With increased access to nosework/scent detection trials, new teams are out in droves competing in this very fun sport!
I am delighted to see teams who were competitive in other sports, specifically agility, finding the joys of nosework. They are drawn to the challenge of learning about scent theory and how every search is different like an agility course. The sport is appealing to more and more teams!
Lately, my answer to many training questions is TIME. With this increased interest in the sport we need to talk about the time it takes to develop the many required skills to be successful. It takes time to develop and truly teach understanding to your dog and understanding for you.
Trial too early or move up to fast and you are going to see gaps in your training and more concerning, may even take some steps back or affect your dog’s confidence.
Let’s talk dog skills
One area of concern is an increase in box antics – dogs likely rushed through training with unclear criteria. Dogs are damaging boxes and worse property (vehicles, furniture) from pawing or biting. These antics are being faulted across the board and in some cases teams can be disqualified. I heard at one trial that so many hot boxes were damaged they ran out of boxes to replace them and had to ding up the cold ones! These new developments may require a shift in previous approaches of letting the dog’s natural behavior determine their indication at source.
Another concern is a dog who has a high probability of eliminating in the search area (mostly in exteriors). This is an issue all teams have to address when starting out, especially for new sport teams where dogs are not used to “boundaries” of acceptable pottying. Time is on your side to build value and understanding of the game and learn the rules of working. My first 2 dogs did occasionally pee in training but over time they learned focus for the work and when they could and could not potty. Practicing in NOVEL areas, having clear routines for potty time, having consistent start line routines for working and wearing gear ONLY when searching will help this tremendously. This isn’t something you can rush. Search areas are going to have poles, columns, grass and trees in them – dogs must know they are not allowed to just pee anywhere. This can be a huge adjustment for new sport teams.
When you move up the levels you will encounter multiple hides. Trial too soon and your dog may not understand that the game is to find more and not ones they have already found. They may not be able able to solve close hides or inaccessibles – these are skills they need for NW2 and Excellent. Again, it takes time to work through the steps to build confidence and value for finding more, solving more complex puzzles and not going back to found hides. You don’t want to risk losing odor obedience for poor trial handling. You’ll also want to take advantage of off leash searching if it’s an option. Some teams are unable to use this option when the game of multiple hides is not clear. Using an off leash option for some search areas may give you an advantage where a leash may get tangled or the dog would be able to cover the area better with more independence.
Dogs also need more experience on exteriors, buried, vehicles, and handler discrimination – elements often less practiced than others, and especially in novel places. Vehicles are a major area of concern with scratching if your dog jumps up on them. That is a BIG no no and can get you disqualified. Keeping hides low and discouraging any ideas of jumping on vehicles is on your end. Please don’t enter any of these classes if you have not properly taken the time to train and adequately proof.
What about handler skills?
Our skills are just as important as our dogs! We need to teach acceptable criteria, know how to manage the leash and learn how to read our scenting dogs. It takes time – fun times – to learn how odor reacts in different situations and with different hide placements. We have to learn not only to read our dog on accessible hides, but also on inaccessible hides – still a very challenging skill for most handlers.
We need to know when our dogs are working or distracted, to keep our eyes on our dogs and not pull dogs off odor. We need to know how to stage them before a search and what the best start routine will be for our dog. We need to have some mental strategies in place to ease our nerves and be the best teammate for our partner.
I really do like the Odor Recognition Test requirement before entering a NACSW trial. That alone builds in time for more practice before trialing. Most teams I work with will go from start to ORT in about 6 months and then NW1 by the end of their first year. This time frame provides plenty of time for learning the skills and gaining scent work experience. During that time not only are we training for NW1, but already working on skills for Advanced and L2.
AKC and other organizations provide extra access for trialing which is great when NACSW can be far and few between. We can still take the time to prepare for any trialing organization to be the best prepared team we can!
Congrats to all the local teams who trialed this weekend in NW1/NW2 – prepared and putting their best foot and nose forward!
If you want to learn more about improving your dog’s scent work skills check out my current NW130 Advanced Nosework Skills at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy – class started October 1st and registration closes October 15th. I’m also presenting a workshop on Go to Source games starting the week of November 24th. Registration will be open soon.