Stacey Barnett is an active competitor in nose work, tracking, obedience, rally, agility, and barn hunt and the host of the Scentsabiities podcast, but scent sports are her primary focus and her first love.
To be released 4/14/2017, featuring Julie Daniels.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau, and you’re listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast, brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods. Today, we’ll be talking to Stacy Barnett. Stacy is an active competitor in nose work, tracking, obedience, rally, agility, and barn hunt and the host of the Scentsabiities podcast, but scent sports are her primary focus and her first love. Welcome to the podcast, Stacy.
Stacy Barnett: Hi, Melissa. How are you?
Melissa Breau: Good. Good. How are you?
Stacy Barnett: I’m doing very good. Thank you so much.
Melissa Breau: Yeah, I’m excited to talk today. To start us out, can you just tell us a little bit about the dogs you have now and what you’re working on with them?
Stacy Barnett: Sure. I have three dogs currently. I have a seven-and-a-half-year-old rescued Labrador-ish dog named Judd. Judd, he’s my elite dog, my NACSW. That’s National Association of Canine Scent Work. He’s my lead dog, and we’re competing at that level. He’s the one that really kind of got me started in the nose work and really made me very passionate about the sport. I also have Joey. Joey is a nine-year-old standard Poodle, and Joey taught me all about building motivation into my training methods, and Joey is at the NW3 level, and I have Why. Why is a mini Aussie. He is about five years old. He has very, very little confidence. He’s a rescue. He’s got a lot of baggage, and you know, he’s really taught me how to build confidence into the way I teach.
Melissa Breau: Did you start out in nose work? How did you originally get into dog sports?
Stacy Barnett: So how I got into dog sports, actually, I spent a lot of years...you know, I was a horse trainer for a while. I rode in dressage.
Melissa Breau: I Didn't know that.
Stacy Barnett: Yeah. Yeah. I was really big into horses. Loved horses. I still love horses, but they’re just a little bit too expensive for me, which, I know, they’re walking money pits, and so I’m a little bit of a frustrated horse trainer. I’ve had dogs my whole life, and I love training things. So I’m like, well, if I have a dog, I’m going to train it. Then it just kind of went from there. It just seemed to be a very natural transition. I just love doing it. You know, I love the training aspect, what it does for the relationship that you have with the animal, and I enjoy competing.
Melissa Breau: What was the first dog sport you dove into?
Stacy Barnett: Oh, the first dog sport, I would say it was probably a little bit of agility. I did start out with a little agility, a little bit of rally, not successfully. I don’t have a successful past in any of the sports. You know, nose work’s really it for me.
Melissa Breau: Well, what led you to specialize in nose work? Obviously, being good in it is a big plus, but what led you down that path?
Stacy Barnett: I have to say it was a little bit of a whim. I decided, you know what, hey, I’m going to try nose work, and I tried it with Judd, and he gravitated to it, and I just saw this passion come out of this dog, a dog that...you know, he’s got a nickname. I call him fragile little flower. He’s a washout, and I’m saying that in a very loving way, but he’s a little bit of a washout in a lot of the other sports. I tried all these other sports.
He’s got some titles, but he was really only doing the sports because I wanted him to, and it was to please me. When we got into nose work, he just kind of was like, wow, I really love doing this, and to see my dog so passionate about a sport and so...you know, this inner drive, this inner excitement, this inner desire to do the sport, it made me passionate about it, and then I saw, with my other dogs, the benefits that nose work provides, and it’s just become something that...you know, I eat, sleep, breathe nose work at this point.
Melissa Breau: So you kind of mentioned the benefits in there. I know that nose work’s often referred to as confidence building. Is that what you’re alluding to?
Stacy Barnett: Yes. Yes. Nose work is not only a confidence builder. It can also help reactive dogs. Nose work itself is very reactive-dog friendly in those venues because the dog doesn't have to work within eyeshot or earshot of another dog. They get to work on their own. However, it really does help from a confidence perspective. The sense of smell is actually pretty amazing. It goes through the limbic system, which means that it goes through the hippocampus and the amygdala. So the amygdala is kind of the fight or flight area, and the hippocampus is responsible for developing those early memories.
So what happens is, is that the dog is scenting, and the dog is using about one-eighth of his brain with scenting, and this is all going through this system that’s responsible for emotion and responsible for memory. If we can develop this positive feeling toward sensing and toward scent, we can actually help to put the dog into a really good space so that they can work, and also, you know, as long as you’re working the dog under threshold, the dog is able to continue to work and will actually become more confident over time and actually less reactive over time.
