Best. Job. Ever.

Walking with our dog Ellie is a lesson in negotiation. On trails, we pass by other dogs who walk heads up, alert to their human companions and other animals around them. Our Ellie walks nose-first, scenting out whatever is on the ground or beneath it. If we moved at her pace, it would be less a ‘walk’ and more like sprints between long investigative stops.

To some extent, we must let her do that, since smelling the trail is what she wants from the walk. She also must concede that we can occasionally pick up the pace to take in the sights and sounds of the world around us, since that’s important to us. As I said, it’s a constant negotiation.

Walking along a gorgeous beach in Nova Scotia last week, I became newly aware of how differently Ellie and I view the ground. From my perspective, the ground is a surface: beach sand, a layer of sea plants on the sand, the rock surfaces in a pool. For Ellie, what I call the ground is multi-dimensional: up, down, out, past, present. She takes in the animals and animal traces that lie below the sand (she would have been a great clam digger if we had let her) and within the tangle of sea plants left stranded on the beach.

I don’t know if I’ve seen her happier than on the beach, sampling the salty water (‘not Lake Michigan!’ she seemed to say), pawing the sand, sniffing the marine and land creatures of the area. We were content to stroll and take long breaks to take in the tide, the water stretching across the horizon, the sounds and smells of the beach, the setting sun – time that Ellie took great advantage of, with snout to sand.

I’ve come to understand that scent work, for dogs, hardly counts as work at all. For dogs who do this kind of work, this is what they most enjoy; being rewarded for it is a bonus. Hannah Molloy from Pawfect Dogsense offers a great visual explanation of the joy of scent training in the video below:

When I first started learning about canine medical detection and thinking about its potential mass deployment, I also wondered if quality of life for the dogs might be compromised in the process. The innovators who are already working in this area are creating standards to ensure their dogs enjoy great care for their health and well-being. Medical Detection Dogs’ 5 Freedoms are a great example.

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst
  2. Freedom from pain, injury and disease
  3. Freedom from discomfort
  4. Freedom from fear and distress
  5. Freedom to express normal behavior

Inevitably, each organization I’ve researched working in this area also stresses how much their dogs enjoy the time they spend in scent training and detection – they’re truly living their best lives.

Unfortunately, humans have a poor record in animal care when commercializing the use of animals for human needs. Pet adoption, when commercialized at scale, yielded puppy mills that marketed the opposite of the real-life conditions of the animals. We have to consider potential negative outcomes in a future world in which medical screening includes canine detection, so that we guard against a dystopian outcome. Operating solely from a profit motive will undermine the potential of this life-saving practice.

Canine medical detection at scale must hew to the standards of care that give highest priority to the lives of the dogs who perform the work. This should be the best job ever for the dog. We humans will benefit if we ensure this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *