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K9 Nose Work Shelter Program




Dianna L. Santos
Jill Marie O'Brien
Steven DeTata

In this episode, we speak with the Co-Founder of NACSW™ and Founder of the K9 Nose Work® Shelter Program, Jill Marie O'Brien and Steven DeTata, CNWI who is spearheading the growth of the program and spreading the word on social media. This wonderful program pairs up of K9 Nose Work® certified instructors, or those who are going through the certified instructor program, with shelters and rescues to provide much-needed enrichment to shelter dogs.

Podcast Episode Transcript

If you want to learn more about the K9 Nose Work® Shelter Program and how you can get involved, whether you an instructor, volunteer or shelter staff member, be sure to check out the program's Facebook Page here.

You should also check out the webinar Jill offered that goes into even more detail about the program.

There are also some articles that offer a great overview of using K9 Nose Work® in shelters. Article 1. Article 2. Article 3.

If you interested in learning more about K9 Nose Work® and/or NACSW™, click this link, which includes information about workshops, webinars, Instructor Program and an Instructor search.

If you want to learn more about the competition-side of things, be sure to check out the NACSW™ site.


Dianna L. Santos:

Welcome to the All About Scent Work Podcast. In this podcast, we talked about all things Scent Work. That concludes training tips, a behind scenes look at what your instructor or trial official may be going through and much more. 

In this episode, we're going to be speaking with Jill Marie O'Brien and Steve DeTata about the K9 Nose Work Shelter Program. Before we start diving into the podcast episode, let me do a very quick introduction on myself. My name is Dianna Santos, I'm the Owner and Lead Instructor for Scent Work University, Dog Sport University and Pet Dog U. These are online dog training platforms that are designed to provide high quality dog train instruction to as many people as possible. We're very fortunate to have a client basis worldwide. For Scent Work University in particular, we provide online courses, seminars, webinars and eBooks that can help you achieve your scent work training goals. Whether that's getting started in scent work, developing some more advanced skills or getting ready for trial, we have a training solution for you. So you should know a little bit more about me, dive into the podcast episode itself.

In this episode, we're very fortunate to have a conversation with Jill Marie O'Brien, the co-founder for NACSW as well as the founder for the K9 Nose Work Shelter Program. And Steve DeTata, of CNWI who is spearheading the K9 Nose Work Shelter Program, particularly in promoting it on social media and helping it grow. So let's take a listen to that conversation. 

Basically, what I'm hoping that we can do today is just allow the people who listen to the podcast to have a better understanding of the K9 Nose Work Shelter Program is all about, why it started and what the goals are. So, Jill, if you just want to give just a short overview of what all that is, and then we can talk with Steve about what he's doing with social media and what the goals are going forward.

Jill Marie O'Brien:

Because of my life prior to K9 Nose Work and yes, some of us had a life before K9 Nose Work. It's shocking as that may seem to a few, but my experience was primarily working in the shelter and rescue environment. So I spent 14 years running a behavior and training department for a big shelter organization here in Southern California. And while I was there, I also started working with Ron Gaunt and Amy Herot, who are the co-founders of NACSW and the K9 Nose Work education division and training. And so in that timeframe, I was working with Ron and training with Amy and we were working detection dogs and the dogs are having a great time and simultaneously and I've got my stuff at the shelter going on and working with rescue dogs and special needs dogs at the shelter.

And it dawned on me how much, what we were doing with the dogs, which was very structured, but yet it was very dog-driven, how I thought shelter dogs, as well as companion dog owners or sport dog owners would benefit actually from K9 Nose Work that style of training, because there's lots of ways to train detection dogs, and oftentimes detection dogs for the work part of it are selected or bred for that purpose, right? They're purpose selected or purpose bred and the reality is most dogs can do it. They just might not do it at the same level that a professional dog might do it, but we knew that they thrive. So we started playing around with it with shelter dogs and we saw a lot of benefits. Obviously, anecdotally speaking, we weren't doing any research projects or collecting data on how many barks in the kennel less we were getting on a daily basis because dogs were doing nose work. But what we were seeing was dogs that were easier to handle, they were overcoming certain issues. And basically we're also just having a good time because the reality is with any shelter, even a no kill shelter, to be honest, but with any shelter, some dogs are actually not going to make it out.

