The grass is always greener right? One thing is for sure, the playing field is more level than people realize… Fast Dogs vs. Efficient Dogs.. or rather why one is not better than the other…
Being a teacher is wonderful… it’s wonderful beyond the relationships that you build with your students, the joy you have in their successes and the love of their dogs… It’s by far the greatest learning experience there is. Instructors over time learn to handle all breeds and breed types if only by proxy. This enables us to be flexible in constructing challenges for each dog that stretches the team’s skills and pushes them along the way of success. Along the way we might also hear comments such as “so and so earned Elite in X number of tries” or “well so and so runs a fast dog”… And you know what? It’s all irrelevant. Of course in the end we all bring home the best dog in the world.. but beyond that, it really is irrelevant! Why? Because every type of dog has its advantages.
Let’s compare Fast Vs. Efficient…
Personally, my Elite dog is a fast dog. He’s a total blast to run… a real rush. However, in as much as I love him with all of my heart, it doesn’t mean that he’s better than the next dog who might be slower. That’s kind of hard for me to say because I feel in the heart of my hearts that he truly is the best creature ever to walk on this planet… but of course I am biased! From a skill perspective, he is strong. I have always said that his only weakness is the lug at the end of his leash. In reality though, yes he’s a strong dog but in his strength there are weaknesses. He has never walked away from a trial without a placement or two of some sort but is that better than a slower dog? No.
At the same time there are teams that I train who have what I call more efficient dogs. These are dogs that visually seem to take their time. In the end though, these teams may achieve their goals more quickly. There is still a rush of adrenaline but in this case it’s in watching perfection… the sheer lack of mistakes. These dogs may not take home placements in the elements but they take home the title ribbons more often than not. In the path to Elite, these teams tend to take fewer tries… they simply make less mistakes.
So why is this?
I have a theory… It’s centered around the dog’s reaction to scent in relation to efficiency of his search path. There are two types of dogs, Fast and Efficient. Let’s discuss how they search.
Fast dogs will detect the strongest scent and follow it to source. Along the way, he may come in contact with odor from other hides. However, he will ignore these hides in favor for the one that is most enticing even if it means that there is much wasted motion in narrowing down the location of the hide. During all of this, the handler may or may not have noticed interest in a location along the original path of the dog. Yes, these dogs pass up hides and they pass them up often! Depending on the speed of the dog it’s quite possible that the scent of a hide along the initial trajectory is more of an afterthought. It takes a very observant handler to notice what has truly been searched and what the dog has speed read. These dogs are speed readers rather than readers for comprehension.
Efficient dogs are the comprehension readers of the Nosework world. They are also extremely efficient in the energy that they will expend on a hide. These dogs get the same information at the start line that the fast dogs get but the difference is in their reaction to new scent profiles that they encounter along the way. These dogs are efficient in every sense of the word. They will look for the most physically efficient path to solve all of the odor puzzle. They will take the time to solve hide locations on the way to the hide that they detected first. The result is careful sourcing and in the end, a higher rate of success. These dogs may or may not have challenges with initial levels however once they reach NW3, their pass rate is exemplary. They may not place in elements or overall, but by gosh, they get the job done!
Can a dog be BOTH fast AND efficient? One would argue yes. However I’m skeptical. I think there are some handlers that can be so astute that they can dutifully help their dog to be more effective, however, a dog’s search inclination is pretty much written in stone.
So where does this leave us?
This in essence negates the concepts of placements or the number of tries to title as measurements of success. Yes. I am truly saying that a team that takes 12 or 15 tries to get to NW3 Elite is no better or worse than a team that sailed through… basically because it quite possibly could be an apples to oranges conversation.
In the end, the very best dog in the trial is the one who wags his tail the most.