Different Goals for Different Dogs

Those of you who are on your second or third nosework dog can relate…. how do we keep from comparing dogs?  The struggle is very real.  What we have to remember with this sport (as with any sport), is that each dog is on his own journey.

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As I write this, I am on my way back from a 1,000+ mile trip from a not very successful attempt at NW3 with my Standard Poodle, Joey.  I have a choice to make.  My choice is how will I feel and act as a result of not titling.  My feelings in this matter are completely choice.

What we have to remember is that every dog is an individual with individual talents.  Our success in this sport does not define us as handlers.  What defines us a handlers is our ability to work with our dogs and to help them be the best they can be without disappointment.

When everything goes as planned and our second or third dog does well, it’s easy.  We know how to act.  But when our second or third dog is not as successful we have to remind ourselves that the same goals aren’t appropriate for every dog.

This weekend was not very successful for Joey and me as a team.  We had a couple of false alerts on fringe odor.  I think the cause of this was due to a combination of factors.  He is after all still a very green dog skill-wise and the unseasonably hot temperatures attributed to lower drive levels.  What we DID pass was due to a combination of some easier hides and my experience in handling and understanding scent.  On my long drive home while talking on the phone, a friend of mine said to me, “you are in a pretty good mood considering.”  What I told her was that it was a good weekend and I met my goals.

Yes, my goal was not to title.  Sure, titling would have been great.  We all love getting the ribbons.  My goal though was different.  My goal was happy searches.  I wanted a dog with his tail up and interested in working.  I got that!  Sure we fringed a couple of times…. but it’s not the first time a dog has done that.

So my goals for Joey are different than the goals I have set for my other dogs.  If I had the same goals for Joey as I do for Judd (aka Nosework Rockstar), I would be setting myself up for disappointment and it would be completely unfair to Joey.  Why?  Because you simply cannot compare dogs.  Where Joey needs skills and often needs motivation, Judd seems to have come out of the womb looking for Birch.  Judd is my Elite dog who was the second dog in the country to achive ELT3, has a score breaking 90 putting him high in the Nationals Ranking chart and is well on his way to becoming one of the first Elite dogs to achive ELT-CH.  Those are some BIG shoes to fill!  Judd is a true Elite dog.  Will Joey ever get there?  Well, Joey is currently 9.5 years old and has just started his NW3 journey.  I have to be realistic.  He’s a GREAT dog.  He’s also not Judd.  To compare them, even subconsciously wouldn’t be fair to Joey.  Joey is Joey….  and I love him to pieces…. and I’m PROUD of what he has accomplished to date!

My third dog, Why, has his own set of goals.  Why is a timid, highly environmental dog.  He has a good amount of skills.  There’s no doubt to that.  I’m sometimes in awe as to how well he can solve converging odor!  But my goals are different.  With him, my goal is confident searches.  If the search is confident, it’s a success regardless of whether he found the hide(s).  My ultimate goal for him (and Joey) is NW3 Elite…. but Elite Division?  I’m not sure he can handle the rigors.  (As an aside, It’s my opinion that nearly every dog can get through NW3 Elite…. Elite Division is a whole different world, requiring different skills and drive.  Successful Elite Division dogs are in some ways born, not trained.  To have a successful Elite dog is an honor and in many ways just due to sheer luck of genetics.  Not every dog will get there and that is OKAY!)

I have about 4 more hours to drive to get home.  Am I disappointed?  No, not really.  The amount of times we get to trial with our dogs is Finite.  With every title, we shrink the number of times that we get to be out there playing with our dogs and having fun.  Why goes next weekend for NW2.  Will I be thrilled if he titles?  Sure.  But I’ll be equally happy with him if he doesn’t.  Joey and Why aren’t Judd.  Instead of being big ribbon dogs, they are my teachers.  And they are GOOD teachers at that!  The two of them were huge contributors to my philosophies in teaching and training the sport of Nosework.  Judd is a truly Great Dog.  He IS one of the Greats.  A friend of mine once joked that I could drop Judd off at a trial and pick him up at the end of the day with his ribbons. She wasn’t too far from the truth!  Handling Great Dogs is FUN, but only handling Great Dogs makes us flimsy, one dimensional trainers.  So BIG THANK YOU to my other dogs!

Bottom line is be PROUD of your dog no matter what the result.  Be realistic about your goals and be proud of each and every search regardless of the outcome.  Remember that you are a TEAM.  A part of being a team is supporting your teammate when he’s had a not so very great day.  In Joey’s case, my responsibilities were to still party on the way back to the car with lots of hot dogs.  We did that!  Does Joey know that we crashed and burned in Interiors and Containers?  LOL…. Possibly…. he’s an incredibly intelligent dog…. but does he sense disappointment from me?  No.  I was out there playing with my 9.5 year old dog doing the greatest dog sport ever invented….and he got hot dogs and love from me!

At the end of the day, your feelings toward your dog and your successes or un-successes are what really matter.  Love your dog be proud of your dog…. Always.

© Stacy Barnett 2015