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Rider, an 8-year-old Borzoi, and Rocco, a 7-year-old German Wirehaired Pointer were the first dogs to earn the coveted AKC Scent Work® Detective title on July 14 in Swanton, Ohio.

The pathway to becoming a full-fledged detective has had its challenges for Rocco and Rider but it has never been a mystery to either, or their Midwest owner/handlers.

The AKC Scent Work® Detective title, considered the pinnacle of success in the popular sport, went unclaimed since its inception on Oct. 1, 2017, until July 14 in Swanton, Ohio

Ironically, both the hard-working Rocco, a German Wirehaired Pointer, and Rider, a Borzoi, earned the honor at the same event. Rocco, owned by Inge and Steve Fegan, of Port Huron, Michigan, was the first to the finish line, with Rider, owned by June and Richard Mintchell, of North Manchester, Indiana, only a few hours behind.

After completing a long search and owner June Mintchell calls “finish,” it’s time to go into a celebration mode. Photo by Bill Ogle.

Earning the Scent Work Detective Title

Scent Work is fraught with a push and pull of emotions and marked by unflinching detail and teamwork required of soul mates.

Earning the AKC Scent Work® Detective title is truly a feat,” says Monica Henderson, AKC Scent Work® manager. “These teams are presented with search areas as large as 5,000 square feet and an unknown number of hides, which can be placed from the ground and up (there is no maximum hide height) and anywhere in between! Teams may be required to search interiors, exteriors, or even a buried hide.

“Add to that, multiple distractions, which include people, food, and toys. Just about anything goes in the Detective class. Each end of the leash must categorize and count the hides while working through large, distracting search areas. To further challenge teams, mistakes are not allowed, so the team must be perfectly on point. If a handler calls ‘alert’ and hears a ‘no’ from the judge, their run is over.”

If these parameters don’t create a demanding enough trial experience, the Detective class also requires 10 qualifying scores (Qs) instead of the three Qs demanded of the lower-level classes.

Both the dog and handler, Henderson adds, must have the mental stamina to filter through the complicated odor puzzles and challenging search environments. “Teamwork is the name of the game here, and both of these teams encompass that.”

Rocco — a First Scent Work Detective and First Dog

There’s yet another impressive twist of Rocco and Inge Fegan’s exploit. He is her first dog and his route into the Fegans’ home – and hearts – was fast-forward.

Fegan explains, “My brother, Walt (Metzen), who lives in Rochester Hills (Michigan) never had a dog, but both of his boys wanted one dearly. Being an outdoorsman who enjoys hunting, he researched hunting breeds and in 2012 decided on a German Wirehaired Pointer. He found a breeder in Delta, Ohio, about two hours away.
“He picked up Rocco at eight weeks of age, although he says Rocco picked them (his wife, Joy, and boys, aged 2 and 4) out.”

“He shot it, I got it,” Rocco seems to be saying during a hunting trip last December to The Rooster Ranch in Ubly, Michigan.

The enamour of a family/hunting dog wore off quickly, however. Walt discovered that raising Rocco was going to be a 24/7 proposition. In other words, he had more than he could handle.

Three days after purchasing the mobile buzz saw, Walt called the breeder and was on his way to returning him. He followed that up with a call to Inge, who disputed, “You’re giving up too soon!” He replied, “Why, do you want him? I’ll give him to you.”

Fegan quickly called her husband, Steve, who agreed they could take Rocco as long as Walt would dog-sit for the couple while they were on vacation. He agreed.

“The breeder (Lisa Minnick) was not thrilled but my brother emphasized he was giving this puppy to the best possible person out there,” says Fegan. “Lisa called me and asked lots of questions. I assured her Rocco would be well-cared for and loved. And the rest is history.”

Versatility in Sports

The intrepid Rocco has been in exercise heaven since then on the couple’s 2.76-acre Lake Huron-front lot, where he runs and swims almost daily. Add to that a daily trip to a nearby state park with two friends for a 1½-hour off-leash walk.

Four years after Rocco joined their family, Fegan began exploring scent work at classes in Brigden, Ontario, Canada, about a half-hour from home. “It was still a new sport and sounded like something he would enjoy,” she recalls.

