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By Doc Watson
Special to the Herald Times
MEEKER | Every two weeks, some Meeker residents meet together for the unique experience of training and exercising their dogs in canine scent detection.
Heading up the group is Laura Tyler of Total Teamwork Training, LLC, based in Craig. She is a certified professional dog trainer and behavior consultant (International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants) with 30 years experience in training, teaching and working with families, kids and dogs.
With Tyler that day was one of her colleagues, Arlene Estes, who calls herself “a third generation Meekerite.” She, too, is an instructor, teacher and coach and a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. She is also a dog groomer and teaches an obedience class through the recreation center. “I am currently owned by four border collies,” she quipped. “Two of these were rescues. A couple of cats and horses round out our family unit.”
Also present was another Meekerite, Jeri Gilchrist, along with her two dogs, all enthusiastic participants in what has become a fast growing sport. While there are 17 local events across the country where dog and handler compete—one is scheduled in Meeker on April 7-9 at the fairgrounds—there is also the National Invitational event, which this year will be held Nov. 3-5 in West Springfield, Mass.
Tyler is heavily credentialed in her field, including certification by the National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW) in the unique area of K9 Nose Work (a registered trademark of NACSW). With any dog breed being able to participate, man’s (and woman’s) best friend can hone its already primal ability to detect specific scents. Depending upon the breed, dogs have up to 300 million olfactory receptors compared to a puny five million for humans.
“K9 Nose Work” picturesquely describes the canine scent detection activity developed by Ron Gaunt, Amy Herot and Jill Marie O’Brien in Southern California in 2006. Having worked for decades in the professional canine detection world, they wanted to give pet dogs and their people a fun and easy way to learn the same skills.
Three specific target odors are utilized in scent detection training: birch, anise and clove. Once target odors are introduced to the dog, he will search exclusively for the odor, find its source and then get rewarded with his favorite food or toy by his handler.
All this takes place in four different search elements—container, interior, exterior and vehicles—and very much resembles what police K9 units do every day in tracking people and searching for illegal drugs.
Such real world environments, which can be found virtually anywhere, along with practicing under different weather conditions and changing the hiding places of the scents, make every session a new and exciting experience for both dog and handler as they progress through three levels of proficiency.
“We like to train for all types of environment to make things different,” Tyler said. With a chuckle, she added, “A lot of times we use schools. These are kind of crazy because they are filled with little kid smells.”
On this particular day, for example, the group met at the east end of the Justice Center. Tyler planted scent inside a drain pipe and on the outside of a vehicle in the parking lot. Scent travels out from the source in a cone shape, enabling the dog to zero in on the source. Wind direction is always an important factor. In this case, the dogs picked up the scent several yards away because the wind brought it to them.
The drain pipe placement was especially fascinating because the indented part of the building created “a vortex,” making it more for the dogs, Estes noted. But several of the dogs caught the scent along the wall and followed it to the source. “You can have scent that will travel along the mortar joints,” she explained.
Tyler and her colleagues also conduct classes not only in K9 Nose Work but also others as well, including: family dog training, canine life and social skills, and head start puppy training. Also offered are one-on-one behavior and training consultation.
Of the participants in her current classes in scent detection, Tyler said with a laugh, “They were all hooked from the get-go.”