Some of us finding ourselves on our second or third Nosework dog may have one of “Those Dogs”… you know what I mean… the Rocket Ship. “That Dog” might be a super talented and YOUNG! A nose with four legs! It can be so tempting to just rush these dogs along to see what they can do.

I get it. I do.

I have one of these talented kids. It’s incredibly tempting to just see what she can do.

But sometimes because you CAN search the hard stuff with them, and because you CAN move them up, doesn’t mean that you SHOULD.

Let’s back up a little. Let’s imagine a handler with a successful dog. She (or he!) had taken this dog all the way, or nearly all the way, up the levels. Looking for that next great dog, a puppy is purchased with dreams of a successful future. Do you see where I’m going with this? Next thing you know, you are campaigning a very young dog at higher levels. Is this a good thing?

The trouble is, no matter what genetics are on your side, the need for foundations is not diminished.

Genetics do NOT replace good training. To some extent, you can get by with relying on a dog’s natural talent. You can maybe even get to NW3 and title (even twice!) with a bit of experienced handling. Yes, you can do that. But without the right foundations, even with incredible genetics behind you, you are ostensibly cutting off your nose to spite your face. It WILL bite you in the rear, and soon!

They are so exciting though! I get it! When well trained…. You get to the come to the line with this coiled spring of a dog who is laser focused, only thinking of target odor. When you release to the search with the softest of cues, you are rewarded with a near instantaneous, clear alert at source. Or, if that hide is more difficult, you see the dog’s gears working and they quickly solve a puzzle that can easily demotivate most dogs. That is IF they are well trained.

If you skimp on your foundations, you will instead have a dog with arousal issues. You may have a frantic search or even barking. Your searching will look frenetic and your dog will be a challenge to handle. In short, you may find all of the hides, but you have to rely on over-working the area or on over-handling in order to “be successful”. The good news is that because of the dog’s drive, it’s possible to rely on good genetics to get you through. But is that what you really want?

You might be thinking, “What motivated Stacy to write THIS blog”?

I just debuted my young 2 year old in NW3. I was both excited and nervous at the same time. I knew she would be a blast to handle but I also knew that eyes were on me. I had just earned my third Summit title on Judd the day before. Yes, there was pressure!

Fortunately, it went VERY well… High in Trial with Pronounced designation and First in both Interiors and Exteriors. She was clear and our calls were all confident. We cleared areas with a high confidence in knowing we got all of the hides. Will every trial go this well? No, it’s unlikely. But with genetics and good, solid training, she SHOULD do well! Foundations are EVERYTHING!

Brava NW3 (P) with a High in Trial and a First in Interiors and Exteriors at Montrose, CO in April 2019. One out of only 7 titles that day!

You see, Brava has incredible genetics. Her mother is a certified FEMA Live Find dog, and Brava’s paternal grandmother earned the AKC ACE Award in 2014 for the SAR division after spending 60 days in the Philippines as a Cadaver Dog after the typhoons. Yup, Brava was born to sniff. But… that doesn’t erase the need for training. If anything, there is more pressure! If you flop with an unknown dog of questionable heritage, there is less blame on the handler!

But I focus on Foundations.

You shouldn’t have to work very hard with these dogs. Yes, there is handling involved. You have to make sure that you cover the area and get them into potential areas with odor. And you have to keep them quiet in the staging areas! (That’s the real trick! LOL!!)

I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you are an experienced handler, and if you have one of these dogs and you aren’t TRULY killing it, look at what you can do as a trainer for your dog. How can YOU prepare your dog for competition? With these dogs, simply getting the title really isn’t enough. You have to be killing it. Be honest with yourself. Does your dog have the foundations, and is your dog mentally mature enough to handle the level of competition that you are asking for? It’s ok to say no… but fix it! It doesn’t mean that you have to win all the time but at least in NACSW you should be getting (a lot) of P’s!

Yes, it’s not all about the title. I am WELL aware of that! My Standard Poodle, Joey went (AHEM!) way too many times without tilting in NW3. But… he has no usable drive and no genetic propensity to hunt. If I went that long without titling Brava, the problem would be me as her handler or as her trainer.

Foundations are Everything!

If you have “That Dog”, ask yourself if you can pass this litmus test. If not, go back to foundations and forget the ribbons for a while:

  • Can you trust your dog to take the lead and STILL find the hide(s)?
  • Can you easily trust that your dog has found all of the hides while covering the area ONCE?
  • Do you trust that your dog will not walk on odor?
  • Do you trust that your dog is more interested in target odor than the environment?
  • Do you allow your dog to search or do you find yourself presenting the area or heavily Influencing the search?
  • Is your dog manageable in the staging areas or is your dog barking and carrying on?

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is, when you have a dog born to sniff, getting titles and ribbons isn’t what it’s about. It’s about paying respect to incredible genetics by properly training the dog. This isn’t a race. It doesn’t matter how fast you can get those titles, so bring respect to your bloodlines, and take your time. Train your dog.