Missing the Sense, Scent of the Missing

Part of the fun of preparing for the seminar I did in Orlando was working on the canine olfaction section. The overall topic of the day was Canine Communication (often compared to primates like us), and most discussions in this vein emphasize visual communication. That’s all well and good, I’m a visual signal groupie from way back, but I loved beginning the day talking about scent, and imagining what it would be like to be able to use one’s nose like a dog. We all know, intellectually anyway, how important smell is to dogs, but because we tend to be so oblivious to it, it is hard for us to imagine (Example of our obliviousness: What’s the common word used to described people who can’t smell?  Yup, there isn’t one.)

Hard to imagine what it’s like to be a dog (okay, impossible), but here are helpful hints, many of which I learned from Susannah Charleson, author of Scent of the Missing: Dogs can sort out individual scents just as you can visually distinguish different pieces that make up a stew. There are the carrots, the onions, the beef…. And if you are trained, you can taste the gravy and notice the hint of rosemary and thyme. Just as we can sort out visual stimuli, dogs can separate out all the components that make up one particular smell. What we don’t know (we know shockingly little about the world of scent to a dog) is what scents they perceive and notice in the environment, especially as it relates to other dogs. Does a good whiff in the grass relate to “Hmmm, a little female poodle, a large neutered boxer…”, or something more along the lines of “Female, slightly nervous, ate fish last night, having kidney trouble apparently…”

When working with tracking or trailing dogs, you also learn that scents are like objects in that they have a shape and a physical presence–imagine them as an oddly shaped balloon, whose shape depends on the soil moisture, wind currents etc. When dogs are searching for a scent (or just blunder into one), you can tell when they first discover the “edge of the envelope.” Of course, all dogs are different, but most dogs pause for a microsecond, and their posture changes: their tail might go up, or perhaps their head. It is usually quite clear when a dog first discovers the ‘edge’ of a scent. I saw Susannah illustrate this in human terms last November in Austin, and she graciously has allowed me to pass it on. I love doing so, because it is yet another way of trying to bridge the gap between canine and primate, my favorite game in life.

Here’s the demo: Have one member of the group volunteer to leave the room. Turn on a long playing piece of music (yup, music, bear with me) on a small device like an iPod or iPad. Turn it down so low that it can barely be heard, but is still clearly discernible if you are close enough, and hide the music somewhere in the room. When the volunteer returns, ask them to locate the music. People search for sound just the same as dogs search for scent, moving around until they …Ah! …think they might have heard something, and then gradually work their way closer and closer until it gets louder and louder, just as scent gets stronger and stronger. Of course, the music won’t be as affected by wind currents (I love how you can follow wind currents by watching a dog search for an object), but it is fascinating to watch a person try to localize sound, and clearly indicate, just as dogs do when they first discover a scent, that they have found it’s ‘edge.’

We did this demonstration in Orlando at the Communication Seminar (DVD coming in a few months if you missed it!) and it was truly great fun. You can do this with any group of people, it could even be fun in a basic dog training class if there was time. By the way, I learned so much about scent work, and loved Susannah’s writing so much, that we are selling her book, Scent of the Missing, on the website.  You might want to check it out. And stay tuned, I mentioned earlier that a TV show is in the works right now, based on Puzzle and Susannah and a cast of other S & R team members. (And yes, there’s a really hunky guy in it. Of course!)

What about you? Do you have any ‘scent games’ you play with dog owners to help them understand the umwelt of a dog? I’d love to hear about them. This sense of dogs is so important, and yet we so easily ignore it. I see it relevant in so many aggression cases (Ex: Willie once attacked a dog for ‘no reason’.. until I remembered that the dog’s house mate had attacked Willie once, so the scent of trouble was there all along.) I’d love to hear your perspective.

MEANWHILE, back on the farm. Willie is just back from PT, and Courtney is thrilled with his progress. We did have a set back early this week–running in semi-deep snow made him lame that night, but he recovered 95% in 2 days and that’s good. I am still working on accepting that this is just what it is, that just like my body, sometimes Willie’s is going to bother him. We’ll just make a note of it and avoid that activity if we can, and if not, then just let him rest up whenever he needs it. He’s just simply never going to be sound, but then, neither am I (neck, back, knee, spine, I could go on…..) but who cares! We just learn what works and what doesn’t and manage around it.

We have the go ahead to VERY VERY cautiously begin working sheep again.  Be still my heart. Of course, only a minute amount at first. A short little drive here. Then rest. Then maybe a very short, simple outrun and fetch on very quiet sheep there. There won’t be much sheep work now though, because it’s icy in some spots (the absolute worst for Willie; he even has to heel beside me all the way to the barn now, the driveway is a skating rink) and I don’t want to work in him snow deeper than two inches or so. He’ll wear his hobbles and I’ll set it up as carefully as I can, hold onto to my heart and go from there. I’ll keep you posted.

Here’s a photo that is, uh, a little out of the ordinary for this blog. It’s me mum as a little girl,  (yes, she was English), illustrating her love for animals at an early age. Mom has been gone a long time, but she adored animals, dogs especially, and somehow it just seemed right that she had a place here. I loved animals too even when I was tiny. I had 52 stuffed animals at one count, and refused dolls (because they weren’t soft and cuddly.) Anyone else crazed for stuffed animals when they were little?




  1. Kat says

    I frequently teach a class on dogs to 5-8 year olds. We invite a number of working dogs and learn from their handlers but I also try to give the kids a chance to think about things from the dog’s point of view. In other words one class period we’ll have a police drug sniffing dog and the next class period we’ll do things with scent. (I’m totally stealing the music demo by the way.) I’ll bring in chocolate chip cookies in a paper bag and hide them in a cupboard then turn the kids loose to try to find the cookies strictly by smell. Very very hard for them to do. I bring in pine needles and rosemary needles and have the kids try to sort them out by smell. Sometimes we do scent trails where cotton balls with drops of lemon or orange extract on them make up the scents and they’re supposed to follow just one smell or the other. Having read somewhere that dogs can smell a tablespoon of sugar in an amount of water equivalent to two olympic size pools I put a tablespoon of sugar in a cup of water and ask the kids to try to figure out which of two identical cups has the sugar and which is just plain water.

