This is a true story. No embellishment what so ever. The only thing I added is a reenactment video above and a random photo below because a blog post without a photo or video looks so BLAH.
Setting: My friend Heather’s campsite at a trial in SW Colorado last weekend. Heather had just finished packing up her tent and camping gear when she realized she lost her favorite mechanical pencil, the one she uses for crossword puzzles. She walked over to my RV to ask for a second set of eyes since she was pretty sure the pencil had fallen onto the ground. I agreed to help and offered a NOSE to go with the second set of EYES. Whose nose? Takoda’s of course.
I asked Heather if she had anything similar to the missing pencil to use as a scent article. As luck would have it, she had another mechanical pencil, which was identical except for the color. I walked back to my RV and prepped Takoda with his harness and long line. I then walked him over to an area about 25′ away from her camp site and asked Heather to hold the pencil in her open palms. I let Takoda walk up for a quick sniff and said GO FIND.
He immediately started pulling on the harness, quartering back and forth, nose to the ground, tail curled up and over his back, something he does when he is “on scent.” Within a minute or two, he found a dog toy Heather had left by accident but he barely even paused to sniff it. He appeared to be on a “greater” mission. He covered her entire campsite and beyond to a perimeter of about 10-15 feet, with minimal input from me.
Clearly the area was fully saturated with Heather’s scent, and the scent of her two dogs, since they had been camping there for 4 nights but after watching Takoda’s demeanor not change at all while he thoroughly swept the area, I felt fairly certain the pencil was not there and suggested we let Takoda search Heather’s car. I have never asked him to search a car but I thought it would be interesting to see what he did (just for fun).
I asked Heather and a friend who was watching to open the car doors. Takoda walked up to the passenger door and put his front paws on the seat, showing interest in the bags on that seat. I assumed he did that because the entire car was so saturated with Heather’s scent. I thought he would show the same level of interest at every door opening, but when I brought him over to the rear hatch, he popped his front paws up, took a quick sniff and then dropped back to the ground. No interest at all. I found that interesting and took him back to the passenger door to see if he’d show interest again. He did and this time after putting his front paws on the seat, he started puffing his cheeks and making a quiet clucking sound which is something he does when he is closing in on solving a complex scent puzzle.
Within 30 seconds, he used his front teeth to carefully extract a mechanical pencil from one of the bags on the passenger seat. I was blown away, even though based on its color, I knew it was the pencil we had used as a scent article. Regardless, Takoda had FOUND A PENCIL based on its unique scent in the midst of a giant scent pool… and since I didn’t know Heather had put that pencil in her car, I could not have subconsciously helped him find it. It appeared he understood he was supposed to FIND A PENCIL and he found one. Heather and I were both blown away but that not the end of this story.
While searching the passenger area the first time, Takoda had also shown interest in a bag of garbage on the floor of the car, something I initially ignored. However, after he found the pencil, we were having a big party by the car, when Heather tossed the garbage bag onto the ground so she could look for the missing pencil. As soon as she did that, Takoda broke off from playing with me and alerted to the garbage bag on the ground. We both mistakenly thought he was interested in the garbage so I walked him back to my RV, still praising him while feeling elated about his PENCIL FIND.
About 2 minutes later, Heather called out to me, telling me in a serious voice to come out of my RV. She had the bag of garbage in one hand AND the missing pencil in the other hand. She said after I left with Takoda, she decided to look through the bag of garbage and low and behold, at the very bottom of the bag was the missing pencil. She has no idea how it got there because the bag had been knotted up tightly. We were both flabbergasted. I asked her to put the pencil back inside the garbage bag so Takoda could alert to it again. I brought him out of the RV and this time he got the reward he deserved… lots of praise and play… but that’s not even the end of this story.
The next morning Heather and I were having breakfast at the dinette table in my RV. Takoda was sucking up to Heather in his usual fashion when his attention shifted to my TOPO map storage box which was under the dinette table near Heather’s legs. After pushing his nose on a clear plastic compartment on top of the box, he started licking the plastic lid. I reached down, opened the lid and pulled out my mechanical pencil which happened to be identical to Heather’s pencils.
Our jaws dropped when we realized Takoda had found yet another mechanical pencil, the day after the search for Heather’s lost pencil. Did this mean he remembered searching for the scent of Heather’s pencil the day before? I think so but the fact that he only alerted to it when Heather was present was even more mind-boggling. My pencil didn’t have Heather’s scent and it was in a closed compartment. Is that part a crazy coincidence or did Takoda somehow link the scent of mechanical pencils to Heather’s scent since both were intermingled during the initial search? Who knows. Regardless I continue to believe Takoda was born to do Search and Rescue.
I think WOW sums it up better than any other word.