Party Pooper - A Trial Anecdote
Last year we moved to Wisconsin, just when we were getting really into nose work with Molly and Katie. We looked for Performance Scent Dog trials in Wisconsin and surrounding areas and they just aren’t there yet. So, we decided to take the trek back to New Jersey to do a trial and visit friends and family. It is not a quick car ride, about 16 hours with stops to let Niki and Peach (our cat) stretch their legs. We are very lucky that they are great passengers and sleep most of the way.
In preparation for the trial, Niki and I practiced every day for several months. I was getting very excited at how well she was searching. Her alert was becoming more refined and she finally thinks containers are worth searching. We practiced inside, outside, new locations, in bad weather, when she was a bit more tired, etc. trying to proof her for trial conditions. She was very focused and had faster times!
Finally, the end of June came, and we made it back to New Jersey. The day of the trial was very hot, at about 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Niki isn’t really a water loving dog, so the kiddie pool was of no interest to her, but I totally could have jumped in! We took a bunch of quick potty breaks and spent a lot of time in the shade to avoid the heat. We gave the practice boxes a go and she walked up and gave a quick, clear alert! Yay!
We were called and went inside for back to back searches—buildings and containers. I was excited, she usually excels in these two elements. We started the building search first. She sniffed a little and then stopped searching. She stood there, looked around, and basically decided that was it. I tried coaxing and checking in with her. Nothing. My heart sank a bit, wondering if it was the environment, or what other underlying causes were contributing to her lack of interest. The timer gave me the 30 second warning. We gave it one last go and Niki false alerted to a chair. I called it (knowing it wasn’t going to be a Q), and I was correct in my assumption. We were able to look for a few seconds with some guidance. She found it, alerted, and ended on a positive note.
Next, containers. There were a bunch of socks on two clothes lines. We had practiced with this type of set up before! I was hoping Niki would pull through on this one. She went in, started searching, and quickly alerted with a pretty convincing alert. I called it. Nope. Again, we NQ’d, it wasn’t that sock. She found the other one, alerted, and ended on another positive note.
Feeling pretty bummed, we walked outside. I took her working harness off, and within seconds she started to potty. She had a bit of trouble getting it out as well. Ahh, that was it. No wonder she couldn’t focus!
I'm a pretty competitive person in general, so it can be hard for me to see positives as I critically analyze my performance. This can be challenging for me, but I have to remember that this sport is a team effort and I need to acknowledge my partner. My dog. Instead of letting it ruin my day and feed that down the leash to my dog, I found the positives. She did the best that she could in that moment. Even though it didn't result in a qualifying score, that's okay! I was proud of her for waiting until the harness came off, and not soiling the search area. We try to make sure she doesn’t react or potty while she is in that harness, so she only wears it during a search. They automatically receive a non-qualifying score if they potty in the search area. Lesson learned, make sure to take the extra long walk so she can fully relieve herself.
Another positive is that she was able to relax in the shade with all sorts of dogs walking past her. Something that she would have struggled with even just a year ago! It's a good reminder that training and management never ends. We were at the trial for nose work, but behavioral modification is always happening in the background of whatever we do. No matter what her scores are, the most important thing is that she is having fun and is comfortable.
We had one last search, exteriors. Having this one last after two NQs was a bit daunting. Exteriors aren’t her strongest element. She went into the search area and was ready to go. She worked the puzzle well, despite the heat and environment! She was on scent, alerted, and I called it. She was correct! We did it! I was incredibly proud of her! Despite two NQs in the previous searches, I trusted her to give me the correct location and she did. She even got 3rd place! If I had let her in on my negativity, then we may not have had a successful search after the other two.
Training, much less trialing, with a large primitive dog who has some reactivity issues isn’t always the easiest. So, if our biggest setback was her being distracted because she had to potty…I’ll take it! There’s always something that we can improve upon, so having the experience to reevaluate how to work a puzzle will only help us to be better in the future.