You have done your homework and built a lean, mean, searching machine.
But is your dog ready for a trial environment? Can you dog work in novel environments?
I learned my dog was not ready for a full day trial the hard way. Three times to be exact. Yep, it took us 4 tries to get our NW1! Not because my dog wasn’t able to work in new environments either.
His biggest challenge was being able to wait his turn. By the afternoon I would have a very different dog than I did in the morning. His first trial he was mentally checked out after the morning was done. He screamed in the car the whole way home. He was exhausted. He didn’t know how to relax. It is debatable whether or not he knows how to relax now either, but he has the stamina and endurance for a full day trial now.
I think the key to our success in trialing was the introduction of element trials where he was able to just be there there for a half a day of trialing. We also began trialing in agility around this time so crating and working was becoming even more of a routine to him. I extensively worked on making the crate a more desirable place for him to be as well.
I nearly cried at our NW2 Trial in Foxboro, MA in 2017. Not because he took first place overall, but because it was the first time I saw him relax in his crate. He laid down. He closed his eyes. He might have even actually slept a little bit! I was so excited. And he sure did work brilliantly that day.
What if your dog is reactive to dogs or humans?
This is something every handler needs to think long and hard about. Does your reactive dog have the coping skills required to maneuver the parking lot and staging areas? Is your dog a hazard to other dogs or humans? Can you appropriately handle your dog should they lunge or pull? You need to very carefully evaluate your handling skills and your dog’s skill before entering your first nose work trial. This is also something that needs to be evaluated again should anything change in yours or your dog’s circumstances. Health issues can be a huge contributing factor here as well as lack of training outside of nose work. If you are unsure your dog is ready for the stress of competition you should seek your instructor’s advice.
Still think you are ready to trial?
Yes? Great! Go, have fun, and enjoy the time you get to spend with your magnificent dog. Don’t forget to read the rule book for the hosting organization of your choice!
No? What pieces are you missing? Need more practice in novel environments? Crating woes? Try to pinpoint your challenges as a team and create a plan to tackle the issues, then trial once you have a handle on those issues! Remember to enjoy the journey and not fret about the ribbons and titles.
Don’t worry if your dog is the only one in your class that isn’t ready to trial either. That is 100% okay. The playing field will level out eventually. I used to stress about this one. Since it took 4 tries for us to get our NW1 my peers that I had started training were getting their NW2 titles before I had gotten my NW1. I am not going to lie, it kind of killed me inside every time we missed it, but here we are all trialing at NW3 together.
And to be completely honest here, I would not trade a single one of those failures now because every “NO” taught me such an invaluable lesson that can only be gained by hearing “NO” in a trial.
If you put in your due diligence as a handler the ribbons and titles will come. Someday. Don’t forget to lose sight of the fun journey you and your dog have embarked upon.