Last month Savvy earned her NACSW NW3 Elite title.  With trials few and far away, I was thrilled not only for all our skills and preparation, but not having to drive 9 hours to the next one we got into months later!  And her previous NW3 trial was 8 months prior!!  Since Nosework is a sport that has limited trial opportunities, it’s difficult to gain the needed trial experience to help for the next trial.

It’s not uncommon to take up to 6 months or longer to get into NACSW trials or to trial in certain areas of the country. Mistakes are costly in a sport with limited trialing opportunities so you have to apply optimal learning from trial to trial. Assuming your dog is adequately trained and prepared … trialing is a skill you have to develop and requires actual trialing! Classes and matches help, but never fully prepare you for actual trial time nerves and situations! There’s a lot on the line when you step up to that start line after hours of driving and months of waiting TO trial!

Having trialed in the top levels of many sports, I have first hand experience of the nerves you have when just starting out in a new sport or with a new teammate compared to really feeling polished and owning that ring/search time! It’s that “gut” you’ve learned with experience on responding to your run/search and reading your dog in new places and in new situations.

For example, I remember making an epic mistake at an agility trial early in my career – my dog heading to an off-course tunnel and I kept that momentum all the way following her right to the tunnel! Trialing again in a few weeks ensured strong memory of this and I was able to apply quickly what I had learned (decel and better overall cuing!)

The key is how to make the most of your trials and how to apply that to your training and future trialing. Review your “not yets”. Those times when you made that bobble and how critical it is to not repeat that mistake months later when you trial again. In reviewing Savvy’s journey to NW3 Elite,  I learned from each with limited opportunities to trial “better” next time.

Her first “not yet” was in NW2 – she went right to the first hide in her exterior which was under moss in a brick. She stopped, sniffed it more like a distractor and then looked out in the distance. It was not her normal indication – she would look at me, not away. I didn’t call it and we eventually timed out. In that distracting environment – she found it but was then distracted. I learned that she may not look at me, but her other body language/behavior of going right to source from the start and stopping was also the change I needed to notice. We never missed an indication again!!

Our first “no” was in our first NW3 on containers – the last element where we had been passing up to that point. She found one hide and then went away from the containers and hit the end of her leash, she came back and alerted on first container she encountered – maybe feeling she was corrected previously and wanted to please me (she’s that kind of sweet dog). I learned to use my words to call her back and not let her hit the end of her line. And to use my words more often, in general, to communicate and support my teammate! We are allowed to talk and interact with our dog during searches, which some people forget or are unaware that this is allowed.

My next NW3, we got a “no” on vehicles. She found a hide at the threshold on the front bumper of a truck. My strategy was to search the other 3 vehicles completely. But after searching the next one, she pulled back strongly to the back of that same truck and detailed the wheel well, honing in on what looked like source and stopped and looked at me. It was on the same truck that she already found odor, but at the back. They CAN put 2 on a car, it’s allowed, but very rare. Was it pooling odor (wind was not really blowing that way)? I’ll never know. I learned to only cursory check the rest of a car where a hide was already found and to fully search all other vehicles before reacting to any indication on that first one.

We passed our next 3 NW3 trials, trialing those 3 times over a 10 month period. The unique component of NW3 is that you don’t know how many hides you have in your search areas (up to 3 hides).  I finally felt more skilled at trialing by having more trial experience under our belt, but that 8 months between trialing was rough!  You have to bring every trial experience you’ve learned previously to the next one, with each experience strengthening your teamwork.

The Great News????? This past weekend I attended the very first AKC Scent Work trials at the Eukanuba Performance Games in Wilmington, OH. With this new AKC Scent Work program and other smaller “nosework” venues, we now have more opportunities to trial and gain that needed trialing experience in this new and growing sport!

It was a thrill to run in 5 Scent Work classes over 4 days of trialing! That’s 20 searches in 4 days that Savvy and I got to experience. Drac also had a daily search in Handler Discrimination. **THIS** is why I put all the time and sweat into learning and training my dogs so I can enjoy fun events and trialing experiences to accomplish goals I set out for us as a team. I look forward to more AKC Scent Work trials so that my dogs and I can continue to grow as scent detection teams!

Savvy, having earned her first AKC novice titles in all the odor element searches (Interiors, Exteriors, Containers and Buried), can now add the Scent Work Novice (SWN) title to her name!

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