Your Colleagues

Summer Hours: DJ Rehberg trains the nose to know

Maverick waits while his handler, MaryJo Bedford (left shadow) and Nose Work instructor DJ Rehberg (right shadow) discuss the task ahead.


Published July 8, 2022

Editor's note: Summer Hours is a photo series focusing on UB staff members who use the longer days to pursue interesting hobbies, causes and other endeavors outside of their day jobs.

Sophia, tethered to a long leash, moves around the yellow moving-style van. Her nose is working to locate a small tin containing a target odor hidden on the vehicle. She is rewarded with a treat when she correctly alerts her owner to the tin’s location.

One step ahead of her is Delbert “DJ” Rehberg, a University Police investigator and “nose work” instructor. He keeps moving the tins in this exercise, called “chasing the rabbit.” The dogs are trained to locate the scents of anise, birch and clove.

“One of the things that’s unique about this sport is you really have to learn the dog’s language,” Rehberg says.

Rehberg says he discovered this recreational activity, which is built on the principles of training professional search dogs, in 2016 as a way to bond with his rescue husky mix, Sylvie, who suffers from anxiety. He started training with Lori Timberlake, who also became his mentor in the sport.

Rehberg’s tool kit for the classes includes multiple containers, as well as prepared cotton tips already doused in the target scents of birch, clove and anise.

Rehberg smiles as he watches Melissa Levier and her retriever Nolee set off for their nose work task.

“My goal with her (Sylvie) was to get her Nose Work One title, which we did a couple of years ago,” Rehberg says. The competition took place in Hamburg, allowing his instructors and students to cheer them on. “It was the proudest moment in my life. It was a long hard struggle to get there, but we accomplished it.”

Taking his knowledge and passion for the sport, Rehberg started teaching nose work classes in 2019 at Timberlake’s company, Do Over Dog Training. He opened his own business, Trust Your Dog LLC, in April 2020.

Along with the teaching, Rehberg is also an active participant in the sport. Sylvie is joined by Jade, also a husky mix, who’s more focused for this type of activity. If all goes well, they will be participating in competitions in Ithaca, Penn Yan and Pittsburgh this summer.

“Hands down, the best part of the sport is just being out there,” Rehberg says. “It’s just me and my dog running as a team.”

Rehberg steps back while Alyssa Cirocco and Sophia investigate a wheel well while searching for target scents in a beginner class. Sophia is an American pit bull terrier, Staffordshire terrier and husky mix.

On a Sunday in June, Rehberg held two classes — one a beginner and the other an intermediate. He picked a parking lot on UB’s North Campus because the parked vehicles give the dogs something new to experience. He says it can be difficult to find variety and unique places to train, and he works hard to respect the available properties, leaving them in good or better condition once class finishes. In total, six dogs attended and worked through nearly a half-dozen sniff-and-alert exercises each.

MaryJo Bedford brings her two dogs, Goose and Maverick. She’s worked with Rehberg for a year-and-a-half, and says she loves the way he challenges the dogs and handlers to do more than they would see at a trail or competition.   

“He makes you part of the equation. The dogs know what they’re doing. It’s the handlers that don’t,” Bedford says. “He’s very laid back, very calm. He watches and then he teaches.”

Maverick located the target odor attached to the boat.

Rehberg says he has long advocated for UPD to bring on a canine unit, but the funding hasn’t been available. Until then, he enjoys his nose work dogs and sharing the knowledge and experience he’s gathered from the sport. He says he’s seen dogs terrified of the world, but gain confidence and excitement through nose work.

“I really just absolutely love this. I love interacting with my students and their dogs,” Rehberg says. “I want to share my passion for this sport so that others have the opportunity to experience the reward of building that bond with their dog, which is absolutely priceless.”

Rehberg has been with UPD for almost 25 years. He looks forward to future competitions with his dogs this fall.

Editor’s note: UBNow is looking for faculty and staff members who pursue interesting hobbies, causes and other endeavors outside of their day jobs. Contact University Communications photographer Meredith Forrest Kulwicki.