    I also teach a class on Pacific Salmon. Salmon have an even more amazing sense of smell than dogs and navigating largely by smell return to within meters of the place they hatched when it is time to spawn. I divide the kids into three groups and give each group a jar with a teabag in it (different flavors of tea same shaped bags) to smell. Then we smell some other things and talk about salmon migration for awhile (salmon are going to remember the smell of their particular home for 2-7 years depending on what kind they are) and let the kids try to figure out which jar was their stream. It makes the point in ways that the kids seem to really remember.

    “Scent of the Missing” is a great book. I loved reading it. I was especially fascinated by her descriptions of calling a blind and deaf dog by stirring the air currents to spread her scent to him.

  2. Barb says

    My dogs and I do as many canine activities together as we can. The one that brought me up short was tracking. As you say, Trish, we all intellectually understand about the sense of smell in dogs. Tracking made it real.

    I wasn’t in charge! And I wasn’t the expert! And I didn’t have the game plan (obedience exercise, agility course) in my head — my dog did! I got to go along for the ride! It wasn’t a quick transition. I had to apologize to two of my dogs when I didn’t listen to them in the early training. I thought they were on the wrong track. They both (individually and at different times on different tracks) jumped at the end of the line to tell me that they knew what they were doing! And both time, they did know! I was wrong. Good time to stop and think about our whole relationship.

    Fortunately, they forgave instantly I saw the wisdom of their ways, and they both celebrated happily with me at the end of the track. What a great way for them to teach me about themselves.

    What a beautiful picture of your mom!


  3. says

    Really beautiful image of your mother. My Border Terrier seems to have a dislike for gangly puppies that get in his face. I have wondered if it is their smell but i have thought more likely he just doesn’t like them invading his space. He is generally a social able dog but has a “go” at puppies on occasions. really love your web site- huge fan!

  4. trisha says

    Lee: I well know the word anosmia, but it is not a ‘common’ word like ‘deaf’ or ‘blind,’ right?

  5. Ravana says

    I love the sound tracking idea. I’m going to pass that along.

    I was just talking to a neighbor tonight about how all the female dogs I know have spent a lot longer checking out scents than the males. The males take a few sniffs, then either pee or walk away while the females sniff and sniff and sniff. It seems like they are trying to figure out what color collar the other dog was wearing, not just who it was and what it ate last night. Is it just that I’ve known nosy females and distracted males or is it true?

    As for stuffed animals, I had hundreds of them and the walls and ceiling of my room were covered in posters of animals. I despised baby dolls. I found them creepy and still do. And if anyone gave me a Barbie she always wound up getting caught in the crossfire between G.I. Joe and The Six Million Dollar Man (with bionic grip and eye). Now that I’m an adult my dog is the one with over one hundred stuffies!

  6. says

    Recently I had the opportunity to start doing K9-Nose Work with my dog reactive dog. It’s been amazing and fascinating in our lessons so far. The drive and excitement that the dogs have for this activity is awesome. As an owner, I know I’ve been annoyed by my dog’s “Nosyness” in the past while out on our walks and runs. Training your dog to use this talent has certainly made me appreciate that nose much more! Most training sessions I can never really tell who’s have more fun, us, or the dogs.

  7. Kerry M. says

    If I could convince every owner to play one game with their dogs, it would be a find-the-hidden-treat game. I am having so much fun teaching this and playing it. While I love training obedience and tricks, too, it all pretty much boils down to the dogs figuring out whatever it is I want them to do. With scent work, once the dogs have the gist down, I am no longer in control and just get to go along for the ride. That shift in control is very refreshing.

    Also, it’s an easy way to convince people how smart their dogs are. We get to use the dog’s natural abilities and help them build on it. And it is interesting that dogs don’t always use their strongest ability at first. I wonder how much living with their nose-limited friends hinders a dog’s inclination to scent for missing things. I think it was earlier in the blog with Willie when Trish wrote about the shift from watching the dog “looking” for the treat to “scenting” for the treat. I loved that moment with my own dog and think I actually experienced a little glee when I first saw him air scenting to find a missing item.

  8. says

    Loved “Scent of the Missing” and look forward to re-reading it. My dog is elderly now and in her last weeks, or hopefully, months so my efforts are focused on keeping her comfortable and enjoying this time with her. Thinking ahead to “the next one,” I definitely want to do nose-work with my dog.

    What a charming photograph of your mum. I love old pictures.

  9. says

    I loved the book Scent of the Missing, and recommend it frequently. It’s gotten me very interested, bookwise, in the dog training aspect of SAR, but not I’m not into the people-involved aspect. It’s also funny to read about dogs and tracking and scent trails and see my Doberman, bless her heart, unable to find a piece of pepperoni that she’s stepped on. A Doberman, I’m told, holds the historic world tracking record (Sauer, a police dog in South Africa)….just not MY Doberman.

  10. Joan says

    hum, that first part sounds like a “game” I play with my cell phone all the time. Sometimes when I even call it myself on the land line so I can locate it.

  11. says

    I recently started Nose Work with my dogs, Sophie and Boomer! Our instructor tells us time and time again to watch the dogs’ body language — I love the analogy of “edge of the envelope”! That’s precisely what we’re learning to look for. Where I train at Fur-Get Me Not, we focus on the family pet and rescue/shelter dogs, and we’re probably going to incorporate Nose Work exercises more and more, especially with our Confidence Building and Reactive Dog classes. It’s so great — especially for my skittish Shepherd mix Sophie — to watch the dog learn to rely on her own nose!

    Love the picture of your mother! I’m sure it brings back great memories for you to look at that photo. My favorite stuffed animal story is with my oldest niece, when she was just a toddler. At dinner one night, she kept climbing up and down off of her chair and repeating the words “Sit Down” when my sister and brother-in-law asked her to sit. None of us could understand why she was “misbehaving” so badly. We figured out the next morning that she wasn’t misbehaving at all, but merely incorporating a new idea. She woke up in her crib, placed her stuffed animals in a perfect semi-circle around herself, put them all on their sides, and one at a time, put them upright while saying “Sit Down.” Then she put them all on their sides and did it all over again! Cutest thing I’ve ever seen! Of course, that niece is now getting ready to graduate from college — but she loves when we tell that story!