I saw this particularly with my little dog, Why. When he came to me, he could not work at all away from the house. He was also fairly reactive to other dogs. Had about 100-foot visual threshold to seeing other dogs. Now, through nose work, he has developed a lot of confidence. He’s now able to search in novel environments with very little acclimation, and he’s also quite a bit less reactive. He’s got about an eight-foot visual threshold now to other dogs, which I think is absolutely amazing. So the behavioral benefits, especially for a dog like Why, they’re off the charts. Absolutely off the charts.
Melissa Breau: I hadn’t realized that part of that was tied into the actual areas of the brain and some of the science behind that. That’s really kind of neat.
Stacy Barnett: Oh, it’s fascinating. It’s absolutely fascinating, and also, if you have a dog that has a lot of energy or a dog that might be a little bit on the hyper side, it’s really a fantastic way to get them a little on the tired side, because they’re using so much of their brain. They also have a tendency to be less reactive in the moment because an eighth of the brain of the dog is being used at the time, so they’re a little bit less focused on what they see and what they hear.
Melissa Breau: I was going to say nose work seems like it’s really unique just even in the sense that most sports, we really want the dog focused on what we’re telling them to do, and it’s really dog led, right?
Stacy Barnett: Oh, it is. It is. It is, and you know, when I tell my students when they’re handling, I say try to think of it as 80 percent dog / 20 percent handler. You’re in there, and you have responsibilities for the search, but the search is really driven by the dog. We use something called scent theory, right? But again, it’s just theory. So although we have ideas of what scent does, we really don’t have a perfect representation of what scent does except by watching the dog, because dogs are able to...
I don’t know if you know this, but they’re able to scent directionally, which actually means that, you know, with a human, we can hear directionally. So if I’m talking to you, you know if I’m in front of you or behind you. Dogs are able to do this with their nose, so they really have to drive the search. This is something that we’re not able to get in there and be involved in this, but at the same time, we have to make sure that we’re covering the search area, and we have to interpret our dog’s body language, because we have to be able to say is the dog at source and call alert so that we can get credit for that hide. So it does require a lot of teamwork, but it is driven by the dog. Absolutely.
Melissa Breau: And you mentioned reading your dog’s body language. I feel like that, in and of itself, is such a valuable thing for people who have dogs who are behaviorally challenged in whatever way.
Stacy Barnett: Yes. Yes.
Melissa Breau: So I don’t have official figures, but at least anecdotally, it seems like nose work is one of the fastest-growing dog sports out there. Do you agree with that? Is that accurate from your perspective?
Stacy Barnett: It’s growing at a pretty good clip, yeah. Last figure I heard with the NACSW, I think there are, like, 15,000 dogs registered at this point.
Melissa Breau: That’s kind of incredible. I mean, I’m a Treibball competitor, and I can see just, comparatively speaking, nose work has taken off in a huge way. So I was wondering if you could give us a 10,000-foot view for people not involved in the sport, maybe what venues are out there, anything else that people should know if they’re just learning about the sport or just starting to become interested?
Stacy Barnett: Oh, certainly. Certainly. Essentially, what the dog is looking for is essential oil, and what we typically use, we use scented Q-tips. So the dogs are able to actually source or actually find these scented Q-tips, and they’re hidden. We call those hides. They could be hidden in a number of different elements, and depending upon which organization you’re competing in, you might have different elements, and these are just basically different searches that the dog has to do.
The searches could be inside a building. It could be outside a building. You know, in some venues, you might have to search vehicles, although we never actually search the interior of the vehicles. We’re just searching the outside of them, or you can be searching containers. So containers could be boxes. It could be luggage, or in some venues, they’re even burying or starting to bury the scent in the ground, and the dog has to be able to locate the source of scent and then to communicate the location of that to the handler.
What we do is we train the dogs very similarly to the way like drug detection dogs are trained. So it’s kind of like having your very own pet detection dog, which is a lot of fun. It’s really a lot of fun. I mean, as an aside, I was driving down the road the other day, and I saw a couple of police cars pulled over, and I saw somebody putting a Labrador into the back of a vehicle or a policeman putting a Labrador into the back of a vehicle, and I’m like, oh, I know what you’re doing. It’s kind of exciting.
Melissa Breau: Right. Right. In terms of venues or organizations, what does that look like right now for the sport?