The best we can do for them is make the time that we have them as full and as enjoyable as we possibly can. And ideally if we can also enhance the quality of their lives and if they do have challenges behaviorally, that we can help improve those to make them better companions once placed, that's even a bigger bonus. So it came from that, the working with the detection dogs, doing K9 Nose Work with the general public or general class participants. Because we first started K9 Nose Work just a small class in 2006 of six people. And now there's, I don't know NACSW has 25 and I don't know, how many thousands of dogs have come through and human member registrants and other organizations liked what we were doing and decided to duplicate what we were doing and morph fit in their image. And now it's spread around the world when it was just this fun thing that we were doing. We saw the benefits for the working dogs, for the companion dogs that already had their forever families, whether they were sport dogs or just companion dogs. And I really felt that it was something that could really, really help dogs that are in the rescue shelter environment, especially those that are Kennel health, as opposed to in foster homes. But even for foster dogs, it's a great way.

If you can get people together to run something that's fun, that's not an obedience class and really get your eyes on how the dogs problem solve. I think if you understand how an individual dog problem solves, I think what you can see is who that dog really is, what their personality type is, what their frustration threshold is going to be. There's a lot of behavior evaluations out there and I have learned more from doing this with dogs and I did thousands of behavior evals but I often learned more about the dog doing this than I did with preset behavior evaluations, ones that I even developed. So that's the overview and now, we do seminars and obviously with COVID, we did a webinar last year that's still available for anybody that wants to take a look at it. We kept it open so that's available on the site. So and that Steve really has taking the reins, especially with the social media stuff, to really start showcasing a lot of the work that volunteers are doing and that some of the progress that the dogs are making.

Dianna L. Santos:

Perfect. And I think that's just amazing that you were able to recognize the value that this activity had and that you were able to say, "Okay, this population of dogs, they would really benefit from it." And that's something that over the years, as trainers, we've been able to see that this is an activity that is so beneficial for this population of dogs. So that even for myself, with doing behavior modification with dogs who were in foster homes, using K9 Nose Work or Nose Work with those dogs helped them immensely, with weaving it into their behavior modification program. So the fact that you were able to recognize that even at the very baby parts of the journey of creating K9 Nose Work is really amazing. And in fact, you have this whole program that's supposed to help these dogs is great. So Steve, did you want to talk about what exactly you're doing as far as with social media, because we're seeing so many more posts and all these wonderful videos, and I keep sharing them all the time and they make me smile every single time that I see them. So you can just talk a little bit about that.

Steven DeTata:

Jill Marie just got tired of me bombarding her with all the videos that I was sending her and so it's [inaudible 00:07:37], you just start posting them yourself. So from there, I just started to posting the videos, mostly the work that I did, at my own shelter, San Clemente-Dana Point Animal Shelter. And then, just reached out to all the different programs that I knew of that were doing one and just kind of hit up the instructors and the people, the volunteer coordinators that were running those programs and said, "Hey, just start sending me your videos so that I can put them together and just let people know about what's going on with the program." And the goal, hopefully just from promotion there, I think we've gotten, probably about 15 just in the last couple of months, new inquiries of people that are just like, "Hey, we want to do this with our shelter." And so we turned them on to the different resources that we have to get people started.

So it's, like you said, just seeing the dogs doing the nose work themselves, whether it's just searching boxes or whether they're searching a car outside area or searching in Hawaii or Australia or just wherever, it's all over the place. I think the commonality is that the dog, you see certain things in the dogs, regardless of where they are in the country, Florida dogs are doing the same things that dogs in Hawaii are doing. And it's just the way that the program is structured. It's very easy to do, anybody can do it, any dog can do it. There's great benefits that the shelter dogs are getting from it. Whether there are hard to adopt dogs that are just bored or they're high energy dogs that are just need that edge taken off of them, or they're shy, but shy timid dog just need a little confidence boost. There's definitely classifications of dog stat that, you can use the training to target and bring certain things out. But every dogs, we get dogs that are, "Oh, sure we'll put him through." And then two weeks later they're gone.

But they got to do it and it's like, all right, well, if there are new families want to continue with the training, I've turned some people on that have adopted dogs that were in various stages in our programs and they're continuing on their own. So yeah, it's just a lot of fun for me to do it.

Dianna L. Santos:

That's awesome. So for people who hear about it and they're like, "Okay, this sounds interesting, I may volunteer for a shelter. I now want to maybe have this featured in our shelter or offered at our shelter. What do I do?"

Steven DeTata:

So we have the webinar that Jill Marie did. It's a great starting point and I think it's an hour and 15 minutes, just to watch that and get the overall picture of that. There's some great articles that people have put out and I think I put a couple of them on the Facebook page already that just provide a really good overview of what the training's all about. And I think the webinar really just takes people through step on how to start the program. We are working on a written document to go along with that. It's just really step-by-step. I mean, there's how to select dogs, here's what to look for, here the equipment that you'll need, this many boxes, go to Dollar Tree, Amazon boxes, it doesn't matter what you use. Here's lesson one, here's lesson two, three, four, five and then from there you can just go with it on your own.

Jill Marie O'Brien:

The one thing I want to say is really the idea was that the shelter dogs can do exactly the same things that any dog that already has a forever home can do. So the program is whether you're starting with a dog and somebody in a class or with one-on-one with somebody or a dog in a shelter. If they all start the same way because the way we think about it, we're starting from a very foundational level to build dogs up, even dogs that might appear high drive and really strong working dogs, we want to get a nice baseline on them anyway. What is this dog really going to work for? What are they going to get turned on by? All that. And other dogs need a lot more finessing, convincing that things are not going to get them in trouble because a lot of dogs also in the shelter have had a lot of potentially, unfortunate experiences with training or with people. And it might have a little bit of either learned helplessness or just really no clue how to function.

So when we first started developing K9 Nose, and specifically K9 Nose Work, not just generic nose work, but the model of working with the dogs through K9 Nose Work, was that it was something that every person regardless of training skill, and I'm talking about with if you're working in a shelter, you obviously should have some training on how to work with dogs within the shelter that you don't know, safe shelter practices, that is one piece of it but basically that it should be something that's simple enough that anybody can do it. We've had people that are older, that have had injuries, people that are in wheelchairs, dogs that are in wheelchairs, dogs that have all kinds of behavioral baggage or training background, and you just start off on a clean slate and it's very simple.

And the one great thing, we talk about using boxes is, one thing you have in shelters is lots of boxes. If you get things delivered all the time, as somebody that's worked in a shelter and that's had lots of trainers come in with special programs or are they going to come in, somehow they're coming in to save the day with their special training. And all you can think about even as a trainer in the shelter you would think, "Oh, this is great." And a professional trainer is like, "How many resources is this going to take? How many people am I going to lose to some special program? What tools are they going to start demanding that we have for them to use?" I mean, the thing with K9 Nose Work is to get started, do you need some boxes or some kind of containers if you're worried about spreading a little cold around the shelter, you use washable containers. It doesn't have to be cardboard. We just use cardboard because we know it's accessible, it's easy, they're easy to replace but use plastic shoe boxes that can get washed with soap and water.

I mean, you can keep it pretty straightforward and it's simple, food and toys and that's pretty much it, you need a way to get them from the kennel to where you're working. And if you don't have an indoor place that's secure, you just do it on leash or on a long line, it doesn't have... Everybody thinks that on the K9 Nose Work education or training division side, that we're so rigid about certain things but in reality, we're not. Like, "Okay, if you don't have what the ideal is, you just get as close as you possibly can and make do with what you have." And in a shelter sometimes you do the best you can with what you have and it's really the people that are the quality of the facility, not the fancy buildings and the fancy gizmos that any organization might have. It's the quality of the people inside the building and making sure that they have access to ideas and concepts that help them feel like they're contributing to more than just feeding, watering and hosing out kennels. I think is an important part of the psychological benefits of doing fun things but that don't suck so much out of their day. And volunteers are great in the shelter, love volunteers, but volunteers can also be a resource drain if you have low staff, if you have to manage too much of the volunteer.

So getting something that's easy to do and implement, I think is key and that's one of the key things for me with this, is that it's so simple to do basically. And I just recommend that you have to know the dogs that you're working with, don't pick the dog with the worst resource guarding or food guarding issues with your inexperienced volunteers or at all for K9 Nose Work in the shelter, that's a whole nother issue. But for your nice dogs with moderate challenges, it's a great way to burn off the energy and do it in a safe and productive manner. It gives them a productive way to burn off energy. And that is really important in my mind for shelter dogs. Playgroups are great but not great for every dog and sometimes they bring out things that you don't want to see in dogs, right?

So that comes down to the quality of the staff and the training there as well. So this is something that's simple and easy and you can also get a lot of behavior information for adoption prospects, what are you really going to tell people? So that's what I really loved about it the most. Right out of the gate, I just saw so many possibilities with K9 Nose Work, the concept not just for as an enrichment activity or detection training or development tool, but also as a way of evaluating dog's behaviorally for gaining the most information you can about them. And what type of dog they're going to be and what would be the best environment to go into. Dogs with low frustration thresholds, I mean, it's very obvious and the K9 Nose Work environment, that gets flushed out pretty quickly.

So what kind of home would that dog go to? What would be best for that dog? Those are the things we need to know when we're placing dogs. So anyway, that's my little rant. But the general Facebook group is available to anybody that's interested and I think it's, and correct me if I'm wrong Steve, it's just K9 Nose Work Shelter Project, right? On Facebook?

