DOGS’ SENSE OF SMELL WINNING COMPETITIONS AND SAVING LIVES
By Kristi O’Harran
October 19, 2011
Some dogs are using their sniffing powers for good.
Oncologist Georgia Edwards trains dogs to do advanced smelling, for fun and competition, called K9 nose work.
“It is a sport for retired show and sport dogs, elderly dogs, dogs who have personality issues and can’t function in the company of other dogs, and dogs who just need a job to do to be happy,” Edwards said. “It provides a way to exercise the dog physically and mentally in cold, wet, snowy weather without leaving the house.”
Edwards is a certified instructor who teaches classes in Langley through the South Whidbey Parks & Recreation Department and in Yakima and Zillah. Her dog, Hawkeye, is the only Bouvier des Flandres to be titled in canine nose work.
During class, Edwards places a “hide,” a small perforated container holding a Q-tip scented with birch oil, somewhere indoors, outdoors, in boxes or vehicles. Each dog is trained to sniff out the birch oil. Then they advance to detecting anise and clove.
Christina Jallings and her dog Stella are taking the classes.
“There is a methodical and intentional process that Georgia teaches us to get to the point where our dogs can identify these scents,” Jallings said. “Nose work is an odor detection-style sport that was developed from the type of scenting work done by law-enforcement and military canines. It is a game that can be played with the dog at home just for fun or as a competition sport.”
Dogs get to do what they do naturally, Jallings said, in a safe environment.
“Georgia clearly has a deep passion for this work and her desire to see the dogs succeed is palpable,” she said.
The best part of nose work, Edwards said, is that both the dogs and handlers love the sport and experience much better communication in other aspects of the human-dog relationship.
She’s trained Bouviers for more than 20 years and successfully competed on the national level. She mentors new owners. At her medical office, Edwards brought her Bouviers to work. A patient could ask to see the dogs, who usually hung out in Edwards office.
In 1995, her dog Gandalf focused on a particular patient.
“He regarded her intently over the counter, nostrils flaring, sniffing loudly,” the doctor said. “The dog was allowed into the exam room and immediately went to sit by her and leaned against her legs, looking at her face — behavior the dog had not exhibited before.”
Every time the patient came in, Gandalf displayed the same interest. The patient was found to have breast cancer which spread to lymph nodes under the arm and in the neck.
“Gandalf responded to no other patient in this manner,” Edwards said. “His response was so striking that several of the staff and my radiologist partner commented on it.”
Thanks to Gandalf, she said she developed a particular interest in canine scent abilities. Another of her Bouviers seemed to detect patients’ prostate cancer.
Miriam Rose, a detection dog trainer, began teaching Edwards and Hawkeye nose work in 2009. She said when Edwards and her husband, David Welton, lived in California, Edwards trained her Bouviers in events such as ring sport, Schutzhund, herding, carting, obedience, conformation and agility.
“As well, nearly all of her dogs have been certified as therapy dogs,” Rose said. “This length and breadth of dog training experience, especially with a breed such as Bouviers, as well as her innate teaching skills, make Georgia a tremendous asset to the sport of nose work.”
Edwards has also taught one dog who is deaf, two blind ones and a corgi who is paralyzed in the hind end and gets around with the help of a doggie wheelchair.
“I am training about 15 dogs, both for competitive sports and as a way to focus behavior,” Edwards said. “It’s something every dog can do. You can start with a puppy.”
She explained that puppies find their mother’s nipples, the milk bar, by scent.
“The mama dog starts nose work training the minute a puppy is born,” she said.