NW3 Trials Memorial Day Weekend

Wow, what a weekend!  Unfortunately, the two days of trials were light on titles (only one on Saturday, and 4 on Sunday, including a NW3 Elite), but I think overall it was a good experience and hopefully even fun for all involved!

Starting on Friday, I met with Holly & Mike – trial hosts, Christina Blair – volunteer extraordinaire, Maria Corrigan – who was going to help me with my first Volunteer Co-ordinator job, and the Certifying Official and his wife, Chris and Laura Busch, who flew in from California.

We all walked the site, Mike and Holly giving Chris the tour of the exterior spaces, as well as the two buildings, showing him what was available and what was not.  It was interesting to hear some of this thought process and what goes into the whys when choosing search areas.  The Exterior:  we had to be careful of line of site to the parking lot, as well as auditory issues.  Since at NW3, people don’t know the # of hides, you don’t want competitors hearing “Alert!” and “Yes!” while they stage and wait their turn.  Another exterior concern, was the yellow jackets swarming out of a rock wall that was in a potential search area (that area was ruled out).  And of course the flow – no one wants to walk a mile to and from a search area, especially when we knew Saturday was forecast to be HOT.  Based on the forecast, Chris opted to have the Vehicle search very near the Exterior search.  After consulting with Maria, Mike, Holly and I re. would competitors rather do V and E back to back, then head back to their car to cool down, OR would they rather do one element at a time, and cool off in between, we suggested one element at a time.  So that is how it was run, Exteriors first, back to the cars, then Vehicles.  This gave the dogs a chance to cool down somewhat and get some water between elements.  It was difficult for Chris to imagine the high heat with humidity and how it would affect our New England dogs (and humans!), being that this was the first real heat of the season.  We had just had the cold wet week not too long ago!

The Interior concerns were finding rooms that were next door to each other, again to minimize walking.  The rooms we had to choose from, while good sized and fun, had smaller offices in between them that we did not have access to, or small closets.  So, there was a little walk between Rm 1 and Rm 2, and Rm 1 was a women’s room.  Which I find fairly common when I think back to past trials, and although not the most pleasant, it’s better than a men’s room with motion-flushing urinals!  One room was large enough that Chris split a portion off with blue tape, and crammed some extra tables and chairs into the “out of bounds” area.

Lastly, the Container search area was pretty clear, we would use the same space both days. It was open , with doors on two ends, and a high ceiling.  This proved to have some interesting air movement throughout the weekend.

For Sunday, Chris had a rough plan in place – we would use the building the Container search was in, he was pretty sure he knew where the Vehicles would be, and definitely the Exterior.  Flow would have to be worked out on Saturday after the trial and Sunday morning.

Well, Chris and Laura got a taste of hot and humid New England weather on Saturday!  Very different than the hot DRY heat they are used to.  It was pretty brutal.  Luckily, with the large parking lot, people could run their cars with the AC blasting without exhaust-poisoining their neighbors.  We had access to water – a hose and kiddie pool proved very helpful before and after and in between searches.  We had water bowls at every staging area, as well as water for competitors and volunteers.  And, we set up EZ-Ups for volunteers and judge.  Everyone was in good spirits, even though they were hot – lots of flushed faces and tongues hanging out!

I floated around quite a bit, making sure the flow of the trial was moving along, checking in with volunteers, organizing who would do what as we changed elements, etc.  I was able to see Oasis, Billie Sue and Max do the Exterior search, and they looked great!  Each handler paused at the start to let their dogs focus and hopefully pick up scent.  Each dog showed some interest in the first corner of the building, but each handler backed off, let them work, and the dogs moved on. All showed a nice response to odor on the bench, and most got the cinder blocks on the first pass (I think one dog hit the cinderblocks on the way back toward the start)  No one false alerted on the little building, no one peed in the grass, and everyone called Finish without over searching the area!  I was very proud to see you all go in, allow your dog to search, make sure you covered the area, and then be confident in calling Alert and Finish.

