This Stinks

This weekend Bacchus and I took part in our first NW1 trial competing in the sport of nosework. For those unfamiliar, nosework is a sport where a dog goes through certain scenarios in an effort to find a target odor. NACSW (National Association of Canine Scent Work) is one of several organizations that offer titles in this exciting sport. 

In the NW1, a dog must find a hidden odor in all four arenas- an exterior search, an interior search, containers (usually boxes), and a vehicle search. To win the title, a team must successfully find the target, known as the hide, in all four situations in the allotted 3 minutes per area.

Bacchus passed his ORT (Odor Recognition Test) about a year ago and we have been training and hoping to get into a trial since then. It can be difficult as there are a lot of competitors and limited spaces per trial. 

At home and in the areas I take him to train, Bach does great. He can find a hide in a minute and is generally pretty focused on the task at hand. However, I take the blame for our failures this past weekend due to my training choices. 

Despite his eagerness to “FIND IT” we ran into a big problem.Once we arrived at the trial site, Bacchus’ focus was everywhere but on what we were doing. We live and train in a pretty quiet, rural location. There were 50 trial entrants, plus friends and family spectators, plus judges, and all those dogs! 

He held it together as well as I could have hoped for right up until it was our first turn. We were about to go in for the interior search and he lost his mind. Too many people, too close, and too much activity. I tried to get his focus back but as soon as we walked in, he saw the judges and became fixated.(Dad, why are those people staring at me?! Should I go bite them?!) He did some cursory sniffing but never paid much attention to what he was supposed to be doing. Soon, the countdown was on and we timed out. Failure.

Back in the car, I tried not to let my disappointment rub off on him. I told him he was a good boy and gave him (and me) a little pep talk. 

Our second search was the exterior vehicle search. Three cars lined up in a driveway with a hide somewhere around them. Again, he was doing pretty well leading up to our turn. I was playing with him and keeping his attention off the other people and dogs. We crossed the start line and he went to work! Sniff, sniff, sniff. Then he turned and began sniffing the asphalt. Then licking it. 

No, buddy, the cars, I said.

Lick, lick, lick. 

FIND IT!

Lick, lick, lick.

 I pulled him along and pointed to the cars, FIND IT!

Lick, lick, lick.

We heard the judge call out thirty seconds left. 

FIND IT!

He looked up like he just realized what I asked, walked over to the front grill of a little MiniCooper and sat. 

ALERT! I called.

Yes, the judge replied.

Good job, Bach!

So, we were 1 and 1.

Our third challenge was the interior area search. The event was taking place at Emerald Downs Race Track. It is off season, so it was a large empty auditorium filled with stacks of chairs, tables and trash cans pushed to the side and an array of ephemera covered and waiting for next year’s racing to begin. As we waited for our turn to come Bacchus sat with his tug in his mouth. They called us to get ready. I took the tug and took a breath.

Bacchus took a breath and woofed. His ears perked up. He woofed again.

I called for him to look at me. He did then barked. One short sharp loud bark.

In the large empty room, it echoed off the walls and the high ceiling. He heard that repeat. And barked again, louder. Then again.Every time, his eyes would light up as this mystery dog barked back.  I pulled him along and pointed to the boxes. FIND IT!

He began sniffing, looked up and saw the photographer at the end of the room. He was done. From there on out, it was me pulling him around for two minutes until time ran out. 

Fail.

The fourth and final challenge was the outdoor area search. I was, as you can understand, downhearted about our day. An hour’s drive to get here, hours in the car waiting for our turn and then only to be met with failure. When our turn came, I looked around to see we were the second to last competitor. The others had packed up or gone in to the award ceremony (which we did not need to worry about.) We came out and took our place at the start line and I looked at my boy, took a breath, and gave the command. FIND IT! He turned and looked at the judges. More people staring at him. Then, he put his nose down and began pulling. He went over to a small a-board sign, sniffed up and down. Then, sat. 

Alert, I called.

Yes, said the judge.

YES!

I flipped out his tug and rewarded Bacchus for his stellar performance. 

To paraphrase Meatloaf, two out of four ain’t bad. 

Well, it doesn’t get us a ribbon, but oh, well.

What did I learn?

I need to train in more active areas. Try to get into areas where it might mimic a more trial-like atmosphere. More reinforcement of his searching so he gets more reward from it instead of self-rewarding by barking and sniffing other stuff.

My biggest take-away is to enjoy my time with my dog. On Friday, the day before the trial, we lost our boarding kennel office dog to cancer. Rudy’s demise was very unexpected and sudden. He was fine Thursday night and by Friday morning couldn’t walk. He was a thirteen year old pittie cross, but even at his old age, I didn’t give any thought to the day he wouldn’t be there waiting for me in the office every morning. He came with the place and was as much a fixture as the washer and dryer. Maybe losing him had me a bit unfocused and verklempt, but I was disappointed in my dog and the whole day. Why even bother doing this, is it even worth the time and energy?

I had to shake it off and remind myself that, yes, it is worth it. Even the failure is a day spent with my dog. It is bonding with my best buddy on a road trip to go have some fun and challenge ourselves. We didn’t win, or reach our goal, but we were there and we were together. Bacchus is seven and has had some serious health challenges. He won’t always be there to do these things with. Enjoy them. Upon losing We packed up and I gave him a few scratches behind his ears and we headed out, making a quick stop at Mickey D’s for a cheeseburger for my working dog. Then we drove home.

So the big lesson learned? Take the picture of your dog. Throw the ball. Accept the challenge. Most of all, get out there and do something with your dog.

Rudy 2009-2022

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