Friday, April 22, 2011

What Smells!

This year's annual spring seminar hosted by HAWS was a huge success, and Sunday's topic was one of the most interesting presentations we've ever had. While it's well known that dogs have a phenominal sense of smell, it's not something that most people do as a fun activity with their dogs.

Up until now there really hasn't been much for the dog owner who wants to train their dog to use their nose, but doesn't really want to get into obedience, search and rescue or tracking. That's all starting to change. Dog trainers are starting to understand that because dogs have such a natural tendency to use their nose to explore their world, we can use this as a way to help dogs tire out mentally and as a bonding activity between owner and dog. A sport called K9 Nose Work recently developed and has started to become popular.

Steve and Jennifer White were HAWS featured speakers last weekend. Steve has a background in training dogs for law enforcement K-9 units, and Jennifer has decades of experience training a variety of species and working in behavior modification of canine behavior problems.

Our introduction to scent taught us that scent isn't stationary -- it moves according to the environment it's in and can be affected by surface type, temperature and wind. A good dog handler understands this, and should learn how to evaluate the environment in order for the dog to be the most successful.

A good handler also learns to trust the dog -- because after all humans have only 5 mllion scent receptors in our noses, while dogs have between 125 and 300 million -- depending on the breed.

The highlight of Sunday was the demo. I was very proud of my dog Mystic who found the scent tucked away in a film canister and placed on an upside down chair after minimal training.

Dixie wasn't quite as successful -- her extensive training as a hunting dog most likely made her dismiss the scent of almond extract as being irrelevant. Her nose has been trained to find birds, not nuts. But she sure had fun playing with Steve!

Star of the day was Bryn -- a schipperke with a nose that kicked in. Here's video of her enthusiastic report that she had successfully located the almond extract.

Thanks to Steve and Jennifer White for the video, and stills taken from the video. And for showing those of us in attendance on Sunday a whole new world as smelled through our dog's noses.

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