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Beyond the Leash in the News

Boxford trainer hones dogs’ tracking instincts
By Brendan Lewis/
Mon Oct 12, 2009, 01:39 PM EDT

View on Wicked Local Boxford site

Massachussets dog trainer Scott Williams and Loco Boxford - In a world where dogs are used to wearing plaid sweaters and eating treats that look like miniature T-bone steaks, one Boxford resident is offering to guide your canines back to their primal instincts.

Using some of the same methods that teach dogs to search for bombs and drugs, Washington Street resident Scott Williams has begun teaching “nose work” classes at Lincoln Hall. The lessons, he said, have the potential to turn a pampered Pomeranian into a hunter.

“You’re really trying to channel the dog’s natural instincts and drives,” said Williams, who moved to Boxford in June. The classes are recreational activity for both the dog and the owner, Williams said.

While it has been gaining momentum on the West Coast, canine nose work isn’t well known in these parts. Williams, a certified nose work instructor, is running one of only a dozen or so classes in the country, and is the only certified individual teaching on the East Coast.

Using the downstairs in Lincoln Hall, the former Los Angeles resident begins by setting up small cardboard boxes in a line down the length of the room. Putting a dog treat or food in one box, he has the owner walk his or her dog down the line until it finds the right box.

“We teach them to search and hunt using food,” Williams said.

Nose work is contradictory to most types of training in the sense that you are trying to push the dog to follow itself and not the owner. He said owners have to be careful about giving subconscious visual cues to their pets, such as slowing down around the box with the food in it.

“Ultimately, we want the dog to follow its nose,” Williams said.

The class work ranges from finding a piece of food in a line of boxes to eventually letting the dog off the leash on a vehicle search to find a birch-scented Q-tip.

Since starting Boxford classes in late August, Williams has seen enough interest in the lessons that he will also be offering them at the Community House in Hamilton.

In the four months since moving to the area, he has received requests by a number of dog trainers to give tutorials on nose work teaching. Last week, the dog trainer was invited to the state police academy in Vermont to take part in a detection-training workshop.

The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Boston has also shown an interest in training, he said. Williams said since nose work focuses on improving a dog’s motivation and autonomy, it’s ideal for helping abused dogs that are timid and afraid.

The next set of classes in Boxford begins on Sunday Oct. 18 at Lincoln Hall. Williams is offering advanced classes, which begin at 1 p.m. and the introductory course that begins at 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. Classes in Hamilton begin on Monday, Oct. 19 at 7 p.m. at the Community House.

The course includes six classes.



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