Steven DeTata:


Dianna L. Santos:

So for people who are interested in the entire program, what are some of the things that you wanted to let them know about as far as things that you've seen with, if I'm again, either a volunteer or a staff member for a shelter and I'm thinking about this, for the people who are saying, "Okay, for my adoption standpoint, I'm seeing all these really cool videos that you have on your Facebook page and they're really cute." Could this also help me promote dogs to be adopted? Is there some way that I'd be able to market this to say, "Oh, look what this dog is able to accomplish, what they're able to do to show potential adopters this is a dog may want to give a second or two?"

Steven DeTata:

Some of the videos that people have sent me have been Tik Tok adoption promotion videos to specifically highlight that dog. Like, "Look what this dog is capable of doing." Whether or not somebody wants to continue with that training, that's up to the person. We show these dogs doing and clearly they love doing it but ultimately, it's up to the human to decide whether that's an activity that they want to pursue or not. But, if you look back on the Facebook page, I think just recently, there was one done by Veronica, Las Vegas [inaudible 00:19:11] sent really cute Tik Tak video of the dog doing some stuff and they send it to music and it was basically, adoption promotion video that they just centered around K9 Nose Work.

So, I've had a few of those, I think I put most of them on the Facebook page to do that. And we've had, like I said at our own shelter, we've had a few dogs, one of them that was just there for Bowie, he was there for over a year and he finally got adopted and his new family was all into following through Nose Work. So I set him up with instructor referrals and all the resources on how to get started on doing that. So they, in a sense had to catch up to where Bowie was because he'd been doing it for... he was pretty far along. I mean, we didn't put them on odor or anything, but he was certainly ready for transitioning to that.

So yeah, I think, highlighting what these dogs are doing and that they're focused, they can do this job. If somebody wants to follow through with that, they can certainly see that. One other thing to backtrack on that, I posted a video on the Facebook page, it was basically the same dog going through the first five weeks or five lessons of the whole program. So if somebody was to watch that, they're probably a minute or a minute and a half long and they could just see, here's how to get the dogs started. And then here's the next step and the next step and the next step. So it just took through the whole intro program, which is the same as intro to Nose Work, at least the way that I teach it.

So you just saw, this here's one dog just doing it and it wasn't edited or second take or anything like that. It was just me holding the camera and showing what this dog is doing, pass or fail or good or bad, whatever they did. And I think all the... At least the videos that I've done, they've all just been straight out of the box, here's what you get. They're not edited, they're not doctored up or showing the best of or anything else, it is the dogs doing what they're doing. So, I think the enrichment part is just the fact that they're tapping into that search and hunt drive, the search is really what's rewarding for the dog. Yeah, they want to find their piece of string cheese but it's the whole process of letting them search and hunt for that piece that really keeps them going.

Dianna L. Santos:

Perfect. And the other thing I wanted to point out was, and you both were saying, I just want make sure people are clear, is that for this program, typically speaking, because again, you don't know how long they're going to be in the program before hopefully they are adopted, that they're hunting for either toys or treats. They're not going to be putting on odor, typically speaking, would that be correct?

Steven DeTata:

Some programs do have the dogs searching for odor, which is fine. I think that's a matter of personal preference. For me personally, I prefer not to do it, have the dog searching for odor, they get the benefit of searching for their piece of string cheese just as they would for odors. So, it's guaranteed, I've never seen the dog be like, "Oh, bored, done. I'm not going to find my cheese anymore. I'd rather have something else to find." So it's just easier, you can standardize it. So one dog is at this level of training on odor so now we have to adjust for that and that these dogs were only searching for primary. So now we have to switch up or create some running order of dogs. And then if somebody does want to continue with the training, it's much easier for them just to learn and play catch up when they're just searching for primary versus like, "Oh here's some odor," you have to go through all the odor handling and information that goes along with dealing with that.

If you're switching volunteers around and you're working with the odor, same thing. You have to basically teach people on how to handle the odor and stuff. So it's pretty... You can't make any mistakes when you're dealing with food. The thing that I learned early on and I think day one of the instructor training back in 2013 was, "Look, you can't mess up, you put something out too hard for the dog that's food, the dogs either going to find it or they don't." And then it's, you're not breaking anything."

