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Sandra Mannion

Sandra Mannion is an Albany, Calif.-based trainer and behavioral consultant.

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
K9 Nose Work
The latest training activity develops your dog’s natural scenting abilities through fun and games
Bertrand, a 10-year-old rescue, follows the odor trail to its source and alerts

Echo, a slight, 33-pound sighthound mix, boldly bounds through the training-room door. Her tail swishes high and wild as her sensitive nose quivers in anticipation of the scent-searching game about to ensue. Her owner, Amy Cook, releases her into the room full of people with the cue “Find it!” and she surges ahead to explore a random row of carboard boxes strewn about the floor. Even for a dog-savvy observer, it would be difficult to guess from her puppy-like enthusiasm that Echo is a mature nine-year-old rescue who tends to be shy with strangers. She briefly passes her nose over each box, and as she slows to one in particular, she pokes her head in expectantly. Her “find” is confirmed with a flood of treats and a joyful celebration with her handler. They are both clearly thrilled with her work. “I’m really enjoying finally doing something with Echo that she thoroughly loves,” says Cook, “and I have a renewed appreciation of her inherent talents. After all, she’s doing something no human can do!”

Echo’s work in this case is K9 Nose Work, a recreational sport rapidly exploding in popularity among pet owners. The objective is for the dog to locate a hidden target scent and alert us to its exact whereabouts in the environment. The tables are turned in this activity as the dog teaches the owner to trust the dog’s superior scenting capabilities. Constructive physical exercise and intense mental stimulation are among the many benefits to the dog; owners advance to students of behavior by learning to read frequently overlooked subtleties of canine body language. As the dog perfects the game of searching and scenting for a reward, handlers are indoctrinated into the invisible world of scent with their companions as their guides.

Born out of a desire to share what working dogs have reveled in for years, K9 Nose Work as a sport was developed in southern California in 2006 by a team of highly experienced individuals: Amy Herot, Jill Marie O’Brien and Ron Gaunt — all professional trainers and handlers with working certified detection dogs. Herot writes, “Our detection dogs always look so satisfied and are relaxed after a search. It seemed like companion dogs should have the opportunity to enjoy the same benefits.” The team adapted essential elements of detection dog training into a motivational and portable sport specifically designed for companion dogs, requiring little space and minimal equipment to practice. When a dog is working his body and mind, the satisfying effects of both physical exercise and mental stimulation can be met even within a small space. “One of the greatest advantages,” adds Herot, “is that the sport suits every kind of dog and the activity requires no previous skill on the part of the handler. Anyone can do it.” Inexhaustible puppies, high-drive sport dogs, seniors, socially or physically challenged dogs and happy well-adjusted pets are all given equal access to the positive outlet that scent work provides.

In classic learning environments, like group obedience class, dogs may be either nervous or overstimulated and can have difficulty absorbing new information. Often owners are preoccupied with steering clear of the neighboring dog, and may be frustrated by their pet’s wary or overzealous nature. But in the Nose Work classroom, searches are run one by one, allowing dogs with any number of normally challenging behavioral issues to focus and learn. Working individually and without social stimulation allows the dog to channel energy, leaving dog and handler free to concentrate and learn from each other. Natural dog behaviors commonly regarded as “uncivilized” are encouraged as part of drivebuilding in the game of scenting and searching. Pulling through the door excitedly, turning full attention on the environment and leaping about playfully are not considered problem behaviors here. Embarrassed eye rolling and disapproving glances are replaced with laughter and admiration as the dogs are allowed to express themselves and focus on their job.

Bay Area Certified Nose Work Instructor Kelly Dunbar of SIRIUS Dog Training has seen huge transformations in a growing number of Nose Work students. “I’ve watched environmentally strut around looking proud of himself when we’re training.”strut around looking proud of himself when we’re training.”

