Nose to the ground, to the tires, to the bumper and there it was on the tailpipe of the middle vehicle – sweet birch oil on a Q-tip. Finding the source of that scent earned the dogs a reward in the K9 Nose Work Fun Search Saturday.
Leah Gangelhoff, a certified K9 nose work trainer from Birmingham, organized the event in Heflin. She’s been teaching dogs to sniff out sweet birch, anise and clove bud scents since 2010, she said. But she’s been training dogs for about 12 years total, she added.
Nose work is a fairly new sport, Gangelhoff said. It was born in
California, where she used to live and work as a dog trainer teaching dogs to detect narcotics and explosives. She trained under Ron Gaunt and Amy Herot, who
along with Jill Marie O’Brien founded the sport in 2006, Gangelhoff said.
They decided to let pet owners into a training class and it took
off from there, she said.
“People just kept coming back and they couldn’t get rid of them,”
Gangelhoff said with a laugh.
They also founded the National Association of Canine Scent Work and held the first competition trial in California in 2009, according to the association’s website.
The dogs are trained to search out the scents in different elements – inside, outside, in vehicles and in containers. If they can find the scents in all four elements in a sanctioned trial, the dogs earn a title. Saturday’s event wasn’t a sanctioned trial, it was just for fun and gave the handlers and dogs a chance to practice the skills they’re learning, Gangelhoff said.
Dawn Landholm said she has been training with her beagle, Schroeder, for about two years.
“A friend of mine told me about it,” Landholm said. “She thought it would be a really good outlet for his sniffing.”
She said they’ve stuck with it because it’s fun. The experience is completely different than any other activity you can do with your dog, Landholm said. There are no commands, no discipline. This activity is led by the dog, she said.
“You have to put away everything you learned in obedience class about correcting,” Landholm said. “You want your dog out there looking for the scent without constantly looking to you.”
That’s what Christy Waehner, a K9 nose work instructor from Atlanta, loves about the sport. She was hooked from her first class, she said, and it’s changed how she interacts with her dog.
“We’re no longer the one teaching,” Waehner said. “We’re the one learning.”
She had to learn how to pay attention to her dog’s body language, she said.
Crystal Yura, owner of Blue, a three-legged rescue dog, credits nose work with allowing her to train him as well as she has. Blue, a bluetick coonhound, broke his back leg several times and when he broke it again jumping out of a car window, it wasn’t healing and had to be amputated, Yura said.
“He’s pretty intense,” she said. “He will run for 5 miles, even with three legs.”
But nose work wears him out. They’ll do it out at home for just a few minutes, and he’ll go to sleep, Yura said. She thinks it’s the mental challenge that is so tiring for him.
“He’s good at it when he’ll focus,” Yura said.
But like many dogs, he can be easily distracted especially in the outdoor setting, she said.
Lisa Rodier, an instructor from Alpharetta, Ga., volunteering at the Fun Search, said the sport is accessible to a diverse population of dogs and handlers.
“What interested me was it was an activity I could do even with older dogs who are moving slowly,” Rodier said. “We’re starting a class tomorrow and there will be a blind dog in our class.”
The dog owners at the Fun Search, though, said they do it because it’s a fun activity for their dogs.
“I really like doing anything I can with my dogs,” said Kathy DeLucas.
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.