  12. Alexandra says

    I, too, was crazy for stuffed animals when I was a kid. I had dozens, and used to pretend they had this kingdom in my bedroom, kind of like Narnia. I had a few dolls, but I wasn’t as into them. Well, Barbie was pretty cool, but she lived a very adventurous life and did things like parachute off the garage, go diving with sharks in our swimming pool, and rappel over the stair railing to the first floor. Hey, fashion has never been my thing!

  13. says

    Wonderful post – next Saturday I will have a gaggle of 5-14 y/o children here at Silverwalk. I hope to use the music demo to help them better understand dogs in general.
    I have a Dobie/hound mix. He looks Dobermann w/o the heft but uses his nose and body like a hound; he definielty has a great smell sense.
    I did have dolls growing up but more than them, I had Breyer horses (I couldn’t have a real one). My poor parents – “what do you want for {whatever}?” “A horse.” I have signed Marguerite Henry books and my horse collection which I need to pass on…

  14. Beth says

    I think the subject of dogs and scenting is fascinating. I think it also bears mentioning that domestic dogs have hugely variable talents in this regard. I remember reading a study where three different breeds were put into a yard to find a mouse by scent. One breed, probably beagles, found the mouse in a short time. Another breed was modestly successful. The third? Never found the mouse. Abysmal failures. I believe they were Scotties, which one would believe would want to find the mouse (being a ratter). So we talk about scenting abilities in dogs, but since many breeds were not selectively bred for noses, some are much better than others. All may be better than us, but some are not all that accomplished.

    My Corgis are not a breed that was specifically selected for nosework. Ability is determined by sheer chance. My Jack is fabulous with his nose. On many occasions, I have (unfortunately) seen him out in the woods take a 90-degree turn, break into a dead run, and stop exactly at the spot where something he thinks is edible is buried. He does not even need to nose around to find it; he air-scents so perfectly that his initial course takes him right to the desired object. I once followed him on-lead when he started pulling me up a hill, just out of curiosity. He ran up a hill, across a bit of field, behind a boulder to where an old hamburger was laying that someone dropped. It was easily 50 yards or more from where we started to where the burger lay, but he ran exactly to it.

    I’ve also seen him following the track of one of his dog friends, go a short distance, realize he’s going the wrong way and do a 180 to follow it in the other direction. This is with absolutely zero training. The downside to this skill is it can be hard to keep him on task at agility classes if what he knows someone dropped is tastier than the treats I am carrying. *sigh* I guess we need to work on that one.

    Maddie, on the other hand, has NO idea how to use her nose, and not for lack of trying. If I toss a treat and she misses it, she will start snuffling fruitlessly on the ground, making circles in the same area, not even thinking of casting back and forth to get a general idea of where it is so she can zero in. We have to actually haul her away from the spot where the treat ISN’T to show her where it IS, even if where it is, is only a foot away from where she started. Jack would find that same dropped treat in less than one second. Maddie might never stumble across it. If a treat goes into a pile of dead leaves, it’s gone forever as far as she is concerned.

    So if I wanted to selectively breed a brand-new line of scenting dogs, I would start with Jack (were he not neutered) and definitely not with Maddie. If I wanted swimmers, on the other hand, Maddie can nearly keep up with a Labrador.

    Like everything else that dogs do well, scenting ability definitely varies widely from dog to dog.

  15. Shalea says

    My greyhound has been steadily losing his vision since before he came to live with me, and has been for the last year or so completely blind. (I think, to be completely accurate, he can still sense light/dark somewhat but he can not see a parked car in broad daylight.)

    I have noticed, though, that he uses his nose a lot and is quite accurate with it (*not* a trait often attributed to sight hounds!). He has liked toys with treats in them for some time (loses toys with a less distinctive scent), and since I realized he had no trouble keeping track of the Kong Wobbler, he actually eats his dinner out of one.

    We also play scenting games — nothing more complicated than “Find [person]”, but he enjoys it and is quite good at it. What’s interesting to me is that he is mostly interested in sniffing the ground when we’re out walking, but when we initiate the “Find [person]” game he switches exclusively to air-scenting (even if the person he’s finding walked directly away from him). I love watching him — when he hasn’t caught the scent yet, he’s alert and focused. The moment he catches it his head comes forward a bit and his ears relax down a bit. And when his finds his person, his ears flatten completely and he goes all soft and wiggly and waggy. Makes me smile just to type about it!

    Obviously, this isn’t something we’ve trained him to do. He’s a smart boy and understands a lot of spoken language, but the game was something we just attached a phrase to after the fact.

  16. says

    I just wanted to comment about your acceptance that Willie will never be 100% again because I completely relate and sympathize. I have a dog with a hip issue which I had high hopes of resolving with vet care, a diet change and PT. We made lots of progress, but despite it all there are still days when he walks with a limp. It took time for me to accept that this is just how he will be and that I can only do my best for him, but it can be a hard thing to accept for sure. It actually reminds me of my other dog’s fear issues. She has come a long, long way since I got her, but I know that she will never be comfortable in certain situations (when a stranger tries to pet her or leans over her, for example). I came to accept that years ago, so just like I accepted her emotional limitations, I now have to the same for my younger dog’s physical ones.

    And I also had a ton of stuffed animals..and like you, no dolls. Eventually the stuffed animals gave way to real ones, but I still have about 5 or 6 of my most special toys that I could never quite bring myself to part with.

  17. says

    I got so distracted with stuffed animals that I forgot to mention my scent game! Sophie the Shepherd mix gets pretty aroused outside with squirrels, barrier aggression with neighboring dogs, etc. I play find it to entice her and Boomer our lab, who is obsessed with chewing sticks, to come inside. I’ll get something fairly stinky like little freeze dried salmon cubes and make a trail to the door for them to play find it all the way inside. They are getting even better with this game as they get further along with Nose Work!

  18. says

    Here is a scenting routine I watch most every day. When my female has been outside and my male was not out with her, he insists on being let out when she comes in. He has a need to mark wherever she has just peed. You would think that with her scent being EVERYWHERE in my yard that he would not be able to find the very last one. He does not have to watch her go. He simply steps out the door, takes a couple of sniffs and heads to the exact spot where she most recently peed. I am not sure why I find this routine fascinating but it has made me chuckle many times.

