Predictability is the outcome of routine. Predictability also has the wonderful side effect of lowering stress! If you have a dog who is prone to stressing either up or down, a routine is an essential element of managing that stress.
What else does predictability do for us?
Predictability puts the body into “auto-pilot”. When you are working on “auto-pilot”, your movements and decisions are easy. It becomes easy to execute familiar tasks. You have access to “muscle memory”. The same is true for your dog!
Nosework is a complicated sport. It’s actually much more complicated than it looks due to the time pressure and the ever changing scenting conditions. If we can eliminate some of the complexity by helping the dog (and you!) get focused, you and your dog will search more effectively. Getting organized or trying to orient yourself in the search takes time and focus away from the actual search.
Predictability helps the WHOLE TEAM!
Predictability not only helps your dog, it helps YOU too! If you have a routine, your trial nerves will ebb away. A predictable routine will keep you organized and in the moment. If you struggle with mental management, routine is your friend.
Everyone’s routine is slightly different. I have a specific routine for setting up at a trial, taking my dog out of the car, and for waiting in the staging areas.
When I arrive at a trial, I park (hopefully in an area with a little shade), and position my open door so that there is room to get my dog out. Then I open all of the doors and windows (in the hot months) and drape a shade cloth over the entire vehicle. Then the dog who is trialing gets a potty break. I then check in and get my running order number.
Do you know what is interesting? When I follow this routine, all of the dogs in my van settle immediately. They know by then that we are at a trial and that only one dog will be searching. Even though they bark for their turn in training, my van is quiet at a trial.
Timing is a huge part of routine!
Plan ahead and take your dog out in time for a quick potty and gear up before searching. So often I see people wander with their dogs or get them out too early. In NACSW, you are required to keep your dog in the car unless in the potty area or getting ready to search. This is actually to your benefit. The longer your dog is out of the car, the more tired they will become and the more likely their arousal will be sub-optimal for searching. In AKC, I often see competitors in line a dozen deep to search. This is the worst possible thing you can do for your search. Pay attention to your timing!
Have a Staging Routine
If you have a predictable staging routine, you will be more relaxed before the search and so will your dog. Depending on your dog, you might want to let them sniff the area or pet them quietly during your wait. Don’t do tricks or obedience behaviors or too much focus work too far in advance. Your dog has to sustain a certain level of arousal during the search. Too much arousal too soon will tire their minds and you can either get a tired dog or one that is over-aroused and frantic.
Timing is everything! I pay attention to how long I am going to be in a staging area and only adjust my dog’s arousal levels when it gets close to time to search.
Have a Routine to get to the search area
My current dogs are all competing at the Elite level and above. When I start a dog at the NW3 Level, I start to self time. I also wear a Go Pro both because the videos are a great learning tool and because I want to capture the memory of special time spent with my dog.
I start my camera on my approach to the search area. Organization is key! My approach to the start line is calm and my line and gear are organized. I start my timer prior to stepping to the start line. You never know how truly accurate the volunteer timer will be so I make a point of starting my watch timer prior to stepping to the line.
Have a BRIEF Start Line Routine
Keep your Start Line Routine simple. Elaborate routines take a long time and the longer you stand on the start line, the more unstable your dog’s arousal. Low arousal dogs will lose focus. High arousal dogs will feel frustrated. Don’t rush your start line but don’t hang out and have a cup of tea either. My start line duration is typically VERY consistent. Use the same cue ALWAYS and avoid leaning over and putting too much pressure on your dog. A kiss is cute but the pressure isn’t conducive to hitting those threshold hides! Release calmly without shouting your search cue. Let the search happen!
Everything is Routine!
Predictability lowers stress and having a routine will help both ends of the leash! If you feel rushed or disorganized when you search, take a look at your routine and see if you can make any changes that will lower your stress or your dog’s!