The training process encourages the dog to refine his innate hunting and scenting skills. Handlers are taught to quietly support their dogs as the dogs develop individual searching styles through a progressive series of classes. First, the dog is encouraged to explore multiple open boxes for the scent of a hidden reward — usually a savory treat or a coveted toy for chasing or tugging. Search difficulty is gradually increased by changing environmental variables: closing the boxes, raising the height of the hide, introducing varied objects to the search environment and eventually moving the search outside of the box. While the dog catches on to the game and builds drive for searching, the target odor is paired with the reinforcing treat. Over time and at the individual team’s pace, the handler gains skill in reading behavioral indicators as the dog learns to track the odor trail to its source. Dogs eventually associate the target odor with the reward, which is ultimately removed from the environment and delivered by the handler upon indication of the target odor alone. The thrill of exploration and pursuit seems to magnify the intensity of the game and compound the reward value.

The sport’s swift growth beyond its southern California center is a clear indicator of its wide appeal to companion dog owners. Since its inception, classes given by certified instructors have spread quickly up the West Coast and even reached the far corners of the Northeast. Massachusetts-based trainer Scott Williams, of Beyond the Leash Dog Training, has introduced the concept to over 200 dogs in a short eight months. He believes the popularity lies, in part, in the lack of equipment involved. “It doesn’t require a large fenced field,” he says. “It can be done indoors or out, anytime of the year, and requires relatively little handler involvement. Actually, the less the owner does, the better the dogs like it!”

For handlers wishing to train to a specific standard and test their Nose Work skills, titles can be earned through trials organized and sanctioned by the National Association of Canine Scent The training process encourages the dog to refine his innate hunting and scenting skills. Handlers are taught to quietly support their dogs as the dogs develop individual searching styles through a progressive series of classes. First, the dog is encouraged to explore multiple open boxes for the scent of a hidden reward — usually a savory treat or a coveted toy for chasing or tugging. Search difficulty is gradually increased by changing environmental variables: closing the boxes, raising the height of the hide, introducing varied objects to the search environment and eventually moving the search outside of the box. While the dog catches on to the game and builds drive for searching, the target odor is paired with the reinforcing treat. Over time and at the individual team’s pace, the handler gains skill in reading behavioral indicators as the dog learns to track the odor trail to its source. Dogs eventually associate the target odor with the reward, which is ultimately removed from the environment and delivered by the handler upon indication of the target odor alone. The thrill of exploration and pursuit seems to magnify the intensity of the game and compound the reward value. The sport’s swift growth beyond its southern California center is a clear indicator of its wide appeal to companion dog owners. Since its inception, classes given by certified instructors have spread quickly up the West Coast and even reached the far corners of the Northeast. Massachusetts-based trainer Scott Williams, of Beyond the Leash Dog Training, has introduced the concept to over 200 dogs in a short eight months. He believes the popularity lies, in part, in the lack of equipment involved. “It doesn’t require a large fenced field,” he says. “It can be done indoors or out, anytime of the year, and requires relatively little handler involvement. Actually, the less the owner does, the better the dogs like it!” For handlers wishing to train to a specific standard and test their Nose Work skills, titles can be earned through trials organized and sanctioned by the National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW). The only prerequisite for trialing is passing the Odor Recognition Test (ORT), in which the dog identifies the appropriate target odor for his level of competition: sweet birch for NW1, aniseed for NW2, clove bud for NW3. Elements of competition include box drills, interior building, exterior area and vehicle searches. Practicing for competition is easy and can be done just about anywhere. Maine student Mac McCluskey says, “What I like about Nose Work is that if you are competitive, you have the opportunity to get good at it. It’s easy to hide a scent anywhere, and the more creative, the better a dog likes it. And if you and your dog are weekend athletes, it’s just as much fun!”

We humans are ultimately responsible for orchestrating the best decisions for our adored animal companions, but within the realm of scent and K9 Nose Work, we learn to trust our dogs to be our best guides and teachers. Here, the dog is always right, always good, and we are allowed an opportunity to achieve a better understanding of him. Sport founder Herot says, “The nose is such a primary source of information for the dog, and this type of work is a very powerful way to connect with your dog in their world.” Evidenced by the smiling faces and clearly content dogs leaving the Nose Work classroom, the sport succeeds as a method for deepening relationships with our canine companions as we learn how they experience the world.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: The Canine Kingdom of Scent
Dogwise Publishing
The Canine Kingdom of Scent

In this mini-manual, author and trainer Anne Lill Kvam outlines her personal method of training fun nosework exercises in a precise, step-by-step process.

