German Spitz and K9 Nose Work: Indication / Outdoors


If you simply stumbled across this article and this is your first time meeting me, before we go any further, let me guide you to my first article about K9 Nose Work. The first article gives you the basic knowledge about this wonderful hobby, so go ahead and read it first by clicking this link: German Spitz and K9 Nose Work: Teaching the Basics at HomeOpens in a new tab.

This article that you are reading now is part 2 of the K9 Nose Work series. By now you have learned the basics and we get to explore this hobby even further. We start by teaching our dogs “indication”. Then we start adding it to our searches and finally we start doing searches in environments that are slightly more difficult for our German Spitzes. I will illustrate these steps with video so it will be easy to follow along.

Let’s go.

Choosing the right indication for your German Spitz

When you are competing in this sport with your dog you do not know where the scent is located. If/when your dog finds the scent, how do you know then if he has found it? That is why most people teach their dogs a specific way to indicate that they have indeed found the odor. As soon as your dog indicates, you are able to notify the judge that hey, we’ve found it.

There are no rules to what this indication needs to be like. The main thing is that you know for sure that this is the moment when your dog has found the scent. If your dog gets really excited and waggles its tail, this is perfectly fine for an indication as long as you know what this gesture means.

Searching for a scent without knowing where it is can be nerve-racking, so it is a good idea to teach your dog a specific indication. Now, before we go any further, you need to choose the indication that you will start practicing with your dog. Once you make the decision don’t change it but stick with it.

You don’t have to make the decision right this minute, though. Take your time thinking what might be the best one for your German Spitz. Some people (like me) use “sit”. Others use “down”. Some dogs are being taught to keep their nose on the scent or stare at the spot. You can come up with your own; there are no rules!

Even if you never intend to compete in this sport it is fun to teach your dog to indicate. This way you can ask a family member or a friend to assist and hide the scent somewhere in a way that you don’t know where it is located. You will get to feel how difficult it actually is: you will have to solely rely on your dog. Once your dog indicates you will have to trust that this is in fact the place where the scent is located.

Teaching the indication to your German Spitz

So you have made the decision what your indication will be. It is time to start practicing it with your dog.

Let’s say you choose the one where your dog keeps his nose on the scent: a good way to start practicing this is to put the scent in a tea leaves holder and keep it in your hand. Reward your dog every time he touches the holder with his nose. Little by little ask your dog to keep his nose on it for longer before you give him the treat.

This indication method is harder to learn but in my opinion it is one of the best ways to indicate. It is rare that your dog will ever give you false indications with this method. Many “professionals” use this for this very reason.

I started teaching this type of indication at first, but then I gave up and switched to sitting. However, you will see later on that I have made sort of a combination of these two indications.

Let’s say you want to teach your dog to indicate by sitting, like me. If your dog already knows how to sit on command, this is very easy to teach.

Do a search just like you have done so far. Once your dog locates the scent, before giving the reward, ask your dog to sit and only then reward. As you keep doing this your dog will understand in time that the scent and the action of sitting are combined. You will no longer need to ask your dog to sit but he will do it automatically after locating the scent.

However, to make your dog get to this conclusion a bit faster you can try the following exercise:

Place the scent in a clean glass jar. Let your dog smell it and then immediately ask your dog to sit. Reward. I have a video of this exercise so you can see how it’s done. You will see in the video that my dog already knows that this scent means that he needs to sit. If you choose another type of indication, like “down”, this same exercise can be applied to that one as well.

Combining the indication and a search

Once you start combining the indication with the search keep the exercises easy. This way your dog will find the odor with ease and he will be able to concentrate on the new thing: the indication. When your dog finds the odor fast and without much effort you are able to repeat the exercise a few times (but not too many!) and your dog will make the connection faster.

Once you are absolutely sure that your dog knows what he is supposed to be doing and how he is supposed to indicate, then move onto more difficult exercises. Do not hurry, though. It will take some time before your dog masters this and you will simply have to wait patiently.

I have a little video of this phase. In the video you will see that my dog actually touches the scent with his nose first and then he sits. Like I said, our indication is sort of like a mixture of the two that I mentioned earlier. This is a very good way to indicate, because this way I can be sure of the exact spot where the scent is located. You see, it is not enough that you are simply able to tell a rough estimate. You will need to know exactly where the scent is – if you ever want to compete, that is. If you are looking for mere hobby to do at home, is it really that important? You decide.

