SEVILLE, Ohio — There are jumping dogs who can leap through a hoop. Diving dogs who will soar off a dock after a favorite toy. Those who fetch with ease, and those who know a long list of tricks.
Let’s face it: not all dogs are built for speed or agility. But all dogs have what it takes for one sport, that may offer the biggest benefit of all.
“Dogs with disabilities, blind dogs, deaf dogs can do it. St. Bernards, Chihuahuas…it’s all good, they all have noses.”
We’ve taken up Linda Randall’s invitation to check out the sport of scent work. Randall is not only a veterinarian, she also owns One Smart Dog in Seville. The training facility offers many classes, from obedience, puppy classes and even agility. But scent training is one of Randall’s passions.
“Scent is a dog’s world. We never really realized it back when, but it is the primary way a dog moves through the environment in their world,” Randall explained.
She invited us to watch two advanced dogs at work: “Chloe” and “Play.”
Just how powerful is a dog’s nose?
“Their scent is amazing! If you took a teaspoon of an odor and put it in a double-sized Olympic pool, your dog would know it.”
The sport uses specifically formulated essential oils as scents. Birch, clove, anise or cypress are most commonly used. Randall has a chosen scent on a cotton swab, tucked inside a small metal tin. She will hide the tin, and it will be up to the dog to find it and alert the handler to its location.
We head outside to a large construction truck, parked on a gravel lot. Randall hides a tin on the outside of the truck, with Chloe and her handler Midge waiting out of view of the truck. Once ready, Chloe starts moving around the truck, her nose hard at work. Each time, Chloe finds the tin, in a different location, and gives Midge a pre-determined “cue” to signal where the scent’s location.
From the truck, we move to a campsite, surrounded by a pond. It’s Play’s turn to find the scent Randall has hidden near a chair, within decorative brick under a pavilion, and in the sand. Play is focused on the task at hand, even as Randall makes the “finds” more challenging.
Scent work forces dogs to really use their brains. It’s a neuro-workout, not unlike the high school or college kid who feels exhausted after an intense day of studying.
“I talk to people about their pets, and they’ll say “well, I’ve got a breed that loves to run. I can walk three miles and they still want to run more.” I want to say, we overvalue what exercise does for dogs. Yes! It’s good for them. But using their brains is actually more exhausting,” Randall said.
The best thing about scent training – you can start it at home with just a few steps and in a little bit of time. Randall firmly believes the rewards are immeasurable.
“This is so important to me as a veterinarian and as a dog trainer, and as a dog parent! Enrichment is everything!”
Scent training can be done just for pure enjoyment and enrichment, but there are also different levels of competitions. Associations like the AKC and National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW) have trials for dogs to put their scent skills to the test.
Check out classes at One Smart Dog HERE.