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'Nose work' games enliven dogs' senses

By Nina Wu

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jun 13, 2012


Bruce Asato / basato@staradvertiser.comLuka, a 10-year-old golden retriever, uses his sense of smell to locate the source of a particular scent in his "nose work" with dog trainer Kyoko Johnson.
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Luka is a 10-year-old golden retriever but doesn't act like one, according to owner Kyoko Johnson.

He doesn't like to fetch, swim or play with other dogs. Slowed down by hip dysplasia, Luka moped around until he discovered "nose work," a training method that uses a dog's sense of smell and natural desire to hunt.

"He loves it," said Johnson, a professional dog trainer and owner of Country Canine LLC. "When we play nose work, he comes alive and acts like a puppy."

Country Canine is organizing an "Introduction to K9 Nose Work" seminar to be taught by Jill Marie O'Brien and Julie Gaunt in separate sessions Saturday and Sunday.

Johnson said she was inspired to bring the workshop here after discovering it on the mainland, where it has become a popular canine pastime, with trails and competitions held nationwide.

"Being a dog trainer, I see that most dogs are punished for using their nose whether sniffing someone's crotch or something in the bush," said Johnson. "We usually scold them. Nose work is a socially acceptable way for them to express their natural instinct."

While dogs can be trained to sniff out everything from narcotics to cadavers, the workshop's primary goal is to provide a fun activity. Among the attendees will be Cathy Van Brocklin, the owner of three dogs and a volunteer at the Oahu SPCA who wants to provide nose-work games to shelter animals.

Typically, an introductory exercise includes helping a dog find a scented item, usually food at first, in a row of open boxes and then later in closed boxes. At a more advanced level, dogs search for a specific scent outdoors where there are more distractions.

Nose work can instill confidence in shy or nervous dogs and help exciteable dogs calm down and focus, according to Johnson. It can also give confined dogs a stimulating activity to do.

The exercises can work for any size or breed.

Johnson said she hopes to be able to provide nose-work classes through her business in the near future.


"Introduction to K9 Nose Work" will be held 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday at Wai­alua Community Association gym and Sunday at Loveland Academy, 1506 Piikoi St. The cost is $145 with dog, $80 without dog; www.countrycaninehawaii.com.

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