Wow, I’ve been away from the computer for a long time, it’s hard to know where to start!
I’ll start with the most recent first, this past weekend at Camp Carpenter in Manchester, NH for the Elite trial on Sat and the NW1 trial on Sunday. I was fortunate enough to be able to run a dog on each day.
This was Quattro and my first Elite trial, and I have to say, I had some trial nerves driving in! Nothing like in the old days, but I think it was just the fact of doing something new and unknown. I’ve volunteered at several Elite trials, so I had an understanding, but you don’t really know until you are in the middle of it, or doing a post-trial review. It made me realize / remember what my students are feeling when they pull into their first (or second or third) trial – the slight nerves of the unknown.
Here are some general trial guidelines, no matter what level you are at.
- Read the rules! Since this was my first Elite, I wanted to re-read the rules to make sure I understood the scoring and points. It’s very different than an NW1/2/3 trial – you can hear ‘No’ and continue searching. You just don’t want to hear 3 Nos in one search, that gets you escorted out 😦 It gave me a better feel for what to expect in the search areas and prepared me for the new rule – No :30 second warnings will be given in Elite trials if the search time is less than 3:00 minutes. Someone in the briefing didn’t know that and was a little worried. Read the rules, and there won’t be any unexpected surprises.
- Do NOT bring odor to the trial site! Your dog knows what odor is, they know they get rewarded for finding it, you do NOT need to practice in the hotel the night before, and you do NOT need to practice at the trial site – big no-nos! The warm up boxes are just that – to be used once or twice on your way in to your search, and if you want, on the way out. Quattro won’t let me pass them by coming or going without sprinting to them to get an easy treat! Please do not pick up or move the odor box. Leave it in place, and if you want, you can move the blank boxes around the odor box, but really, you are only doing one or 2 passes, so they should not be touched. You risk spreading odor on the ground, so the next dog may alert to a blank box that is sitting where the odor box had been.
- Bring a chair, lunch, water for you, water for your dog, a bowl for your dog, extra clothes from rain gear to snow gear, your shade cloth if you have one, fans if you have them, leashes, treat pouch if you use one, really good special treats (more on that later), pad of paper and pen, your scorebook if you use it, and a good attitude!
- Remember to take your dog out only when you really feel like they need to go to the bathroom. After you’ve checked into registration and used the facilities yourself is a good time to take them out, then one or 2 dogs before your run. They really don’t need to be in and out of the car a million times. Just passing other dogs coming and going to the searches can be mildly stressful / stimulating for your dog, and remember, it’s a long day. You want them sharp, and keen to search and work for you, not burnt out walking laps back and forth, navigating other dogs and people, smelling all those dogs smells, seeing golf carts whiz by, having dogs bark at them as they walk by cars. My dog sleeping in his crate is just fine by me!
- Once your dog is comfortable (water in crate, shade cloth on if needed, windows open or closed depending on weather) grab your pen, notebook and smart phone head over to registration. You can take a picture of the run order, so you know what dogs are a few ahead of you, and then you can take pictures or video of the search areas. I find they are good to go back to when I forget where the hide was! Many times the searches are a blur, and I get back to my car, thinking, WHERE did he find that hide? I take a look at my photos / videos, and it all comes back to me.
- Find some positive, calm people to talk to and hang out with. I personally do not like drama, or people who are all gloom and doom, so I tend to avoid them. I don’t want to waste the mental energy dealing with that, or get sucked into their misery. The more normal of a day I can make it, the better off I am, and I’m sure my dogs are, too.
- Remember, you’re finding birch, not bombs, and whatever happens, happens. Yes, you’ll make mistakes you wish you could turn back the clock and fix, and Yes, you will hear ‘No’ at some point in your NW career, but try to think objectively about WHY you heard No, and why you made the handling error. It’s near impossible to recreate the trial, and you don’t want the ghosts of trials past haunting you in your next trial, but if you can break down what went wrong, you can work on that. Did you call it too soon, before your dog got all the way to source? The good news is, you were correctly reading that your dog was in odor. Now it’s just a matter of watching to see when THEY make the decision that they’ve gotten to source. Did your DOG make the decision too early? Maybe in your next practices, be sure to only reward at source, and maybe go back to pairing for a while. Did your dog have a freak out moment about slippery floors, people, noises, small spaces? You can work on those things w/out nose work, by bringing your dog to your bank , pet supply store, outside a shopping mall etc. Bring lots of treats, and work a distance your dog is comfortable with, rewarding forward motion.