Chris made a last minute adjustment to the vehicles.  There had been 4 vehicles during the walk through, but as temperatures rose, he didn’t want people traipsing around and around on the hot pavement.  So when people got to the start line, there were only 3 vehicles.  The dogs I saw looked hot, the handlers looked a little sun-baked, and it was slow going.

I did not get to see any Interior or Container searches.  From what I heard, the Interior was tricky with the first room being blank.  Handlers thought their dogs were hot and not searching, when in reality, they were hot and there was no odor!  So there were several false alerts in Rm 1.  Containers were the last search of the day, and the consensus was the dogs were hot, the handlers were hot, and there were many, many false alerts.  Not necessarily on the distractions (a toy that looked brand new, and I think fruit or pretzels) there were only about 3 bags that did not get false alerted on, and there were only 14 bags/containers total.

Some highlights for me, were seeing lots of familiar faces, seeing several new volunteers, both seasoned competitors and brand new to nose work people, and getting to see what goes on and goes into the behind the scenes of a trial.

Another highlight, was Sarah and Max missing NW3 by only 10 points, coming in 5th place overall!  Great showing for your first NW3 trial!  And Andy and Panda coming in 2nd place in Exteriors!  That is confidence and knowing your dog at its best, what a good feeling.

Sunday was a COMPLETELY different day.  The temperature dropped about 40 degrees, the clouds came out and the breeze kicked up.  It was a perfect day to work dogs!

Not only that, but the search areas were completely different than Saturday.  Sunday had everyone parking in a smaller lot next to the building with the Container search in it. These Interior rooms were interesting – one smaller room, a medium classroom and a larger classroom, all off the same hall.  The Vehicle search was around the back – four vehicles, the first car was set a bit of a distance from the other 3, the last vehicle was a small bus.  And the Exterior space was a landscaped area, with a large tree, picnic table, lights set in the ground, and a stone wall curving and providing one boundary.

Chris made another adjustment – after the fiasco of the Containers on Saturday, he had the Containers be the first search of the day.  Handlers came in from outside (rather than an interior door) and left the same way.  Unfortunately, the pass rate wasn’t a whole lot better.   The Exterior search was last, and most people (and dogs) enjoyed that.  It was breezy, with a steady wind pushing downhill into the search area, into the stonewall.  Dogs worked the wall and all the pooling odor, before turning and going to the hide (in a landscaping light).  Many handlers kept their dogs searching that wall a LONG time, but most dogs left the wall, knowing there was lots of odor, but no source.

Highlights were Kathy & Buddy missing NW3 by one “extra” hide, a great showing for their first NW3 trial, and Beth and Isaac (once again) missing NW3 by ONE false alert.  I’ve been there, believe me!

For me, this was another fun day of organizing who would do what, and trying to make sure most people got to watch at least one search.  More volunteers who were new to the role, and other seasoned volunteer and trial pros kept things running smoothly.  I tried to release people at the end of the day, when only Exteriors was running, but most people stayed to watch, making the Exterior crowd rather big!  I was happy to see the support the volunteers had for their friends and classmates, and to see how they wanted to watch one more search, and stay to hear the judges report.

Speaking of judges, a behind-the-scenes drama was that one of the judges had to pull out due to a family issue one week before the trial.  So Gail McCarthy stepped in for Saturday, and Sue James stepped in for Sunday.  Sergio DeRojas was there all weekend.  I thought it was a great combination, and I’m glad for the volunteers who got to work under all 3 judges.  I think when you volunteer, you really see how the judges do NOT want to say No, they are as demoralized as you are when you hear it!  And you get to hear a little of their commentary after and between the searches.