Jill Marie O'Brien:

Right, yeah. It's very hard to break dogs with K9 Nose Work, right? It's timing, having perfect timing, right? Where there's so many methods where it's really timing reliant to make sure that you're getting the precise behaviors that you want. And since this K9 Nose Work was never modeled on getting a behavior for something, it was modeled on the dog's ability to problem solve and building on the dog's natural desire to search, to hunt, to problem solve, all the things that they want to do naturally. That's what it was really designed around. So it is much easier, I do agree with Steve in a lot of ways, that just by keeping the dog on primary and not worrying about the odor piece, especially for dogs in the shelter, is generally what most organizations or groups are going to do.

However, for those that have opted sometimes, what's helped the dogs get adopted, is by getting [inaudible 00:25:20] on a dog that's been a really long-term hold, that has been the selling point. This dog has passed this owner ranking, it's like getting a canine good citizenship test or the APDTs Program, right? They have a great program that they used to use with shelter dogs and it's similar to the CDC but it's a little bit more involved. I mean, those are great things that help promote individual dogs and some organizations have found that getting the dogs on odor and promoting them now as having this tasks that they've passed that's similar to what these sport dogs do or what detection dogs do. That's a great marketing tool for dogs that have not necessarily been great marketers of themselves for whatever reason.

And we do have a special, and it's pretty low key, so we don't like promote it a lot. We had a registration number originally that was just for shelter dogs. And if the shelter was aligned with an official or an approved NACSW K9 Nose Work instructor either CNWI preferably, if there's one local or an ANWI or PNWI. And ANWIs and PNWIs are in the process of becoming CNWI which are Certified Nose Work Instructors. We have some that mentor with shelters, whether they go in regularly or they're just there for phone call mentorship, they could bring their dogs to an ORT. And they could do the training, get the dogs on odor and all of that. There was even a couple that had been at their respective organizations for a really long time and had made it pass all their ORTs and then ended up being ready to do their NWI one title while they were still waiting for a home because the dog had been there so long in the rescue. They were like, "Well, we're just going to keep moving them up and he may never do nose work again, but this might be the kinds of things that help get him placed."

So yeah, but I think as Steve said, keeping the dogs on primary is generally a much better thing overall from an organizational standpoint and a consistency standpoint. Like he said, "You don't have to worry about switching dogs out and making sure certain volunteers know how to handle odor and not contaminating everything and all of that." So and dogs don't care. Some dogs actually thrive if you set up the problems and other dogs just want to do great big hunting searches and you get to know who those dogs are with primary. So it's a lot of fun.

Dianna L. Santos:

And I think that's really great where you both were pointing out. Is that again, the shelters would be able to customize this for what works best for them, the resources they have available, the dog population, the volunteers and that you probably could even have a situation where an organization said, "Okay, 99.9% of the dogs were just going to be using primary. That's what we're going to need, this was going to be working well for us. For the other 1% of dogs who've been here for a while, if they're still here and they're still in the program, maybe we can consider moving onto odor then maybe then we'd be able to show, oh wow you know this dog." And now, because again, people think that odor is sexy. "Oh look, they're doing the odor search, aren't they just so amazing or whatever."

Jill Marie O'Brien:

Like vehicle search, just show them doing... I know Steve has done some videos with the shelter dogs doing vehicle searches. I don't know in general whether it's shelter dogs or what, everybody wants to do vehicle searches. For some reason, there's like some sexy factor to searching a vehicle until you've actually done it professionally. And you've searched 1000 vehicles in a day or it's like JC, one of our CNWI said, "When you search a few million vehicles in your career, the sexy factor..." But those are the kind of things that really get... You have to... The thing with shelter dogs is it's about marketing because it's like matchmakers or kind of a thing. It's like you have to find ways that highlight things that are the positive aspects because everybody has the assumption that every dog in a shelter is damaged or broken. And granted, there are some dogs that are, and rescue dogs that have challenges that are more extensive than others, but there are a lot of really great dogs still out there that just need an opportunity to have the energy challenged in the right direction.

And the more that we can find ways to promote the positive pieces of these dogs, I think the better chance they have of finding the right homes. It's not just about getting dog, I also think that the more we learn about an individual dog, whether it's training K9 Nose Work in the shelter whatever, the more we know about who that dog is, the better we can make sound placement recommendations and match them with the right families. Because it's not just about placing a dog generically, it's about making the right matches so they last as long as possible. And also being flexible that if you make a match and it doesn't work out, that the family isn't a failure, it just wasn't the right match. Let's help them find the next dog. And what do we learn about that dog and that family that can help that dog find the right home moving forward? And we placed the right dog with that family.

So I think there's a lot of things, it's not just obviously K9 Nose Work, there's so much that we need to incorporate into really good placements with dogs that we have out there because some dogs will make better family pets than others.

