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Sniffing out a new sport

Scent detection is an easy sport for both dogs and humans to learn.
July 16, 2014 - 8:23 AM

THOMPSON-OKANAGAN - There’s a new sport gaining popularity in the Interior and as long as you have a dog, you can do it.

Nosework is gaining popularity as a sport that can be done competitively or for fun with any dog, and it’s the ‘any’ part that keeps a lot of dog owners coming back for more.

Dogs missing legs, blind dogs, deaf dogs, puppies, seniors, high energy and nervous dogs. They can all excel at the sport born out of the training working detection dogs undergo. A recent session in Kamloops had people travelling from around the province to learn more about the sport. Their dogs — about a dozen of them including a young dog, a skittish dog and a couple of very high energy ones — all easily honed in on the scents hidden around the room.

Jonathan Phaneuf is a competitor, trainer and judge in the sport. He says it truly is a sport that is easy for anyone to learn.

“It’s very low cost, low equipment, you can do it anywhere and you can do it by yourself,” Phaneuf says.

The sport involves hiding a small case with a cotton swab dipped in an essential oil inside. It can be done indoors or out and the different scents are used at different levels of training and testing.

“The skill you are teaching the dog… you could substitute the target odour for whatever you want it to be,” Phaneuf notes. “Dogs know how to smell. Generally it’s the handlers that are the hinderance. I like to help people become better handlers.”

The military veteran currently has several dogs he and his wife compete with, including one trained to help deal with his post traumatic stress disorder. He has a been a dog handler for many years, in different dog sports. He has also participated professionally and it was his work as a detection handler for Correctional Service Canada that turned him onto the sport of detection.

He helped establish a club in Chilliwack a few years ago and since then has seen the sport grow in Canada to the point where there are actually sanctioned competitions across the country.

In his training he tries to help people to become better handlers and he offers up a bit of odour theory in his training sessions as well. Odour theory is important because people need to understand why their dog will or will not smell something. Wind currents, saturation and length of time a hide has been in place are just a few of the factors that go into whether an odour can be easily detected.

He says most people do not trust their dogs enough nor do they give them as much leash space as they need to search properly. People also need to be aware of their search patterns when doing scent detection.

“At the end of the day dogs learn so fast, it’s so natural for them,” he says. “I’m teaching people to set up training situations to gain trust in their dogs because it is truly a team sport.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Jennifer Stahn at or call 250-819-3723. To contact an editor, email or call 250-718-2724.

News from © iNFOnews, 2014

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