K9 Nose Work: Letting dogs be dogs
by CLAIRE HARLIN | San Diego Pets
09:43 AM, Tuesday, January 01
Mickey, K9 Nose Work instructor Christy Hill's Belgian Malinois, gets excited after sniffing out a scent container in a vehicle search exercise.	Photo by Claire Harlin
Mickey, K9 Nose Work instructor Christy Hill's Belgian Malinois, gets excited after sniffing out a scent container in a vehicle search exercise. Photo by Claire Harlin
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Dusty, Dawn Danielson's German Shepherd paws when he finds the right scent box during a K9 Nose Work course.	Photo by Claire Harlin
Dusty, Dawn Danielson's German Shepherd paws when he finds the right scent box during a K9 Nose Work course. Photo by Claire Harlin
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Dawn Danielson's German Shepherd, Dusty, is what she calls "dog reactive," meaning he doesn't get along well with other dogs. So, she's limited in where she can take him — and especially limited in finding activities that can help him overcome his social anxiety.

"He's a dog that needs a job, and he is happiest when engaged in some activity, preferably with me," said Danielson, who is also San Diego County's director of animal control. "I have to find tasks or games where we can work alone, absent other canines."

Luckily, Danielson came across an activity that stimulates and entertains Dusty using his most basic of instincts — scent. The sport, referred to officially as K9 Nose Work, has grown nationwide under the competitive framework founded in 2006 by three Los Angeles nose work experts: Jill Marie O'Brien, Amy Herot and Ron Gaunt. The trio set out to design a sport that requires no previous training or special ability, and that virtually every dog and person can do to increase confidence, stimulate the mind and build relationships between dogs and their people.

For Danielson, K9 Nose Work is the "perfect sport," leaving Dusty mentally exhausted and sleeping for hours after a training session — "a major accomplishment," she said, adding that he's incredibly enthusiastic about it, too.

"On the drive over when we get off the freeway he knows where we are going and he can barely contain his excitement," she said.

Under the umbrella of the National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW), K9 Nose Work has almost 2,000 current members in 42 states and three Canadian provinces, and it's growing faster than the association can hold competitions, more commonly referred to as trials.

"It's growing by leaps and bounds, and it's only been around for four or five years," said Jamie Bozzi, who this month became the first certified K9 Nose Work instructor in San Diego. "The trials are expanding and there are requests for trials in areas where there's not even a framework yet."

Bozzi is one of three instructors in San Diego. Anita Cheesman (www.wholedogtraining.com) and Christy Hill (coachingcreativecanines.com) also teach under the title of associate instructor.

The training is extensive, and follows very specific sport guidelines creates by the founders.

In the trials, which have three levels of mastery, dogs use their senses to search for hidden scents and then alert their handlers. A beginner  searches for food hidden in boxes, and progresses to recognize the scents of three specific essential oils, which are placed on cotton swabs and hidden. The scents — birch, anise and clove — were chosen by the founders because they are not commonly found in most dogs' natural environments and therefore won't be confused. As dogs progress in the sport, they may conduct searches on vehicles, buildings or in grassy areas.

Bozzi has been a dog trainer for 15 years, specializing in puppy preschool, agility and behavior modification under www.SMRTDOG.com. When she found out about K9 Nose Work at a workshop a year and a half ago, she was so impressed that she immediately enrolled in the instructor program.

"I was impressed that any dog could do it, whether small or large, fearful or reactive, old or young, blind or deaf," said Bozzi, whose fox terrier, Emi, is a first-place vehicle-searcher. "What appealed to me is that you can let your dog be a dog and we just get out of the way. A lot of people say, 'My dog can't do that. He's a couch potato, too old or reactive,' but I say, 'Bring him to class.'"

She said she's seen some miracles come out of her K9 Nose Work classes. One dog, for example, was afraid of his own shadow and would start barking even at the sound of a door opening.

"In about four weeks — four weekly, one-hour sessions — he could leave his owner and do the search," said Bozzi. "He built up the confidence and seemed to develop the coping skills to be able to deal with the environment better … He has tried agility and obedience training, but saw the most progress with nose work."

Hill said K9 Nose Work is a great sport for keeping blind dogs alert, active and engaged with the world.

"If you set up the environment for them to feel secure, I've seen them find the odors faster than sighted dogs because they are focused so much on their nose," said Hill. "Dogs come genetically packaged with a great nose and they want to use that nose. It's so part of a dog to want to sniff; that's how they connect with their world. To give them a focus, that is an awesome thing."

For more information, visit www.k9nosework.com.

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