Dianna L. Santos:

So Steve for any of the other CNWIs or ANWIs or PNWIs, for anyone who is throughout the program as an instructor who may be saying, "You know what, I really like all the things I'm seeing on social media. I think that I would like to get involved." Would they be contacting you, would they be contacting... Who would they be contacting to do that? And are they paired up with a shelter or are they able to work with different shelters? How does that work?

Steven DeTata:

Yeah. So first of all, actually during the last instructor program that we did, I gave a little presentation on the program just to let them know right off the bat that that existed and to... That's actually how I got started doing my first training for my instructor program was go teach classes. So well, I was working with a rescue group already, so they allowed me to bring volunteers in and in the sense do the whole intro in nose work class has programed with the shelter dog. So it was win-win for me. But it's a really good way for new instructors to get that experience level rather than jumping straight in and going, "Okay, well, I'm going to take paying clients," and maybe I'm not fully up to speed on what to do with all these things so it's a really good learning opportunity for the instructor.

So we want them involved because they're the ones who can actually go out and start up a program at a shelter. But yeah, they can either email me directly or shelter project at It's out there, it's on the K9 Nose Work website, also As far as if they were interested and we had a program, they're all over the country that we have. We're updating a list but I mean, I've got a list. So if somebody happens to be in that area working with CNWI in that area, who's doing a program, just put them together and say, "Here contact that person and make arrangements to go see what it's all about." Otherwise, we could certainly walk them through going to whatever local shelter is near them that may not be doing a program, that there is nobody currently do at a program near them, hey, go approach the shelter and start your own. I mean, that's the way that all these other people did it, just get a shelter and it helps us if you're already a volunteer at the shelter because then you already have that relationship with them rather than just walking in cold and saying, "Hey, here I am. I want to start this program." They may be a little bit leery or you might have to work a little harder on convincing the shelter director on allowing you to do that.

But if you're already a volunteer and you already have some privileges, taking the dogs out, you're familiar with the dogs, you got the lay of the place. It makes it that much easier so you get out there and volunteer without [crosstalk 00:34:20].

Dianna L. Santos:

Perfect. Yeah, absolutely. Perfect and so if I'm a volunteer for a shelter and I'm hearing about this, is there any kind of resources in addition to the webinars that you were speaking of before that I would be able to look at, read over, watch to have a better idea of what skills I may need or what knowledge I may need as a volunteer to be more helpful if maybe my shelter is considering joining and we're trying to find an instructor to help us, is there something that I should do as a volunteer?

Steven DeTata:

Basically just familiarize yourself with how the program runs. And again, like Jill Marie said and I've said, it's not that complicated to do. So it's not like this so I've got to have all these years of experience of K9 Nose Work to do this. I mean, we're talking initially, and again, you can see how easy it is by just watching the videos on the Facebook page. We put them out there, it's real easy. It's a dog for 20 bucks of boxes or less than that, Dollar Tree and some string cheese or whatever treats you have, minimal investment in a small space that's away from all the other dogs. One or two people, that's all you need from resources. And then put some food down in the boxes and let the dog go through, show him what's in the first box, have him come up, eat the food, bring him back, have him repeat that a few times, then turn loose into the boxes and they figure it out real quick. "Oh, there's food in some of these boxes, I'm going to search for it."

And from there, it's off to the races, you just build on that. Every lesson plan is just adding a little twist to that, just build, build, build and then pretty soon you have the dog searching the whole room or a whole outside area or a car for finding that one piece of string cheese or five pieces of string cheese, whatever you want to do.

Jill Marie O'Brien:

Hey, I was just going to chime in too. The one thing that I would always recommend though, for anybody, K9 Nose Work aside. If you're working in a shelter or you're working with dogs that are in high stress environment, like a shelter can be or recently placed in a foster home and you're going to be working with them, whatever the case may be. I strongly recommend that whether you're a new volunteer working with the dogs or a more senior experienced volunteer that's been working with shelter dogs, you really should try and invest time in watching or attending. Obviously, a lot of it is online these days, specialty seminars or webinars on working with shelter dogs on behavioral observation skills. Sue Sternberg of course has got a lot of wonderful material out there that is very supportive of creating a safe environment and safe interactions between dogs and people within the shelter environment.

I would strongly recommend watching or reading any material that she has available. There are a lot of other people out there that are doing specialty things on either aggression or just good behavior skills and good handling skills for the shelter, that should always be done aside... K9 Nose Work which is a great enrichment thing for dogs in the shelter, but the better educated and informed the people are, and the better interactions that there are between dogs and people that we're not putting dogs in a positions in which they might do things that are not in their best interest, I think that is really important. And so as much as people, it's not just about, "I'm going to the shelter to walk dogs." I think there has to... Or hopefully that shelters are coming around, I've been doing this for a long time.