- Trial rewards – I use something different than I do in practice. I don’t want to leave crumbs, I don’t want a lot of crunching (esp when there are multiple hides) but I want something special that my dog loves. I’ve settled on roast beef (I have the deli slice it 1/4″ thick, then I cut it into little cubes), sliced string cheese, and gold fish crackers. I throw the crackers in w/ the roast beef – that way, they absorb some juice, and get a little soft. I also throw in some Stella and Chewy’s Meal Mixers, which also absorb some roast beef juice. But – use what your dog likes, preferably something not crumbly, that they can eat quickly. No one wants a fault for dropping treats, even if your dog drops it, you get a fault!
- Another point on nerves – what is the worst that can happen? The judges have seen it all, and being professional working K9 handlers, they too, have heard ‘No’ in tests and trials during their careers. I think I’ve made every mistake, from blurting a false alert to talking my dog into a false alert to forgetting to search one whole side of a vehicle to searching too long and having my dog pee. It’s not the end of the world! You don’t have a bad dog, you are not a bad handler. Even Tom Brady has an off day. Take a deep breath and regroup.
- No matter if you come home with a ribbon or it turns out to be your worst showing ever, it is all a learning experience for you and your dog. Take a few key highlights (or lowlights, as the case may be) and make a plan from there. Be sure your highlights outnumber your lowlights by 4:1. It’s easy to have that ratio reversed, and that’s not good.
Ok, back to this weekend! The first thing I told anyone who asked, was our lowlights (bad trainer!) So I’ll start with our highlights:
- Quattro was very self motivated and independently searching, moving through large search areas at a quick clip, covering lots of ground, including corners and small rooms, without me directing him. It was like he was on auto-pilot or I had pulled a string and let him go (which it probably looked like when I unsnapped the leash). That was really fun to be a part of.
- My parents got to watch 2 of the 5 searches, and while my mother was worried they would distract him off his game, I was relaxed enough to say, “Nah, I don’t think so, and who cares, what the heck, he’s a young dog, and I have 2 more Elite trials this year.” Just saying that and pretending I was relaxed about it, helped me relax about it! And he did awesome – went over and sniffed my mom’s purse in one search area for a brief second, and nudged at my dads jacket pocket for a few seconds in the other search, but otherwise, ignored them. I think they enjoyed watching him work, and enjoyed the mystery of not knowing if we’d found all the hides.
- His alerts were clear as always, and Sue (one of the judges) asked us after our last search, if I taught him his final response (alert) or if he did it naturally – she just loves it. It is really fun to watch him bend in half and twist his neck to get as close to source as he possibly can – no questions about it!
- We found some hides a lot of other teams missed, and we got 3 Pronounced designations out of our 5 searches! That was pretty special.
Ok, now the lowlights:
- Can I lump several into one? MY mistake was timing out – can you believe? – in a small room we had to do on leash, and had 1:30. I did not use a stopwatch (here is the learning moment) and he LOOKED like he was working a high hide. My thinking self got in the way – the CO had said “remember, this is Elite, there is no height limit” during the briefing, and I kept thinking, Elite – there has to be a really high hide! But looking back on it, he would have narrowed it down more than I saw in the search. He left it and went back, but again, in hindsight, it was not very intense searching. The timer called Time, and I knew right away – this was a clear room! Quattro gave a big stress yawn as we were walking out, and I felt really bad that I had kept him in there looking for nothing for a minute and a half.
I’ll leave that as my lowlight. We ended up coming in 3rd place in one search area, and came in 1st in another search area, and 8th overall! Very fun!
Beth and Mike were there too, working on earning points to the next Elite level. Beth knew she had earned enough that day to get her to ELT2, and when she asked Mike how close he was, he quickly dismissed that, saying they weren’t even close, and he wasn’t keeping score or paying attention to the points he needed. Well, when they announced the ELT2 titles, both Beth AND Mike earned their titles! That was a nice surprise for Mike! Beth came in 5th place overall, I think that might be a personal best. She also came in 2nd place in the search Quattro and I came in first, we were only 5 seconds apart. Isaac & Beth and Quattro and I were the only teams to find all the hides in this search area! Yay!
