Dog’s Eye View: The gatekeeper
July 27, 2017
I had fun volunteering at the Steamboat Springs K9 Nose Work trial during the weekend of July 14 through 16 at Strawberry Park Elementary School. If you've not heard of this sport, it involves scent detection work for companion dogs. The trials are very well-organized and run by people who not only trial their own dogs but are passionate about extending this intriguing sport to others at all levels. Competitors traveled to Steamboat Springs from as far away as Montana, California and Arizona.
One interesting aspect of these trials is that they're set up so dogs that might be reactive in the presence of other dogs can compete. This is where my job came in. As gate steward, I was stationed just inside a building where I could see a dog/handler team coming toward me. I held the "on deck" team until the previous dog had finished searching three rooms for scent so they would not see each other.
Waiting about eight or nine minutes with each team, I had the opportunity to listen to their stories about their dogs. I found that each person had a unique story to share. A fairly common thread among the dogs was their age and previous life experience. The oldest dog that came through my station was 14 years old. He was retired from the sport of agility, and neither owner nor dog could keep up the pace that sport required, so they now successfully competed in Nose Work.
A man came through with a beautiful Belgian tervuren that was sporting a rather imposing brace on her front leg. He explained to me she had been lost and probably gotten hit by a car when she was about 3 years old. At 9 1/2 years of age, she was happily sniffing out scent at an advanced level of work. This dog's mother is competing at Nose Work level three at 13 years of age.
In order to make sure I recognized the dogs by breed type, even though I didn't personally know them, I had a sheet that listed the running order of the teams. One lady had listed her dog's breed as "other." When I asked her about that, she laughed and said that, in the spot on the entry form that indicated what breed type her dog is, it said "other." She didn't realize she could have typed in what she thought her 7 1/2 year old dog might be, possibly a pit bull mix.
She shared her story of rescue and perseverance with me. She said that, while driving past a cemetery in south Texas one morning, she saw what she thought was some paper next to the fence. She drove on a bit, then was stricken by the thought that what she had seen might have been a live animal. She decided to go back to check it out. Sure enough, there were three puppies there she thought might be about 4 to 5 weeks old. She took them home and, ultimately, kept all three. Two of the puppies are very skittish, but the one she was trialing was a fine Nose Work dog now competing at the advanced level three.
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A lovely male German shepherd came to my station sporting a beautiful harness that said, "Navy Seal." His owner said she took him to the VA hospital in her area and found that this therapy dog was a great source of comfort to the veterans there. They seemed to perk up when they saw his harness and could identify with his strong but gentle demeanor.
Thirty dogs came through my gate each day. An eclectic assortment of dogs of all ages and breeds, including Cairn terriers, Portuguese water dogs, rat terriers, Maltese, dachshund, Dalmatian, Chesapeake Bay retriever and "others" kept my day interesting and exciting. Many of these dogs had other jobs, such as therapy dog work, lure coursing, barn hunting and agility.
The stories people shared with me are a testament to the beautiful and rich relationship each person enjoyed with their pet/Nose Work companion.
Check out the National Association of Canine Scent Work website nacsw.net to learn more about this sport.
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training LLC with more than 30 years of experience.