There has been a lot of buzz about new scent work dog sport programs over the last few years … nosework, barnhunt, and more recently handler discrimination scent work. We also hear about and see military and police detection dogs, and even usages in the medical field and alert dogs for seizures, diabetics and more! They even use dogs to search out bedbugs, truffles and wildlife droppings for conservation efforts!! The list goes on and on with what dogs are capable of searching, finding, tracking, and indicating. Our dogs sense of smell is AMAZING! There is enough literature out there that explains the science and ability. I just know how much dogs love to use their noses and how gratifying it is for them to have a specific job to sniff out smells!
In the world of dog sports, the new buzz is Scent Work, a new program being rolled out by AKC. Their odor division is quite similar to existing nosework programs where dogs search for essential oils. A new level includes buried hides! If we already felt like our companion dogs were practically real detection dogs already, then this will make us giddier knowing our dogs can learn search skills based on human recovery! The AKC also has a Handler Discrimination division for finding OUR scent over others in containers, interiors, exteriors and even buried hides! Whoa!! Buried human scent? Now we’re talking!!! WATCH OUT everyone this is SO going to go to my dog’s head, uh, nose! This is cool as all get out! I will SOOO be talking about my super sniffer real to me detection dogs!
Ok, so how do we train all of this? It’s actually pretty simple and VERY fun! We train our dogs to have value for a particular scent (oil, human scent, bombs, drugs, bed bugs, etc). We then teach them to hunt for a scent that has value (from a history of reinforcement). We play many games for proofing our handling and our dogs understanding and add challenges slowly so that we build confidence for success.
It’s also important to point out that scent work DOES require training and skills and practice. Your approach should be thought out and planned. It’s so easy to skip steps and “lump” training. Lumping means not breaking things out into smaller training segments. For example, you don’t just go set out a birch oil hide and see what your dog does. Or start searching for your scent in a pile of others. You have to teach your dog first that a particular scent has value and only that scent is reinforced. There is learning how to read your dog; having criteria for what your dog has to do to gain reinforcement; how to handle your dog on leash; avoiding stress and how to work in novel locations AND around novel odors and distractions. It’s not hard, but there is a lot to it.
People are pretty excited to start some of this training. It’s a great amount of excitement as ALL dogs can do this … young, old, small, big, pet, performance, deaf, blind, injured, disabled … you get the drift!
So just remember if my neighborhood or community needs some real detection crime work, you know who to call! The SniffBusters in Honeoye Falls!
And if you would like to train your super sniffer for something more useful than finding bunny poop… check out the many Nose/Scent work classes at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, under the school of Scent Sports.
I will be teaching NW101 Introduction to Nosework – searching for essential oils.
And also a new class NW620 Introduction to Handler Discrimination Scent Work – searching for your scent!