|My goal is to help her be as confident in a town as out in our forest
For those who don't know, "nosework" is a dog sport where scent sources are hidden, and dog/handler teams must find them. The scents are usually essential oils - birch, anise, and clove. One or two oil-soaked q-tips are placed in a ventilated tube and then attached to something in the search area.
It's not a simple sport because there are so many skills involved. For the dog, she first has to learn that her job is to search for these particular scents. Then, as she gets more advanced, she has to figure out how to find the source of what can be visualized a big cone or cloud of scent in the search area.
I think that nosework is great for building up a dog's confidence because it's a sport where the dog is the driver. The human cannot smell the scent sources. The dog is the one with the amazing sense of smell who is in charge, leading the human to the scent sources. In a sense, the human's job is primarily learning how to read her dog's body language to know when the dog has picked up scent.
No doubt, nosework has helped Shyla learn to cope with scary environments. She gets so focused on her "job" of finding the scent sources that she doesn't obsess about the scary stuff around her.
I want to show you an example of Shyla searching on a bustling road in town. In Shyla's first couple of years with us, I took her to this road innumerable times, trying to help her learn to navigate the urban bustle using tried-and-true socialization techniques. It never worked. I finally gave up, and I decided that we would avoid places like that in everyday life.
Fast forward 4 years and we've been doing nosework for 2 years. I took Shyla to the exact area that used to scare her so much. I set up a search *on the sidewalk* of this busy place. People walked by talking loudly and cars zoomed past but Shyla kept searching. I was doing a happy dance in my heart! She is transformed when doing nosework, and it's starting to extend to simply navigating scary environments when she's not doing nosework.
Here's that search in a short video. There were three scent sources hidden. When you hear me say "alert" and give Shyla a treat, you know that she just found a scent source. You can watch here or at Youtube.
The one thing that Shyla still cannot handle is strangers watching her search. Some pedestrians stopped to watch her in a search that we did after the one in the video, and Shyla froze up. There's something about people staring at her (even from a distance) that terrifies Shyla. That's part of why I'm not sure that we'll ever compete (judges would have to stare at us). To be honest, we're achieving my goal for nosework so I don't feel the need to try to do formal competitions.