Try Something Different

There’s no earthly reason that this topic should appear on the RBC, but here it is anyway.  I love dogs.  I use a service dog.  When I got Cormet, two years ago in April, we had a hard time adjusting to each other. A friend suggested I try an activity called nosework.  I am not making this up.  In nosework, dogs are taught to search for a hidden cotton swab scented with something like birch oil.  We tried it and Cormet loved it.  I still hide swabs for him in my house on rainy days when he’s bored, but I could not get fired up enough to make it a quest.  So I got into the “sport” of AKC Tracking.

Yup, ordinary civilians and ordinary dogs can learn to track; it is not the exclusive purview of steely eyed cops and lunging Belgian Malinois.  Here’s how it works.  A bunch of certifiably insane people and their dogs (all different breeds) get together in a hayfield.  A tracklayer walks through the field, making turns.  She makes notes about where she walked, but she doesn’t mark it visually. She drops a glove at the start and the end.  The track is allowed to age.  Then the tracking team, person and dog, go to the start of the track.  The dog (eagerly anticipating the fun) sniffs the start glove with all the enthusiasm and interest of a person snatching up a hotly anticipated book.  He sets off down the track, with his person following at the end of a 30-foot lead.  Dogs don’t need to be trained to recognize or follow scent; the person’s job is to learn to read the dog’s signals that indicate if he’s lost the scent or is considering taking a detour to track a rabbit instead.  The first time you see your dog execute a perfect turn and realize that he is actually tracking the exact path walked by the tracklayer– well, it’s mystical, almost.

So here’s a little video of me and Cormet learning to track.  Tracking It looks like nothing until you see Cormet take a 45 degree turn to the right, follow the scent, and find the glove.  He had no idea the track took that turn, and we were rank beginners.  And here is a picture of our friend Georgie, who earned her Tracking Dog title last weekend, together with Georgie’s person, who graciously allowed me to post her picture.  Look at Georgie sniffing her prize ribbon. Image 1

Try something new.  You’ll astound yourself.


Author: Lowry Heussler

Lowry Heussler is a lawyer from Cambridge, Massachusetts. Having participated in the RBC as a guest-blogger, she made it official in 2012. Her most important contribution to the field of public policy to date was her 1994 instruction to Mark Kleiman, "Read Ann Landers every day. You need to learn about real people." Her essay on the 2009 arrest of Henry Louis Gates went viral and brought about one of her proudest moments, being described as "just another twit along the lines of Sharpton, Jackson, Gates, etc." (Small Dead Animals Blog). Currently serving as General Counsel to BOTEC Analysis Corp., she has been a public housing lawyer, a prosecutor for the Board of Registration in Medicine, a large-firm associate and a small-firm partner. She serves as a board member for NEADS, Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans, a charity that trains service dogs to increase independence for people with disabilities.

10 thoughts on “Try Something Different”

  1. Katarina has been treatening to take our goldens out to do this activity. Dogs love to sniff out a trail, their nose being their prime sense organ.
    I’m told folks around these parts train their dogs to hunt for specific mushrooms. My dog hunts for them but she eats them before I can get them in the bag. I think keeping the dog from consuming the quarey is what the training is all about. I see no hope for that on the horizon.

  2. This sounds like a fun activity. I believe my dog thinks our evening walks are quests for cat poo, so I could definitely see him enjoying this.

  3. Couldn’t watch the video, but great post!!! This is one of the great truths of life. Trying new things is usually good.

  4. 1. Cormet is a gorgeous dog.
    2. Tracking is one of the most fun things AKC organizes.
    3. For those who are up to it, and whose dog is good, think about Search-and-Rescue. Cell phones have simplified a lot of wilderness work, like finding lost hikers. Despite cell phones, batteries run out of power, the phone can be turned off, there may not be a tower in range, and even in this day and age some folks don’t carry them. There is still a need for skilled doggies and handlers.
    4. Despite stereotypes, not all Malinois are lunging attack dogs, nor are all Malis good at tracking. My last dog was a Valley Girl in a Malinois disguise. Actually, she had quite a good nose — but she didn’t like people she didn’t know and couldn’t be convinced to track anyone other than her immediate family. As a friend of ours said, “Her biggest problem is that she doesn’t know who her friends are.”

    1. Hmmm. A small grizzly runs about 90 kg (the inland subspecies).

      Think about a 200 pound dog with a great nose and a bad attitude. Not playing the game is probably a good idea…

      For confirmation, see Krakauer’s Into the Wild.

  5. Okay, I’m slathering my room with birch oil. When can I expect Cormet to come visit me in Pittsburgh?

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