I’ve had multiple assignments as an AKC scent work judge. Boston, Cleveland, Philly, upstate NY, western Mass. I’ve seen hundreds of competitors leave the search area with their dogs, most of the time happy and upbeat because of their success. We’ve also seen both dog and handler drag out of the space, depressed and unhappy because of a wrong call or false alert.
My own dogs have trialed in NACSW, AKC, PSD & USCSS. Most of the time, we’ve had successes, though we’ve gotten our fair share of ‘no’s.’
Most handlers – myself included – have a start line ritual. For example, I’ll harness my dogs in staging, and switch their 6 foot lead out for their 10 foot lead, attaching it to the collar. Once we get to the start line, the longer lead gets snapped to their harness as they look ahead, trying to catch odor.
Then off they go! on cue.
What about the end of search activities? How many of us have a post-search routine or ritual? In my view, far too few.
I’ve seen this: handlers chatting with the volunteers and judges, ignoring their dogs. Handlers walking away briskly, dog in tow – but basically ignored as the human sorts through what went wrong or right. The handler has dropped their dog, and told them ‘you are not important.’ This even though the dog did the work and tried their hardest.
My end-of-search ritual now consists of calling a thank you to the volunteers as we leave the space, and focusing on my pup. We run, I shout, skip, have my dog do rousing high hand touches – no matter what the outcome of the search. (Fear not, I am aware of our surroundings and the potential presence of other dogs – the volume and intensity of my response is predicated on the environment).
Leaving the fun of a search can be a doggie downer, especially if you’ve gotten the dreaded ‘no.’ All the dog knows is that he did the best he could and didn’t get a cookie.
So consider implementing a post-search routine to keep your pup up and happy. Get crazy. Sing, shout, bounce around, whip out a tug toy and play, play, play. Make leaving the search FUN.
His Redness got wonderful compliments after the last search of a long day of trialing this past weekend. “Oh, he looks as happy and motivated as if he was just starting the day! And “He’s trotting along so proudly and jauntily, as if he knows he has done a good job!”
Because he has – no matter what the results.
Enjoy every moment you have with your dog. Their lives are so fleeting. Make those minutes count.