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Spotlight on Nose Work with Beth & Finnick



Heather Rife (HR) How did you get started in Australian Terriers?

Beth Moon (BM) Oscar and Finnick are our first dogs. My sister, Emily, and I had never grown up with dogs, so when Emily suggested getting a dog, I thought we’d better do some research. We wanted to do “big dog” activities, hiking etc. but we lived in a townhouse, so we needed a small dog. We took online quizzes to find a compatible breed and Australian Terriers just kept popping up on the lists. We found a great breeder, Theresa Goiffon and Dunham Lake Australian Terriers, and she only lived 2 hours away.  We had never even seen an Aussie until we visited Theresa. It was love at first sight. After Oscar came home, we put our name on the list and Finnick came home 2 years later.

(HR) How did you get started with Finnick?

(BM) My sister had started Oscar in agility, so when I got Finnick I started in agility too. I wasn’t very good at it (laughs). Finnick was reactive in agility, I was too much of a novice to understand how to work with a reactive dog, so it wasn’t the best sport for us. Someone remarked to me that I should consider nose work. I had not even heard of it.  I researched it and both dogs started doing nose work in our living room. It was so much fun.

(HR) When did you realize he was really going to take off and excel in scent work?

(BM) (laughing) Ohhhh not for a long time. He was good at home but not good in competition. We barely passed our beginning ORT and first titles. He was so distracted and unfocused. The judge would move, and he would react to the movement. He would bark for 30 seconds and not search at all. I started in person classes and our coach recommended that I take the scents out to the park and playgrounds to increase our distractions. That’s where he learned to focus and work. People forget how distracted he was in the beginning. Now we constantly get compliments on how focused he is. We both learned the sport together.

My perspective on the sport has changed too. I didn’t understand how odor works. I now set out more thoughtful hides. I concentrate on the fun factor.  I think that my mind shift and that focus has changed us a lot as a team. My goal is that nose work should be 90% easy, even though we are at Summit. He should think it is the most fun thing that he can do.

(HR) Well your profile picture illustrates that perfectly.

(BM) The funny thing about that picture is that it was taken as we were coming out of one of our Summit searches.  We came out of that search having found only 2 of the 4 hides, so I knew we had failed, but we had so much fun doing it. It’s about us having a really good time. When you have fun, everything else falls into place.

(HR) So what are your rewards for him? Toys or treats.

(BM) He really doesn’t like toys when he’s working. He gets a lot more treats when training. So, when he finds a hide, he gets repeated treats for reengaging at the hide. He doesn’t get a lot of treats when he’s trialing unless it’s a really difficult hide. I think he enjoys the hunt more than the treats. The big reward for him is to leave the search, run back to the car with lots of hand touches, high fives, and treats. He is a happy dog as he leaves the search area, and he is very proud of himself. Finnick thinks he is the smartest, most successful and amazing dog in the world when he leaves the search….and he is.

(HR) What is the most difficult obstacle that you’ve encountered?

(BM) I think most of our training difficulties stem from me.  For example, I would not be patient enough and wait for him to work the odor.  I would be nervous and anxious, which travels down the lead.  Someone suggested I listen to music while I search and that has helped me quite a bit. It was the best thing for me…it calms me down.

(HR) Can you explain what the summit title encompasses?

(BM) This is the highest title you can get in scent work. It is 2 full days of searches, usually 8 searches in total. The searches are just…..crazy! You may be searching an entire barn, and one hide could be 8 feet high, and you might only have 2 minutes. The number of hides can be known or unknown. The hide could be at the top of a basketball hoop, or the hides could be side by side (converging odor). The search could be the area of an entire football field and with one hide and 3 minutes. The hides are harder, the times are shorter, and the spaces are bigger. One weekend we were at a railway station, and we had 5 minutes to search an entire train. That was really fun.

Only the top 20% of all the teams competing for that weekend (usually 28 teams) will be awarded a summit title. If you title, you are the absolute best of the best. And you’re competing against the best teams. We compete against dogs from all over the country, dogs that were bred for detection work. On occasion, these handlers can get a little miffed that a little terrier beat their bred for detection dogs.

(HR) Tell me one of the funniest things that have happened in one of your searches.

(BM) Finnick is a little ham. He likes to go up and find the hides from above. One search was an inaccessible hide, comprised of cinder blocks. He had climbed up and found the hide from above. I had to lift him down after he alerted. He always gets the crowds laughing. That’s good for me to remember that we’re doing this for fun. One time he wrapped himself around a post four times and he just barked at me to hurry up and get him unwrapped, as if it was my fault.

(HR) How were you received by competitors or judges that are not familiar with our breed?

(BM) In scent work, I don’t think judges have a preconceived notion about breeds, it is a sport that is filled with lots of Labs but there are lots of off breed dogs too. Everyone is very supportive in nose work.

(HR) Do you think you have influenced other people to think about an Australian Terrier for performance?

(BM) We certainly get lots of questions about the breed. The article you wrote about Aussie history helped me explain how this breed developed. People seem to be intrigued by the development and overall versatility of our breed.

(HR) Describe your most exciting win for you and Finnick.

(BM) We really struggled in NW3. We just couldn’t be perfect to get our title. In 2020 we finally had a perfect day and titled, missing first place by 1 second. It was quite a hurdle for us.  But of course, earning our Summit title, and earning it on our first try with a second place win was a proud moment for me. I thought it would take us a year to get the title, and Finnick went in with such confidence. His first search was a huge area with 6 minutes to search. He cleared the area in 3 minutes 30 seconds for first place! I’m really proud that Finnick is the 1st Australian Terrier to earn his AKC Detective title, the 1st Aussie to earn the NACSW Elite-Champion title and now the 1st Australian Terrier to earn the NACSW Summit title. It has been exciting to hit so many firsts with Finnick.

(HR) Any words of wisdom for those starting out?

(BM) Just have fun and enjoy the journey. Always end the search on a high, even if they haven’t found all the hides. The point is to keep the dogs happy and loving the game.

(HR) Would you be willing to answer any questions from members about scent work?

(BM) Oh sure they could email me with questions.

(HR) Anything else?

(BM) I really do think it is the funnest sport because it relies on the dog driving the search. They are always in charge. It’s empowering for the dogs to know that whatever idea they have is a good idea. Finnick loves to be in charge. He decides how fast or slow to go and where to search. I have my job to do but he drives the bus. It’s also a great sport for shy or reactive dogs.

The other thing I’d like to mention is that we are lucky enough to have a dog with a long lifespan. Some of the larger dogs competing at Summit are starting to think about retiring at 9 years. They don’t have the stamina or the health to continue with scent work or agility. Finnick is 9 years old, and I think he’s got 4 competitive years left and then we can just do nose work for fun or drop down to some of the easier levels in AKC or CPE.

(HR) We can certainly hope so! I look forward to watching him search on your Youtube videos. 

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