Blind Belgian Malinois ‘chunks’ beat the odds and excel at scent work – American Kennel Club

From the day it was born nearly seven years ago, Pieces has served up a master mix of surprises.

First it was blindness – which was not immediately noticed – then a propensity to smell and finally a perfect psychological journey. The result? A blind Belgian Malinois puppy with a keen sense of smell and an amazing ability to find his target objects.

But Pieces can’t do it alone. She has Susie and Kevin Williamson and trainer Bob Rodriguez by her side, helping to guide her along the way.

A blind revelation

The pieces came from a litter of 10 in November 2015, and it was not known she was blind until she and three litter mates went to their new homes. “It was a first for one of my litters, says Susie Williamson, who has been raising Malinois since 1995. “They had mapped our house and yard at first, but started bumping into things as soon as they arrived. in their new homes.

When they discovered that all four puppies were blind, Susie Williamson immediately offered to return the purchase price to the owners and accept any of them, but Pieces was the only one who returned. She also paid for the first visit to the veterinary eye doctor for the four, as well as the eye doctor appointments for the other six to make sure they had no visual problems. It turned out that the others had full vision.

And that led to Pieces’ unusual call name. She was sold to a woman in the Tulsa, Oklahoma area, who named her Reese. “When she came back,” says Susie Williamson, “I thought of Reese’s Pieces and Pieces stuck.”

Pieces did not miss a beat on her return, where she was one of five Malinois, including Demi, her litter sister. “They all play and interact together,” says Susie, who is an AKC Breeder of Merit Gold. “She runs, hides and plays with her canine family. She does not hit the pear tree in the middle of the yard or any other tree or flower pot. And inside the house she sails perfectly.

Sniff the work of perfumes

Although she didn’t have her vision, Pieces still needed a way to be mentally stimulated and was thankfully still able to train in dog sports.

“She needed to focus on more than just being a pet,” says Susie Williamson. “He’s a smart, athletic breed that is dedicated to his family but needs a job. Scent Work seemed like the perfect fit and Bob was just the guy to take him in that direction.

He came to visit her to play with her and saw her potential from the first try. There was no pressure, no goals, no expectations: just a game to see if it was something she could enjoy. “His playful approach to the sport was perfect,” says Susie Williamson. “She got into it and here we are today.”

Rodriguez, a longtime trainer and AKC Scent Work judge, remembers those early encounters with Pieces. “She was a lovely, beautiful pup and she has maintained a balanced temperament ever since,” he says. “She seemed completely normal, playing with her littermates and pack members like she was clairvoyant.”

Two years after being diagnosed blind, her eyes were replaced with orbital implants. In the meantime, the Williamsons treated her multiple eye conditions that caused blindness with drops several times a day.

But visual impairments did not stop her and sometimes are not even noticeable to the viewer. During his first AKC Scent Work trial in Texas, someone approached Pieces and waved their hands in front of his face to see if the dog would react to the movement. She did not do it.

“I’ve trained many dogs, from the smallest Papillons to the largest Great Danes, and I could notice something special about Pieces as a puppy,” says Rodriguez. “The key to any canine sport is the quality of the relationship between man and handler. Pieces has this special bond with Susie and Kevin on a daily basis. I’m lucky to have a similar connection with Pieces.

In Scent Work, some dogs sit, lie down, or wag their tails when they find the target scent. With Pieces, she offers Rodriguez a natural fluff in front of the olfactory source. In the process, she lays her head on the container.

“The key when training dogs for scent detection, he adds, is to communicate that they did something right when locating the mark,” he says. “Early in training, I did clicker training and offered him a treat after he found the scent mark.”

During searches, Rodriguez directs coins towards objects by gently snapping her fingers as she comes up close to the searched object. However, when searching in a straight line, she directs herself. “She searches with her nose for the next linear object, knowing my body position and moving alongside me in the area,” he explains.

In June 2022, Pieces was invited to perform Scent Work demonstrations at an AKC Meet the Breeds event in Dallas. After competing little due to the pandemic, she needed a quick sharpening of her skills.

“Susie brought Pieces to my house, where we practiced for about 10 to 15 minutes in my driveway,” Rodriguez recalled. “It’s already hot in Texas around this time, so short, light sessions are best. She didn’t miss anything. The following week, the 43-pound “young at heart” dazzled the crowd.

Finding Comfort in the Canine Bond

Rodriguez has cared for his sick wife, Laurie, for several years. She suffers from amyloidosis, a serious condition caused by the buildup of an abnormal protein called amyloid in organs and tissues throughout the body. This evolution of amyloid proteins can make it difficult for organs and tissues to function properly.

The competition with blind parts served as his perfect outlet in the process. “A lot of my problems and challenges go away when we focus on Scent Work,” he says. “With a blind dog, teamwork is essential. It’s essential to let the dog be a dog when he knows I’m only a few feet away.

“Her natural instincts come to life when she searches. More importantly, she is having fun, I am having fun, and we are having fun together. Does life get any better than that?