A good trial is a sum of all of the parts. What I mean by that is that everything really needs to be in place in order to have the best possible outcome. Sometimes that happens, and sometimes it doesn’t! At the same time, the “yeah well’s” will also take away our own power. What do I mean by that? Let’s talk about it!
The higher the level, the more this equation becomes an accurate predictor of how well a trial day go:
Depending on the level and the degree of competition, some of these things may be less important than others. There are also things that you really CAN’T change. You can augment dog talent with training and you can offset handler skill with dog talent to some extent. Of course you can’t affect whether or not you will have the luck to have the hides set to your dog’s advantage, nor can you influence the luck of air flow or run order. Two often overlooked critical success factors are Handler Focus and Training Hours (so long as the training is GOOD training).
There are also teams out that that make is just LOOK EASY. When they search, it looks effortless. It can be tempting to say “Yeah well…. that is an amazing dog” or “Yeah well…. that handler has a ton of experience”. However, if we let ourselves go there, we actually take all of the power away from ourselves to improve, because with those comments, we completely revoke the legitimacy of Handler Focus and Training Hours… both of which are the Great Equalizers in our sport.
Handler Focus is a State of Mind and Good Health
Mental Management is one half of Handler Focus
Part of Handler Focus is Mental Management and part is just being Healthy. We can work at increasing our ability to stay in the moment and to have positive self talk. I hosted a webinar earlier in the year with Teah Anders of The Nosework Mind. She is a certified Mental Management (TM) Coach and specializes in Nosework. She’s amazing… Mental Management can help with being in the moment and positive self talk. If you struggle in this area, she is a great resource.
A Healthy Body is the other half of Handler Focus
The other part of Handler Focus is being healthy. We can’t underestimate this part. I have personally competed in two competitions where I was not “healthy” and both times my outcome was dramatically impacted.
About this time last year I was in a very serious car accident. Unfortunately, I do have some physical issues as a result, however I can say that I will be forever grateful for air bags. I was scheduled to compete at the Elite level with Brava shortly after the car accident . I wanted to still do it because it was an activity that made me feel more “normal”. We struggled that day. We found hides certainly however our teamwork was way, way off.
Then a few weeks ago, Brava and I did a Summit trial a few days after I was diagnosed with Low Sodium (thankfully resolved now). It sounds mundane, but later I found how serious it was and if it was worse I could have been hospitalized. The side effects were a “Fuzzy Head” and fatigue. We did not search well compared to our normal abilities and I definitely made poor decisions that impacted our final result. In retrospect, I probably should have pulled but I would not have been able to get into another one this year. I’m not trying to make excuses and we still did fairly well, however the impact was real and unavoidable.
Being and feeling healthy is critical to our ability to focus and to stay in the moment. I am not saying that you should not trial if you don’t feel well…. you may understandably not be able to affect your health status and searching with our dogs is incredible therapy. I am only saying that it may affect how well you do, especially if your health situation is out of the ordinary for you. We all know that there are some things that are out of our control. Our health DOES affect the dogs, especially if our health is different than “normal” for us. We can’t always control our health but it is information for us.
Hours and Hours of Training is Critical
Don’t underestimate how much training you need to do. Can you be pretty successful with only going to class once a week? Sure. Will you be as successful as someone who puts in the hours? Absolutely not.
In our earlier blog, “Keeping a Balance with Known vs. Blind Hides“, we talked about how known hides build the dog’s understanding of scent theory. That is a critical component for success. The dog needs to have the experience necessary to solve complex problems.
In this video, you can see the result of the many hours of training that Brava has received. The hides in this search are heavily impacted by thermals making each one converge with each other. Because of the thermals, the scent cones are all expanding, lofting, and moving towards the windows. Had there only been one or two hides in this room or hides that were spaced well apart, this search would have been relatively simple. This search was very complicated because of four heavily converged hides with tight time pressure. Only 6 out of 28 dogs found all 4 of these hides (Summit level search).
It’s easy to say “Yeah well…. she’s an awesome dog”. She is! She is extremely talented. However, her ability to solve these hides was not because of her talent. It was because of her training. My youngest dog actually has a lot more natural talent, however there is no way she would have been able to do this search in this timeframe. She just doesn’t have the experience (yet).
You can definitely choose not to put the time in. My point is to recognize that that IS a choice and to not use “Yeah well…” phrases to limit yourself.
I also recognize that all dogs have different journeys and that all journeys are exceedingly special. The amount of time and training that you need to put into a dog with either emotional challenges or less natural hunt drive will exceed the amount of time that you have to put into a dog without those challenges. That is typical of ANY sport. Heck, my Miniature American Shepherd debuted at the Elite level last month after being in the sport for 8 years! I certainly understand Sweat Equity! My point is to avoid “Yeah well…” and if you want to do the best you can do, you need to make a decision (or not) to put the time in.
Think about the equation and make conscious decisions
This blog is not a judgement of any team. Instead, it’s a discussion of what is necessary for a Best Possible Search and what you can and cannot control. If you want to do the best you can, pay attention to your Handler Focus and Health, and put in the Hours of Training.
How frequently do you train each dog, and how much absolute time does each get?
That is really hard to answer… it really depends… I focus on quality over quantity… though the quantity is important too. Some dogs want to train more than others… and it varies week to week.
When the odor was lofting, how did you know to send Brava back in the lower area to find that last hide, or was it an educated guess??
That area wasn’t fully covered. The odor lofting to the left was clearly (to me) coming from the same hide, so we had to expand our search area to find the 4th hide.
I love keeping my agency in the trialing process! And, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my dog’s health but I don’t think I’ve ever considered my own, great point.