Look at a dog face-to-face and what stands out? Its nose. Put a dog in a new environment and what does it do? Starts sniffing. Put two dogs together and what kicks in? Their sense of smell.
If humans’ best friends are dogs, dogs’ best friends are their noses. That, in a nutshell, is what canine nose work is all about. Inspired by the training of and work with detection dogs, nose work is the search and scent activity for all dogs and their human companions.
Classes are currently being taught through Homer Dog Trainers in Homer and Peninsula Dog Obedience Group in Soldotna. This weekend, a two-day Canine Nose Work Trial will be held at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik, with a coordinator and certifying officials attending from out of state, and two judges from Anchorage. The Nose Work I (beginning) trial will be Sunday and the Nose Work II trial Saturday. Each trial includes four different elements: dogs finding specific scents in an indoor setting, an outdoor setting, in containers and in vehicles.
“The dogs have so much fun at it because it’s something natural to them,” said Ken Rucker of Ninilchik, a certified nose work instructor. “You just have to bring out their natural hunting instinct through a foundation that we start building on day one of training and try to get the dog to work independently of the handler. … It’s very similar to detection dog training, but this is a sport.”
On Sunday, dogs and their companions from the southern peninsula were “studying” for the upcoming trial. Two small cans containing the scent of sweet birch were placed in settings similar to how they will be tested this weekend. Then, with its companion at the other end of a leash, one dog at a time was given the command to find the scent. In spite of surrounding fishing nets and lines, boats, bags of mesquite-scented chips for barbecuing, vehicle exhaust pipes, tires and frequently traveled outside areas, the dogs repeatedly followed their noses right to the source of the sweet birch scent. Praise and treats were given, and tails wagged.
Faith Hayes of Peninsula Dog Obedience Group in Soldotna first learned about nose work when the founders of the training visited Anchorage about four years ago.
“We got all excited and I started a class and we haven’t looked back,” said Hayes of the growing popularity of an activity that suits “any dog, any age, any temperament.”
Pat Boone of Homer Dog Trainers learned about canine nose work through Rucker.
“And we were hooked,” she said of the hold it has taken in Homer. “Any dog can do it. Even dogs that are older, disabled, reactive, ones that don’t get along well with other dogs or people. All they have to have is a nose.”
The thrill of sniffing something out might not be readily apparent to humans, but it’s a whole different scenario for dogs. According to dog.com, the canine sense of smell is 100 times better than humans. Humans have three-square-centimeters of olfactory membrane; Bloodhounds have 150. A dog’s olfactory memory allows it to remember smells for long periods of time. A dog’s “Jacobson’s organ” allows it to taste, as well as smell, the air, usually evidenced by a half-open mouth resembling a grin.
The National Association of Canine Scent Work is the official sanctioning and organizing body of what is commonly known as “K9 Nose Work.” Founders Ron Gaunt, Amy Herot and Jill-Marie O’Brien began NACSW to promote high standards and excellence for the sport’s competitors and to develop a community around the sport. The first trial was held in California in 2009; trials have since been held in 17 states.
“The cool thing is, once they understand to look for the scent, you can train them for other scents,” said Hayes, who knew of a dog being trained to find morel mushrooms. “It’s pretty incredible.”
Rucker is quick to note this is a sport that isn’t just for dogs.
“It’s fun and you enjoy seeing your dog having so much fun,” said Rucker. “It’s something that’s an activity you can do with your dog anywhere, any place.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Canine scent work classes
Homer dog trainers
Phone: 235-3779 (Pat Boone)
• Advanced class, Sunday;
• Continuing class, Monday;
• Beginning class starting in October.
Peninsula dog obedience group
• Currently have classes on Monday and Wednesday evenings.
• Saturday class to begin in October.
Visit National Association of Canine Scent Work, nacsw.net