How taking a “nose work” class got my dog to finally accept my new partner as a pack leader

Guest post by Phaedra

Use your dog’s nose to start the bonding process! (Photo by: Flavio~CC BY 2.0)
My boyfriend moved into my house almost a year ago. Today he’s my fiancé, and soon he will be my husband. Somehow, though, the most exciting new title he recently earned seems to be that of pack leader with my three dogs. It suits him very well.

When Nick and I met, he had most recently owned a cat. His cat had passed away from complications of cancer, and for several reasons he just hadn’t been able to get another one since then. I had also lost a dog to terrible cancer, and I’m sure that when we began dating the two of us were brought closer through the tales of our past pets.

After Nick and I had been dating for a few weeks he met my dogs. And I didn’t just have one pup in my house when he and I met, I was a single lady with THREE dogs. My one-and-a-half-year-old puppy Moxie was the first to win/steal his heart. They are truly a sight to behold together, especially how they mutually shower each other with affection.

Kiki is my old-lady dog, and a tougher nut to crack. She is fairly equal opportunity about not being fond of strangers. But by the time Nick moved in Kiki had decided that he was the one she preferred to have handle the breakfast feedings each morning. She also likes lying in the spot under his desk while he works at his computer. It took her some time, but she completely accepts him.

Kane is my only male dog, and he is quite a mama’s boy. He is the dog I got right after I lost my last boy dog to cancer. Upon our meeting Kane chose me. I think he knows how special his place is in my life and heart; he even sleeps sharing my pillow. When I have been away from home for several days, Kane makes the most pathetically sweet cries for me when I return. We are tightly bonded. But he and Nick… not-so-much.

I took some agility classes with Kane years ago, but the whole world smells so delicious to Kane that he would do a few things I asked of him. He’d jump over the bar and run through a tunnel, but then he would stop following directions and just run off on his own to smell something on the other side of the room. We stopped taking classes when it was apparent that he would rather be doing other things with his time.

A woman I met through agility classes at the dog club we belong to told me that they also offer a class in Nose Work. What could be more perfect for my little dog-man than a class that caters to his nasal whims? He would get rewarded for doing what he loves to do, smell things! I immediately signed Kane up for class, and that’s when it happened. Nick decided that HE would be the one to work with Kane in that class.

The class lasted for six weeks, and by the end, we had already signed up for round two. Nick and Kane were in the ring together for about an hour every week, Nick instructing our budding scent dog to “find it!” and Kane running around putting his head in boxes looking for the one that contained the delicious and smelly treat.

In addition to gaining some nose skills (Kane) and dog handling skills (Nick) and confidence (both of them) something else happened along the way. Last week I was watching TV on the couch, with Kane sharing my pillow. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, Kane got up and walked over to where Nick was sitting to lay in his lap. All at once, he just decided he wanted some time with Nick!

Having my guys take a class together clearly got me much more than I bargained for. The two of them are falling in love. Just a few weeks before Nick and I get married (and make honest dog-kids of all three of our pups) we have a new pack leader. Nick has grown to love the dogs and call them his dog-children, and even declared that he just didn’t know how much of a dog person he was before he met me. The dogs, even my Kaney boy, have all learned to love and respect their papa Nick too.

Comments on How taking a “nose work” class got my dog to finally accept my new partner as a pack leader

  1. What a great story! I volunteer as an Adoptions Counselor at a local humane society and one of the most common questions all of the counselors get is, “How can I/my child/my family bond with my dog?” I’ve always recommended training classes because I’ve had a similar experience as yours with my own dogs! Glad to hear it’s good advice!

    • It’s the BEST idea! I have mostly adopted adult dogs, and they have all benefited from basic obedience. So much bonding happens with treats and praise!

      We also play agility and flyball at our dog club. Nose work is great for dogs who may not get along so well with other dogs since they are alone in the ring.

      Thanks for your volunteer work!

  2. My older bro and his wife have two adorable dogs. He was very resistant to getting them as we didn’t grow up with pets and he didn’t think that he could be a “dog” person. Now he loves his dog-children. I think that everyone can be a dog person or a cat person if given the right experience with the right pet.

  3. Awe so sweet! My fiance wasn’t fond of indoor dogs when we got together, so seeing him and my dog fall in love was the greatest. He wont call himself a dog person, but I’ve caught him baby talking to my fur-baby as they cuddle on the couch and has suggested that when we get a new apartment together, maybe we can have two dogs instead of his initial “one dog in the house” rule 😛 My dog has totally has him wrapped around her paw.

