[ My Story ]

First Two-Day Trial!

I dislike trialling. 

The travelling, the stress, lack of sleep. . . It’s a huge commitment! You want to be prepared, and you want your dog to be physically and emotionally capable of performing the sport and non-working behaviours asked of them. 

Enter the sport of scent detection.

It’s slow, methodical, and requires gut-wrenching levels of accuracy. So while anticlimactic to watch, it’s deceptively complicated to perform. As a mostly non-operant instinctual behaviour, success depends on your dog’s ability to stay in optimal arousal and the handler being calm and collected enough to properly read their dog’s body language.

First Advanced search for both me and River. The Judge reminds me to let River finish eating her cookie before moving on with our search.

River Tam has some pretty thorny emotional struggles [Google River Tam for more on that]. If left to her own devices, she will bite her crate around stock or agility to the point of self harm.

Scent trialling is the perfect step-down for her to practice energy preservation and accessing a state of optimal arousal without the excess noise and atmosphere of the farm or agility arena.

Through some experimentation, I was able to determine that River was succeeding when she had about 5 minutes to stand under a tree before going on deck. The next task will be transferring her tree “meditation” to a more portable station!

My favourite search of the weekend was our Advanced Interior search of two dormitory rooms, which was also our last search of the trial. River looked polished and professional, putting her paws up on the counters, crawling under the desks and jumping up on the bed. She was tired and looked at me for direction a couple of times when she hadn’t caught odour, but went back to work when asked and did a kick butt job of localizing the hides. Great job Riv!

River mentally preparing herself to search underneath her tree of choice

Many SDDA trials are held in commercial buildings or institutions. This unfortunately means that many indoor searches are conducted on slippery waxed flooring. During briefings I run the floors of the search areas, hallways and holding areas with my hands to see if the floor will provide safe traction for the dog.

On Saturday, it was clear that the interior and exterior areas would be adequate for Teyla, who is in physiotherapy and not yet accustomed to working in non-slip boots. Much to my surprise, we were able to get her entered last minute.

Teyla, still focused and in her zone after Q'ing her Starters Exterior search.

Little T made it clear as soon as we got to the hotel that she expected to compete, and she showed up on Sunday ready to impress. In holding, she was pulling on her leash and crying. T generally starts stressing down upon arrival at a trial site and escalates so slowly and steadily towards threshold that I often don’t notice she’s mentally gone until it’s too late. Her excitement was my signal to hang on for the ride! I hope to see more of her in monster mode. 

As you know, it takes a community to raise and trial performance dogs! I am incredibly grateful to several special people who made this weekend possible.

  • Our scent instructor Barbara, whose sage advice was playing in my head all weekend
  • Sarah MacKeigan, Teyla’s wonderful Physiotherapist who keeps her capable of participating in play and life
  • Trish and Tanya of Scentsable Canines who hosted the most organized, least stressful and reactive-dog accessible trial I have ever been to. 
  • My friend Melena, who gave up her free time to help me keep my girls emotionally on point this weekend
  • Helene Lawler, whose creativity and innovation in addressing arousal management has redefined the way I train my dogs.

It was so great to meet some of my amazing customers and their dogs too! Hope to see you at the next SDDA trial!

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