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Local Pooches, Owners Introduced To New Sport
For a canine version of hide-and-seek, various breeds of dog - and their owners - met at Bernie's Place Dog Training Facility on Lawrence Road in Escalon recently to learn about the new and up-and-coming dog agility sport of "Nose Work."

In K9 Nose Work, as it's officially called, dogs use their natural ability to detect scent and determine its source. They first learn to search for treats in boxes and the level of difficulty is gradually increased as they can then learn to search through items such as buckets, chairs, and cars.

The initial process involves over a dozen cardboard boxes scattered in a training ring. One of the boxes contains a familiar scented treat the dog recognizes. The dog is taught to search through the boxes until he finds the treat, which is the reward for a successful find. The dogs go through the course individually and the handler does not lead the dog to any box in particular.

Donna Soderstrom, of Good Dog Dog Training of Modesto, travels throughout Northern California giving the classes. She pointed out that Nose Work seems to be very satisfying to the dogs involved because they are relaxed after a few runs.

"Dogs have an amazing sense of smell and a natural desire to hunt," Soderstrom explained to the group. "This class focuses on teaching how to encourage and develop your dog's natural scenting abilities by using their desire to hunt and their love of toys, food, and exercise."

Soderstrom added that dogs may see in black and white but they "smell in color," whereas humans see in color and smell in "black and white." She gave the example of a cheeseburger that a human could see the various contents - bread, meat, tomato, condiments - but a dog could separately smell each layer.

It was evident that the 15 dogs participating caught on and were at ease with the process of "party at the box" after a few runs.

After running through the show grounds, burning off the pent-up energy of having to wait in their owners' cars, the high-strung vigor-filled younger dogs of the pack showed they could quickly comprehend the exercise. The mature of the bunch methodically checked each box as if they had experienced the activity before.

The event, sponsored by the Sierra West Bernese Mountain Dog Club, not only had 'Berners' in attendance, but breeds including miniature schnauzers, German shepherds, golden retrievers, and Australian sheep dogs taking part in the workshop.

"As big dogs get older, agility becomes an issue," said Annette Deboer, president of the club. "This is low impact and fun for the dogs."

Deboer also said that to be an AKC certified club that the organization has to sponsor at least two events a year that are either educational or training related.

K9 Nose Work was started in Southern California by trainers involved in narcotics and explosive detection. Some of the founders were also involved in dog sports, such as agility and police canine trials. They developed the new dog sport, which is quickly catching on to canine groups across the country.

Additional information about K9 Nose Work can be located at or about Soderstrom and her training at