Scent Work, The Next Frontier | Bella my Pomeranian and I have done sports since she was a pup. We started when she was six months old with Obedience, she was a bit of a wild child with an independent soul. We were able to work through that and started becoming a team. We then started in Agility, she loved the fast-paced game and tunnels were her favorite. She would bank those tunnels like a Border Collie. We did agility for several years and then we started in Rally as well.
A friend of mine contacted me and said, “I’m taking Cali to a Nose Work class that is starting soon, why don’t you and Bella do it with me.” My first reaction was probably the same as yours, “How can a Pomeranian do this?” But I decided to sign us up and give it a try. Worst case scenario is she gets to try something new and we spend time together with friends. On April 27th, 2017 we started our classes.
Bella was a natural, our instructor Terry Van Hook of Competitive Edge Agility and Dogs Sports was singing her praises from day one. She kept telling me that she was going to be so good. We continued with classes once a week for the next few months and then we heard the would be a Nose Work ORT (Odor Recognition Test) the first part of September. We signed up to take the test, when Terry asked what we signed up for I said “All three odors,” she was a bit surprised and reminded me that many people do not pass the first time. Bella aced all three odors and passed the test with flying colors.
About the time of the ORT, we heard about AKC starting their own event Scent Work. Same odors but much stronger than NACSW, so we needed to get exposure to the stronger scents. Bella quickly adjusted her method of hunting to compensate for the stronger odor. Dogs are so smart! We learned that the local club would be holding their very first AKC Scent Work Trial, of course I entered Bella in all four elements, all four trials that weekend. In Novice Scent Work the dogs must find one hide, the odor is Birch and once they show you the hide you call out alert! She was in her glory and had a blast that weekend, twice she looked at me like, “What are you doing?” when I alerted incorrectly. Despite my trial stress and blurt alerts she qualified 14 of the 16 and earned her SWN. To do so she had to qualify in three times in Containers, Interior, Exterior and Buried. She was the first Pomeranian and Toy Breed to earn the SWN on November 5th, 2017. So proud of my Princess. We were totally hooked!
When Bella was nine and a half she took a hard hit on the A-frame causing her to be sidelined for several months. She was going stir crazy and so was I. The low impact searches made this easy for her to do while recuperating from her agility injury. She loved the hunt (unlike the stinky Rat on Barn Hunt) and was quickly becoming quite the little hunter. We moved up to Advanced, now there would be two hides in each element, Birch and Anise. Bella did nicely in Advanced and we soon were on to Excellent. Excellent had three hides in each element with Birch, Anise and Clove, and Buried was no longer in the tub but in the ground. They bore holes eight inches deep to place the hides in. This was something we had not really worked on, AKC Scent Work was still new and we were part of the pioneer group moving to the higher levels. We moved up the first day and saw that even though she found two of the three hides, I needed to get her to understand that she needed to check the ground. So, we moved back to Advanced for the last trial of the weekend and then began to work on getting her to understand this new way to play buried. At home I would throw a scent container over my shoulder so I would not know where it was and tell her to go find it. She quickly got the hang of that and we took a few lessons with Kim Hall so we could get the real feeling of the trial. Between the lessons from Kim and Terry, Bella figured out the new twist to her favorite game.
We were only doing local trials up until this time offered by to local clubs. We now needed to do a little traveling to find places to work on our Excellent Buried and Master titles. There was a lesson I had not yet learned… Trust Your Dog! In Master you had one to three hides, it could be Birch, Anise, Clove or Cypress. With the food distractions I soon learned that even though she sometimes hit on them it was not her normal alert for odor. It was frantic pawing, so I learned to tell her, “That is not what we are looking for, go find it,” she soon learned there was nothing to gain from telling me about food. We went on to learn the Excellent Buried and found that with the hides in the ground the wind and the sun were a factor as well. I was walking her through trying to guide her to where I felt we were covering the grounds completely. Hindsight, I feel I was slowing her down and hindering her searches. Then I broke my foot. That was not Scent Work related but it taught me a lesson about my searches with her. Again, trust your dog, don’t try to micromanage the search. Because I couldn’t walk well on the uneven terrain, I had to use a long lead. She went out on her own and we worked as a team. With her searching and telling me and me alerting to the judge we finished the Excellent Buried! We moved up to Master Buried for the next morning and she went in and found a hide, stood and sniffed the air and walked over to me and stood next to me and sighed. I asked her are you sure, then closed my eyes said “Trust your dog,” and called, “Finished”. To my amazement we had earned our first Master Buried Q. We went straight over to the next Master Buried and started that search. Again, Bella went out and quickly alerted, I called alert and rewarded her for the find. She sniffed around and started toward me like she was done. I was thinking there is no way there is only one hide again. So, I told her to go out to the back and look. She was not amused, as she walked to the back she would stop and look over her shoulder at me. When she got to the back of the search area she stopped again, and I pointed to the other side saying look over there. She just sat down and did the grumble of an angry Pom. I closed my eyes said “Trust your dog!” And called “Finished”, she was right, and we now had two for two Master Buried Q’s. The very next weekend we were in our local trial and I we did Master Buried for the third try hoping to earn the title. Once again, I had to trust Bella, it was once again only one hide. She earned her Master Buried title in threetries in the ground. I was and am so proud of how amazing she was at this.
On July 13th, 2019 Bella became the 17th dog in the country to earn the Scent Work Master title. She was once again the first Pomeranian and First Toy Breed to earn it. Summing her record up she was the first Pomeranian and First Toy Breed to earn the SWN, First Pomeranian to earn SWA, SWE, and of course SWM.
“Scent Work gives your dog a job and dogs are happier and healthier when they have a job,”. It also gives your pup a good mental workout—Bella always gets a little pep in her step and a smile on her face whenever she’s on the hunt for a scent. “Humans and dogs need to keep mentally active to stay young.”
I have started my ten-year-old three and a half pound Pomeranian in Scent Work and he is already doing so well. Any dog with a sense of smell can play this game. There are many deaf and blind dogs rocking Scent Work. This is a sport that gives many dogs that can’t do others because of age or physical limitations a game to play with their best friend. The confidence and fun these dogs get is a sight to behold. It is so good for dogs with low confidence, it builds as they learn the game and learn to tell you what they’ve found. Remember, they are the boss in this game.
If you are looking for a game/sport to play with your dog, no matter the size or physical restrictions (there are dogs in wheelchair carts that play!) Even if deaf or blind, give scent work or nose work a try. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain with the memories you will make and the time you spend with your best friend. I am so glad I didn’t let the limitations I had in my mind about Pomeranians doing this sport. I have a lifetime of wonderful memories of my Bella and I enjoying life to the fullest.
I started Scent Work so Bella could have something to do while she was in rehab from her injury, we continued it because she loved it. She went on to be the “Dog in White” AKA Demo dog used to be sure that the hides could be found. People would see her coming and think a Pomeranian? Really? Then when they would see her work, they would cheer for her and comment, “did you see her work that?” She was a sight to behold.
Bella left this world January 30th, 2020 after a weekend of being the Demo Dog and spending the weekend playing with mommy. We will all miss the “Scent Work Princess” and her brothers will be picking up where she left off playing this fun filled bonding game. Always remember to “Cherish the Moments”.
We now needed to do a little traveling to “find places to work on our Excellent Buried and Master titles. There was a lesson I had not yet learned… Trust Your Dog!”
“She earned her Master Buried title in 3 tries in the ground. I was and am so proud of how amazing she was at this.”