No, the dogs aren’t a team–you and your dog together are a team. And the biggest lesson for most handlers is to “trust your dog.” A dog that knows how to “find it!” is going to find it and tell you. Eventually. But we humans like to second guess our dogs.
Riley’s command is “find it!” and he does: he passed his first two odor recognition tests, Birch and Anise. It’s true that his class trained for more than a year on Birch–maybe even two–so he was super-ready…. but our training on Anise was less intense. Still, after some anxious seconds, he passed Anise, too.
In his first test, he was super-quick. But even though I knew he knew how to find Birch, I still didn’t trust his first “Alert!” in the test and made him insist. Just to be certain.
I don’t have any problem with making him “insist” or alert again in a test, because we do have three minutes to “find it.” In the birch test, even with my making him “insist” he took 9 seconds. But the bigger issue is that his alerts easily become sloppy and that’s my fault because I don’t always require him to give me a sharp alert. Which is why that’s our focus during his twice monthly classes.
Although we share a tight bond of love, our teamwork in the sport isn’t as strong as it needs to be for us to progress in canine scent work and that is on me, not him.
So how does all this work? We take classes with a canine nose-work instructor: more than three years now, and with the same dogs. The “training pack” as I call it. Right now we practice in a pet supply store, but we haven’t always. We’ve also trained outside. Let me share some photos of outdoor searches.
When we get to trials, if we ever get there, that’s what happens. To give us an idea of what might happen in a trial, his nose work trainer, Miss Pam, set up some exterior searches for our class.
A very clean garbage area and a short search. Riley’s alert is that he touches it (usually) and looks up at me. Sometimes it can be hard to distinguish just looking at me from an alert, which is why this is a team sport. You have to know the difference. Lately, though, his alerts have been loose and so I often make him insist. He’s a lazy dog so he won’t always touch it if he can get away with just looking at me.
Vehicle search outdoors. When he did this last year for the first time, he was pretty quick but on this day, he was distracted. You can see him catch the scent a few times but not move ahead toward the “hide.” At about 2:03 he gets serious and then finds it.
In a trial, you get three minutes. Just to give you an idea, in his first odor recognition test, it took him 9 seconds to find the birch scent. I think it took 30 or more seconds for him to find anise. That test room was a problem because the placement of the door to the outside created odor drift and many dogs didn’t pass. I wasn’t sure why Riley’s search pattern was peculiar on that test until later, when our trainer explained what had happened.
Riley loves his nose work classes and it gives us something fun to do a couple of times a month. Or during the day at home, if i practice with him. If you have a dog that is reactive, it’s an ideal activity as the dogs work independently and are crated in between. They never have to come in contact with each other.
We’ll continue for the foreseeable future because it’s a fun outing for us all and I couldn’t recommend it more highly to dog owners.