APBC conference 2012 'nose' no bounds

There’s no business like ‘nose’ business!
An amazing day! Who knew there was so much to learn about a dogs nose? From a dog’s perspective, they see the world through their nose. Plenty of material for us to listen to for a whole day, as we did at the APBC 2012 conference on 3rd March.
Are smells social signatures for animals, which allow others to identify them? If so, no wonder dogs pull to the same lamppost, post box or bush on a walk to have a good sniff. Maybe this is the canine equivalent of checking their Facebook news feed and then updating their own status.
The most social dogs are motivated to check out this information all the time. Some dogs might go over if they smelled something especially interesting, and others wouldn’t be bothered at all. This is possibly the equivalent of every person who passes the lamppost sticking a photo of themselves on it!
The morning started off with Dr John Bradshaw who delivered a very insightful look into how the dog’s nose works and how they use it. Although dogs switch to visual signals, they first sniff to locate the area the smell is coming from in order to find the object. No wonder they appear to go ‘deaf’ when they’re sniffing, their concentration must be so intense. Similar to a person getting so engrossed in a book that they can’t hear the person next to them talking to them.
David Ryan, APBC chairman, helped us to see how we can enter the world of the dog’s nose by playing ‘nose games’ with them such as tracking and searching. By showing them how to search for things for us, it’s fun for them and a great way to interact with our beloved dogs. We can teach them to find and follow family members in the woods, find lost car keys in the snow, even toys hidden in the house or garden. A dog doesn't have to learn how to use its nose, they already enjoy doing it. All we need to do is show them what to find and what to do when they find it, then enjoy watching them just doing what comes naturally.
Harold Burrows from SARDA followed on from David and showed us how people have been ‘harnessing the power of the dogs nose’ for centuries to help them find lost and/or trapped people in the mountains as Search and Rescue Dogs. The ability and precision of these dogs is unbelievable. These dogs literally save lives and reunite families, using a skill humans cannot possibly hope to possess.
Julie Bedford, APBC member and Blue Cross behaviourist, showed us how we can help dogs that have a high energy drive by allowing them to use their nose for fun, which can help reduce their anxiety and reactiveness. It helps these dogs by giving them an outlet for this drive, putting it on cue and using it as a way to learn how to be calm, relaxed, come back when called and have fun with their owners. Incredible that we can actually help dogs to feel less nervous about a situation by letting them use their natural instincts. It makes perfect sense really doesn't it?
Claire Hargrave, APBC member took us on a tour of pheromones and how their use can also help settle dogs and puppies into new environments, calm reactive dogs, and act as a virtual ‘safety blanket’ for fearful dogs. Their use can help prevent behaviour problems and reduce anxieties in dogs with behavioural problems. These pheromones combined with the nose games mentioned by Julie and David all help our dogs to relax and enjoy being dogs.
The day ended with Claire Guest from Medical Detection Dogs wowing us all with her talk about the cancer detection and medical alert dogs, who save lives and improve the day-today welfare of people with a simple sniff. These dogs are using their incredible sense of smell to detect cancers, and changes in the body which predict low blood sugar in diabetics, low cortisol levels to predict Addison's crisis and many more. The work of Claire and the detection dogs is a fast growing area and with our support, who knows what these dogs will be able to detect next?
The day was an eye opener for many, who probably like myself, underestimated the power and usefulness of the dog’s nose. This new information is going to make walks more fun and hide and seek games more interesting. Next time my dogs pull to sniff something, I’m going to let them, there may be some really good gossip about the dog next door on that lamppost!

Danielle Middleton-Beck BSc (Hons)