Let them Sniff: The Surprising Result of Nosework


Let them Sniff: The Surprising Result of Nosework

There are so many ways we can add enrichment to our dog's everyday lives. Nosework is probably the most popular enrichment given to dogs - this type of activity engages the dog's sense of smell to find something.

What is nosework?

Most common forms of nosework include sniff mats, some puzzle toys, and for the adventurous pups - volunteer work such as cadaver dogs. Nosework is a fantastic choice of enrichment because it comes naturally to dogs - they just want to sniff everything! Not only does it engage your dog's natural instinct but a recent study has found that it may make your dog more optimistic!

How the Study Worked

In this study, researchers Duranton and Horowitz split their study subjects (dogs) into two groups, one which received nosework enrichment and the other received heelwork enrichment (learn to follow owners steps) for two weeks.

Following the two weeks, dogs were tested in a cognitive bias test or simply, a test for optimism. Dogs first learned that when a bowl was placed on one side, it always had a treat and when it was placed on the other side it never had a treat.

Then a bowl was placed somewhere between the two locations. Optimistic dogs are expected to approach this ambiguous bowl quicker with the expectation of treats than a pessimistic dog.

The Results

The study found that dogs who received two weeks of nosework enrichment were more optimistic!

One reason may be what the enrichment entailed. While both enrichment involved working for treats, the "work" was very different. Nosework allowed dogs to move freely and independently to find the treat with their owners serving as more of a "guide". Heelwork required them to pay attention to their owner's movements thus their owners led the enrichment, which is more similar to training.

Enrichment can be many things, but what this study showed is that not all enrichment is created equal.

Duranton, C., & Horowitz, A. (2019). Let me sniff! Nosework induces positive judgment bias in pet dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 211, 61–66. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2018.12.009

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