Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Trust Your Dog and Pass the Hotdogs

"Trust your dog" is the motto of the burgeoning dog sport "Nosework."    As you likely already know, our canine friends have the ability to detect odor way beyond our human capacity.  Indeed, "Dogs can sense odors at concentrations nearly 100 million times lower than humans can."   The Nosework sport involves hiding concentrated odor (birch, anise, clove) for your doggie companion to find and alert on.   We humans need to learn how to "read our dogs", know when they're in odor, understand how the environment (wind, surface types, etc) impact the way scent travels and basically get out of our dog's  way so they can do their thing!

I got started with Nosework via  a class at the Berkeley Humane Society called "Intro to Odor."  In this class the dog is taught to recognize and search for the odor "birch."  There are a number of certified nosework instructors holding class locally.   I'm currently enrolled at the Marin Humane Society's Extreme Scenting class and it has been great fun.  Each weekend we venture to different location to hone our nosework skills.  Last weekend we were allowed to do interior searches at the Embassy Suites hotel in San Rafael.

There are two organizations holding Nosework trials in this area.   First, the  "National Association of  Canine Scent Work" group has had mutiple trials level (NW1, NW2, NW3) over the past years.  I wholeheartedly recommend volunteering at an event so you can see the range of dogs who participate.  It warms my heart to see a toy poodle ripping through the same search that a unusually large doberman just completed.   Each trial has four elements:  vehicle search, exterior search, interior search and container search.   Dogs usually have 2-1/2 to 3 minutes to finish each section.   If they get all four they earn a title!

Another great aspect of the sport, is that "reactive" dogs are allowed to participate since the dogs don't interact with each other.  Indeed, reactive dogs get their own parking area at events and get to wear a festive red scarf so people know the pooch might need some room.  

This past weekend, the United Kennel Club (UKC) held its first nosework trial ever here in Oakland the headquarters of Pet Food Express.   There were close to 30 dogs, lots of volunteers and a lot of good cheer to be had.   Trials are usually an all day event with two searches happening in the morning, a break for lunch and then the last two searches in the afternoon.   The day wraps up with a debriefing with the judges and awards ceremony.   The four judges were all expert canine handlers, three of them work for local police departments where they handle drug or explosive sniffing pooches.   The judges were very generous with their comments, offered some good tips and seemed to really appreciate the variety of dogs that were on hand strutting their stuff.   

Finally, I can't help but brag a bit about my own girl Jelly.   The UKC trial was her first event and she came in third overall!    I was so surprised and thrilled that my little sharpei mix won a medal.  In classes, she's always a star because she's so eager to please though she can be skittish in new situations.   It helps too that  she has a very clear "alert" sign in that she'll turn and look directly at me as though to say "it's right here,  where's my hot dog" (dogs are treated for finding the hides).  If I don't appear to believe her she'll start pawing the odor source.  Good girl!

Pictures below are from the vehicle search part of the trial. BTW, she found the hide here in 21.04 seconds.  Her best time was 5.41 seconds for the exterior search find.

At the start line, once the dog's nose crosses the green line, the timer starts.

Checking out the first of three vehicles.

Jelly appears to be "in odor" here.
Honing in on the hide.
Alert, alert -- it's right here mom.

After completing all four elements.  Yay, we did it!

Back at home, Jelly with her medal (on a bed of wisteria blossoms in the garden)

BTW, I believe there is a movement afoot to get some nosework instruction for BACS shelter volunteers so we can stimulate our doggie residents in a new way.


Lisa Guerin said...

This looks like so much fun! I love that a shelter rescue got third overall, in a sport that's often filled with purebreds. Go Jelly!!!

Unknown said...

Bravo, Jelly. Impressive work. Ask your mom if I can have a pawtograph.

Nancy Frensley said...

I am so privileged to be Jelly's first nosework teacher. She is the only dog from my classes so far to attempt a trial and with great success. Her committed handler (Rachel) has made all the difference!

Maureen M. said...

Congratulations to Miss Jelly and Rachel! Way to go, ladies!!