United States
Australian Shepherd Association

United States
Australian Shepherd Association

The Nose Knows

Kay Marks, Rescue Editor

Scent work (AKA nosework) is a popular dog sport based on the tasks performed by trained detection dogs. The dog and handler team works to find and correctly indicate a “hide,” a cotton swab soaked in a specific oil, hidden in a spot unknown to the handler. Besides being great fun for both you and your dog, it can be a great confidence builder. The difference between scent work and other dog sports is that the DOG has the nose and is in charge. As the captain of the team, the dog needs to learn to work independently. Any dog can compete, and some rescue Aussies have had great success in competition. But isn’t sniffing what dogs do best? Many thanks to Jan Flatten, Amy Mathews, Abby Smith, and Carla Smith for sharing the stories of their scent work journeys.

1) When and how did you start in the sport?
Jan: After AKC added competitive scent work to their dog sports program, our club began offering training in 2018. I started some initial training with Ginger, one of my rescue Aussies, just before our 2019 scent work trial (she even got a qualifying score!). Our newest rescue, three year old Aspen, started training in spring 2020 (six months after we adopted her) during the COVID lockdown when our club offered an online classes in exteriors.

Abby: Nick and I are rank beginners. We started nosework last fall in a class with Dorothy Turley. I wanted to find a sport that would engage Nick, and he seems to enjoy smelling everything on walks. Because he has arthritis and an FHO, he can’t run much or jump, so other dog sports are out. I have a friend in ARPH (Teresa Bracy) who trained her Aussies to find mushrooms and truffles. That sounded interesting. Nick and I take a lot of walks in the forest; I thought perhaps he could learn to find truffles.

Carla: I started roughly five years ago with Stevie and added Finley to the mix a few years later. Nosework was recommended to me as a positive experience and confidence building sport as Stevie can be dog and people reactive.

Amy: I got started in scent work in 2012 because our rescued All-American dog Millie was anxious, dog-reactive, and untrustworthy with strangers. I was looking for a way to build her confidence, and nothing was working. Then I saw a video of a friend’s shy, shut-down rescue dog that was taking a “sniffing class.” I was encouraged by the way that dog engaged with the activity, despite her anxiety. Not long after, a local training school offered the first scent work class in my area, and I jumped in with both feet. The more we trained together, the more I saw positive changes in Millie. The activity was slowly transforming our dog into a happy, confident version of herself. Scent training was our springboard into the dog sport world and, before I knew it, we were trialing regularly with four organizations, including AKC. Not only that, but Millie has added a number of temperament, trick dog and parkour titles to her name. Before scent work, when Millie was blowing up at dogs a city block away, I never would have dreamed that was possible.

2) Please tell us about your rescue Aussie(or Aussies!).
Jan: Aussie Rescue’s Aspenglow NJP ACT2 ACT2J SWN SCA TKI RATO (Aspen) was a transfer from ARPH in Texas to the PNW. As the PNW rescue rep, I fostered her when the intended foster mom became ill. Despite my best efforts to place her, five months later my husband said she was already home. Aspen is a small, minimal white black tri and is totally velcroed to us. She sleeps in our bed and is always by one of our sides. She is smart, biddable and loving. She’s so easy to train that she got both her Novice and Open Barn Hunt titles in just one weekend!

Abby: Nick (“ARPH Just in the Nick of Time”) was rescued in Texas on the day he was going to be euthanized. When he came up to Washington, I picked him up at the airport and fostered him. We discovered he had a broken left rear leg. ARPH covered the cost of surgery (an FHO) and his rehab while my husband and I nursed him back to health. By the time he had gained a little weight and was able to walk, we’d fallen in love with his sweet personality. He trained as a therapy dog, and he and I were a volunteer team at a local hospital where we did “Care for the Caregiver” visits, seeing medical staff on the CCUs and ER. With Covid-19 that gig ended. It became clear over the summer of 2020 that his arthritis had progressed and being a therapy dog wasn’t in the cards for him anymore, so I looked for another activity we could do together.

Carla: Stevie is an eight year old red merle male that was an ARPH referral. Finley is a fifteen year old blue merle that was an ARPH adoption at three months of age.
Amy: We adopted Pickle from ARPH after he was rescued from a hoarder whose dogs were breeding indiscriminately. No time or attention was given to the dozens upon dozens of dogs by their unethical breeder. There were Aussies on the property that had literally never been touched by a human hand. Generation after generation of shy, insecure dogs predisposed our Pickle to a similar temperament. With this information in mind, I was determined to give him a foundation that would set him up to be a well-rounded adult. Scent work has played a big role in this journey. When adding Pickle to the family, my desire was that he would have a sweet disposition and get along with the two female dogs already in my home. I got exactly what I hoped for, but so much more. Words cannot describe the relationship Pickle and I have. He’s my constant companion–the epitome of a “velcro” dog with such a tender heart and a never-ending supply of kisses. And he’s up for adventure of all kinds. Pickle makes every day better just by being in it. Even more than that, he’s the best friend to that formerly reactive dog (Millie) that started our scent work obsession.

3) Do you participate in other dog sports with your dog?
Jan: We do agility (my first love but not really hers) and barn hunt besides scent work. Her first love is Frisbee, so we may have disc dog in our future.
Abby: No, not with Nick. I’ve started agility with my other ARPH foster fail, Eddy.
Carla: Finley had been my tried and true agility dog, but I knew it would not be a good fit for Stevie. I had also attempted rally with Stevie, but at the time he struggled with the concept.