  19. Wendy says

    I’ve recently started man-trailing with my seven year old whippet, he is so serious when he’s working it’s endearing. And it is so hard not trying to influence him, the keeping my mouth shut is perhaps the hardest part. I’ve hesitated for a while because I didn’t think I needed a sighthound that learned to use his nose. So far it hasn’t changed his hunting behaviour.

    @Beth: one of the first things the trainer explained to us was that we don’t have to teach the dog to trail a scent. Because he’s the expert.

  20. Wendy says

    @Shalea: the not finding toys that don’t smell like food probably is because of lack of motivation. He just isn’t bothered, not because he can’t smell them.

  21. Margaret McLaughlin says

    It has been faxcinating to watch Lia, my flat-coat, learn to do scent articles this year. Once she got past the snatch-and-grab stage (peanut butter on the scented article) she would work very differently depending on humidity, wind direction, temperature, & probably a host of other variables I can’t imagine. Some days she clearly air-scents all the way to the pile, goes directly to the scented article, & brings it straight back. Some days she sniffs every one & seems to ponder. I’ve seen her circle the pile, looking puzzled, & then a sudden head-snap, & she’ll latch onto the correct article like a homing missle.
    I read several years ago–can’t remember the source to attribute properly–that trying to teach a dog scent work was like a dog trying to teach a human calculus because the dog can tell the difference between two & three. I’ve also thought that a lot of problems with scent articles come because the dog can’t believe we’re asking them to do something that EASY; there must be something else they need to figure out.
    Lia & I are taking a Nosework class, & she has taken to it like a camel to sand. Drags me to the ring–I have never seen her so fully engaged in anything, & this is a dog who loves to work. She has been uneasy in the club building since the furnace blower frighened her during an obedeince trial 3 years ago–she bolted out of the ring, & all my efforts at desensitizing her have had very limited success, even in the summer.. Last Saturday the blower whooshed on right over her head when she was working, & she didn’t even twitch an ear. Maybe the ears don’t work when the nose is switched on.

  22. Lynn says

    WooHOOT that you’ll get a chance to start working Willie again! I’ll be anxious to see how it goes for the two of you; interesting that Willie will be wearing his hobbles at first. I currently have a dog on restricted activities (and wearing hobbles) because of mild medial shoulder instability (equivalent of a rotator cuff issue). Needless to say, lessons on sheep are on hiatus. The other day I was watching some of the National Sheepdog Finals DVDs. When my dog heard the handlers commanding “Come bye!” he leapt up off his dog bed obviously thinking “WHERE are those sheep?” And when they commanded “lie DOWN”, boy, he dropped to the ground in an instant. Poor guy. Hopefully he won’t be out of commission as long as poor Willie has been. And yes, it’s been suggested to me that beginning with driving will probably be easiest on him. Anyway, I’ll be wishing you an early spring – free of ice and mud and other slippery conditions.

  23. Jennifer Hamilton says

    Catain Haggerty says something like, “Once you teach your dog to use its nose consciously, your dog will never be the same.” Boy, did I find that to be true. Although there are many examples, the most memorable one was when my dog stopped dead in her tracks on a walk we take often. When I encouraged her to move forward, she looked at me, took two steps back and sat down. Being the smarter of the two of us, I of course walked forward to show her there was nothing to be bothered about. I took three steps forward, and there sitting behind a boulder we pass everyday was a HUGE snake quiety warming itself. Once it saw me it tensed and, yes, rattled. I froze, and slowly took multiple steps backward, did I say slowly! My dog must surely have been thinking, “you are such an idiot!”. Ever since then, I never question my dog when she indicates she’s got a scent of something and does not want to go further. When we are on a walk, she knows her nose is our guide.

  24. Jennifer Hamilton says

    When other kids were playing “doctor” with each other, I was playing veterinarian with my stuffed animals. The dolls given to me by my mother always remained untouched in their boxes stacked in the closet. She tried her hardest to bring out that child-rearing instinct, but all I cared about were the animals. It’s nice to hear of other kindred spirits.

  25. Jennifer Hamilton says

    When part of your joy in having a dog is doing something physical together (herding, agility, tracking, water work), it’s so hard accepting that your dog’s body can’t do what you both love to do. I often use the phrase, “My dog’s brain is on overdrive, but her body is always in the shop.” It’s so depressing to both the human and the dog. It’s like you both got a lemon body and there’s nothing you can do about it despite the best medical efforts. You can sometimes make it better, but you can never make it right. You finally come to acceptance, but it’s hard to get there. Harder than you would think…until you’ve been there.

  26. Shalea says

    @Wendy, that’s a distinct possibility and I’d think that but for 1) the fact that his toy-play consists largely of toss and pounce; 2) he’s done it less and less as he’s lost his vision; and 3) he will occasionally give it a try, lose the toy, and lose interest. Greyhounds often aren’t as interested in toys as some dogs, so it could be that the non-treat toys haven’t developed enough individual scent for him to be able to keep track of them. Or, I know he has trouble “tracking” in the house as a general thing (weird air currents? carpets and large fabric furniture holding scent? something else this relatively nose-blind human hasn’t thought of?).

    I could absolutely be wrong, of course. Wish I could ask him. :)

  27. says

    I’ve been doing tracking for abut 7 years now. Both my dog and I love it–it gets us outside, and it is the only training activity I can think of where the dog has all the skills and the human has to learn to read and follow the dog’s lead. A couple of other great points: tracking is fantastic (as already noted) for getting humans to understand how amazing the canine nose is, which results in greater respect for the dog by the human, and tracking is also a terrific “group training” experience where there is in fact no required interaction between dogs or between the dog and humans other than the dog’s person. (The tracklayer will likely follow along behind the tracking dog and handler, but it’s not as if the dog needs to interact with the the tracklayer.) This is a huge help and relief to those wonderful dog people who crave activities for their fearful/shy/reactive/cautious/etc. dogs, and yet who suspect (often correctly) that other forms of group training might be too much for their dog to handle. Love your blog!

    PS–I, too was obsessed with stuffed animals (and live ones, too!) as a kid. I remember begging my parents for YEARS to let me get a pet chimpanzee, so I could get a jump on my career as a primatologist. Thankfully, they refused!

