Tiny Daisy darts into the Hessel Grange with a working dog's purpose and a family pet's expectation of fun. The dachshund's toenails tap-tap-tap on the old linoleum as her low-slung body approaches first a desk chair, then a window. In high alert, she catches a whiff well above her in a fuse box on the wall. Her slim switch of a tail turns up as she looks expectantly at her owner, Susan Hewlett, as if to say, “Did I find it?”
“OK, honey. I'll give you credit for that,” Hewlett assured her eager friend, offering a tasty reward for “the find.”
Daisy and Hewlett are a team in K9 Nose Work, a competitive search game in which owners train their pets to use their keen sense of smell to sniff out hidden odors for entertainment, approval and treats.
“It's fun for them. And if they're happy, I'm happy,” says Hewlett, a Santa Rosa optometrist who also brought her golden retriever Kira to Ina Scrocco's drop-in class at the Grange hall in Sebastopol.
A 30-year veteran dog trainer, Scrocco is one of several certified instructors for the newest dog sport, created in 2009 by three Southern California detection-dog trainers who figured that pets could be trained just like professional dogs.
But instead of explosives or drugs, Nose Work dogs are trained to detect three scents — birch, anise and clove. The liquid scents are infused on a Q-Tip placed in a tin, pen, tube or other small container. The “hides” are then hidden. When a dog alerts that he's detected a scent, he's given a treat or toy.
The game is played in a variety of places, from cars and parks to schools and dog-friendly stores like Home Depot. People can practice at home just for fun, take classes or engage in competitive trials. There are three levels, with the top dogs achieving “Nose Work Elite” status and competing at invitationals. The National Association of Canine Scent Work holds its big Invitational in Santa Rosa in May.