So, while my German Spitz is looking for the scent, I keep watching carefully what he is doing. Then when I see him touch a spot and immediately after sit down, I will know exactly where the odor is located. Well, there will be errors and false indications sometimes but I will tell you more about those later in this post.

Let’s watch the video.

A step further: searching for the scent outdoors

Now your dog knows how to search and indicate his findings to you: congratulations! You are on your way to becoming a nose work master! Now it is time to have some fun: you have the whole world to explore. You are ready to start doing searches in places that are far more difficult than your own living room.

An important part of K9 Nose Work is to learn how to search outdoors. You may think it doesn’t make that much of a difference where you are doing this, but actually it does.

Have you ever taught your dog some tricks? Have you ever noticed how your dog does them perfectly at home but when you try to do them someplace else, outside for example, he simply ignores you and does nothing? That’s the thing. Everything is easy at home where there are no distractions. When you take your dog outside there’s everything: noises, other people, dogs, smells in the air, flies, birds, cars, bicycles, etc. How could a small German Spitz concentrate in the middle of all that?

It takes practice. Once you keep repeating these types of exercises it becomes easier. Your dog will learn to cope with the distractions and to concentrate on the task at hand. This becomes easier with age, too. Remember to offer some really good treats for your dog as your locations get more difficult! Your dog will deserve something extra good for more demanding jobs.

There is another thing to consider, too, when you take your Nose Work exercises outside: wind. While looking for a specific scent wind makes it that much more difficult. While in normal circumstances it is enough to add just a single drop of the scent, with strong wind you might want to add two drops instead.

I have a couple of video clips of us training outside. On this particular day there were strong winds, basically a storm. Yet, my German Spitz performs pretty well. If you keep your dog on leash you can gently guide your dog towards the area where the scent is located. This is how you make sure your dog will not wander too far from the scent.  

Try placing the scent higher up from the ground. This is another way to make it more difficult.

German Spitz can trick you: false indication

If you have read my first article on this topic you may remember that I mentioned how German Spitzes may have shorter attention spans than some other breeds. German Spitz can be very good at locating the scent but in case he cannot find it after a certain amount of time, he may give up entirely. He may even try to trick you! No, I don’t think all German Spitzes are the same, but mine certainly is this way.

I have a funny little video of this type of situation. It is the same windy day, so locating the odor is slightly more difficult than it would be any other day. You will see my dog sitting down a couple of times before he finds the exact place of the scent. He knows it is somewhere near but he is being lazy: he thinks it is enough that he is close, so he sits down expecting me to give him treats. I don’t, because I ask him to be more specific. When he finally touches the spot with his nose and then sits, that’s when I reward him.

I wanted to share this video to show you that it is not as easy as it may seem. Especially with a German Spitz you need to be careful: do not reward your dog for trying the easy way out. Ask him to be precise and only then reward him. Imagine if I hadn’t known myself where the scent was located. Sure, I would have had a rough idea but I wouldn’t have known the exact location based on my dog’s behavior.

These little pooches can easily trick us if we are not being careful. My dog got frustrated for not finding the scent right away and he was too eager to get treats from me, so he decided to try to find the easy way out.

Conclusion

Now that you know all of what is being taught in this article you can go anywhere you want and do searches in all kinds of places and environments. This is the fun stuff! Go explore different places, hide a scent and then go looking for it. Or better yet, ask a friend to hide it and be surprised.

Let’s say you never want to compete, that’s fine. I haven’t competed, either, even though I have participated in a Nose Work class. This is an excellent hobby to do at home. It is fun and cheap, yet extremely hard, demanding and tiring for your dog.

If your dog is a bit older or if he is going through some health problems, this is the best possible activity you can find! You will get your dog tired in no time, yet it is not physically demanding as long as you don’t hide the scent in a place where it might be difficult to reach.

I cannot recommend this hobby enough. If you haven’t started yet, you must. Your German Spitz will enjoy it so much and so will you as you get better at it and you get to do searches anywhere you like. I have listed all the equipment you need in the first article. Go buy those and start searching. Your dog is so good at using his nose to detect scents. You’ve got to let him do what he was born to do!

Have fun!

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