So you titled in a level? It can be temping to train for the level that you CAN enter rather than training for the QUALITY of your dog’s searching skills. I see this phenomenon more in AKC handlers than I do with NACSW handlers. That is not a judgement, more of a curiosity. In AKC, it’s so easy to move up to the next level upon receiving a title. You can do this often in the same or next day. With NACSW, you are almost forced into slowing down because of the logistics of entering and because of the wait lists for the trials.

Remember that Training if Training and Trialing is Testing

Picture the domain of knowledge for this sport as a topographical 3D map. Every peak is a skill and the height of the peak symbolizes how challenging the skill is. If you visualize the map it might look something like this:

When we think of skillsets like the peaks of this map, we can start to train according to what is possible versus what we will be tested for.

Let’s assume that we have accumulated enough Q’s in Advanced AKC trialing and we want to move up to Excellent. How do we know if we should move up?

We want to move up when our skill level does not reveal “valleys”. This is a bit symbolic and not at all scientific, however I think the visual is helpful in this situation. We want to think about the topographical map as symbolizing our capabilities and compare that to a “standard” capability for a given level.

For instance, if we have a very experienced dog that may have competed at the Elite Level in NACSW competing at the Novice Level in AKC, we can draw a line with red to symbolize the required skill set. Our picture might look like this:

So in this case the dog is well over qualified for the level. It is NOT necessary to wait until this point in the dog’s training to try trialing.

On the flip side, as a judge I see SO MANY people move up to the next level because they can and they do it to “see what happens” rather than build the skills. In their case, their skill level may not be anywhere near the required skill set (red line) for that level. Their map could look a little like this:

As you can see from this conceptual model that the dog might be good at one of aspects of trialing but not at the others. With this version of the model, the dog is unlikely to qualify but might be successful in one or more aspects.

Because Training is Training and Trialing is Testing, we want to ensure success by trialing when the red line which is predictive of the minimum skill level is lower than our predictive skill level (the blue topographic lines).

So how do we know when to move up?

Although this isn’t a scientific visual, the concepts are sound. If we want to qualify, most of the blue topographic lines should be above the level we are testing. It might look a little like this:

There is still risk in trialing with this profile. You MIGHT qualify because a trial search will only test a handful of things. However, there may be still some gaps between where your dog is and the level. Most competitors compete under this scenario when moving up to the next level for the first time.

However, if you are an experienced competitor, you know what the blue lines are ahead of time and you are already comfortable with your dog being easily above the red line before entering the trial. This might look a little like this:

To outsiders this might look like the handler has an easy or talented dog. However, if you peel back the onion and pay attention to what the dog has already learned, you will notice that there have been elements of the blue peaks in the dog’s “normal” training. This scenario heavily favors success and the dog is liable to place very well.

Most newer handlers on their first time through a level might have some gaps in their training but overall meets the skills of the required level. Their map may look like this:

If they try REALLY hard and they are lucky with the hide placement in their particular search, they are likely to qualify.

At a minimum, you want the gaps between the blue line and red line to be as small as possible. The easiest way to minimize these gaps is to work on the QUALITY of your training. I like to think of these qualities as the Fundamentals of training. They fall into six categories: Confidence, Independence, Focus, Sourcing, Odor Obedience, and Love of Novel Areas. Experienced competitors train their dogs to excel in these areas. When your dog is incredible in these areas, the blue line on their symbolic skill topography raises.

If you want to move up a level, focus on training these qualities rather than training for the level. A good example of this is in the blog earlier this month, “Making Distraction Training Practical” where I suggest training placing a distraction in every container. In that example, we are training for the Fundamental, Odor Obedience. I train this way to increase Odor Obedience, NOT too train for the next trial level.

Although the purpose of this blog is NOT to focus on an upcoming online class, I would be remiss in not mentioning that I have a class starting December 1 that focuses on building each of these six fundamental qualities in NW175: Fun with FUNdamentals: Progress Games for Success.

If you want to maximize your success, train for the quality of your fundamentals rather than training for the skills required at the level.