New training class is for the dogs

By Sarah Brown
Of The New Era/Lebanon Local

Gracie could smell a rat, but it didn’t take long to nose out the culprit.

The 4-year-old brindle Plott hound was practicing her nose work at Connie DeBusschere’s Canine Training Adventure in Sweet Home, where boxed rats were hidden in trees, brush and tires.

It was part of her new service called the North American Sport Dog Association (NASDA) that she recently added to her dog-training business. It puts the animals’ olfactory skills to use in finding antler sheds and rats in her field through trailing and air-scenting.

“It all simulates real-life purposes for dogs, searching and getting rid of rodents,” DeBusschere explained. “It’s working with their natural instinct. It goes back to that history of purposeful use for dogs.”

Antler-hunting seems to be less intriguing for dogs like Gracie, who can smell the rats some 100 hundred yards away, but they do it because they receive a reward, the crux of dog-training.

Plott hound Gracie searches for an antler while owner Cindy Rice looks on.

Gracie has also been learning to help her owner, Cindy Rice, with daily tasks Rice finds challenging due to her rheumatoid arthritis. She helps Rice tie her shoes, remove her clothes, pick up small objects and retrieve items.

“And she’ll pick up laundry,” Rice said. “She does better at laundry than Dan, my husband.”

But it’s thanks to DeBusschere for helping Rice shape the behaviors she wants from Gracie, she said.

It’s not natural for hounds to assist humans with such tasks, DeBusschere said, but Rice has been building value in the tasks by providing rewards to make them more worthwhile for Gracie. And that’s essentially what training dogs is about.

DeBusschere is drawn to the animals because of their intelligence and efforts to communicate with humans by making eye contact, pawing, barking and jumping. But it’s her job to help owners teach alternative forms of communication.

“I still want dogs to communicate with us because that’s why we got dogs,” she said. “We want that interaction, but we don’t want them to be rude and jumping and barking.”

At Canine Training Adventure, DeBusschere offers classes and workshops on puppy manners, dog obedience, agility, trick dog, farm dog, nose work and more. But her “Lost Item” class is handy for all dog owners.

“It’s finding your keys, your hat, your gloves, your cell phone, your shoes,” she said. “As you get into the higher levels, then it’s finding somebody else’s hat, gloves, shoes.”

The “Lost Item” trick is right up Roan’s alley. Rita Russell realized her red merle Australian shepherd needed to get into nose work after Roan was able to find a lost hearing aid. Russell’s husband was mowing the lawn shortly after he received his new hearing aids, then lost one.

Connie DeBusschere, right, watches as Roan locates a rat in a tree. Owner Rita Russell, left, is catching up.

Russell showed Roan the other hearing aid and said, “Find.” Roan searched the property for four days until Russell saw the dog lying in the grass with her front paws crossed, holding the missing device. Roan has also twice been able to locate her owner’s missing electric gate opener.

So Russell and Roan visit DeBusschere on her 25-acre property and practice “Lost Item” games and nose work. At home, Roan insists on playing it every day, Russell said, and she’ll get mad if she doesn’t get a chance to find something.

DeBusschere also hosts an annual English shepherd gathering on her property where about 40 to 50 people descend on Sweet Home from as far away as Canada, Idaho, Washington and California.

“It’s kind of a celebration of the English shepherd, and it’s bringing people together that are interested in the breed, that have the breed,” she said.

DeBusschere sets up games for the event, such as barnyard agility, duck roundup, a farm dog course, NASDA and herding.

“Most of the dogs are not farm dogs, but that’s the breed’s general history; they’re an all-purpose farm dog,” she said. “So it’s fun for people to experience that farm dog life out here.”

She also now holds NASDA competitions; her second is scheduled at the end of October. According to her, it’s a nationwide event that has quadrupled in popularity this past year.

“This is a great newbie sport for people who’ve not competed before but like to get out and do things with their dogs,” she said.

Owner Rita Russell keeps hold of Jess while he scents out another rat.

Everything DeBusschere does in her business is to make obedience and tricks a fun task that works in the real world and is fun for both dogs and owners. Her Parkour class is a step up from obedience and tricks by training dogs (and owners) to find agility opportunities while on walks and in parks.

As DeBusschere prepares for her NASDA competition this fall, she’s also preparing for another expansion of her business by providing boarding, which she expects will be open in October.

Meanwhile, Gracie will be preparing herself for the NASDA event. She already earned her level one titles for the shed antler find, so she now practices picking the antlers up.

“She’s not really sure about picking it up, so first step for her is to touch it,” Rice said.

And when she touches the antler – or when she practices picking it up at home (dog homework) – Gracie gets her reward and lots of praise. The NASDA may be fun for the dog, but it’s also rewarding for the owner.

“When the dog is having fun, it releases those endorphins in their owner, as well,” DeBusschere said.