I had the very first behavior training department for a very large shelter that had been around since the late 1800s. They'd never had anything like that, it was basically a two hour training for volunteers and, "Here's your choke chains and here's your leash and there's the kennels." And that was it and it was fine. It got them bond but I do think dogs also have been changing through the decades and having a better understanding of them is critical. And having that and having something like K9 Nose Work as an avenue for really sound enrichment opportunities for the dogs that are in our care, I think those things together can really help shape better experiences for the shelter dogs, the people that work with them and the people coming in that want to give them a place to go.

So I think it's a much more complex thing, but the K9 Nose Work part of it is the fun part. That's the thing and it's got so many advantages. And I do know that there's been a few researchers and folks at university that and specifically the K9 Nose Work methodology have been wanting to look at this style of working with dogs for its very specific behavioral benefits and enrichment benefits, as opposed to just a training modality of working at detection dog, right? It's back chaining and that's more training focused as opposed to a dog-driven, minimal human involvement in the beginning. So hopefully that will happen moving forward but like anything, it's all about who's available and who's funding things and what's going on?

But Alexandra Horowitz, I know one of her books spoke highly of something similar, the benefits of allowing dogs to do this type of searching, that there was a lot of behavioral and psychological benefits. So it's a lot of fun. It's the most fun thing that I've ever done working with dogs, 30 something years of working with dogs. So I never get bored, I can watch Intro to Nose Work, the same webinars, same videos that I have seen a million times and I never have gotten sick of watching them. I love starting new dogs. I mean, I love working with advanced dogs but it's just, I never get bored. It's just fascinating, the science of it, not just the dog part, but the science of it is fascinating.

Steven DeTata:

Being able to see such a variety of dogs approach this and approach the problem solving, and you can see them working it out in their head. First of all, "Am I safe?" Number one, number two, "Okay, I am safe. Am I going to be able to solve this problem without any kind of problem happening to me? Is it okay for me to solve this problem?" And then to develop the confidence say, "Yes I can," and be like, "Oh, I can totally rock this, I'm going to go get my cheese. This is great." To see that progression even for dogs who may appear to be totally fine, but they're always making those decision plans. It's fascinating. And that's the one thing with all the videos you guys have been sharing on social media, of seeing dogs who come into a space and they're like, "Yeah, I'm really worried about being in this space." And you just allow them to figure that out at first.

Steven DeTata:

And there's no pressure, there's no anything. There's no demand towards expectations. And then allowing them to build up that confidence and then go into, "Okay, now I'm going to be able to move in the space and maybe I find one little cheese. Okay, I'm good." To then progress to where the dog is able to work the entire space completely fine and free to understand that that is a skill that's going to carry over for the totality of the dog's life. These things don't happen in bubbles. So I'm hoping that everyone can understand the benefit of this, particularly for this population of dogs. Everything that you've talked about before, being able to properly evaluate the dog, but also from marketing standpoint of, instead of just the sad little inside the kennel photo of being able to actually say like what Steve has been saying with his videos, "They started here but now they're here. And look now, you can actually see them, they're a dog. They're not just petrified and shut down inside their little kennel. They have actually blossomed and grown by doing this type of thing where they're able to actually think." So I really... Well, hats off to all of you.

Jill Marie O'Brien:

And it's just so much fun. I mean, it really it is a lot of fun to see the transformation. And I remember you and me, Diana, back in Connecticut at a workshop weekend talking about all this stuff. I don't even think you were as in the instructor program at that point. I think you joined after that and became a CNWI but not that that conversation was some change of my view but it was just interesting. What we learn over the years, like how much benefit it really... And just letting dogs just be dogs sometimes, and that they don't need human beings to make them better at the things that they were actually born to be able to do. I think is a revelation for many I know.

Dianna L. Santos:

So looking forward, what are your plans going forward? What are your hopes and your dreams? Is there anything that the dog owning community as a whole, particularly those who love K9 Nose Work or Nose Work as a whole, what is it that any of us can do to help?

Jill Marie O'Brien:

What do you think we need Steve? Because I know that you're really in the trenches much more these days than I am and you've really been spearheading the outreach through the Facebook group and also the little mentor, I think you started the mentoring group too through the Shelter Project Facebook page. So what would you say is something that your vision for how things might move forward and how people could help support what you're doing?

