Household pooches can learn the tricks of the pros through NoseWork classes — a program based on bomb-detection dog training but adapted to tap the inner hunter in any dog.
Dressed in her hunting gear — a Day-Glo pink harness — Kaili bounced with enthusiasm, whimpering and whining.
“All right,” said owner Cynthia Fry, 76. “Go find it!”
The fluffy white Coton de Tulear dashed around the room at the Woodinville Positive Dog Training center, sniffing everywhere and finally spotting what she was looking for: two Q-tips dipped in birch scent, one hidden inside a PVC pipe and the other beneath a bicycle.
Dogs have a keen sense of smell that’s long been used professionally for detecting explosives and illegal drugs. More recently, dogs have been taken out in boats and used to search for whale scat, or used at possible crime scenes to search for bodies. They’re even used for detecting contraband CDs and bed bugs.
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Not long ago a retired Southern California police officer and two dog trainers developed a program that took professional scent-work training and adapted it for often bored household pets, tapping the inner hunter, even in Kaili.
Seattle dog trainer Miriam Rose is the first certified NoseWork trainer in Washington and began the classes a year ago.
Starting out, treats are hidden in cardboard boxes for dogs to find. Then scented objects are added, with treats eventually being removed but given to the dogs by the handler as a reward for a find. It gets more complex, with multiple scents being added for the dog to choose from.
What many dog owners found was that even the oldest, shyest or smallest dogs developed confidence, were better behaved, worked better in obedience and other classes and made overall better companions. And it’s a sport dog owners of any age can do with little equipment — cardboard boxes, scent, Q-tips and dog treats.
On a recent morning, the advanced-class members took their dogs out to a nearby meadow filled with natural distractions — a pond, rowboat, tent, squirrels in the cedars, duck and deer decoys and the scent and scat of wild animals that had crossed the field during the night.
Each dog has its own style of hunting, Rose said. Some are slow and methodical like Diesel, a black lab who walked through a maze of 19 cardboard boxes, closely sniffing each before finding the scent.
Others are like Kenai, a golden retriever, who swooped onto the scene and found her target.
“Was that 2.5 seconds?” Rose said with a laugh.
Rose came to teach the NoseWork classes, which she also offers in Sumner and Gig Harbor, as an extension of her work with drug- and explosive-detection dogs.
For the past 10 years she’s owned a company that provides detection-dog services to schools and businesses. She also works for international companies that want their ships’ stores screened for explosives — especially the cruise ships sailing from Seattle to Alaska. She and her K9 partners search 10,000 pallets a year.
During the Christmas shopping season she also worked explosives-detection dogs for Northwest shopping malls.
But the classes are something she especially likes — and the dogs seem to as well.
As part of their training, they wear specially designated harnesses or collars that signal to them they are working.
So when Fry puts Kaili’s pink outfit on her, Rose said, Kaili knows it’s time to go to work.
Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or firstname.lastname@example.org