Stacy Barnett: So that’s also growing. So probably the largest organization in the United States currently is the National Association of Canine Scent Work, or NACSW. That’s a very large organization. I compete a lot in that organization as well. In the United States, we also have the United Kennel Club, or the UKC, that also has their own version of scent work. AKC is coming out with a version. The trial should be available starting in October of this year. We have organizations popping up worldwide. We have an organization in Canada, which is SDDA. They use, you know, some slightly different odors, and there’s a handful of other venues. So, basically, if you want to do nose work, there’s something out there and available for you, and it’s just growing.
Melissa Breau: Is there a lot of crossover between the different venues? Like if you train in one, is it possible to compete in others, or is that difficult to do?
Stacy Barnett: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I’ve competed in NACSW. I’ve gone up to Canada. I’ve competed in SDDA. I’ve done a little bit of UKC, and I’m a Performance Scent Dogs judge. That’s another organization that’s also growing. I compete there. Most of the organizations will use a lot of the same odors. Some of them use slightly different odors, but it’s very easy to get your dog onto a new odor. That’s a very easy thing to do, but essentially, at the core of it, the dog is still searching. The dog is still identifying, you know, the location of the hide, and it’s still communicating that location to the handler. So although there are small nuances between differences between the organizations, they’re all pretty much consistent.
Melissa Breau: So you mentioned AKC’s new program, and congrats. I hear you’ve been approved as a judge.
Stacy Barnett: Thank you.
Melissa Breau: What do we know about the program so far? You mentioned they’re starting up in October.
Stacy Barnett: It’s a new program. The preliminary rules and regulations are out there. There’s still I think some discussion about the fourth odor, which right now is identified as peppermint, although I think they’re still trying to decide, I think, if that’s going to be the final odor. I’ve heard some things that they might be reconsidering that, but otherwise, it’s still the same first three odors as a lot of the other organizations, the birch, anise, and clove. The AKC also is going to have buried hides. So this is where, at the novice and at the advanced level, the hides are actually going to be buried in dirt in a container, and the dog has to be able to pick out the right container.
At the higher levels, they’re going to have a larger area, and it just might be outside, and the hides will be buried up to eight inches deep into the ground for the dogs to be able to find. They have that. They also have, as a part of the AKC program, is handler discrimination, which is, essentially, the dog is looking for the handler’s scent, which is, you know, trained very similarly to looking for an essential oil, but it requires some different skills for that, and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I think it’s going to provide a lot more trialing opportunities for folks and open up a lot more doors for a lot of dogs.
Melissa Breau: Obviously, just AKC’s marketing program, in and of itself, is so much more robust than any individual organization can easily manufacture, so hopefully that’ll give the sport an additional boost, too. I heard a rumor that there’s a new FDSA class in the works, specifically to prep competitors for the new AKC program. What do you know about that?
Stacy Barnett: Well, funny that you ask. I was working on a syllabus for one of them this morning. We’re actually taking a look at the whole program, and we think of FDSA nose work as preparing the competitor for nose work regardless of what venue you compete in. So we’re not focused on just one specific venue. So in order to prepare our students also for AKC, we’re going to be making some key changes to our program and adding material. There are a couple different classes that are in the works for April that people can register for come registration that has to do specifically with AKC.
I’m doing one that’s going to be Introduction to AKC Scent Work, and in that class, what we’re going to be doing is actually practicing each of the different elements and learning how to do buried hides and learning how to really, you know, work the dog using the challenges that AKC is going to provide, and all within the guidelines of AKC, and Julie Simons is going to be doing a really great class on handler discrimination, because she has an OTCH.
So she’s done a lot of scent discrimination work. So she’s able to actually take her obedience side and bring a lot of that experience to the table as well. So we’re going to have a class on handler discrimination, and then we’re also going to be looking at our core classes and saying what do we need to do to help to make those more applicable to people who want to also trial in AKC? So there’s a whole lot of stuff going on with that, and I think it’s really going to position our students and really put them into a good position to be able to take advantage of AKC.
Melissa Breau: I think Denise had mentioned the goal is to offer enough classes between now and October that, theoretically, FDSA students could be competing when the first trials are available in October. Is that right?
Stacy Barnett: Yeah, I think that’s about right. Yeah.
Melissa Breau: So my understanding now, being a nose work competitor, is that there are very common methods out there for teaching the fundamentals. Just based on my research at FDSA, you guys use operant conditioning. Can you explain a little bit what that means, and maybe what some of the other things are out there, what maybe the advantages are to that method?
Stacy Barnett: Yeah. Sure. Certainly. Basically, what I want to do is preface this with all methods work. There are a lot of methods out there for teaching nose work, and I have to say that all the methods I know of are based on caring for the dog, and they’re really positive in their approach. So I do want to say that all the methods work, so I’m not one to say, you know, one method works and one doesn't, but I do think that the method that we teach at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy is a fantastic method, and it does use operant conditioning.
