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Scent-sational! A colliesonline.com interview with Stephanie Barber

Interest in the Collie world for scent work has been on the rise since the American Kennel Club held it's first scent work trials in September 2017. In that first year, 14 scent titles were earned by three collies. The following year scent work was beginning to catch on and 72 scent titles were earned by 22 collies. Then in 2019, scent titles earned by collies jumped to 210 titles behind only agility with 516 titles, CGG with 327 titles and rally with 229 titles. In 2020, when the country was dealing with all manner of event cancellations due to the pandemic, 159 titles were still earned by collies.

When you think of breeds, the dogs that come to mind for excelling in scent work are of course the hound breeds, hence the name "scent hound." However, it's well documented that all dogs share an exceptional ability over humans to detect scents. It is a venue that undeniably has numerous advantages for you and your collie. We share with you an interview with Stephanie Barber of Kelstrin Collies who has had excellent results in scent work with her rough collie "Teagan," Kelstrin’s You Me & Tea, CA, DCAT, FTC, SWA, SWE, SCME, SBME, SIAE, SEM, SHDM, SDPRO, CGCA, CGCU, TKP, ATT, VHMA, CW-SSS, CW-SCR1A, CW-SCR2A, ORT, NW1, NW2, CCSS-L1, CCSS-L2, CW-SPI, CW-ScR2A, CW-SI, CW-SCR2A. This amazing team is 1 Q away from the Master Element Overall Title, with 1 of 10 Q’s in Detective, C-WAGS Scent Work, Level 5, CPE Level 3. She shares with us her journey in this fascinating and rather "new" venue.

"Teagan" and Stephanie Barber

WHEN DID YOU DECIDE THAT YOU WANTED TO TRAIN AND TRIAL IN SCENT WORK? WHAT WERE THE DECIDING FACTORS?

I have been trialing in numerous performance venues for 15 years. The pivotal moment of deciding to train and trial in scent work is with my present dog, Teagan (CH Pleasant Acre Superfecta Wager x Blu Ridge Kelstrin State of Bliss). There were only two puppies in the litter Teagan and her brother, Sam. Sam was bouncy, playful and always smiling. Teagan was also happy, playful but had a serious, focused temperament. I started both puppies on Jane Killion’s Puppy Culture in conjunction with Avidog exercises. As a professional trainer, I had both dogs responding to the clicker at three weeks. For Teagan, however, she needed more exercises to keep her busy. I used to joke that when she was 9 weeks old that if someone named a trick to teach, I could shape her to learn the trick within ten minutes with a glass of wine! I had always been curious about scent work. AKC started their scent work program in Fall of 2017. Since Teagan was only 6 months old then I started her on scent work classes. She took to the training fast, with focus and with remarkable odor obedience at such a young age. A dog that is obedient to odor is obedient to his nose. The dog is immediately drawn to the target odor and highly motivated to get to source (the highest concentration of odor). It is a beautiful exercise to watch, a dog who is obedient to odor is at its “highest peak of anticipation and become so compelled to get to odor that they stay as close to source as they can, regardless of where or what their handlers are doing or what is happening around them.” That, in a nutshell, was the reason I decided to train and trial in scent work. Dogs who train in scent work are happy, confident and motivated. Scent work most definitely helps a person to bond with their dog. While it is the dog’s “game,” it is the responsibility of the handler to help the dog as we have to observe our dog, know their body language, help them maneuver the scent work area and position ourself at a comfortable distance away from the dog to allow the dog freedom to solve the scent puzzle on their own.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR FIRST AKC SCENT WORK TRIAL?

Our first AKC Scent Work Trial was in October, 2018. Of course, I was nervous as it was still truly a new, unknown venue for both of us. However, as soon as we got our first “Q” we knew that we were in the right venue for us. I remember Teagan alerted on a ground hide in Novice exteriors which was about 2’ in front of the start line in 10 seconds. I knew then that this was her game. We were off and running.

WHY DO YOU THINK SCENT WORK IS ON THE RISE FOR COLLIES?

