Although she’s small in stature, Bella has a nose that can sniff out the faintest of scents —and now she has the title to prove it. This pint-sized pooch was the first Toy breed and Pomeranian to earn the coveted AKC Scent Work Master title in July 2019. And her owner, Sherye Wise of Louisville, Kentucky, couldn’t be prouder of her little champion.
Bella was already a seasoned champion in AKC Agility before starting Scent Work at nine years old and participating in her first AKC Scent Work trials. She quickly took to the sport and excelled in it to win her Master level title within less than two years of those initial trials. We spoke with Wise to learn more about how Bella came to love Scent Work and why it just might be a great fit for your dog too.
Getting Started in Scent Work
Bella competed in agility and other high-impact sports before an injury sidelined her. That’s when a friend advised Wise to try the new, more low-impact sport of Scent Work. “Bella was almost nine years old and a friend of mine had a dog with epilepsy,” said Wise. “Because her dog was having seizures during Agility, she was getting the dog involved with Scent Work instead.”
It was a magical match — as soon as Bella started taking Scent Work classes with Terry VanHook at Competitive Edge Agility & Dog Sports, it turned out she was a natural. Her sniffer was quickly able to detect the essential oils of birch, anise, cloves, and cypress. Knowing these four scents is important because, during AKC Scent Work trials, pups must sniff out one or more of them, depending on the difficulty level.
Going Through Trials for Scent Work
During AKC Scent Work trials, cotton swabs scented with essential oils are hidden in different locations selected by the judge. Then, dogs like Bella need to sniff out those scents and alert their owners to the locations of these swabs during timed tests.
Bella quickly focused in on the scents she was looking for, first indoors and later outdoors in more advanced trials. “During her first trials, she immediately showed me all of the indoor container boxes with the scents one after another — and that impressed the judges who were amazed by this little princess-looking Pomeranian.”
Wise learned that she had to pay close attention and become an expert in reading Bella’s signal during these trials so she could promptly call out the alerts to the judges. That’s because much of Scent Work is about trusting your pup and understanding what she’s trying to tell you — not leading her to where you think the scents are.
“Some of the trials had only one or two scents in a room and I had to trust and listen to Bella when she alerted me to their presence,” said Wise. “Bella went right to them and then would look up at me to let me know that they were there.”
Gaining Confidence With Scent Work
A dog’s nose is much more powerful than a human’s nose — at least 10,000 times more sensitive — making them perfectly designed for sniffing out scents. That’s what Wise found out when she started taking Bella to Scent Work classes in May of 2017. Between the classes and just a little practice at home, Bella was able to pass her first odor recognition tests within four months of training.
“We attended classes one day a week until September,” said Wise. “During the AKC Scent Work trials in November of that year, Bella won all four novice titles in one weekend.”
Talk about a fast learner. After winning her novice titles in November, Bella participated in several successive trials, winning Advanced and Excellent titles. “Within less than two years and only 11 weekends of trials, Bella won her AKC Scent Work Master title,” said Wise. And, she was only the 17th dog to do so since the trials first began in September of 2017.
“It’s a confidence-building exercise for dogs. In agility, you tell your dog what to do, but in Scent Work, the dog tells you what to do,” said Wise. And Bella certainly was able to do that, quickly zeroing in on scents hidden in spots way outside of her reach, showing just how skilled her sniffer is.
Participating in Scent Work
The great thing about Scent Work is that any dog over six months old, both purebred and All-American, can participate in it. “I’ve seen dogs who are deaf or blind, and dogs with three legs participate in Scent Work. This is not physically taxing, which makes it easy for all dogs to enjoy,” said Wise.
Size is nothing to worry about — Bella is less than seven inches tall but manages to sniff out scents hidden underground and placed up to 8 feet above-ground. So whether your pup is tiny or giant, as long as they have a nose, they can participate and succeed in Scent Work.
Scent Work is more of a mental exercise than a physical one for pups, so owners don’t have to worry about age or physical restrictions when participating in the sport. “There are truly no limits to Scent Work. I can’t think of any dog that couldn’t participate unless they have no sense of smell,” said Wise.
Working With Scents is Fun for Dogs
Dogs enjoy playing detective with their noses and it’s also a great way for your pup to socialize with other dogs. Plus, you can socialize with other pooch-loving owners, which is a win-win situation.
“Scent Work gives your dog a job and dogs are happier and healthier when they have a job,” says Wise. 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.”
The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends keeping your dog mentally active as they age to prevent senility, making Scent Work a great choice for older dogs.