Amy: When Pickle joined our family, I didn’t know if he’d like scent work well enough to trial, but he took to it like a duck to water. My first scent work dog was a great role model, teaching Pickle all about staying politely in hotels, crating quietly at trials, bringing his A game to the searches and relishing the snacks that are always free-flowing at those events. We have dabbled in dock diving, barn hunt, herding, agility, disc dog, parkour, trick training and, most recently, Fast CAT. (He really loves Fast CAT!)

4) Was there any particular part of training that presented a challenge to you and your dog?
Jan: Aspen is fearful of big dogs (she was found running in the streets of south TX), which presented a challenge going to classes with other dogs. She is not aggressive in any way, but if a dog tries to get close to her, she will let out a low growl. Training several times a week in group settings has allowed her to become more comfortable around other dogs (as long as they don’t get too close), and she’s successfully competed at large agility, scent work and barn hunt trials with lots of dogs. If another handler isn’t aware of their dog’s behavior (Border Collie giving the eye or a dog ranging at the end of a six foot leash while its handler is talking with someone), I ask them to focus on their dogs and keep a tighter leash; it’s great when other handlers help!

Abby: Not yet. Nick loves the training, and we’ve continued it at home. However, we haven’t been able to return to class due to Covid-19, and we really need to learn more before we try to compete. We will start odor classes in the fall.

Carla: Stevie’s reactivity was an issue, but at the same time, that is why we started the sport. While still reactive, he is much better. Because he loves the sport so much, his focus shifts to his job, and he is able to let some of his other concerns go.
Amy: Millie, the dog I first talked about, taught me so much about training and how to adapt to each dog’s individual needs and personality. Pickle was definitely the beneficiary of those lessons. With his intelligence, drive and enthusiasm, he makes training fun and easy.

5) Have you competed yet? If so, in what organization(s)? Do you have a favorite venue?
Jan: We do AKC Scent Work. None of the other organizations are active in our area except ASCA, but Scent Search has not yet started.
Abby: We haven’t competed, but I have volunteered at a trial and will be volunteering at another one. I think Nick would love the venue we were at for the first trial because there were both indoor and outdoor challenges.

Carla: We’ve done NACSW (National Association of Canine Scent Work) only. Stevie has his NW2 title, and to be honest, I am terrified to attempt NW3, but onward I must forge. We took a bit of a hiatus this winter but started back again in May. He earned his Level 1 Container title. Finley had started his new career at age 11, got a Level 1 Interior title his first time out, and actually got a Level 2 Interior title at age 13 before retiring from the sport in 2020.

Amy: We have been trialing in scent sports since just before Pickle’s first birthday, starting with UKC. Right after he turned one, we began trialing with NACSW, earning the NW3 title in straight trials that same year. His next accomplishment was receiving his Elite Nosework (EN) title from UKC, followed by AKC’s Scent Work Master (SWM) title and two Detective Qs. Most recently, Pickle was awarded USCSS’ Detective Dog Classic Senior (DDCS) title. At the time of this writing, he is the most titled Aussie in USCSS. I enjoy all of the scent sport organizations for different reasons. Each offers something unique. My favorite venue so far has to be a radio station in downtown Shawnee, OK that we’ve been to a few times over the years, both with Pickle and with Millie.

6) Any final thoughts for our readers?
Jan: Scent work is a sport that gives shy dogs an opportunity to build confidence in a safe environment. Aspen was selected this winter to participate in an Ag Dog pilot program where we are teaching our dogs to recognize the difference between cherry trees infected with Little Cherry Disease and trees that are healthy. Our area of Washington State is one of the biggest fruit-producing areas of the world, and this disease has recently started infecting trees around the edges of orchards. If we can train our dogs to recognize the disease in trees (early results are that we can!), we will then begin a program where we train orchard workers to teach their dogs to recognize the disease. The hope is that we can help orchardists recognize diseased trees and save their orchards before many trees are infected. (Infected trees have to be cut down to prevent spread).

Abby: While volunteering at the trial, I met several handlers whose dogs were disabled and used a cart. One handler said she originally started in nosework because her Corgi needed a sport but was disabled by a back issue common to her breed. They had achieved a high level of skill before the Corgi passed, and the handler was still competing with another disabled dog. That gave me hope for Nick, who may in the next few years need to use a cart as well.


Carla: I encourage everyone that has an opportunity and a passing interest to give this sport a try. I think it is hard for many to turn control over to the dog (which is what must happen to be successful in nosework), but the rewards in doing so are pretty amazing and like nothing you can experience with other dog sports. You cannot make your dog do it. They do it because it is what they are wired to do, and THEY enjoy it!

Amy: Personally speaking, scent work has been nothing short of life- changing for me and my dogs. It has strengthened my relationship with them, while allowing me to meet like-minded people and to provide my dogs with a quality of life they would not have had otherwise. There is such a spirit of family and camaraderie within the sport. Any dog with a nose can play this game, and everyone has an invitation to the table, whether you’re brand-new to dog sports or you’re a seasoned handler. No matter your goals, scent work is for you and your dog. Want to get started? Spectating or volunteering at a trial is a great first step.

Thank you again, everyone, for sharing your thoughts with us and for giving your rescue Aussies such wonderful opportunities to shine. I know from firsthand experience how much fun this newer dog sport can be, for both the dogs and the handlers. For more information, please check out this link. https://www.akc.org/sports/akc-scent-work/getting-started/

If there is a specific topic you would like to see featured here, please contact me at bluedawg7@gmail.com For more information on adopting, volunteering or donating, please go to our web site at http://www.aussierescue.org/

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