It did more than whet the appetite of the versatile Sporting dog. In pursuit of the Scent Work® Detective title, Fegan and Rocco traveled to competitions in several Midwest states and Louisville, Kentucky.

Rocco has also earned the following AKC titles: CD (Companion Dog); RE (Rally Excellent); NAJ (Novice Agility Jumper); SWM (Scent Work Master); CGCA (Canine Good Citizen Advanced); and TKA (Trick Advanced).

Yet another of the versatile Team Rocco’s pursuits is agility. Here he soars over a hurdle with owner-handler Inge Fegan alongside. If that’s not impressive enough, Rocco has met the eligibility requirements to enter the AKC Obedience Classic in Orlando in December.

Providing Comfort in Tough Times

And if that’s not enough, he has been a therapy dog since December 2014. The pair have visited local libraries, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and funeral homes. He was also in a fundraiser fashion show, where he traversed the catwalk wearing a hand-knit sweater while Fegan wore a matching knit treat bag. “He’s all heart and wears it on his side,” Fegan smiles.

Following a high-school student’s suicide, Fegan and Rocco were asked to participate in a follow-up counseling session. The owner recalls a poignant moment, “Afterward, a grieving teacher said, ‘You probably saved a life today.’”

On another occasion, Fegan and Rocco were in an ICU visiting room where a family was comforted so much by the pair’s presence that they asked if Fegan and the Blue Water Therapy Dog Club, of Port Huron, Michigan, would attend their father’s funeral. And they did!

Rocco and his club mates are a big hit during area high school’s test weeks. “Students tell us it is the best part of their day and helps relieve stress,” she adds.

Deeply focused on his target in the woodpile, Rocco wears his heart on his side in a trial at On Willow Pond in Bangor, Michigan, last month, a couple of weeks after he became the first dog to win an AKC Scent Work® Detective title. Photo courtesy Bill Ogle.

The Bonus of Winning

The owner was never on a quest to win since beginning scent competition in 2016. “I knew Rocco was good at the sport. I simply wanted us to do our best and have fun together, everything else was just a bonus. Steve has been at every Scent work trial, which makes Rocco one happy dog.”

Rocco and Steve have their own umbilical connection — hunting pheasants. “That’s really Rocco’s favorite thing in life,” Fegan confesses. They took the field together for the first time when Rocco was six months old and within a few minutes, he was on point with his first pheasant. Because of busy schedules, the two manage only four to six hunting trips a year.

So what’s on the horizon for Team Rocco?

Agility, Barn Hunt, and shed. “I still plan to trial in Scent Work® Detective,” Fegan says. “Rocco loves the fun and challenging search areas.”

Rider’s Scent Work Journey

Rider is on a search mission in a Toledo, Ohio, scent trial. Photo by Jeff LaForest.

The 92-pound, 32-inches-tall (at the withers), Rider is a sighthound, not a scent hound, meaning this sport boasts plenty of challenge for him. Owner June Mintchell began training him only two years ago when he was six. “I am self-taught,” she explains, “and he was my guinea pig. He went from being an experiment in how to do this sport to earning its top title in two years.”

Mintchell recalls a fellow competitor/judge talking her into entering Rider in detective competition at a competition in Northwest Indiana. “It was a detective class-only trial with two trials in one day,” she says. “Because of the set-up, we all arrived at staggered times. It was bitter cold and we all worked out of our cars. Sixteen dogs were entered in each trial and four managed to Q in each. Only two Qed in both, and to my complete surprise Team Rider was one of them.

Rider is a National Specialty dual conformation champion and owns Obedience and Rally titles as well.

“Rider is a very independent character,” says Mintchell, “who likes to do his own thing. Finding the keys to motivate the dog and communicate with each other has been key. The other challenge is building a mutual love and trust between dog and handler. Borzois don’t just work for people for the heck of it. My background is decades of successful obedience competition and I credit our success here to that. This scent journey has been a total blast!”

You can get started in Scent Work by finding an event near you. In this sport, you don’t necessarily have to take classes to become ready to compete at trial. And because the searches mimic real-life scenarios, training can be done at home or in the community. There are many books and videos to help you get your dog started in Scent Work.

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