Monday, July 9, 2012

A Pair of Cool K9 Nose Work® Dogs

One of the great things about the activity of K9 Nose Work® is that it's inspired by professional detection dogs and the methodology used to train them, but it's designed for virtually all dogs to enjoy.

Many dogs would not make good professional detection dogs, for a variety of reasons, but all of these dogs could be great K9 Nose Work dogs. Cash, and Bevo are examples of two dogs with issues who are becoming great K9 Nose Work dogs. Two cool and unique dogs, their approach to scent detection work is almost an art form, with scent acting like a musical score that each dog interprets with his own dance.

Cash: The Odor Magnet

Cash cautiously moving about the Pasadena, CA
 training facility of Penny Scott-Fox, CNWI
Cash is a Collie-mix with extreme fear and confidence issues. Think a canine Bill Murray from What About Bob? (without the goldfish). Afraid of stepping out his own back door, Cash's K9 Nose Work training was prescribed as a tool for helping him deal with his fears and to gain some confidence; the hope was that he would participate in the game at the simplest level and have fun, too.

"Don't Hassle Me I'm Local" - Cash's homage
to Billy Murray from What About Bob
After months of training, Cash is "on odor" (searching for a target scent and being rewarded for finding it). The typical dog is only too happy to search for odor and attempt to gobble it up, and for good reason. K9 Nose Work dogs are first taught to search for a primary reward - favorite toy or treat - and are encouraged to "self-reward" in addition to praise and rewards from their handlers. In the transition from searching for a primary reward to searching for a target odor, dogs go through a phase known as "pairing". During this time, the dogs are searching for the primary reward and target odor paired together. This creates an association for the dogs between their favorite reward and the target odor. 

Once dogs have had plenty of success with pairing, the target odor can be hidden alone, and the dog rewarded once he goes to the source. As you can guess, most dogs charge the odor as vigorously as they would if their favorite treat was paired up with it. Not Cash. Cash developed a peculiar behavior around odor, one similar to the effect of magnetic polar opposites. Once Cash was within several feet of the odor, his head would bob from side to side, and every attempt he made to close in on the odor seemed to be met by some mysterious repelling force. Only once Cash's owner stepped in to provide support and reassurance that a reward was coming would Cash move closer to the odor source.

Cash being "repelled" by odor on the yellow mop bucket

As Cash continued to train, his behavior remained consistent - actually becoming more intense. Since the activity of K9 Nose Work is all about fun for the dog, Cash and his handler were never forced to conform to any type of standard alert behavior (such as a sit at the odor source). Instead, Cash was encouraged to express himself in his own way and find joy on his own terms. As long as he was consistent in communicating the source of odor to his handler and she could consistently read it, the game was a total success. Sure, it might be difficult for Cash to enter competitions, but reflecting back on his journey, it's a minor miracle he progressed to searching for odor only, and searching a variety of environments. Anything is possible in K9 Nose Work 

Cash getting close to odor
Recently, Cash has begun to approach the odor source more independently, as if he's slowly developing a magnetic attraction to the odor; he even gamely participated in an exercise designed to help dogs to offer a clear signal when they discover the odor source. Cash offered a sit. It's bittersweet to see this special dog shedding his quirky behavior, but maybe this is his signal that he's game to play at K9 Nose Work for a lot longer.

Bevo: The Misunderstood Malinois 

Bevo is a Belgian Malinois. This is one of the breeds that define the term: working dog. The Malinois is used in numerous areas of detection and protection, as well as in dog sports as a top competitor. This is not to say these dogs are the Roomba of the dog world: just set them loose and watch them clean up. To the contrary, a Malinois requires expert handling and attention, as well as a commitment of time that few pet dog owners could offer. Bevo comes from the working dog world, bred to be a superstar in the detection field, he couldn't make the cut, and was retired before he even got started.

Bevo's handler, a law enforcement professional, took him on as a pet dog, hoping to give him an opportunity to have a fulfilling life. Knowing Bevo failed at detection work, his handler thought he might give Bevo a chance to shine in the sport of K9 Nose Work. From the beginning, the dog ran like a split-personality; one moment he'd be crazy about a squirrel squeak toy, the next moment, he'd shut down. Bevo's handler experimented with numerous types of toys and treats, and could not find anything that kept the dog's interest.

Belgian Malinois, Seven, with owner & K9 Nose Work
co-founder, Amy HerotBevo was not available to be 
photographed in time for
this blog post
It was becoming more and more evident just why Bevo couldn't find a place as a working dog - who would spend so much time and money on a dog that wouldn't perform? Luckily, K9 Nose Work isn't exclusive to dogs who perform quickly and easily. Over the past few months, Bevo has shown flashes of brilliance when searching - an intensity to rival the best of his breed - and the relationship he's building with his handler grows stronger each time they find success in K9 Nose Work.

Whether Bevo becomes the amazing K9 Nose Work dog he has the potential to become, or just continues to have those flashes of brilliance, one thing is for sure, without K9 Nose Work he would never have gotten to show the world what he was really capable of achieving.

Cash and Bevo are examples of how easy it is to start virtually any dog in the activity of K9 Nose Work®, and how therapeutic it can be for dogs with issues.

Next time, you'll find some tips for setting better hides.

Happy Sniffing!


  1. I've been in class with both Cash and Bevo, and am thrilled by each of their 'aha!' moments! It is even more interesting to watch dogs who approach their challenges differently, and even more exciting to see them succeed.

    1. Well said, Michelle. You've gone a step beyond being in class with these dogs. You were a part of one of Bevo's best days in K9 Nose Work!