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Clearwater center offers canine scent work, a recreational sport for dogs

CLEARWATER

Roxy circles the perimeter.

Sniff, sniff.

The dachshund pursues the scent of turkey heart treats. They're not in the big cardboard box. In the plastic bowl? No dice.

She pokes her nose into a different box.

Bingo.

The task Roxy undertakes isn't quite as pressing as the job of drug- or bomb-sniffing dogs. But it might be more fun, and that's the whole point.

Canine scent work, a sport for dogs that allows them to seek out certain smells, has arrived in Pinellas County at New Dawn Animal Behavior Center in Clearwater.

The sport, also called "nose work," is simple. A trainer hides a "target scent" — sometimes dog treats, essential oils or both — in one of several containers. The dog's job is to find the container with the scent.

A group of California dog trainers founded the sport about five years ago for rescue dogs, said co-founder Ron Gaunt, a former police officer who ran K-9 programs.

"We gave the dogs something to do instead of being bored and getting into trouble," Gaunt said. "Detection work is the most natural instinct they have."

The National Association of Canine Scent Work, which Gaunt also co-founded, now has certified and associated programs in more than 20 states. There are five instructors undergoing scent work certification in Florida. One of them is Ann Waterbury, New Dawn's owner.

The national association also hosts workshops and trials, but they have yet to come to Florida, Waterbury said. She hopes to organize a competitive event early next year.

Waterbury offers two courses and private lessons in nose work.

In a spacious room attached to New Dawn, Waterbury scatters cardboard boxes, wicker baskets and bowls on the floor. She always places the target scent in a box marked "FOOD" so the owners can tell when their dogs are close to discovering the scent.

"They know how to do it, but we help them find the skills of sniffing," Waterbury said. "The dog leads the way, and we're along for the ride."

Millie, a copper-colored sporting mix who was rescued by owner Paulette Keller, is released from her leash. She bounds over toward the boxes, then is diverted by sniffing a nearby table.

"There are no wrong answers," Waterbury says.

When Millie finds the target scent, a "stinky salmon" treat, Waterbury and Keller gush with praise. It's important to reward the dogs and keep the task fun, Waterbury tells the class.

Keller said she can tell her dog enjoys the tasks. But nose work also has practical value for Millie, she said.

When Keller discovered Millie in the woods three years ago, the stray dog was thin, her coat was matted and she had trouble relating to other dogs. Keller has put Millie in a variety of classes, but Millie gets easily distracted, she said.

"This allows her to develop focus," Keller said. "She has to keep on task."

Although Waterbury emphasizes fun for the dogs, she said the mental stimulation of nose work can help dogs overcome behavioral problems.

"A lot of behavior problems that crop up with dogs are from boredom or lack of mental stimulation," Waterbury said. "It's great for older dogs, injured dogs and dogs taking a break" from physically demanding activities.

Terry Deptulski, who travels from Tampa to attend classes with her dog Belle, said nose work classes have taught her to read her dog's signals and better understand her mannerisms.

Unlike in obedience training, owners play a minimal role in nose work. Deptulski said she enjoys simply watching Belle do what she likes doing: following her nose.

"I don't know who has more fun — me or the dog," she said.

Katie Park can be reached at (727) 445-4154 or kpark@sptimes.com.

>>Fast facts

Six-week courses

New Dawn Animal Behavior Center, 11501A 47th St. N, in Clearwater, offers six-week nose work courses for $139 as well as private lessons. For more information, call (727) 415-1567 or visit newdawnabc.com.

Clearwater center offers canine scent work, a recreational sport for dogs 10/22/11 [Last modified: Saturday, October 22, 2011 1:24pm]
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