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Agility by Scent
A handicapped dog negotiates obstacles with his nose
Maybe Charlie

Navigating an agility course isn’t easy, so it would seem impossible for a dog who can’t see or hear. But there’s one pup in Texas who is proving everyone wrong.

Charlie is from a litter of deaf and blind puppies who were slated to be euthanized at a Texas shelter. Tara Stermer, a local trainer, and her friend, Carol Knight, took in Charlie, the mom, and two of the other puppies. Tara and Carol have been doing basic obedience and rescue event demos with the dogs, but were looking for new ways to provide enrichment.  

At the suggestion of a friend who works with deaf and blind adults, Tara started teaching Charlie to negotiate agility obstacles with his nose. It may seem crazy, but Tara believes that training blind dogs to differentiate obstacles by smell isn’t so dissimilar from teaching a seeing dog to track.

Each obstacle is assigned a different scent so that Charlie can use his nose to anticipate what obstacle is coming up. So far Charlie has learned to go over a small jump and weave through poles.

Tara isn’t aware of anyone else doing agility by scent, so it’s still a work in progress. She may incorporate textures since scent varies with wind and other weather conditions.

Unfortunately, dogs with disabilities are often the first to be euthanized at shelters. But Tara has found that their handicap doesn’t hinder their learning curve. These dogs don’t realize that they’re different and can be trained with operant conditioning just like any other dog.

Charlie is an inspiration who will hopefully encourage people not to give up on these special dogs. Truly anything is possible!

Check out the Training By Tara Facebook page to follow Charlie's journey.

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo by Training By Tara.

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