.

Is nosework by itself a cure for reactivity- absolutely not. Indy was exposed to a lot of other dogs and going through reactive dog techniques as well. I was carefully manging her when she was struggling. However, I do credit a lot of Indy's recovery with her having a job she loved and being able to do scent detection work. It built her confidence and gave her something else to focus on. Before Indy, I never would have thought to use nosework for reactive dogs.

You don't have to be an experienced handler or do search and rescue to do nosework with your dog. It can be as simple as picking up an essential oil, teaching your dog the scent and having them play hide and seek. It is super easy to do. There are even classes and competitions you can build up to. If you have a reactive dog, you will still need to work through it and use reactive technqiques. However, nosework is a fun activtiy you can add into the mix and it can build confidence which is something many reactive dogs struggle with.

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