Amongst her list of scent-work activities for dogs, readers will find confidence- building exercises and downright festive dog fun with games such as Hide and Seek, Naming Your Dog’s Toys, Finding Lost Objects and Kvam’s version of scent discrimination. The lessons progress from simple to more complex in a clearly chronicled succession.

Kvam begins with a description of canine scenting ability in relation to our own, which helps the reader recognize and conceptualize the fantastic capacity of the canine olfactory sense. As the book progresses, you’ll find positive- reinforcement training basics and a detailed description of how to personalize your dog’s reward options, all of which build a useful foundation for the detailed training exercise plans that follow. The emphasis on stress management and calm concentration on the part of both dog and handler are reiterated throughout the book, as is the essential need to recognize each dog’s individual set of motivators.

The information delivered is clear enough to allow nosework newcomers and novices to jump right into training with minimal equipment and preparation, and even more-seasoned dog handlers may find some useful suggestions for their existing nosework training plans. Readers planning on branching out into specific sports or other formalized activities should review those rules and exercises to be sure Kvam’s style of training complements their particular program. Overall, an excellent and accessible starter for anyone interested in beginning-level and fun nosework activities with their companion dog.

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Target Training Your Dog: Go to Your Mat
A Teachable Moment

The ability to target a specific place is a valuable skill for your dog to have and will pay for the teaching time invested many times over. The finished exercise looks like this: On your cue—let’s use “Go to your mat”—your dog moves out to find her place, lying down and staying until the release word is given. This behavior is very useful for times when she needs to take a little break, or perhaps get out from underfoot while you’re busy or have guests.

Note that your dog should have a good “Down” and “Stay” under her collar before you begin. This exercise is a behavior chain in which we will initially reward for several different steps, or links.

1. As you give the cue, “Go to Your Mat,” step toward the target (in this case, her mat) and use a treat to lure your dog toward it; mark with “yes” and reward as soon as she steps onto the mat. Immediately follow with the cue “Down” and reward again. Release and repeat.

2. In small increments, gradually increase your distance from the mat, encouraging your dog to step out ahead toward it and anticipate the down once there. It may be helpful at this point to toss the treat onto the mat as you give the cue. This will encourage your dog to seek it out and complete the behavior on her own.

3. Once your dog is showing that she grasps the concept by moving out ahead to reach the mat and anticipating the down, add the last link in the chain by cuing her to “Stay” after the down. When all the behavior links are in place, continue to strengthen the exercise by reinforcing increased targeting distance, increased stay duration and tolerance to distraction while staying.  

Here, Sandra teaches Bark dog Lola to go to her bed!

 

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Teach Your Dog a Flip Finish Trick
Dog trick training

A nifty trick, handy for convenience and control from a sit front to heel position. It’s also really fun for the motivated dog and handler! Picture the finished exercise: On cue (a small sweeping hand signal), your dog flips from a “sit front” into heel position on your left side.

 

Sounds easy, but for the dog, this is a complicated series of movements that eventually add up to one final behavior. The initial steps involve breaking the behavior down into three small parts, with multiple tasty rewards for each. It’s important to “mark” the points described below so your dog understands exactly which actions to repeat. Here’s how to start:

 

1. Have your dog in a sit front position. To focus her attention, hold both hands in front of you, with a treat in the left hand.

 

2. Say the dog’s name with the command “Flip,” while stepping back with your left foot and luring your dog away and behind you with your left hand. Mark with a “yes” and reward once she passes you.

 

3. Quickly step and lure her forward into heel position while raising your hand above her head and saying “sit” once she’s at your side. Mark with a “yes” and reward again.

 

To further practice, keep her in a sit and pivot around to face her so she is toe to toe in the “sit” position in front of you.

 

As you and your dog because more fluid in your movements together, gradually fade the steps and luring until she can flip from a sit front into heel position while you stand still.

 

Here, Sandra teaches Bark dog Lola a fab flip finish!