|Photo: Teresa Zuberg and Angus
We are all aware of the remarkable power of a dog’s nose, especially when our own dogs come running from a different area of the house to beg for food. But did you know a dog’s nose can detect bacteria? A recent article showcasing a Springer Spaniel named Angus demonstrates just how powerful a dog’s nose can be.
Angus is a professional scent detection dog at Vancouver Costal Health, trained to identify the scent of Clostridium difficile,
a type of potentially life-threatening bacteria. Using only the power of his nose, Angus can alert his handler to the presence of the bacteria. This allows a specialized team to sanitize the environment and prevent patients and workers from getting sick.
Angus is just one example of the incredible application of scent detection in the workplace! Scent detection can also be a great tool for any owner to use as a way to bond with and provide exercise for their dog. CKC caught up with Angus’ handler Teresa Zuberg, CKC member and Scent Detection Judge, to talk about all things scent detection, including how to get started!
What drew you to the sport of scent detection?
When I got out of the Canadian Armed Forces in 2010, I became a canine handler for Narcotics and Explosives where I worked with German Shepherd Dogs and Malinois (a variety of the Belgian Shepherd Dog). At the same time, I became curious about the sport of scent detection. I always worked with big, tough dogs so it was hard to imagine what other breeds could offer to scent detection. I decided to go to a class with my own pet dog Java. I found it to be a lot of fun hanging out with other people that share this same passion. I went on to compete with Java and when the CKC started sanctioned scent tests and trials, I applied to be a judge.
How would you describe working with a dog in scent detection?
When doing scent detection professionally or for sport, you really have to become a student of your dog. I learned how to watch my dog’s changes in behavior and interpret what he was telling me about the environment. You really have to let the dog be in control. They are the experts on scent. The best part about scent detection as a sport is that any dog can do it! It doesn’t matter the age, breed, size or disability of the dog. One of my best students was a blind pug.
What are the benefits for dogs that participate in scent detection?
Scent detection is an activity that lets dogs use their brain and body at the same time. When they are seeking out the scent, they are breathing quickly and it is physically tiring. At the same time, they are being mentally stimulated by searching where the scent is coming from. This is one reason why even fearful and nervous dogs can be successful in this event. When they are actively thinking and sniffing, they are not focusing on their fears.
Another benefit is that you do not need bulky equipment for scent detection. If you take your dogs on long road trips, it is an activity that is easy to set up for dogs at a rest stop. All you need is to hide a treat and then let your dog sniff around for 5 minutes. There is really no end to the benefits of scent detection!
Do you have any tips for someone that wants to start training their dog for scent detection?
First, I would watch a scent detection trial or class. This will allow you to see why reading your dog’s behavior and setting up their basic skills is so important. It will also give you a chance to ask participants or judges any questions. Next, I highly recommend taking your own dog to a scent detection class. They are so much fun because you get to learn how to read your own dog and watch how other dogs react to scents. On top of that, you are able to learn about the main skills need to be successful with your dog. For example, leash-handling skills are important because you do not want to over influence your dog and control the search.
Fun tip- During training, I have found those tiny meatballs that you can buy at the grocery store to be dogs kryptonite!
In your experience, what characteristics make dogs successful in scent detection as a sport verses professionally?
For Angus, he has to work independent of me. He has to be able to ignore me and take the lead to show me to where the odor is located. He also works in stressful, chaotic environments where searches can last up to 40 minutes with many distractions. Therefore, he needs to have a high prey drive and be trained to not detect any other types of odors. This makes him harder to live with because he is tuned into the environment 24/7.
For dogs that are pets, they just have to want to go out and please their person. I love when a dog is working through finding a really tough scent. They excitingly look at you when they found something and when you celebrate with them through a toy, treat or praise they are thrilled.
When did you first realize that Angus would be great as a professional scent detection dog? Is there a trait in Angus’ breed, the springer spaniel, that makes them successful in scent detection?
When picking a professional scent detection dog, I need one genetically bred for hunting because they are able to work and stay focused for long periods. Besides a strong prey drive, the springer spaniel is a softer looking dog that that will not intimidate or scare people. The softer, fluffy ears are associated with a friendlier dog, which makes them public friendly in a hospital. However, these dogs are not in the hospital to be pet or played with as they are there doing a job. In addition, the size of the springer spaniel is ideal because they are able to move around in complex environments like the ICU without disrupting the patients or equipment in the space. It is important my dog is agile enough to get in and out of a space safely. Sometimes dog breeds, such as Labrador Retrievers, are too big.
What do you enjoy most about being a CKC Scent Detection Judge?
I love watching everyone out having fun with their dogs and the dogs of different ages, breeds, physical and mental abilities look for the target odour. By watching all these dogs, it actually helps me become a better handler when I go back and work my professional dogs. That is why at the end of a trial I like to thank everyone for sharing their dogs with me. In a way, they are becoming an extended part of the team for Angus.
What is a common misconception that people have about scent detection?
People tend to humanize the process a dog uses to find an odour. However, the way dogs work a scent problem differs greatly from us. For instance, I can stick a treat to a wall where it can clearly be seen. If you ask Angus to go search for it, you can see that he is using his nose rather than his eyes. People need to try to think with a dog brain rather than a human brain when learning about scent detection.
If you have a fun story to share about an adventure with your dog, we would love to hear about it! Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “ATTN: The Dish” and a brief description of the story you would like to submit.
We would like to thank Teresa for her time and for sharing her experience in scent detection. If you would like to learn more about how to get involved, visit our scent detection page