And even though it was cold standing around the parking lot next to a lake all day, I enjoyed catching back up w/ my original NW peeps – Maria, Anne and Cheryn. We all shared many NW trials together, although they moved ahead of Jinxx, Izzie and I. Once Jinxx and Izzie were gone, I worked to bring Quattro along, and now I’ve caught back up with them. It was fun having the original NW gang back together.
Sunday – NW1
What awful weather for peoples first trial experience! It rained in the morning, then once the rain cleared out, the wind blew in at 40 mph! But everyone was in good spirits, the parking lot dogs quiet (sometimes at NW1 trials the parking lot is loud w/ barking dogs) and the volunteers were awesome… 5 were my students 🙂
I trialed w/ Coach, who turned one years old that day, Mary worked Samuel, Shona worked Nevis and Margeurite worked Bella. Mary and Shona have been at other trials, but this was Margeurites’ first trial experience, beyond the ORT. It was fun to be able to relax w/ them and work the same searches as they did, although as a volunteer, I do really enjoy being able to see my students work their dogs in a search or two.
Due to the morning rain, they ran Interiors and Containers first, back to back. That was fun, to go from one search directly to the other. The Interior search was part of the large kitchen Quattro and I had searched the day before. Lots of stainless steel, open shelving, pots, appliances, etc. There were 3 areas marked off by blue tape, so there were open boundaries. You had the option to do it on or off leash, and I think a lot of people did it on leash, since it was so open and so huge if they went out of bounds. Coach and I went off leash. He buzzed in, did a U turn, glanced at a volunteer (was it Barbara? I was busy watching him, but thought I recognized her) went to a cart, and sniffed and hovered around a wheel. Alert? Yes! Hook him up after rewarding him, and we headed into the large dining hall for the Container search. The containers were set in a large oval (rain drop?) shape, and I think that arrangement made fringe alerting less likely. He went right (counter clockwise) off the start line, and sniffed box after box, picking up speed, until he did a nice head snap and hover at a box. Alert? Yes!
Mary and Sam were directly after us, and came out w/ a thumbs up and smile. Margeurite and Shona were farther down the run order, and both came out w/ smiles and thumbs up.
Lunch break, as the winds picked up. It was HOWLING! Vehicles were 3 parked side by side, we started slightly uphill from the vehicles, and the wind was blowing up to the start – and then it would swirl around. Coach took off towards the middle vehicle, then sprinted w/ me running behind him to the front of the cars, checked out some bushes, turned and worked the front bumper and license plate of the car on the right. Alert? Yes! Over to the Exterior. Sort of in a hollow, but still windy. There were several wooden picnic tables, a large trailer, and the rest was just pine needles as far as I remember. Coach took off, paused at the 2nd to last picnic table, then continued on to the last picnic table. He worked the bench, the support, then settled under the bench where it connected to the leg. Alert? Yes – and that was a NW1 title!
We got back to the car, which was parked right where everyone was walking out from the searches, and waited for Mary – thumbs up! She shuttled Sam to the car to feed him his “breakfast”, and then we waited for Margeurite and Shona. Margeurite and Bella came down, watching their steps over the roots, and M. didn’t answer us right away when we asked how they did… she had Bella sit, then shake hands w/ us, saying “Meet the latest NW1 dog!” And lastly Shona – also a big smile and thumbs up! Four titles – yay!
What a fun weekend, despite the cold, rainy and windy weather. All my students came home with titles – very exciting! Even though there was a high pass rate at NW1, don’t think it was an easy trial. The kitchen area – when has anyone searched an industrial kitchen? The wind – who has practiced in 45mph gusts of wind? It was not a gimmee.
Thank you for all who came out to volunteer (and sign Coach’s birthday card)! With fairly local trials the next two weekends, I know everyone is getting stretched thin, so I thank you for your help this weekend and coming weekends. I hope you enjoyed watching your friends work under pressure – we enjoyed having you there to root us on!
Here are the videos of Coach’s trial: