How Bugs and I got into training to sniff out and detect cancer

My Bugs was born in September 2016 in a litter of another seven puppies. Their father is our seven-year-old labrador Ralf and their mother is three-year-old Connie – owned by my colleague from work. So, I’ve known Bugs since he was floating in Connie’s belly. I was also lucky enough to be there when he was born and spend time with him from his very first days in this world. He has grown up to be a very cheerful and affectionate dog. And most of all, he really is my best friend, who wants to go everywhere with me.

Bugs and I got into “sniffing” through the dog training ground in Příbor. I started going there in spring 2017 and in summer, when Bugs was eight months old, Iva Jašíčková gave us the opportunity to learn something new. I didn’t know much of what it was about at first. However, I soon came to see that it is a wonderful thing.

One Monday we headed off to the training centre. There, I met almost everyone I knew from dog training. So, I just had to meet Peťka and Spirek, who are in charge of the project. Both of them were very nice and were glad to explain everything about what they do and what they expect from us.

I really didn’t expect that it would be about detecting cancer. I was very taken by this project right from the start due its main purpose. It is completely different from the other activities that dogs generally do. I love dogs and would like to go on working with them in the future on something important, which this project undoubtedly is.

So, we started training Bugs’s nose. First on biscuits, and then we moved on to the actual pulmonary tumour sample. Bugs always enjoys going to the centre. He loves being able to welcome everyone and show off what he knows. He’s not so keen on waiting around while the other dogs do their sniffing. But he’s always rewarded for everything, with a treat as well as praise.

We train at home together every day. He generally enjoys it, mostly because of the treats. Training at home goes rather better than it does at the centre. That’s my fault, of course, as I’m the nervous type and find it easier to train in the peace and quiet at home. Dogs are very perceptive and sense our feelings, which consequently affect theirs. Also, there’s the fact that other dogs go to the centre, which means lots of interesting smells, which send a dog’s ideas and nose in a completely different direction.

Since we started going to the centre, I’ve been trying to read up on the topic myself. I’m interested in the actual sniffing and the methods they use abroad, for example, and recently also the potential for collaboration between our association and other organisations. However, there are some who do not believe in our work. I hope that in time we can change their view and even sceptics admit how much of a sacrifice everyone here is making and how clever our dogs are. Of course, we also hear from organisations that, although they are unable to help in any other way, at least support us by wishing us good luck and showing appreciation for what we do.

I am extremely grateful for my husband’s support and patience, as training with Bugs takes up a lot of my free time. I often take Bugs out for walks, we go running together, go to play with other dogs, or just lie on the sofa. He looks like an ordinary dog, but he has so many good qualities and skills, including a clever nose, which is able to detect lung cancer, and of course find the odd food granule that has rolled under the fridge. I hope that Bugs and I will help lots of people and I am very happy to have the chance to be involved in such a project.

Miroslava Tobiášová and Bugs the dog

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