Have you ever looked back after you’ve mastered a skill to realize just how much you’ve learned?  And you realize that you have learned so much more than you thought you would?  Well this is NORMAL.

As a perpetual student and a teacher, I’m intrigued by the process of learning. What I’m writing about today is perspective and competence.

There’s a model that was developed in the 1970’s by Noel Burch and then was later attributed to Abraham Maslow that described the process that an individual traverses when learning a new skill.  This model has been dubbed, “The Four Stages of Competence”.  And, as most things are, can be applied directly to learning nosework!

The Four Stages of Competence

I find that speaking about this model helps my students to put things in perspective.  Knowing where you are in the journey can be both helpful and cathartic.

Let’s investigate…

Unconscious Incompetence:

This is when you don’t know what you don’t know.  Simply put, you are a neophyte and you are unaware of the size of the body of knowledge ahead of you.  In Nosework, you are at the stage where you think the sport is easy.  The dog does all the work, right?  I mean, doesn’t he just find the odor?  At this phase you are unaware of the complexities or of the sheer artistry of handling.  Perhaps you discount the sport as “easy”.  At this point you may choose to pursue the sport, or not!  If you choose to continue, you are blissfully ignorant of the challenging (and exciting) path ahead of you.

Conscious Incompetence:

As you start along the path of learning, you start realizing that the body of knowledge required to master this sport is pretty awe-inspiring.  You realize that this sport is nuanced with science and art.  You see searches done by advanced teams and it seems magical to you.  You work hard at your handling, but it feels stilted and difficult.  This is the phase of frustration, and if we aren’t careful, despair.  We know what we don’t know.  And it seems insurmountable at times!  We struggle with placing appropriate hides and we don’t know why some searches seem so easy while others seem to baffle our dog!

Conscious Competence:

As we study and practice, things get a little easier!  We can finally execute and when focused, can draw upon our building knowledge.  We get Scent Theory.  We know WHAT we need to do to improve on our handling.  In this stage, the hardest searches are at trials.  We have all of this knowledge but we still struggle to call upon it “when it counts”.  This is when our videos teach us SO MUCH.  We can watch our own videos with a critical eye and we can self diagnose problems after the fact.  We know we know stuff but we still feel frustration at not being able to call on it at will.

Unconscious Competence:

At some point on our journey, we edge into mastery.  The transition into this phase comes quietly in the night.  All of a sudden it FEELS easy.  We realize that we can call upon our knowledge at will.  Our handling feels fluid and we experience a connection with our dogs during a search, yes even at a trial, that just makes us want to do more.   This is the point where we become a true team with our dog and the partnership is effortless.  We understand what Teamwork really is.  And it’s beautiful.  And then we realize that there is still more yet to learn…. And the process restarts!

The power of all of this is that it puts our journey in perspective…. We learn that it IS a journey and it helps us to be at peace with our frustration.. knowing that it’s NORMAL and TEMPORARY.

What stage are YOU in?

Happy Sniffing!!