13 September 2012

Sniffing out a greyt weekend

Greyhounds may be sight hounds but they also have a great ability that they share with every other dog - their nose and sense of smell.

Practising the box drill on day 2. Photo courtesy of Tony Cruse
Mina's eyesight is beginning to deteriorate. She has had several major eye operations over the last few years and has the beginnings of cataracts and I want to make sure that when/if her eyesight fails that we can still do fun things together and this is what led me to the first UK Sirius Sniffers Seminar, organised by the Oxfordshire Animal Behaviour Centre with the founder of Sirius Sniffers - Kelly Gorman Dunbar being the trainer.

Whereas humans rely on sight more than smell, and even though sight hounds predominantly hunt by sight, the dog's sense of smell is perhaps the most important of their senses. Every dog has from the smallest Chihuahua to the largest Deerhound has a great nose for smells - around 10,000 to 100,000 times better than the human sense of smell.  Dogs have twice as many functioning olfactory receptors than us mere humans, meaning they can distinguish between odours that may smell identical to us, as well as sniffing out odours we can't even detect with our distinctly sub-standard noses (when compared to a dog's nose)!

Sirius Sniffers aims to make nose work accessible to pet dogs.  I'm not particularly competitive (remember, I'm not competing in agility with Mina) and I just want to have fun times with my dogs without the stress that competition would put me under. The Sirius Sniffers approach seemed ideal for my needs and it also meant that I got to meet Kelly along with the chance to catch up with lots of other doggy friends over the course of the weekend.

Day 1 - Mina is introduced to nose work - Sirius Sniffer's style

During day 1 the dogs were introduced to the idea of nose work, by using their favourite food or toy (primary reinforcer) and then hiding it in a cardboard box. Cardboard boxes were used as (a) they're easy to get hold of and (b) they contain the scent/odour quite well.

It did take Mina a while to relax and suss out what she was supposed to do. However, with Kelly's guidance and encouragement and with the fact that Mina can self-reward/reinforce by finding and eating the food in the box, it made it much more fun for her (the box contained my homemade liver cake).

Day 2 - Box drills and a hidden search

We started the day with a box drill where the boxes were lined up against a wall and the food hidden in one of the boxes.  Mina was walked up and down the line, on lead, with a chance to stop when she found the scent.  We were instructed to make sure we gave our dogs space and if they were investigating a box but it didn't contain the scent/food to keep moving or move around in an arc to encourage the dog to move.

We ended the day by being divided into groups with 3 dogs per group and each dog being set a different task - appropriate to their age, breed and ability.  The group Mina was in had a lovely 6 month old Vizsla puppy and a Corgi who was (I think) around 4-5 years old.

Mina's task was to find the food bag which was hidden in one of the boxes.  It was a blind search for both me and Mina.  The group set up the boxes and hid the food without either me or Mina in sight.

I loved the whole seminar - it really opened my eyes (or should that be made me flare my nostrils?) to the fun that can be had with nose work.  It really is great for any dog - it can help increase a dog's independence and confidence and can certainly help with reactive dogs providing focus and an alternative, acceptable behaviour outlet.

Mina and her 'fans' Photo courtesy of Claire Goyer
I'm pretty sure Mina enjoyed the weekend.  We had some 'greyt' 1 on 1 time and she won over a whole new group of fans, who obligingly provided her with attention and cuddles.

I can't wait to start trying out nose work with Stevie and Jasper too and looking at how I can factor it into some of my training classes.

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