  28. Annie R says

    Nose work seems like a good idea for dogs that have a disability that keeps them from running fast, jumping, etc.; my newest guy, Archie, is a Brittany mix whose right shoulder has an old break into one of the condyles, and the joint is partly displaced and kind of frozen there. The limitation of his gait is slight to moderate, depending on the day, but he’s never going to run fast and far, so like Willie, I’m accepting that and thinking about what he CAN do. He is very interested in following scents on our walks, and finds treats and bits of food using scent in a much more focused way than my Shepherd/ Husky mixes ever have, so you’ve got me thinking this could be a good way to stimulate and exercise him. Maybe because he’s descended from a hunting breed? He’s also part Australian Shepherd or Corgi or something like that. I’ll have to look into it!

    Love the stuffed animal stories! I think I only had 3 or 4 dolls total over the years, but animals were “it” for me. I had many over the years, and so did my brothers, but there were favorites who got worn out like the Velveteen Rabbit; they had names and we loved them as if they were real, slept with them, took them on vacation etc. When I moved the last of my stuff out of my mother’s house after college, I left them in a pile on the upper closet shelf in my old room — it had been 10 yrs since I was sleeping with them etc. but they were still around. A few years into my twenties, a huge box arrived near Christmas time at my home in California; I could not figure out why my mother’s usual Xmas-present shipment was in a box 5 times bigger than usual. When I opened it, the presents were padded all around with my batch of 25 or so stuffed animals — Mom had decided I should assume the storage responsibilities and shipped them to me as padding for the gifts. I pulled them out onto the floor in a pile and sat there in the middle of them and cried. I have no idea what she sent me for Christmas that year (I’m now in my 50’s) but I will remember that Christmas shipment forever.

  29. Carmen Hurley says

    Tracking and scent work are right at the top of my favorite activities to do with my dogs, although as someone pointed out earlier, my primary job in the partnership is trusting and learning to read my dog! Last year at our training center we started offering a scent work class, and it was a blast. One gentleman taught his dog to locate antler sheds, another woman taught her dog to locate and bring her the tv remote control. Both of these particular dogs were young and high drive, and they loved having these jobs to do. Their owners loved it too!
    I had loads of stuffed animals as a kid, especially dogs. Bless my mom, she saved them all until I was ready to part with them. I saved a few that I passed on to my kids, amazingly they’re still intact!

  30. Carmen Hurley says

    Forgot to say, what a BEAUTIFUL photo of your mom! I have a very old photo of my grandmother when she was in her 20’s, holding a puppy. I have it framed in our living room, it’s one of my all time favorites. I love photos like this, thanks for sharing!

  31. Kerry M. says

    So many people do nose work here, this might be a good place to ask this question. Has anyone taught their dog to find their keys? I would love to do this because I am always losing them. I figure this could be relatively easy to teach to a dog who already understands how to search, but I am still hesitant to do it. I figure I have to teach him to search counters, since I rarely lose my keys on the floor. He has never counter surfed or “stolen” food and I don’t want to take that for granted.

    Has anyone taught their dogs to search for keys or anything else at counter height? Has this had any impact on their realizing, “hey there is bread on this counter!”

  32. Linda says

    I love that even though Willie will never be “sound”, you haven’t given up on him! I had to stop reading the blog of one who shall not be named because he was not willing to go the distance with his dogs. As soon as one of them had a problem he would euthanize the dog. I know it is not my business, but I finally could no longer stand to read anything he said about dogs. We can’t just love our pets when they are well & everything is grand. What is the point–one should be in it for the long haul. Or maybe only have stuffed ones! You are an inspiration!

  33. em says

    I’ll add my voice to the chorus of stuffed animal-havers! I had dozens and loved them dearly, and like so many of the previous posters, lost no time in graduating to real animal adoration. Dolls were for losers, in my five-year-old mind. I HAD a little brother and knew from personal experience that babies were lame. If other little girls’ idea of a good time was listening to screeches, being vomited on and changing dirty diapers, more power to them, but my fantasy life was all about the fabulous adventures that I would have with my animals.

    Both my dogs are nose-focused, though neither has done any structured tracking. Otis is an accomplished air-tracker. Not only can he follow a trail, but he’s proficient at scent-spotting- finding critters or people in a general area without following or crossing their actual path. He’s so good that the hiding game that people all suggest when teaching your dog to be attentive off- leash- (dog is dilly-dallying and not paying attention, human calls, dog does not look up, human hides behind a tree or rock, dog looks and sees no human, gets scared and has to search, thus learning to keep closer tabs on human)–has zero impact on him. He’ll start galloping up the path, expecting that I’ve moved onward out of sight, pass my hiding spot, slam on the brakes, whip his head right around, and come straight to me. Never missed me yet.

    I could try hiding better, but this game has always seemed a little mean to me. Plus, Otis covers ground FAST, and he’ll backtrack if he loses a scent- If he doesn’t spot me with a normal scan of the area, I don’t want him running all the way back to the car before he realizes that I was deliberately hiding from him.

    This is the one weak spot in Otis’ scent skill set- he can and will easily track humans, dogs, and animals, but if he crosses a scent trail,particularly on a well-worn path where old and new scents are layered and mingled, he can’t always tell which way the person or animal was moving along it. In the winter, he and I make a good team. He can tell me if those tracks on the path ahead of us belong to one of his special friends, and I can tell him which way they are travelling. Sometimes I can even show him how to loop the opposite way along a trail to meet them more quickly. This, more than anything, has raised my street cred in Otis’ eyes. If I suggest that we abandon a scent trail over his reservations because his buddies are THIS way, and he grudgingly follows me, only to experience the WOW! THERE THEY ARE! MY HUMAN’S A MAGICAL GENIUS! moment when we meet them, I like to imagine that he gains a little bit of respect for my judgement. (I mean, I’m sure he does….:-))

    Sandy’s a scanner, by contrast. A nose-to-the-ground, fast-moving hound type. She’s the one who rousts out every mouse nest and finds every pizza crust in a five-mile radius. I’m fairly certain that she could follow a track, but she’s more of a close-confines searcher by nature, less likely to be standing with her nose in the air, trying to pinpoint that waft of deer or coyote or running along after a scent. I’ve never played (and am not likely to play) the hiding game with her unless we were in a controlled setting. She’s very sensitive and I’m not sure how she would react-plus she doesn’t give me much opportunity, being more attentive than Otis. I don’t get the Magical Genius reaction out of her, though. When it comes to scent interactions, I don’t have much to bring to her party. :-)

  34. Laura says

    Love all the comments so far. I too, was a stuffed animal nut. I had huge cardboard boxes full of them and still have favorites I keep with me, especially stuffed doggies. I think scent work is awesome. Alas, the trainers at my guide dog school usually discourage sniffing of any kind, except for relieving. They say, “Sniffing always leads to something else. They’re right in a way because a dog can get to smelling something and get very distracted, but I hate having to squash my dog’s instinct. One question I have is this. Why, when my dog greets people, does he concentrate on sniffing their shoes? Do shoes carry the most scent?