Steven DeTata:

Basically what I want to see is obviously more shelters implementing the program. I mean, realizing it doesn't take a rocket scientist to look at the videos, not just at the dogs at my shelter but all the ones from all the other shelters that we've been posting, that all the dogs are just loving doing it. So again, whether it's just a straight, flat out enrichment, it's something for the dogs to have fun doing or you're using it as a specific targeted tool to deal with a certain dog's behavioral issues, whether they're shy shut down. You can use that as a good tool to bring that dog out. The more higher end G dogs, you can definitely get them to settle down by doing it. So again, there's different applications that you can use to train for but basically it's just for the dogs to have fun.

I mean, that's the most important piece of it and it's so easy to do. I mean, like Jill Marie said, you can't put every dog in a playgroup. Yeah, playgroups are great for some dogs, not all dogs but I've yet to come across a dog, either in the shelter or in my personal instruction classes that doesn't like K9 Nose Work. I mean, I've heard about on these people's amateur Facebook groups and they're like, "Oh, my dog doesn't like food or this or that. I can't get my dog motivated and I don't know." I just haven't experienced it in eight plus years of doing this. So the dogs just love it. So I would like to see more programs get involved. I mean, that's the CNWIs and ANWIs and PNWIs responsibility. I think that they hopefully will go out there and take the initiative to do it rather than there being some requirement that they do it, although I'm not opposed to that.

And one other avenue also that haven't really done anything with, except for thinking about it is using the K9 Nose Work as a post-adoption adjustment tool for the dogs that have done it. So they go onto their home, they're with their new family, maybe they're freaked out a little bit about the house or if they're having a little bit difficulty adjusting, break out a few boxes in some cheese and let the dog do nose work in the house or in the garage and just let them do something familiar that they like doing. And I think if you're having any issues bringing that new dog home, that'll quickly go away by letting the dog do what they love doing.

Dianna L. Santos:

That's a really, really, really great idea. And I hope that people really are understanding just how powerful that can be, of having a sense of familiarity. But again, with something that, which Jill Marie was saying is not human led, it's not human directed is still tapping into those dog's instincts, their ability to problem solve. That's incredible. So yes, everyone who's involved with shelters, volunteers or otherwise, please learn more about this program and sign up and help your dogs.

Jill Marie O'Brien:

And it's just fun. I don't see dogs ever getting really bored, that's the thing. It's more the people that get bored, right? It's like they want something flashy, the dogs are like, "Just set up a little bit more difficult a problem, put the boxes inside." But the dogs are like, "This is cool." So they're always happy to just put their tools to use. That's what I always believe. I think they just need an avenue for that.

Dianna L. Santos:

Perfect. So did you guys have anything else that you wanted to add in? Otherwise, we'll just wrap up.

Jill Marie O'Brien:

Let Steve speak a little bit more to the shelter dog stuff that's available for people Facebook page contacting him, et cetera. But for anybody that might be interested in finding out more about the K9 Nose Work Instructor Certification and Training Program to become a CNWI like both Diana and Steve are and have been involved with K9 Nose Work in one facet or another throughout the years, you can do that by visiting And there are some links to information about the instructor program. And we're going to continue to increase the amount of information we have available through the website. But if you just want a general information or want to get on our list for upcoming webinars that are just general webinars or the instructor program, you can just email, that's And somebody there will get you information on the instructor program and put you on our contact list.

And we often send out information about webinars and things, which you can also find out about on the site. And just have fun, whether with your own dogs, whether it's shelter dogs, just remember you should have fun. It should bring you joy as much as it brings the dogs joy as well. So I think that's most important thing. So Steve, anything you want to add and remind people of how to contact the Facebook group and email and that kind of thing?

Steven DeTata:

Yeah. I mean, if you find the Facebook page, you can search for K9 Nose Work Shelter, and there'll be probably the only one that shows up and just jump on there, like the page or don't like it, just look through all their resources on there. I mean, our contact, you can message us directly through the page or email us. The email address is on there. The website address is on there but if you just looked through, take 10, 15 minutes and just scan back through some of the posts and stuff. I tried not to post too much stuff on there, once or twice a week, putting a new video up there of a dog doing it or some resource for people to learn about. So all the information, a lot of it, it's just right there directly on the Facebook page. And certainly enough to get somebody started or getting them pointed towards us so we can give them some more information, [inaudible 00:50:43] stop shopping right there.

Dianna L. Santos:

We were very fortunate to have this conversation with Jill Marie O'Brien and Steve DeTata about the K9 Nose Work Shelter Program. We'll be providing links to all of the resources that they were discussing, including the Facebook page for the program itself, the Instructor Certification Program for the NACSW CNWI program and more. On our Facebook page, we'll be posting this podcast episode, as well as our website. We hope that you enjoyed this episode. Thanks so much, happy training. Look forward to seeing you soon.

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