So, basically, the dog learns clarity at the get-go. They learn kind of a cause and effect relationship. They learn that putting their nose on source or on the source of an essential oil, right, the odor from the essential oil results in a cookie, or I use cookie generically. I use things like hot dog. Exactly, that’s still a cookie. A hot dog cookie, but what they learn is that they learn very clear from the get-go that their action results in reward. It’s a very, very clear way of teaching nose work. We also introduce hunting very early on, so they understand the discrimination to find odor.
So, for instance, we’ll start out with containers, and they can actually pick out the correct box with the odor in it, and then we build hunting into that approach so that the dog also learns that they have to search for it, and it’s not just selecting one box out of many. One large method uses hunting for food initially, and then they use classical conditioning to pair odor with a food and then wean off the food so that they just have the odor. So all of the methods do work, and they get you to the same place, but I have to say, I think our method, it’s very quick, and it’s very clear to the dog, and I think, from a clarity perspective, clarity builds confidence.
So I really think that the method itself has to build confidence in the dogs. The other nice thing is that, you know, as the dog goes up in levels, food is used as a distraction. So if we start the dog on odor only, the dog never feels that they can self reward on food, right? So food is already out of the equation. We don’t have to teach the dog, okay, I know you’ve been searching for food in the past, but now food is no longer an option. So I think it’s a really clear way of the dog being able to understand what’s going to result in a reward and understand exactly how to play the game and how to win the game.
Melissa Breau: Now, I know that a lot of the questions I came up with, because I don’t compete in nose work, were a little bit beginner things. So I wanted to make sure we included something for the people out there, who are probably your number one fans, who are actually actively competing in the sport. I was curious if there’s one skill or one problem that you find people having issues with again and again and what you recommend or how you typically suggest they tackle that?
Stacy Barnett: So, I don’t actually necessarily see a particular skill. Actually, well, I do see a skill that I see that people have a hard time with, but I’m going to talk about this in two stages. So the first thing that people are focused too much on is skills and not enough on the foundational aspects of good training, and this is just what I see in general. It’s not focused anywhere specifically, but it’s just what I see in general. When I teach, I use a framework, and that framework is built like a pyramid. So, at the bottom of the pyramid, the first layer is confidence.
Then on top of that layer is motivation, and then the third layer of that pyramid is skill. So you don’t even get to skill until you’ve built up a good foundation of confidence and motivation, and then the final layer of that pyramid is stamina. So what I like to do, you know, when I’m taking a look at a dog and I want to see does the dog have an issue, and what kind of problems is the dog exhibiting, I try to take a look at this framework of confidence, motivation, and skills, and stamina to try to understand where the breakdowns are occurring.
A lot of the time, the breakdowns do occur in confidence or motivation, and it really isn’t skills based. So when I see a dog that’s struggling in nose work or having a really hard time with one thing or another, what I’m finding is it’s not a skill usually. Usually, it’s an issue with a motivation issue or it’s an issue with the dog’s confidence, either the confidence in their skills or the confidence in their environment, and I find that if you remedy these things, that then the dog is able to tap into their skillset, and they’re actually able to be a lot more successful. So that’s kind of the one side of things, because I like to, again, diagnose based on that framework.
The other side of things, if we’re going to talk about specific skills, then, that I think a lot of dogs do have a problem with, it’s a fundamental skill that I think sometimes we don’t pay enough attention to. Is, actually, when the dog is searching at the higher levels, they have to be able to search and source more than one hide. So what I’ve actually taught my dogs is once they find a hide and they get rewarded for it, that hide is essentially finished. So the dog is able to then work on the next hide, versus if we say find another, the dog might just go back to the previous hide and expect reinforcement.
So there’s a certain amount of training that has to be put in place so that a dog can effectively search for more than one hide. This is especially important if you’re working on converging odor where the scent cones overlap and the dog might have to work for finding multiple hides within a small area. So, by being able to give this dog this skill and if the dog has the skills, they’re able to find a hide, search, find another hide, search, find another hide without being enticed back to an original hide, and I find that that’s a really core skill that is really essential for being successful at all the levels.
Melissa Breau: Well, I’d imagine that’s something that’s incredibly hard to teach, because you’re rewarding the dog for a behavior and then expecting them not to repeat it.
Stacy Barnett: It’s actually not that hard to teach.
Melissa Breau: Really?