  35. says

    I don’t have much to add this time, but between the blog post and the comments you all have convinced me to take a nosework class this spring!

  36. Debbie Schoene says

    I have always been a sucker for stuffed animals! As a child maybe they were a substitute for the “real thing”; lots of plush dogs and bears all over my room. I remember one of my favorites…an almost life-sized German Shepard with a very detailed face….how I wanted the flesh, blood and fur version! Now in my adult life, when I no longer have to accept woefully inadequate substitutions, I am still drawn to stuffed animals. Kohl’s Dept stores offer terrific plush creatures (the proceeds from which go to charity) that make wonderful dog toys so I am able to use my dogs as a cover for my addiction. 😉 Glad to hear you’ve been given the OK to introduce herding again, Trisha…it’s tough for us to see our dogs not being able to engage in the work they love. ‘Course, I suspect it’s harder on us than them!

  37. Beth with the Corgis says

    This is totally off-topic, but has been on my mind. Trisha, would you consider doing a post on dog-to-dog greetings? I puzzle over it because I had always heard that laid-back ears are a submissive posture, yet my dominant male dog always greets strange dogs with ears plastered back (his tail would be loose-wagging if he had one…). He adores other dogs, loves to meet new ones, wants to greet nearly every new dog he sees, gets along with most, and is also boss-dog to just about everyone but the 100+ pound German Shepherd in the large group of dogs he knows.

    My dog- and human-submissive female always greets us with ears plastered back (and more clearly submissive postures), but tends to run up to other dogs with ears forward— she’s a bit uncertain about greetings and can get defensive of her personal space, but at the first sign of trouble she is backing out of the situation.

    Just seems the opposite of what I’ve been told, and my own theory is that my very dog-savvy male just wants to make friends and so does this to put others at ease. Incidentally, he also greets other people this way. He is, though, a very bossy dog.

    Sorry for going off-topic! Wasn’t sure how else to put in a request. :)

  38. Larry C. says

    Scent is a learned skill. I didn’t realize that until I adopted a 9 month old Labrador that had been severely abused by being confined. He didn’t know how to carry something around in his mouth, which I would have sworn was impossible for a retriever. He also had no idea what scents meant, and ignored them completely. During long walks with a dachshund and a couple spaniels he observed their scenting activities. First he just ran to where they were demonstrating excitement, but didn’t understand what was happening. Then he started to make the connection between scents and real things. Eventually he learned to use his nose more or less normally for a dog, but he has never developed the attachment to sniffing that the other dogs enjoy. Whenever one dog stops to concentrate on a scent the other dogs will run over to see what is so interesting, and he participates but is never the one to first locate that scent.

    Some bird dog trainers start pups by teaching them there may be rewards for using their nose. They hide pieces of hot dog or other treat in tall grass, and let the pup discover them at leisure.

    I also think dog’s noses can become disoriented by unfamiliar environments. Until they sort out what each scent means, they have trouble discriminating.

  39. jackied says

    When I get home from dog training with my Springer Lucy, my other dog (Springer X BC) breathalyses her to see what treats she’s been eating.

  40. Alaska says

    Growing up, my brother actually slept burrowed into a pile of stuffed animals, in lieu of sheets and blankets.

    One thing my dogs do with their noses that I find interesting is check each other’s status during play. They will be wrestling hard, then one will suddenly break off (the way dogs do) and the other dog will sniff the first dog’s butt, as though trying to get a read on mood. “Did you stop because I got too rough, or was it because you were just ready to do something else?” Happens all the time.

  41. Linda says

    I never had stuffed teddy bears as a child so I collect them now–much to the chagrin of my husband!

  42. Mary Beth says

    I would LOVE to take you out with me for a day of judging for bird dogs. Its a fascinating study of people and dog behaviors while the dogs are engaging in an instinctual behavior but also responding to cues from their people. I especially find the retrieving part fascinating with the interactions.
    I watch where they plant the birds so I know where the bird is at, then I check the wind, then I watch the show.
    Its amazing how the dogs work the scent, the terrain and the wind. What’s even more fascinating is to watch a dog track a pheasant. Pheasants can run at nearly 10 mph. I’ve watched a pheasant run away from a dog on point on it, then watched the dog track it, but suddenly lose the track after awhile. How could they lose a track they were hot on? I was watching and never saw the bird fly off!

    Also interesting is to hear the quail calling back and forth to one another during the trials. The dogs rarely pay any attention to it. Seems like nose first, eyes second, ears last. But the people pay attention to it, yet its a rare person that can actually follow the quail call to the correct location of the bird (I cannot!!)

  43. Larry C. says

    @em, have you ever thought of taking Otis to search and rescue training? Your hiding game is very similar to that training. A second person hides, Otis would get a treat when he finds that person, and a second treat when he comes back and tells you about it. Search dogs save lives, and have a wonderful time doing it. They cover much more ground and are many times as effective as human searchers.

  44. JJ says

    The picture of your mom is really breath taking. It almost doesn’t look real, it is so perfect.

    I wouldn’t say that I was crazy about stuff animals as a kid, but I definitely felt attached to them and vastly preferred them over dolls. I still have such a sentimental attachment that you can find quite a few stuffed animals around my house today and most of them belong to me, not my dog.

    When I have over-night guests over, I can’t leave chocolate on the pillow, because my dog would get it. So, I always leave a hug-able stuffed animal on the pillow. I’m convinced that the stuffed animal is as nice a welcome and as comforting as chocolate.

  45. JJ says

    I appreciate your comments about Willie’s progress. I’m curious about something, which you of course, don’t have to answer.

