Back at it, after four months of no trials and basically taking a lot of the winter off from NW. While it was a nice break, and I got a lot of skiing in, I was definitely shaking the cobwebs off in April and May, with Coach’s two NW3 trials. Since we have already titled 2 times at the NW3 level, one more title, and we become NW3-Elite… which makes us eligible to enter Elite level trials. It would be a nice accomplishment, but we’ve had a few roadbumps along the way. There was the Container search at the camp in Rindge NH where for some reason I thought he was alerting to food, and didn’t call it (he was right), then there was the trial at Franklin Pierce in Rindge, where he fringe alerted in the Exterior in the wind (I’ll blame him / experience / exposure for that). It would be the December NJ (yes, New Jersey, not New Hampshire) trial for us to get our 2nd NW3 title. So when people say, enjoy the journey, it can be a pretty literal description of NW!
Ok, so back to this year. April in Foxboro. Weather: low 40’s, spitting rain, wet grass from heavy rain earlier in the morning, and crazy wind, coming from every direction, with gusts blasting in every so often. Note my hair and the boundary flags in the Exterior search! We were team #30, which means there were times when they split the group in half, that we ran about 15th, and other times when we ran 30th (out of 33). It was fun to catch up with some NW people, but due to the weather, I spent a lot of time in the car.
This trial was a mixed bag for us… I definitely felt rusty and not as confident in what I was seeing from him, and he had some moments where he worked differently than I expect. First up was Vehicles, never our strongest element, but we always pass (knock wood!) I am happy I read him correctly when he was sniffing dog or some other distraction odor on the back of a white van and not calling Alert on that (a few people false alerted on there). I like his persistence in our Exterior search, and the fact that he searched hard without false alerting (there were wet wood pallets in grass that *I* was certain there must be a hide on, based on how hard he searched them. It really distracted me to leave them, since I kept thinking we missed a hide there). I am happy that he didn’t show any signs of peeing in the search area, which had lots of grass and the pallets looked like a good place to mark. Inside, again, I am happy that he can search and search pooling odor without false alerting, and when he IS on it, he is clear. And Containers, he does a nice job moving from Container to Container in a smooth efficient way.
So why wasn’t this our 3rd NW3 title? I’ll let you watch and be the judge! Get ready to critique, and list the ways and areas we went wrong, er, could do better.
Next up, was the May Connecticut NW3 trial. Another day in the low 40’s, and instead of spitting rain, it was POURING rain, ALL DAY. This time, I spent more time outside my car with the Maine contingent, Andy, Pam and Kathy, plus some old NW friends from MA. I felt a little better this time, it was at a camp, not a school, although the bunk rooms were warm and felt heated. Again, we started with Vehicles, then came Interiors, Containers and Exteriors. And again, Vehicles were not our smoothest search (and this was after the Vehicles workshop I did, where I ran my dogs at the end, and of course they looked good working close to the vehicles there). And again, we spent WAY too much time working pooling odor inside. He is a really hard worker, which is nice, and he doesn’t false alert, which is even better, but… can be stressful when time is ticking! At least I felt like we had covered *EVERY* inch of those rooms, and was pretty sure we didn’t miss anything. Then came Containers… ah, Containers. Again, he was moving from Container to Container in a smooth efficient way… until I called Alert when he had doubled back to investigate a container. He had not tried to get a reward or tell me he’d found a hide, he was just interested in whatever dog slobber was on a container, and I called it. And heard No. As I was bemoaning the fact that yet again, we’d missed our chance at NW3-Elite, he alerted on a container. Normally, at NW3, the judge just says Thank you and you walk out, but the judge told me to reward him, that he was on it. Oh! Frustrating… we false in :09 seconds! Last came Exteriors. Luckily it was under a picnic pavilion, so it was not raining on us in the search, although it was coming down pretty good. This felt more like the way we practice… smooth, fast, good coverage, clear alerts… it was a nice way to end the day. We ended up coming in 2nd place in this search 🙂
I feel for 2 of my fellow Mainers, having missed one hide in Exteriors (at least they didn’t hear No) but am very happy for Andy and Cinder, who got their first NW3 title together! Seeing his videos of V, C and E, I can see why they titled AND placed 2nd in Vehicles. Nice work, team!
Here are my videos from Andover, CT:
So, my take always from these two trials are many.
-practices in new locations, like mock trials and off sites, are really good practice for a real trial!
-keep your focus: in a search (don’t get hung up on thinking you missed something during a search, like I did with the pallets) and from search to search (don’t let one bad call bring you down or shake your confidence in your dog, yourself or your training for your next element). I’ll use the Red Sox analogy that some of you heard. Chris Sale, top pitcher in baseball, was pitching a no-hitter for the Red Sox. He got to his personal record of strike outs at 15 – and I don’t mean someone hit the ball and an outfielder caught it for an out… he had the opposing team swinging and missing, or just standing in the batters box watching pitches sail by. So he gets to 15 strike outs and is nearing 100 pitches, usually the time the manager replaces the pitcher. He needs 2 outs to finish the inning, and possibly break his strike out record. And, he makes a mistake. The next batter hits a home run off him. He is a very competitive player, and was visibly angry with himself. Many pitchers will lose focus – throw a ball over the catchers head, to the backstop, hit the next batter. Does Chris Sale do any of that? No. He buckles down, narrows his focus, throws 97 mph fast balls, and strikes out the next two batters, for a total of 17 strike outs, his new personal record. I feel good that I was able to recover from a flubbed Container search and have a killer Exterior search… now I just have to remember to always do that, because that won’t be the last time something like that happens.
-know when to cut bait and trust that my dog will be clear when on source… if he is searching for more than 30 seconds and not coming up with an alert, move along! There is probably nothing there
-take your time. There is no rush to call Alert… to quote Gail McCarthy, she is waiting until she is SURE her dog is alerting before she calls it. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right. Don’t make something out of nothing.
-Coach is young… what is the rush? If I was already in Elite with him, and we rush thru Elite, the next level is Summit, which allows for much fewer trials per year. I don’t want to be looking down at the end of NACSW NW with my dogs, not yet. I still have learning to do, and he still has teaching to do and many more experiences to gain. I’m looking forward to enjoying more of the journey with my little blue dog.