Those of you who are club members will have received your autumn Bu news, in it I wrote an article about living with a blind dog which you may have read. My Kiki went blind last year when he was only 6 yrs old due to an eye infection called Chorioretinitis, it is something that can also affect humans. If we had problems seeing we would go to the Dr or Optician so it would be treated early. Kiki showed no signs until his pupils became very large by that time it was too late to be cured, although the canine eye specialist did try with antibiotics and steroids. Kiki like Fizz had loved doing things like agility, rally and was in our Obreedience team, he also had his Gold Good Citizen before he was six months old. In February this year a friend of mine told me her dog training club had started doing scent training and had a beginners’ day the following weekend. I contacted them and, yes they would take a blind dog. It was snowing the day of the course and only 4 of the original 14 that were booked turned up .The trainer had worked in the industry at London Airport with her Malinois, and I was amazed how by the end of the day Kiki was beginning to understand what was required .We joined the training sessions every other Monday and gradually Kiki was looking for scent on pieces of material no bigger than my thumb nail, hidden in all sorts of places. Then a couple of months ago the trainer said the club was thinking of running a Scent Trail under Scentwork UK rules. These trials are based on detection-style nose work practiced daily by custom and excise, bomb explosive, search and rescue and medical detection dogs. There are 8 levels starting at level 1 and you have to qualify at each level before moving up. You can stay in lower levels if you wish, but you cannot go on winning place points after reaching 20, which gives letters after the dog’s name. The number of dogs taking part is capped at 20. The top 4 dogs are awarded a place rosette and points, 10 for first then 8, 6, 4 and if the dog successfully does all 4 searches, they are awarded a clean sweep rosette & 2 points but only if they have not been placed. The 4 searches in level 1 are Table & Chairs, Car, Luggage and Boxes & Outside, here the scent is hidden in an item you might find in a garden such as a garden chair, hosepipe etc. The dog has to find 3 of the searches to qualify. There is time limit of 3 minutes for each search and the dog is awarded 20 marks if it finds the scent within the time. There are also handler marks of 5 for each search. If at the end of the trial there are dogs on equal points, which include the handler marks, then the overall time is taken into consideration. The dog is looking for the scent of cloves on a very small piece of material, which is usually fixed to the item by some type of tape. The day of the trial dawned bright and sunny without a cloud in the sky, although it was quite cold. We had been given a drawn order for each search before the day, the scent is obviously put out before each search starts, and with 20 dogs taking part the scent will dissipate as the search goes on, so it is only fair that no dog goes first or last in each search. A couple of weeks before the trail, we had had a practice trial day to gives us an idea of how things would run, Kiki failed both the inside searches but amazingly found the outside ones, which for him is more difficult as wind can make the scent seem if it is coming from a different place, as being blind he has a wider scent picture. Before each search, a dog they call a white dog (a very experienced scent dog) does the search, to make sure that the planted scent is the only scent and there is no contamination. The first search was the ‘tables and chairs’ which for Kiki is quite difficult, as the scent is usually hidden under the seat of a chair, and the dog is meant to indicate by putting his/her nose on the scent and, if possible, sitting down. I tried teaching Kiki to do this but it seemed to muddle him, so I had to go back to how he indicated to me when he first learnt, and that was by suddenly turning his head and looking at me, although he cannot see me he always knows where I am. You go through two cones to start at which point your time starts. I was allowed to tell the judge Kiki was blind and I kept him on the long training lead I use and I can say chairs but not touch them. (The dogs can be on the lead or off ). We went round the table & chairs once and turned round to go back the other way, when Kiki indicted he had found it, and I put my hand up to show the judge, and happily he was right that was in 1.08minutes. The next search was ‘the outside of the car’ it was hidden by a wheel nut and he found it in 30secs. The next was boxes and luggage, this time it was hidden in a bag, because he can’t see them he tends to fall over them and sniffs them at the same time; again he found it, this time it took longer 1.41minutes. This meant he had qualified. The last search was the outside one, the wind was now quite strong so I was worried it would be harder for him, but as we had qualified I did not mind, he proved me wrong finding it in 1.09minutes.
That meant not only had we qualified but we also had a ‘clean sweep’. It was a lovely day everyone was very friendly, if the searches were outside we were all in the hall so everyone started chatting, with the inside searches we were all outside, the organisers made sure no one could see the dogs searching, but of course it was down to the integrity of the handlers not to tell anyone where the scent was, but why would you? We all gathered in the hall for the awards, everyone qualified but 4 did not get clean sweeps. When the top 4 places were handed out I was amazed that Kiki and I were 2nd and I had the top handler marks of 20, Kiki was only beaten on time, but more importantly he really enjoyed the day.
If you are interested in working with your dog Scentwork UK have a website with a list of trainers, and as Kiki proved you can do it with any dog, you do not need a large venue for training and you can practice at home.
I finish with the good news from Brenda Bethell that her homebred Minforst Galadriel has had an eye test and is clear for HC.
Margaret Deuchar http://margaretdeuchar @gmail.com
The views expressed in Margaret’s Breed Notes are hers and hers alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Norwegian Buhund Club of the UK