Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Canine Nose Work

Dog News had an article, and I chased down the website after being prompted by a friend, so here it is: National Association of Canine Scent Work, inventors of the sport of K9 Nose Work.

It's an interesting sort of thing: training scent detection without having to use cadaver, which is icky and often requires some legal reason to have it, or drugs, which require a DEA certificate of some kind (I've asked, and had no answer, how one gets certified). Instead you go to your friendly local holistic-goods store, pick up a vial each of sweet birch and clove and a scattering of aniseeds, and you're good to go.

Of course, all three scents are quite penetrating, and my house now smells of birch beer. Luckily I like birch beer. I have a gauze pad saturated with all three odors sealed in a baggie, inside a box, inside another baggie which also contains the original bottles and seeds. The dogs are enjoying the find-the-pad game.

According to the Dog News article, the organization trainers teach the dogs to hunt for treats first, then pair the treats with the target scent (they start with just birch), then remove the treats. They say "On average, most teams train for at least one year prior to entering their first NACSW sanctioned trial."

I'm doing it differently, teaching my dogs that when they sniff the baggie, and they are curious sorts every one, they should sit. If they find the open baggie, they should sniff and sit. When they do, they get a treat. As I said, the baggie contains all three scents. My logic is, you can train a cadaver dog on as complete a sample as possible, then expect him to figure out that just bone, just fat, or just skin also all count. It may take longer to get the dogs to alert on birch alone than with their method, but they'll be doing aniseed every bit as soon.

So far, all of them, even the old geezer whose nose and ears are both getting iffy, are getting the hang of sniff-and-sit. Bruce even chased the baggie on a fling across the kitchen and poked his nose in, then sat wagging like mad and waiting for his goodie. This is, mind you, after three weeks of erratic training. I think they'll be able to do all three scents separately or together in a fairly short time, and then we can take the show on the road, into the cars, into the sheds, and everywhere else we can think to work. For now we're just working on go, sniff, sit as though this is an obedience combination.