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Could Your Kerry “Find It?”

 

© 2012

No portion of this article may be reproduced without permission of the copyright holder. Reprinted with permission from .

Nose Work with Kerry Blues

A scattering of cardboard boxes, similar in size, lay on the training room floor. To the casual observer, it looks like a jumbled mess. But to the handler and the Kerry by her side, tail wagging wildly and nose twitching, it is another chance to play the game: Nose Work!

K9 Nose Work, the newest sport for dogs, is sweeping the nation. Started on the West Coast in 2006 by three very experienced professional trainers (Ron Gaunt, Amy Herot and Jill Marie O’Brien) who, themselves, trained and handled dogs to detect narcotics and explosives, this sport is geared toward companion dogs, young and old, mixed breeds and purebred, as well as dogs that are shy or reactive. It is a great confidence builder, while helping to calm energetic dogs. The objective of Nose Work is to have the dog find a particular scent hidden in a location and then indicate (alert) that find to the handler. While not physically demanding for dog or handler, it does provide a high degree of mental stimulation for the dog and lets them really put their superior sense of smell to work. In addition, it allows the dog to turn the tables and teach the handler to observe the dog’s responses and trust the dog’s judgment when it indicates that the odor has been found.


Lexi pinpointing the odor.
Unlike traditional classes, which may be stressful or over-stimulating to some dogs, dogs are worked one at a time in the search area, allowing each dog to focus on the task at hand and permitting the handler to focus on his/her dog. Because they are worked individually, dogs that are reactive to other dogs or people can participate in this sport without fear of further reinforcing their reactivity. Behaviors that are not be looked upon favorably in an obedience class, such as pulling or not focusing on the handler, are actually encouraged and desired in a Nose Work class. Dogs that are eager to hunt and show that eagerness are applauded!
A typical Intro to Nose Work class begins by teaching the dog what the game is. A few aromatic pieces of food are hidden in one of 6 boxes stretched out in a line, with the cover of the boxes typically open. As the dog travels down the line of boxes, sniffing and checking each one, it is self-rewarded when it finds the targeted box. This is repeated several times, and then the cover is loosely closed. As the weeks progress, the loosely closed boxes are scattered, and the dog is allowed to work off leash in the enclosed area, with the other dogs safely crated away from the search area. This also gives the other handlers an opportunity to observe the other dogs as they conduct their searches. As the dogs become more proficient, the target box containing the food may be hidden behind an overturned table or boxes may be placed on chairs, both to encourage the dog to hunt or to encourage them to pick their noses up off the ground.

Patty Sontag rewarding Lexi at finding
the source of the odor.
The next class level, Into to Odor, is when the food is paired with the first scent, sweet birch. Birch, for those who have never smelled it, smells very much like wintergreen – at least to humans! Again, the dog starts off with the box drill (a line of 6 boxes) and gets a good whiff of the scent as it self-rewards with the food. As the dog becomes more proficient at finding the scent, the food is weaned away from the odor. Now the dog is searching for scent alone, and when he finds it, is given a food reward at the odor source by the handler. This food reward reinforces the successful hunt! During this entire process, the handler is keenly watching the dog’s body language to learn the cues given when the dog is “in odor.” Now the real fun begins! The search area moves to interior rooms, vehicles and exterior areas! Again, a small amount of food may be paired initially, to help the dog understand that the game is continuing, that only the area has changed. As the dog becomes more experienced at finding the scent and the handler becomes better at being able to “read” the dog, they move into more advanced classes, even taking those classes “on the road” to other locations. Dogs are encouraged to be successful in their searches and corrections to the dog are never given.

At some point, the remaining two odors, aniseed and clove, are introduced, first by pairing with the birch, and then working them individually.

Lexi zeroing in on the odor.

Costs for this sport are minimal. Dogs are encouraged to wear a harness, which will allow them to pull safely (they also learn that the harness means they are going to play the sniffing game) and a long line, which allows the dog freedom to safely move away from the handler, is also used. If you want to practice on your own, you can buy a small bottle of the essential oils: sweet birch, aniseed (not Star Anise) and clove bud; a few Q-tips which you have cut in half and stored in a small glass jar and scented with a few drops of the essential oil, and a metal tin with a few holes poked in it, and conduct your own searches. There are also complete kits available for purchase online.

Nose Work trials have been held on the West Coast since 2008, and the first New England trial was held in Massachusetts in May, 2011; since that time, 4 more trials have been held in Massachusetts, with many more held in NY and NJ. More are planned in those states and beyond in the coming year. The dog and handler must both be registered with the National Association of Canine Scent Work (www.nacsw.net) to compete; it is a one-time registration for the dog, but the handler must renew his/her registration each year. In addition, prior to competing, the dog must have passed an Odor Recognition Test (ORT), which indicates proficiency for that odor. Titles can be achieved in this sport, with an NW1 title for the target odor, birch, an NW2 for the target odor, aniseed, and an NW 3 for the target odor, clove. As expected, each level of competition involves more complex searches. As a way of seeing how this sport has grown, there were 7 total trial days in 2009, only in California; in 2012, there were 80 trial days in 13 different states, with even more trials planned in additional states in 2013.

An actual trial consists of the dog searching all 4 venues: a box drill, an interior search, a vehicle search and an exterior search – successfully complete all 4 and your dog will be awarded his title! In addition, special awards are given to dogs and handlers indicating their proficiency and teamwork in a search venue, and there is also a special award given to a rescue dog, even if it didn’t receive a title!

My late Kerry, Duffy (Wildside’s Quiet Man UD RE) and I started training for this sport in January 2010. Sadly, I lost him 6 months before the first trial was scheduled in our area. The joy he exhibited when the harness came out clearly indicated his love for the sport. I started my young Kerry girl, Lexi (Calix Worth the Wait RN CD-C) in training late 2010 after I lost him, and she passed her ORT for birch in January 2011, just 2 months later (before her first birthday!). She exhibits the same enthusiasm and determination, and, as we travel the Nose Work road together, I have no doubt she will do well. Other Kerries are also in training for Nose Work across the country.

The first Kerry to be titled in Nose Work was Meggity Meggity Meggity Meg, at the age of 12.5 years; she also has agility titles in AKC (MX, MXJ, OF, OAP, NJP, NFP), NADAC (OAC, NJC, NGC) and USDAA (AD) and does therapy work in her ‘spare’ time with her owner, Carolyn Allen. This California Kerry was awarded her NW1 title in October 2010 and is currently working towards her NW2 title.

Since that time, my own Kerry, Lexi, was awarded her NW1 title on New Year’s Day, 2012, and went on to get her NW2 title on Oct. 28, 2012, the first and only Kerry to do so (so far!). We are currently in training for our NW3 title while we also train for obedience (AKC and CDSP) and rally (AKC and CPDT).

This sport allows us to have fun with our Kerries as they provide us a glimpse into the world of their superior sense of smell.

If you want to check out this sport further, visit www.nacsw.net to see if a workshop or class is planned for your area.

Videos

Our instructor, Michele Ellertson, a Certified Nose Work Instructor (CNWI) is narrating at the show.

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