NACSW trials are rare in our neck of the woods. While the sport of nose work is growing in popularity, upstate New York does not have dense population, so “local” trial opportunities are limited. When an NW1 trial opened up a mere 2 hour drive from us, I encouraged several of my students to enter.
My friend Becky has a wonderful dog. Rigger is a Newfie-lab-something rescue, and Becky has worked hard to give her a solid foundation in nose work. Becky was excited about the opportunity to run Rigger in that trial but had a scheduling conflict with that weekend so did not enter the lottery.
I called her to encourage her to enter Rigs even though the lottery had closed. I’d run her, I said. Frankly, I figured we’d be on the permanent wait list, so what harm would it to to offer to handle the dog?
The laugh was on me, because Rigger was put on the wait list. As time went on, the wait list shrank until – yup – Rigger got in. Oh, the pressure!
I’d picked up Rigger’s luggage (food, treats, bowls, bed, harness, leads) earlier in the week. Becky had packed many different types of high value rewards. I figured, though, ‘if she works for me, she deserves steak.’ Got one & cut it up into bite sized pieces for my treat pouch. My dogs get steak when they trial, so Rigger should, too.
Due to conflicting schedules, I did not have as many opportunities to train with Rigger as I wished. In our last session, Thursday before the trial, she was far more interested in sniffing where other dogs had relieved themselves than she was in doing a vehicle search. So much so that I called her off the attempt, and put her away for a bit. When I took her out again, I ran her on containers and then brought her back for a successful go round on vehicles.
The morning of the trial, I picked Rigger up long before dawn. Becky’s husband Dan had kindly taken her for a potty walk before I arrived. She slept while I drove.
At the school where the event was held, we did the normal register-wait-walk-through-briefing-then-wait routine. We were Team #35 out of 43. That morning, teams were run straight through, starting at #1.
First search: interiors. It was a fairly large and quite busy class room for little kids. Some areas were taped off, so I opted to keep Rigger on leash. She checked a few items, including the tennis balls on the bottom of the chair legs, but quickly focused on a small red chair. Her head was under the chair, and then she laid down, head still under the chair. I waited a few extra nanoseconds to make sure she was sure before calling alert. As I told the judge “she’s not my dog! I’d rather wait and be certain than blow the search.” We still completed the search in approximately 17 seconds.
Because this was an NW1, I took a few extra seconds to reward her multiple times. I’d done that in training sessions, too, and the rate and amount of reinforcement had paid off.
Next search: exteriors. Remember Rigger’s interest in dog potty places during that Thursday vehicle search? Her exterior search was a replica of that. There was a lot of enticing grass in that exterior. The set up was such that you exited a doorway, and the search area was immediately to your right. It was cool, damp and breezy, so I held Rigs at the start line for 10 or 15 seconds and then cued her to ‘search!’
She sorta kinda checked out the rim of a trash can, she sorta kinda looked at the chairs and table that were positioned there. Her main focus, however, was sniffing grass to smell what she could smell – and that did not include birch.
I herded her. It was ugly. She continued to check for pee spots and I continued to nag at her to work. We got the 30 second call. I was sweating. Brought her around the table and chairs, brought her back to the trash bin.
She stopped, sniffed at the wheel of the bin, and gave a vague indication. I was afraid of timing out, and she was showing more interest on that than she had at anything else. And the ‘indication’ was the most like the other indications I’d seen her give. Alert!
Yes! We got a yes! PHEW!! 2:42+ out of 3 minutes. That search took a few years off my lifespan.
The comment on the score sheet was ‘watch your leash handling.’ I told the judge that I was working a friend’s dog, and that I know I moosed her around because of her predilection for marking. I’m fine with how we got through that search, because we actually got through the search with no marking, and Rigger found the hide.
As we left that search area, I told Rigger she’s my favorite black dog, and will always be my favorite black dog. I’ve always told her that. I also complimented her on a great job and I was proud of her. She jumped and pranced, we played and I gave her steak.
Our half of the group got to do vehicles while the other group worked containers. I was very happy with how Rigger did in this search. There were 3 cars in a row. She caught odor under the first car, but it was clear that she was sourcing, not finding. We walked around the vehicle to the front. Rigs focused on the license plate and we got another yes! after I called alert. Good girl!
Again, we ran and played and I complimented her on how good she is. Yes, reinforced with steak.
Containers next. The last hurdle. 14 ORT boxes in a square.
One of my friends had said ‘oh, Rigger’s least favorite element is containers,’ so I had a teensy niggling doubt in my head…. which I squashed. I had an image of Rigs at the last training session, where she quickly and confidently found the hot box. I told her “let’s do THAT again!”
Once again we waited at the start line so she could catch odor if possible. She picked the route along the right side of the square, and sniffed a box at the far corner. I kept moving, rotating my head to keep her in my peripheral vision. She delicately put her paw on the carton. Alert!
With that, she earned her NW1.
After we scampered out of the building, I screamed out that she’s the best black dog ever, had her do high hand touches, wrestled with her, praised her, patted her, and gave her handfuls of steak. When we got back to the car, I dumped the remaining steak into her bowl and let her enjoy every morsel.
I am proud of her. Rigger worked hard and well for someone she knows, but who is not her person. I know I am a favored Auntie, but that status does not necessarily confer enough trust in a dog to allow you to work him or her. Even in that excruciating exterior search, she worked for me. And didn’t mark, despite multiple other dogs having done so (info imparted at the awards ceremony). Oh, she was VERY happy to get home!
I am so proud of and happy for Rigger’s person, Becky. She’s done a fantastic job in giving a rescue dog the confidence, knowledge and preparedness to title in nose work. More – to work for someone other than her. I guarantee that Kiyo would not work for someone else. Toka might, but it’s probably because he knows he’ll get cookies if he does.
It’s weird to work a dog that can hear. Rigger can actually hear me! I talk to my deafies but to have a dog respond to her name and to cues – wow! Fun! Exciting!
It’s a lot of responsibility to handle someone else’s dog. I felt a lot of pressure to succeed – far more than I put on myself to succeed with my own dogs. I was excruciatingly aware that one handler error or one mistake in reading Rigger’s indication could blow the entire day. Lucky for both of us, we worked as a team, and avoided major errors.
In fact, Rigger worked so well for me that we got the ‘pronounced’ designation for teamwork in both vehicles and interiors. I am incredibly proud of that.
I handled Rigger the same way I would have handled one of my own dogs. I cleared my head of noise, and concentrated on her, what she needed and what she was telling me. Most handlers understand that state of suspended expectations. Except for the exterior search, I waited a tiny bit longer than I would have ordinarily to call alert than I might have had she been mine. Somehow I was able to divorce myself from self-inflicted expectations of success, which would certainly have bogged us down.
What a great dog! You rock, Rigger, and you will always, always be my favorite black dog. You’ve got a one in a million dog, Becky. Lucky you!