Dog sport lessons from the heart

NW2 Vehicle search for Chase

Something incredible, magical, almost miraculous happened the first Sunday in June.  It was time, it truly was that time to try to complete our first NW2 level NACSW Nose Work Trial.  And I couldn’t have been more proud, and frankly completely surprised, of the outcome.  

Luckily a local host was approved for two days of NW2 level trials so we threw our entry into the lottery.  And we got in. First sign from the universe…..just give it a try. So we did

We showed up on that sunny Sunday morning ready to do some sniffing at a very fancy minor league baseball park.  I had no expectations other than to get through the day and perform to the best of our abilities. If we weren’t successful it was just “information” we would use for a training plan.

Shocking to me, at the end of the day we were one of only three teams that actually titled and wait for it…..we finished in first place!  My head will forever be in the clouds.

The sport of Nose Work is one of the only dog sports where the dogs truly leads the team.  It might be hard for us humans to give up being in control but the following are ways we can support our canine team mate to help us both be successful.

Advocate for your dog.

Dog sport trials are already stressful enough for the competing teams.  Not only do you have to compete but you have to make sure you can keep you and your dog comfortable and relaxed between performing.  And weird unexpected stuff can happen adding more stress to your day.

Advocating for your dog is the #1 thing to do in any dog sport.  You know your dog best. What do they need to be comfortable and safe?  Step it up and put them FIRST AT ALL TIMES. 

I’ve left a trial half way through and don’t feel one ounce of guilt or shame.  I made a terrible decision to travel to the host city the night before even though the drive was only 2 hrs away.  Traveling wasn’t the “bad idea” but rather staying in a hotel for the first time with Chase before a trial…..that was the bad idea.  He guarded the door all night long and every little sound caused him to jump up and bark full out at the door. I was definitely safe to say the least.  But we were zombies for the first two searches of the nose work trial and I knew we should just pack up and go home for some rest.

If something happens that puts your dog in a stressful situation, over their threshold during training or at trial, figure out how to reduce the stressor and speak up, get help, and decide if it is in the best interest to continue. Is it worth it? Your dog will be happier feeling safe and trusting you. Don’t worry about what other people think. The good ones will respect you for putting your dog first.

Take your time.

In the sport of Nose Work the main goal of each search is to complete it correctly with no faults within the time limit.  So first and foremost you are not competing against other participants. There could be 38 titles or there could be zero

So take your time.  Take the entire time allowed for each search if needed to successfully read your dog and understand the scent picture.  The Certifying Officially has set the number of hides and time allowed based on their knowledge of that skill level.

You will be amazed at truly how long two and a half minutes really is!

Remember you are a team.

There were times when I thought we were moving at a snails pace in our searches but having the fastest times was not our first goal.  Our first goal was to utilize all our training in an effort to locate all the hides in the given amount of time. I would much rather be successful first and then work on being fast.

Maybe it was because this is my first nose work dog.  Or maybe it is because this was our first attempt at a NW2 trial.  Possibly it was because it is incredibly difficult to find and get into a trial.  Subconsciously it was all of these reasons why I focused on how we functioned as a team before I worried about how long it was taking us.

Take care of each other.

You can’t take care of your dog if you don’t take care of you.

It is kind of like the whole “put your oxygen mask on first before trying to help someone else” kind of thing.  Between searches or runs make sure you find a way to relax, release any negative or limiting thoughts, and refocus on your next challenge.

I don’t think it was a coincidence that we were so successful.  Between searches I used a couple flower essence to help curb my anxiety or fears of failure.  And also did some journally, replace any limiting beliefs with positive affirmations that we had all the training and “tools” we needed. We had each other. We were ready for any challenge.

Forgive each other’s mistakes.

Oh boy this is a big lesson and one of my favorties.

Have you ever played a team sport?  Or heard the saying “there is no I in Team”.  If yes, then you know a team is only as strong as its weakest player.  That could be weakness in skill level. Weakness in how they are feeling that day.  Weakness in dealing with stressors. Whatever that weakness is, mistakes are going to happen.

As team mates it is your responsibility to forgive each others mistakes. And we do this by upping our game to support our other teammate. Acknowledge the error and move on quickly.

Don’t make excuses, make a plan

If you aren’t completely successful on trial day don’t fret.  Don’t make excuses. Instead, make a plan to improve.

Excuses , in my opinion, are lies we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel good.

Make sure you take advantage to all the resources offered to you after the trial (photos or videos) or take notes after each run so you understand how you can develop a training plan to improve for next time.

Once you’ve identified areas to improve start searching for resources to create a plan.  Discuss with your Nose Work Instructor, search the internet for some training drills, and check out one of my favorite online training resources Fenzi Dog Sport.

Be reasonable and be kind

At the end of the day there are really only two important things to remember.  Be reasonable , you did your best today. And be kind, love your dog more today than you did yesterday.

I love Chase with all my heart no matter if we earn ribbons and accolades or not.   All of that stuff is really for me, the human. He could give two poops about all that.  You might be saying to yourself “ that is easy to say Deb because you two were successful”.   From my heart please know that the only thing that mattered that day was that the universe sent a clear message that we are on track as a team, our bond is strong, and together we can compete with the best of them.

Lessons in action

Below is the video of our last search. I was trying desperately not to let the pressure of success or failure weight on us. All of the lessons I’ve mentioned in this post got us to this point.

  • Advocate for your dog: I know Chase’s search style and did not want to demotivate him at the beginning of the search. I make sure each Gate Steward knows we are not stopping at the threshold (or start line) to enter the search. This allows him to start searching his own way as we approach the area. Forward movement is important for my dog because it creates less tension.
  • Take your time: There were moments where I could have made the correct “alert” call sooner but my reflexes are slower on trial day. So I felt no pressure of time and let Chase tell me (if not multiple times) where the hides were.
  • You are a team: neither one of us can do this sport without the other. Equally important to each other. We take turns leading and following.
  • Take care of each other: This mostly has to do with our parking lot and staging practices. I don’t let Chase get overcrowded by people. And I try and keep him ready during the staging or waiting times. If he won’t take a treat while we are waiting I know he is over threshold in someway and I need to relieve some kind of pressure.
  • Forgive mistakes: You can see this a lot in the video below. Chase forgave me when I didn’t call alert when he first told me on the box to the right of the door. It was a “soft” alert and he did not stay at source so I knew we would be coming back to check that area again. We later found out the “distractor” was placed in the agent container which most likely influenced his decision making at that moment. Later in the video I try and direct him to check some containers. This is not something I do and did not work in this situation. He forgave me for that and took charge with moving on to the correct containers.

Enjoy the video and share in the comments the “softer” lessons you’ve learned from participating in a dog sport.

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