    I’m curious if you regret giving Willie his surgery or not. Or maybe it would be better to say that I want to know that if you had 100% foresight into the future, knowing with certainty that Willie would be right where he is now and may be in this “place” forever, would you still do the surgery? Did the surgery and agonizing recovery process have any actual positive benefit? Or could you have skipped to the hobbles and careful management without the surgery and be just as good or even better off?

    I ask, because I ended up giving my dog two knee surgeries plus all that rehabilitation. While I don’t know for sure, I’m fully convinced that my dog is worse off than he would have been without the surgeries.

    Between my own personal experiences and other experiences that I have read and heard about, I am now *very* cautious about doing any procedures to my dog. I think a lot about a statistic in the Speaking For Spot book (which I am repeating from memory and thus may have wrong), which said that in humans, they estimate that 80% of medical problems would benefit best from benign neglect (doing nothing). The author wondered if a similar statistic would apply to dogs as well.

    A little bit of time after my dog’s first knee surgery, my dog started peeing blood. This, of course, can be very serious and I rushed him to the vet. We did all the easy tests (blood, urine, x-rays, etc.). While they could confirm that it really was blood in the urine (a LOT/deep dark red), they couldn’t find a cause. Then, by the time that all the tests came back, Duke’s urine was back to normal. So, I didn’t pursue it any further even though the vet encouraged me to do more tests. (Duke had been hit in the side by another dog at the dog park, and my theory was that Duke had his kidneys hit and it healed on it’s own after a few days.)

    But then a few months after that (and after Duke’s second knee surgery), Duke started to pee blood again. He peed blood pretty much non-stop for a long period of time. (I waited a few weeks to see if it would go away on it’s own.) So, I took him in again for all the easy tests. Once again, they still could not find a cause.

    At this point, they wanted to do much more invasive tests. One vet even said, “you should do this just so you will know”. She was saying was, “Even if he has bladder cancer, like we discussed, and is going to die a horrible death, you should do these invasive tests just so you will know what is wrong.” I looked at my dog (he had great energy and did not appear to be in any pain in regards to urinating etc) and remembered his surgeries and the 80% rule and decided to “wait and see”. Prior to this, I would have done everything the vets said to do, because I would have been scared not to. I would have believed that doing *something* would have been my obligation and would have given Duke his best possible outcome. But now I believed that doing nothing might give Duke his best outcome.

    He peed blood fairly consistently for another year and a half!!!! He would have a week here or there where it stopped, and then it would start again. It sounds incredibly awful. However, if you didn’t know about the blood, everyone watching my dog thought that he was in perfect health (not counting the bad knee).

    Now my dog has gone a good month plus without *any* blood. I’m hoping that whatever the problem was, it has healed on it’s own. We will see.

    I guess I am sharing this story on this blog because I think that people (I’m not saying you) get scared into “doing something” for their dogs’ problems when sometimes there really isn’t any procedure or pill that will make the dog better. Sometimes doing nothing is actually better because procedures and pills come with *risks*. It is important to remember that our medical science needs to go a long way before it actually matches our expectations/beliefs of what it can do.

    Just some thoughts for people who might be facing a scary medical decision for your dog.

    And I want to say that I am in NO WAY advocating that dogs not get medical care. Yes, please give your dog’s medical care when appropriate.

  46. JJ says

    @Kat: Thanks for sharing what you do with your dog class. What a fantastic education for the kids. They are very lucky.

    @Mathew: I watched that video with my mouth open. Wow! I don’t know anything about herding, but that bunny looked like he was doing a pretty darn good job. I am in awe. Go bunnies!

  47. trisha says

    Apologies for not answering more comments, I’m crazy busy with UW and my upcoming day long seminar at the Vet School this Saturday. But I’ve read every comment and greatly appreciate this conversation, it’s a very interesting and valuable one. A few quick responses to some recent questions and comments: Mary Beth, I’d love to watch your dogs! I have watched several field trials, but none in which dogs have to use their own sense of smell to find the birds. I’m putting it on my bucket list. My favorite thing to do in the world (okay, one of….) is to watch dogs do things that they do naturally.

    And to JJ: First, argh, I’m so sorry to hear your story. Ouch. My answer probably should be a blog in itself, but I can tell you now that I’m glad I did a surgery because I had tried other methods (many of them) twice in the past. Three long sessions of complete exercise restriction (5 to 10 weeks), along with therapy, acupuncture, herbs, homeopathic, etc etc, gets old after a while. What I can’t say yet is whether I think we did the right surgery, and I think I won’t know the answer to that at least for another 6 months, and maybe really never, since I’ll have no control. Now that I’m working my way up to ‘normal’ (granted, it’ll be a new normal, but that’s because of the injuries, not the surgery) I’ll have a better idea of how functional Willie can be as a working sheep dog. Cross your paws, and so sorry to hear about all your traumas.

  48. says

    I play “hide the toy” in the house on nasty Wisconsin days. I ask both dogs to sit & stay & then I hide a toy or toys somewhere in the house, often in hard places. When I release the dogs they will usually go off together rather than splitting up even though this is often a competitive game, and I suspect it may be because they work together on walks, each immediately running to investigate whatever the other has found to sniff. My younger Weimaraner has done tracking. I’ve been teaching her to follow the scents of other dogs in the hope that she can help find dogs who have run off, because I volunteer at a humane society & we get those calls. Nevertheless it’s my fourteen year old Weimaraner who usually finds the hidden toy first. Maybe it’s because her snout is a good inch longer, but maybe it’s because she’s nearly blind & her reliance on her nose has become crucial for her. She’s begun sniffing faces in order to recognize people bundled in winter clothes. Yesterday I came home from a nine-day trip during which I met many dogs. My old dog wasn’t absolutely sure it was me until I sat next to her on the sofa & she was able to sniff my face. Then she went ballistic.

  49. says

    ‘Scent of the Missing’ is absolutely a must-read! I really enjoyed it and have referred back to it many times.

    That’s a lovely photo of your Mom, by the way, a real treasure.

  50. Lisa W says

    My dogs love to play “Find it.” I’ll hide treats in the yard and they will seek and eat! They also are very scent-istive to each other’s smells and when one comes back from the vet, she get sniffed up and down until the injection site is found (one dog is going weekly for Adequan injections) and their noses can tell the story of where they went, what happened, and if everything is ok.