  4. Even when husband (then boyfriend) and I were doing long distance, my cat LOVED him. About a year after moving in together, we adopted a dog together, so we never had any of these issues.
    For training, she knew sit, and we taught her other basic commands. We did one formal training class for recall- not a lot of it stuck, which is common for a lot of rescue dogs adopted as adults. Is this nose work training new? I see there’s a class offered for it in my area now, but I don’t remember seeing anything about it 2 years ago when I was looking into classes. When I was a volunteer dog walking, I didn’t particularly enjoy the hounds because they were always 100% engaged with what was on the ground. So I bet these nosework classes would be a great way to bond with a hound.

    • The nose work classes are newer, and there are also tracking classes (tracking follows a scent that someone has laid out on the ground, like how you would find a missing person for example).

      in its most basic element nose work is how you would originally start teaching a dog to find drugs or bombs or perhaps even people in collapsed buildings

  5. NW is such a fun activity! I’ve seen otherwise shut-down dogs really blossom through it, and of course relationships between people and their dogs just soar to new heights. I’m glad to hear Nick jumped at the opportunity to bond with Kane.

    But a dog bonding with, having fun with and deciding to spend time near someone in your house is not them “accepting him as a pack leader.” It’s them developing a friendship and building a relationship! Dogs don’t snuggle as a sign of deference, they snuggle because they like you, and dogs tend to like people with whom they spend a lot of time having great fun.

    • There is MUCH more to becoming pack leader, but I think class was a great start.

      We also take the dogs for walks (Nick walks Kane) and Nick does the majority of their feedings (lines them up, makes them do sit-stays for their food) and we generally do sits before going outside too. Kane won’t even jump on the bed at night unless Nick gives him permission, etc…

      You’re right, bonding and liking are not leading, but we joke that I’m alpha and Nick is beta. The dogs all fall in line below us.

    • I also prefer the term “family member” to “pack leader.” I’m not entirely sure what the author means by “pack leader” since she is talking about training classes that seem to be based on positive reinforcement. My mother’s dog has a ranking order for people she prefers, so maybe this is what she means by pack leader? The pack leader makes me think of the different schools of thought on dog training, though. My favorite theory on the pack versus family model of pet dogs comes from Temple Grandin. I recommend reading her books, but here is a very brief summary:

      The original theory of a person having to be the pack leader came from a study on wolf pack dynamics. This study, however, was not on groups of wolves in the wild, but rather on a group of unrelated wolves forced to live with each other in captivity. Wolf packs in the wild are more like a family. The wolf pups defer to their parents kind of like how human children defer to their parents. They’re bigger and that’s where the food comes from! But there is still a place for the “pack leader” theory, and that is in situations where you having aggressive dogs living together in an artificial situation, like Caesar Milan’s farm. He has to be the pack leader and an “alpha” there with that large number of dogs that are prone to aggression. Also, dogs are not wolves. Dogs have been evolving alongside humans for thousands of years now and are probably aware that humans aren’t just less furry dogs.

      I like Grandin’s way of thinking about it- she seems to be the only animal behaviorist (that I know of) that actually picks apart the different situations where different types of training are appropriate. Most “family” situations where a couple dogs are living with a couple humans call for family-style training. I don’t know what the “threshold” would be for number of dogs and aggressive nature of those dogs.

      • Yes– THIS.

        To reiterate what justanothersciencenerd, “pack leader” terminology and theories (yes, theories– never proven scientifically– more on that in a minute) is old school dominance BS that has been scientifically proven wrong.

        I am a dog trainer and at least one student in every class I teach comes to me with “pack leader this, dominate that,” so I have the schpiel down! “Pack leader” theory was based on a study of captive wolves who were randomly chosen to be put together, not a study of how wolves relate in their normal groups in the wild, an important distinction which those who tout “pack leader” theory gloss over. For more information: and another fantastic article from Kathy Sdao, who is well respected and known in the dog training field:

        Now that I’ve gotten that jargon stuff out of the way… That’s wonderful that your dog is bonding with your new partner! Positive reinforcement (nosework must be +R, by nature) dog classes are a great way for dogs, old and new, to bond with their humans, old and new. And nosework is lots of fun! (My dog and I tried nosework for a brief time, but ultimately settled on agility.)

  6. This is great, thank you! My and my (not so) pup and I are taking agility classes just now, and whilst it’s BRILLIANT for helping socialise him with other dogs, he’s struggling to concentrate with all the delicious smells and distractions. Nose work sounds like it would be a great option for him! Off to investigate…

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