A common theme from the judges and across various searches, is, remember that there are boundary lines for you, the handler, however, odor does not know the boundaries!  So on the vehicles searches both days, both Sergio and Sue mentioned allowing your dogs to work the wall (in Sergio’s day) and the grass (Sue’s day), since odor was blowing, collecting and pooling there.  Gail’s 3rd Interior had handlers calling or pulling their dogs back into the search area from the blue line, although it appeared odor was moving across the line.  Don’t pull your dog too forcefully back from out of bounds, as this could pull them out of searching for a few moments altogether.  Another theme was let them work – don’t over handle – don’t crowd.  Gail’s blank room with the false alerts was a good example of over handling, keeping the dog in a small area for too long.  Sunday’s vehicle search had the hide on the 3rd vehicle.  Wind was blowing in the dogs faces and they wanted to go straight to it.  Handlers had other plans, wanting dogs to work the vehicles as they came to them.  That falls into strategy – if you have a slower dog, maybe you DO want them to search the vehicles as you come to them, knowing you may not have time to double-back.  However, if you have a soft dog, and they are pulling to the 3rd vehicle, I would go with them!  And of course, we hear often: stand back and let the dogs work, don’t crowd your dog: this applies to every element.

I am so grateful for all who volunteered, either sweating through Saturday, or gathering up energy to come back on Sunday.  It made my job much easier, having enough people to hold positions or run around tying up loose ends.  Some comments from those who volunteered:

“Wow, we REALLY talk too much, crowd our dogs, and DON’T TRUST our dogs!”

“You could tell when a dog was going to false alert in Containers.  The dog would show interest in a container, and the handler would move in closer… it was only a matter of time before the dog looked up and the handler called a false alert”

“Wow, there were some basic handling skills that I would have thought people left behind in NW1.  Bending at the waist and looking under tables, following right behind their dog, walking in the room with their dog rather than letting them work from the threshold and following them in.”

A couple people commented on how a few handlers coaxed their dog to search something specific – up the tree, up on a wall – for no apparent reason other than the human thinking they knew where a hide may be.  After they got there dog to jump up to check a high area, the next 5 dogs jumped up in the same place!   Now you have 5 handlers thinking, “hmmm, he’s showing interest, maybe there is a high hide?”  Demonstrating that dogs do follow other dogs tracks, but also showing that handlers can tell the difference between interest and working odor.

I think it was a great trial site, Mike and Holly did a great job (amazing food for the volunteers – thank you!!) Chris was a great CO, and the volunteers were all super helpful and eager to chip in and learn.  Very smooth two days, despite the crazy weather.

At the end of the day, I am sorry no one from Maine titled.  No one likes to hear No, but I have to say, I’ve learned the most from hearing No.  It’s made me better, stronger and more determined for the next trial.  Although I do admit, there was a period where I thought about quitting trialing… at the NW3 level, it got really discouraging to JUST miss so many times, for so many reasons.  Each No told me something – about my dogs, about my training, and about myself.  Each No had me adjusting my training, my attitude, and remembering why we played in the first place.  Each No taught me what to focus on with my students, each No taught me what to do differently “next time”.  Even after a horrible showing, I could look at the ribbon wall and remember that, wow, we’ve done well!  It wasn’t a fluke to get a ribbon, we worked for that ribbon.  We just have to keep working to get the NEXT ribbon.

A trainer once told me, “I never tell people ‘good luck’, because that implies you need it.”  So in that vein, for those of you trialing in NJ and Huntington, HAVE FUN!  Enjoy the time in the hotel with your dog, enjoy sharing some ice cream afterwards with your dog, and enjoy walking into the search area, confident that your dogs knows the job, your dog knows odor, your dog is confident in the task at hand.  He just needs you to share his confidence, and be sure he has access to the entire search area.  He needs you to relax and have fun, and be attentive to what he’s telling you.  He also does not want you to make a mountain out of a molehill – if he shows a little interest and walks away, don’t bring him back 3 times!  Go with the flow, and don’t learn anything – no Nos – only Yes’s!

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