I believe scent work is on the rise for all dogs. It bonds the handler with their best friend while building their dog’s confidence, independence and motivation all while having fun. A confident dog is a happier and healthier and in a more relaxed state. Rescue facilities use scent work training to aid the adoption of less confident dogs by building their confidence, thereby increasing their chances of being adopted. It is also especially good for reactive and fearful dogs. The reactive dog becomes trained more in the cognitive thought process instead of reacting without thinking. I highly recommend starting scent work/nose work training on all our collies whether they are a pet dog to just have fun and build confidence, or trialing in scent work performance venues. I read an article about scent work training by Dr. Chris Zink, DVM PhD DACVP DACVSMR CCRT CVSMT CVA is one of the world's top canine sports medicine and rehabilitation veterinarians in January 2019, titled: “What To Make Your Dog More Optimistic.” I highly recommend this article for anyone interested in scent work. I just lost a collie at 13 who had dementia and Sundowners. I played with her in scent work up until the day she crossed the Rainbow Bridge. I believe that this helped her to live a relatively normal life especially toward the end. While it was a process with her because of her disabilities, she lightened up each time we played the game. It is a game, it is all about play, bonding and using your brain to solve puzzles. Because scent work uses your dog’s cognitive functions, they develop problem solving skills while performing an activity that comes naturally to them and is fun. It is this problem solving, that will help ease your dog’s energy levels while bonding with you as their handler.

WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES TO TRAINING A COLLIE IN SCENT WORK? ARE THERE DISADVANTAGES?

The advantages are: happy and confident dogs, provides enrichment, harnesses their natural instinct to hunt, exercises their problem-solving skills, keeps them both physically and mentally active and tires them out. Combining play with problem solving activities tires a dog out and a tired dog is a happy dog.

There are no disadvantages.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY WITH YOUR COLLIE? WHO ARE YOU CURRENTLY TRIALING? WHAT TITLES ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?

I am currently trialing with my home-bred dog, Teagan, Kelstrin’s You Me & Tea, CA, DCAT, FTC, SWA, SWE, SCME, SBME, SIAE, SEM, SHDM, SDPRO, CGCA, CGCU, TKP, ATT, VHMA, CW-SSS, CW-SCR1A, CW-SCR2A, ORT, NW1, NW2, CCSS-L1, CCSS-L2, CW-SPI, CW-ScR2A, CW-SI, CW-SCR2A (major pointed). In AKC Scent Work, we are 1 Q away from the Master Element Overall Title, with 1 of 10 Q’s in Detective, C-WAGS Scent Work, Level 5, CPE Level 3. Every title is a journey and an adventure and I can honestly say I am most proud of all our titles. Each title has been a fun game and bonding experience. I still learn from my mistakes and train to master my errors. I will never blame my dog for any NQ but will look to myself as to how I could have handled that run better. One issue I had is the heat of the summer working Teagan at trials. Since I barely trialed in 2020 because of COVID, this past summer has been hard for her and myself with the heat, her coat, etc. I learned that we should back off on trialing outside in the heat of the summer. I am most proud of my Detective runs, win or lose, I know that teamwork is required and I cannot just throw Teagan into a detective search. We have to work together and clear the areas. I also have to step in and help when Teagan is having sourcing problems. It is a long haul with brilliant days and challenging days. I train in different hide placements, search in windy, rainy, hot, cold, snowy days. I am learning just where odor is or is not, and, most importantly, scent cones. Everything is in play when I cross the search line until Teagan tells me otherwise. Teagan has had runs that give me goose bumps and take my breath away. However, she has had runs that were not as proficient. Every day, every trial, every season holds challenges. I determined that our best months are October to April. We are about to enter NW3 and a friend who is a judge told me to “treat it like an NW1 and have fun. I am a C-Wags Scent Work Judge and currently shadowing and working toward applying to be an AKC Scent Work Judge where I hope to help and guide all teams to their best ability in the sport.

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO EARN A MASTER LEVEL TITLE ON A COLLIE?

To earn a Master Level Element Title you must have earned a title in Master Containers, Master Buried, Master Interior and Master Exterior. A title consists of three qualifying legs. At the same time, a dog may pursue a title in a higher level class of the same element which would be an “ELITE” title. For example, a dog that earns the Scent Work Container Novice (SCN) title and then earns 7 additional qualifying legs in Novice container will earn the Scent Work Container Elite (SCNE) title. Teagan has presently 7 elite titles. Elite titles will be granted when ten qualifying scores are earned during Odor Search Division classes. However, I am in no hurry to get all of our elite titles as I enter elite classes as practice for Detective so as to have her play the game in easier venues and most importantly set her up for success because of the complexities of AKC Detective.

If you are interested in trying out Scent Work without leaving your home, you are lucky. The American Kennel Club just launched the Virtual Scent Work Test (VSWT) in August 2021, where you can earn scent titles at home. You can learn how to get started and how Scent Work Trials work at the AKC Website.

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Photos courtesy Stephanie Barber