Stacy Barnett: Yeah, it’s really not. Dogs are really smart, and we have to give them a lot of credit. Each hide has a different scent profile. So they’re not only looking for birch, anise, or clove, but they also can smell, you know, where the hide is placed. They can smell it’s in a tin. How much QuakeHold is used? A magnet, a Q-tip, everything. So there’s a whole scent profile associated, and they realize that once they get rewarded at that hide, that hide, yes, it’s valuable, but the next hide is even more valuable. So we teach them to actually go to the next hide as being something even more valuable, and then they start to realize through training that a previous hide is no longer valuable. So it’s really just working with the value that you place on what’s going to be reinforced and what’s not going to be reinforced.
Melissa Breau: To round things out, there are three questions I’ve asked everybody who’s been on so far. I wanted to make sure we got to them. So, first, what’s the dog-related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Stacy Barnett: I have to say, that has got to be quitting my job and doing full time nose work.
Melissa Breau: Congratulations. That just happened, right?
Stacy Barnett: It is, and I’m completely free of corporate. I just love this sport so much, that now it’s my complete...you know, this is what I do for a living. I train dogs in scent detection. That, I have to say, is my biggest dog-related accomplishment because I just finally figured, hey, I have one life to live. I could either be semi miserable in my day-to-day job, or I can really embrace my passion and work on something that I love, where, I know I’m working 24/7 it seems, but I love it, and to me, that’s a really big accomplishment because it also means that I can share this passion with other people, and I can share this passion with my dogs.
Melissa Breau: So what does that look like? Obviously, you’re teaching through FDSA. I know that you’re doing some seminar work. Are you teaching locally as well?
Stacy Barnett: I do. I do. I have about a dozen live in-person classes. I teach seminars. I do webinars. I write a blog. I do the podcasts. I have to say, though, that the bulk of what I do is teaching with FDSA, but this has just kind of become all encompassing, and it’s really what I do, basically, day in and day out, and I absolutely love it.
Melissa Breau: So, for those who may be local to you, where are you based?
Stacy Barnett: New Jersey. I’m in Northwest New Jersey.
Melissa Breau: Okay, and then for those who are not close to you, what’s the best place to go to find your webinars, and your blog posts, and all that stuff as they come up?
Stacy Barnett: So I have a website. It is www. ScentsabilitiesNW.com. I also list all my online classes there through Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Those are listed there. My webinars are listed, and my seminars schedule is listed as well. I write a blog. The blog is pretty informative and seems to be well read, and that’s on my website as well. So I definitely recommend that, or just contact me. I’m on Facebook. I love chatting with people, so go ahead and reach out to me, and I can point you in the right direction.
Melissa Breau: So the next question here is usually my favorite of the whole interview, which is what’s the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?
Stacy Barnett: I have to say the most impactful part is, actually, I have to credit Denise with this. It’s training the dog in front of you. It is so easy to take a dog and try to apply a recipe to it and try to train each dog the same way, but that’s just not going to work. You know, even when I look at my own dogs, each one of my own dogs is such an individual. Judd’s kind of a rock star, but he has a little bit of a fragile past. Joey had some motivation issues. I had to really work through some really big motivation issues with him.
Why comes to me with a whole history, whole baggage behind him, and he had to really learn how to be confident. So in order to set out the way I was going to train each dog, I had to understand what that dog came to the table with and what kind of history the dog has. So understanding where the dog that you’re working with as a starting point can really help you figure out what is the path forward. So I think that that’s probably the best piece of training advice I’ve ever had.
Melissa Breau: And our last question, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Stacy Barnett: There are many, many, many people. I have to say, from a detection side of it, I really look up to Randy Hare. He’s a professional detection trainer, and I have his DVDs. I watch his DVDs. I’ve learned a ton from him. At some point, I would love to be able to work with him in person. You know, just learning a lot from him. I look up to him. That’s on a detection side.
On the other sports, I have to say, every single instructor at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy I look up to, because I started out as a student. I didn't start out as in instructor. So I’ve learned so much from each and every one of the instructors, and all of that information, all of that knowledge, I’ve been able to transfer and translate a lot of that into how I teach nose work. So I just find that there’s so many people, that I really can’t identify just one person, you know, people that I look up to.
Melissa Breau: Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Stacy. I really appreciate it.
Stacy Barnett: Well, thank you for having me.
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. It was great to dig a little bit into nose work, and hopefully we’ll do some more nose-work-focused stuff in the future — and for our listeners, thanks for tuning in.
We’ll be back in two weeks with Julie Daniels, one of the foremost names in dog agility in the US. She was one of the early champions of the sport and helped many clubs throughout the country get up and running. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang and transcription written by CLK Transcription Services.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!