    I also used my Lab mix, Phoebe, to tell me if our other dog had peed in the house (and I may have missed it) when we were in house training mode with Olive. Phoebe would lower her ears, curl her lip and walk a very wide berth around any pee or smell that didn’t “belong.” Her avoidance of an area alerted me to something amiss.

    I’ve often wondered about a noise I hear when Phoebe is hot on a scent trail on a walk. It sounds like a valve opening and closing, it’s a soft click, click, click noise definitely coming from her nose. It tells me she needs to be watched or else she may get too involved in the trailing and forget to listen 😉

    @JJ: Our old girl, Grace, had a period of bloody urination and when it first started, she was vomiting what looked like gallons of bloody water. My vet suggested we put her on Pepcid in the am and pm and feed her a diet of homemade lamb and rice. While it wasn’t 1 1/2 years, it did last a while, but she eventually got to right again. She was a very sensitive girl and all her stress landed in her stomach. Stress does some pretty incredible things, and I think she was feeling poorly in her joints and it came out through her digestive system (my own guess).

    I would love to see a blog about surgical (or not) treatment of our dogs and taking advantage of the incredible advancements in medicine vs careful non-surgical management. I am constantly struggling with the best way to treat and manage different ailments, injuries, etc. Right now the Adequan treatment is a hopeful boost for Phoebe who has severe hip dysplasia, and we are looking at a future FHO, femoral head ostectomy. My gut says she will not do well with that, but I can’t tell if it’s my panic at the procedure or a true intuition.

  51. JJ says

    Trisha: Thanks for answering my post. Both me and Duke will keep our paws crossed for Willie. He has us on his side.

    Also, I had read Scent Of the Missing when you recommended it the first time. I don’t normally read a lot of non-fiction books, but I truly loved that book. I was grateful she wrote it and to you for recommending it.

  52. Christine says

    My Jura-Laufhund Tabasgo and me are currently attending training lessons in “mantrailing”! I love the way how eager the dogs are to find the missing people and how they do that in an unerring way! (So I definitively have to read “The scent of the missing”!!!) I also hide rewards somewhere in the house and Tabasgo has to find them. He has to use his nose so much that after 20 minutes of searching he looks so happy! It’s really a nice indoors play when the temperatures are -18

  53. Elise says

    I have to say scent does make a difference in how I have seen dogs greet me. I remember one of the dogs in class come up to me, start sniffing me and immediately went bonkers barking at me. He was always very good with people and I didn’t make any fast movements or eye contact with him to trigger it. Then I remembered that he always reacts to intact males and I live with one intact male. So, the second he sniffed me he reacted. At least that’s what I’m guessing. I’ve since shown him that when I come his way he gets rewarded, so now he comes looking for me with happy wags.
    In regards to the stuffed animals, we have this one video of Christmas when I was young and I was gifted with a baby doll and a puppy doll. Well, I held the baby doll by it’s leg upside down and cradled the puppy like a baby, go figure I didn’t really have a lot of stuffed animals, but I always got little animal toys. :)

    Beautifully photographed shot of your mother, by the way.

  54. JJ says

    @Lisa: I just happened to notice that you responded to me. I don’t know if you will see this or not, but thanks for taking the time to reply. It sounds like you had an even worse time than me and Duke. I don’t think my dog is all that stressed, but I’ll look into the possibility. Thanks for sharing.

  55. JJ says

    @Lisa: I’m a terrible skimmer. I just read your last paragraph. Wow, you are still going through heck. I’m sorry to hear that. I’m thinking good thoughts for you. It is agonizing making these decisions and seeing our friends suffer.

  56. Rebecca Fouts says

    Dr. McConnell — have you considered treibball? It might be a way to get you and Willy’s ‘sheep fix’ — but in a more controlled environment (it’s easier to control a ball than sheep). While I know you do have sheep on the farm that need worked — Willy may never be sound enough to work them safely. But treibball could be an alternative — an outlet to do some ‘herding’ together since you both enjoy it so much – but in a safer environment. Especially if you can find a facility with padded floors. Just a thought.

    LOVE the scent demo! Going to have to use that! We’ve of course done clicker demos where the students are the dog. And we do a demo where we show the affects of sound, odor, movement, and touch on a loose group of rambunctious dogs. But I’ve never considered trying to put the humans in the dog ‘paws’ (instead of shoes) so they can better understand how the dogs respond to these stimuli. Would be interesting to come up with demo’s for the other 3 stimuli.

  57. Rebecca Fouts says

    Shalea – Have you considered using different scented candles in each room to help your going blind dog navigate the house? He’ll be able to tell what room he’s in by the scent of the candle/scent plugin. I had a client whose dog was blind and geriatric. I was called because he was showing an increasing amount of anxiety in the home, which seemed to be growing worse as the sight decreased. But once we did this, his anxiety disappeared. His anxiety was directly related to his sense disorientation in the home.

  58. says

    I am a certified K9 Nose Work instructor with the National Association of Canine Scent Work. I have been fortunate to be involved with this rapidly growing sport for the past two years. It is a competetive sport as well as an amazing way to develop the human canine bond. It provides companion and performance dogs the opportunity to get back in touch with their natural hunting ability in a very positive and non-threatening environment.It is patterned after the scent dectection skills of law enforcement teams, although we use essential oils (birch, anise and clove) Skills are taught in 4 areas: container search, interior search, exterior search and vehicle search. In competition, the dog/handler team must identify all four hides which become increasingly difficult at higher levels of competition. This sport is especially rewarding for reactive dogs, senior dogs and disabled dogs, as just about any dog can participate. I strongly encourage contacting the NACSW.net to find a certified trainer in your area, and if there are none, consider becoming a trainer and atart a program in your area.

  59. says

    I have just started scent work with my dog Ruby who is two…she’s a cockapoo.

    Does anyone know, if a dog is in a heat cycle, how it affects their ability to perform? Or does it not have any impact…

    I’m just curious… We tested today for ORT Birch. So accurate at home, outside and even other locations. But today…did not pass! And she is at the end of her heat cycle. I’m just wondering if that impacted her performance today at all….

    Any comments would be most helpful….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>