If you had told me two years ago that I would be spending my Friday evenings at nose-work class and taking one- and two-day road trips just to get to nose-work trials, I would have laughed.
My dogs have always been my companions. We go for walks, have meals at pet-friendly restaurants and travel together whenever possible. They sleep under my desk while I write, and sit on my lap on the sofa when I’m reading or watching television.
As far as I was concerned, that was a good life for them. I never had any interest in showing them in conformation. I thought agility or tracking might be fun, but never seriously pursued either one. I admired people who worked or competed with their dogs in the same way that I admire people who have climbed Everest or explored underwater caves, but I didn’t expect to ever be one of them. It didn’t seem truly necessary for their – or my – happiness.
But like all dogs, mine have always been guided by their noses. Sometimes it seemed as if they were excessively devoted to examining all the scents they ran across on walks. So when a friend told me about the sport of nose work, I thought it would be fun to sign Harper up for the six-week class.
We’d learn the basics, and then we’d have a fun game we could play at home or anywhere else. Within weeks, I was bringing 13-year-old Gemma to class, too. When my husband got tired of being left home alone on Friday nights, he joined us as well. The next thing I knew, Harper had passed her first Odor Recognition Test, which qualified her to compete in a beginning-level nose-work trial. I couldn’t wait.
Watching Harper – and then Gemma, and eventually Keeper – discover a purpose to sniffing was a revelation. They knew when it was time to go to class. They knew exactly what they were there to do when it was their turn to search. They were so excited to tell us when they found the scent. It was two-way communication, and it was wonderful.
Recently, I asked friends who also do sports with their dogs what they and their dogs get out of it. The appreciation of teamwork and communication and a deeper relationship came first, of course.
“The bond it creates between you and your dog is unlike anything you could develop with a human teammate,” says Annick Loomis, who does nose work with her Brittany. Adam Conn does a number of sports with his Bernese mountain dogs. He enjoys the challenge of “unlocking” each dog. “All five who I’ve competed with have been so vastly different, despite four being the same breed and two being from the same lines.”
Do dogs get anything out of it? Yes. For each dog, the reward is different. Some like being the center of attention or enjoy the challenge of solving a puzzle. Hina, a mixed-breed owned by Mary Wakabayashi, loves the thrill of the hunt that nose work develops. Melissa Duffy says sports and games make her dogs grin like nothing else.
Harper? We have always been close, but she really blossomed when she discovered that she could “tell” me something and that I would understand. Three weeks ago, Harper and I competed in our second NW3 trial. It’s the most difficult level, and we weren’t quite good enough to get a title. Yet. But at every class and every trial, I get better at reading her signals, and she gets better at delivering them. Most of all, I’ve taken to heart the nose work motto: Trust your dog.
Your cat can contribute to scientific research! The Cornell Feline Health Center is collecting blood samples for its Biobank and performing health screenings on a variety of cats. What researchers discover will help them build a database of genetic sequences and medical information to identify the causes of many inherited diseases in cats. To participate, cats donate a blood sample and undergo a physical exam, blood work, urinalysis, nutrition exam, echocardiogram, body measurements, oncology exam, eye exam, oral exam, orthopedic exam and whole-body CT scan. For more information, visit vet.cornell.edu/FHC and click on “Participate in Our Studies.”
▪ A will ensures that your property is distributed the way you want it to be, but it can also protect your pets in the event of your death. A pet trust spells out who will care for your dogs, cats or other animals and provides funding for their needs. Pet trusts are permitted by 46 states and the District of Columbia. The exceptions are Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota and Mississippi. Talk to your attorney about how to include one in your will, and be sure your designated caretakers are willing and able to take on the responsibility.
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton, author of many pet-care books.