A Nosework Trial – Is your dog ready for the “real-world” experience?

13 Nov

Photo by Pix2Go Studios

I recently spent a fun, busy and exciting weekend as Volunteer Coordinator for the South East’s Inaugural Nosework Trial in Fultondale Alabama. It was great to see many of my “dog” friends gathered in one place, as well as meet many new people.  I was privileged to have the amazing people that I did volunteer, which in turn made my job as the Volunteer coordinator go very smoothly!

I also got to watch some searches, and even though this was the second trial I have attended, I learned a lot more about how things run behind the scenes. I also realized how much Ren, my 5 pound Japanese Chin, has benefitted from the game of Nosework.

I got Ren when she was 1 ½ years old.  She had spent her entire life up until that point with a breeder and 16 other Chin. When I got her, she hasn’t experienced much besides being carted back and forth to confirmation shows.  Although she and I bonded immediately, she was VERY shy (and still can be really shy with strangers.)  Although other dogs didn’t really concern her, every new person, noise, experience, etc was new and scary, and she would tremble and shake until those people went away.

Although I had started Ren in Nosework just to build her confidence and for her I to have an activity to do together, I am a fairly competitive person.  She continued to get faster, more excited, and even anxious to start searching.  Should we compete one day? I really had to stop and think about this one. Although I LOVE competition, was attending a trial a fair position to put my sensitive dog in? Although classes can be tailored for reactive/sensitive dogs, a trial just can’t treat those dogs with special privileges. Dog Reactive dogs wear a red bandana, but that is really just to get other dog owners to give them a bit more space when passing. In reality, all dogs are treated with the same respect and “space” around other dogs.  There are people, noises, and the “real-world” happening at a trial… Would it be worth the ribbon if Ren continued to have to look over her shoulder at all the new faces?

Photo by Pix2Go Studios

I took Ren to an NACSW seminar. This was her first big “event” where there would be a new facility, people, and dogs.  When it was Ren’s turn to search, I asked everyone to please move towards the back of the room and not laugh, clap, or make any noise because I was so afraid she was going to get really upset.  The observers complied, and Ren did a great job that weekend with everyone standing at the back of the room quietly watching.  Although Ren was un-phased at the seminar because I was able to somewhat control the environment, I realized that if I ever wanted to trial with her I was going to have to start to experiment with how was would tolerate, and even enjoy searching the “real world” environment of a trial.

The more we went to classes though, the more important odor became to her.  After a few months, Ren was even able to walk by other students in our class while performing a search pattern.  Ren got more and more interested in Birch, (including starting to drool like a Bloodhound!) Even though she would have to leave the living room in our home if there were more than 2 guests visiting, she was starting to tune out people at class!

More time passed, and Ren was able to search in class with several people in the room. I had other class members wear funny hats, follow her while searching (like a judge might),  and pretend to be photographers and videographers. We practiced in a different location every week. We continued to work on our socializing outside of class. We attended a Birch ORT, where not only did Ren not acknowledge the strangers or goings on, she found the hide in 6.7 seconds. I finally felt like we were ready to try for our NW1.  We flew to Chicago last May to compete, and not only earned our NW1, she also took third place in an element!

This past weekend at the Alabama the news showed up to cover the trial. It couldn’t not have film a actual competitors dog searching, and we were standing around trying to figure out how the crew could tape a search. I confidently said “Ren can do it!” and she did.  Not only did she perform 2 searches for the camera, the camera man followed her around the search area, coming pretty close to her a few times for some tight shots. She looked up at him a few times, not at all in a scared way, but more in a “you are in my way – I am looking for Birch–move”  kind of way 🙂

How lucky Ren and I have been to find this sport.  The ribbons were awesome to win, but are now stashed away with all the of other ribbons I have won over the past 25 years with my dogs.  What matters more to me is that Ren and I can be preparing for a search at a class, a trial, or the backyard, and my tiny dog who was afraid of the world still starts to shake. But the shaking is no longer because she is afraid – it’s because she simply cannot wait get to work.


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