What does Nosework competition mean to you?
This is a hugely personal question and one where the answer is different for everyone. It’s also a question with no right answer. You see, we all have a different history with our dogs, and as such we have different goals. If we are working more than one dog, our goals will be different still.
Because this is a “Competition”, if you want to win, time matters. In fact, fractions of a second matter. For some of us, shaving seconds is a goal.
However, this sport isn’t just about the fast, driven dogs. One of the things I truly love about this sport is how wonderful it is for EVERY dog. Your dog doesn’t have to be fast, young or driven for that matter to really shine. For some of us, just being able to be out there doing this with our dog is the biggest achievement possible.
Guess what? None of us are wrong.
What is wrong is placing the wrong goals on your dog. Think of a goal like a pair of pants.
Perhaps those pants are too loose… they don’t feel right and they shift around and fall off. Setting goals that are too low for your team isn’t the right fit. This is why I don’t tell people with driven dogs to slow down. The general rule of one level a year is very general…. VERY general. If your dog has the desire and mental fortitude, keep working and aim high. Boredom will kill drive just as fast as pushing too hard.
Now if those pants are too tight, we have a different problem. Have you set your goals too lofty? Is your dog struggling?
So how do we decide what the RIGHT goals are for your team?
I like to think about Nosework Trial Goals as a pyramid. Where do you see your team? What do you define as success?
Like Egyptian Pyramids, our competition dogs are built from the ground up. A good handler will recognize where their dog is and set goals appropriate for that dog. And do you know what? Accomplishments at every level are equally challenging and important! Sometimes building the pyramid is a matter of time. Sometimes it’s not. There are some dogs who will never have Speed… but a goal of high Efficiency will win just as often. Perhaps you have a fearful dog… perhaps slick floors are scary, or overhangs cause your dog to have a meltdown. If so, speed shouldn’t even be on the radar. Does your title mean anything less than the HIT dog? Absolutely not, and if anything, your dog deserves an ice cream cone from the drive through, Large please! Do you have a confident dog who can handle distractions? If yes, then by all means go for speed and go for the win.
Each dog has his own personal pyramid. Some dogs will fly through the levels and Boom, Boom, Boom, title quickly. Other dogs will take more time. The important thing is to remember that you are on your own journey with your dog and it is neither less nor more important than someone else’s journey. And… your journey is no reflection on you as a handler! A handler with a fast dog is no better than a handler with a timid dog, and vice versa. Humans are a strange lot. Because we are human we like to judge. We like to be the Pharaoh of the Pyramid and sit in judgement of other handlers and sometimes even of our own dogs. When we find ourselves doing this, we need to take a step back and realize that we are all climbing a mountain of our own.
And in the end, a happy dog is a triumphant dog and triumphs are personal. Love your dog for who he is and set your competition goals appropriately. If you find yourself struggling… go back to the Pyramid and look long and hard at where you should be and be proud of your partner because in the end, a dog will do his best.