In Dog We Trust
The last Blog I shared had a video of a fun search Winnie and I did during the first week of this new "social distancing" way of life. I have been joking about how this situation is what I have been training for all my life, socially distant is a role I was born to play. In retirement I have found pleasure in walking dogs and have built a very select group of clients. Walking dogs is not at all a socially interactive job, at least not with humans. I find much satisfaction in my dogs, I get a front row seat in studying their behaviors. I learn the distinct personalities, remember their individual habits, and love their entertaining antics. Our time walking is not just marching down the sidewalk but rather it is a two-way conversation with no words.
I am fortunate to be self-motivated and "solitary confinement" isn't too different than how I normally get along. I have always been an independent worker, my careers have included Letter Carrier (15yrs) and Transit bus Operator (12yrs) where I worked unsupervised 99% of the time. I have also had very publicly interactive jobs in retail such as a bakery where I wore many hats from working up front as store clerk to every aspect of production in the back and a Tack and Saddle shop, too. I thrived in the hands on "help" industry, and though I tease about it, based on this I don't see myself as anti-social. I have come to the conclusion I am selective: I am very clear about who I want to interact with and with whom I do not. And here we find the dilemma: I miss my dogs and their people. I made it through the first week and I have already run out of patience. (Below is a collage of Winnie working a suspended hide, and remember, I have no idea what I am doing but Winnie still succeeds)!!!
Thanks to my friend and trainer, Candy Bennyi, I was given a link to a new online learning community run by Stacy Barnett of Scentsabilities. As a newcomer to nose work, I had heard about FENZI but had no idea what it meant. Turns out it is an online training forum for DIY nose work training. Who knew they even had this kind of thing? Apparently, every body but me. As is always my style, I catch on slowly so here am I, the train has left the station and I am running down the track grabbing on to the caboose. I signed up to join Stacy's new group, a Subscription Community, where we are shown training videos of exercises we can try at home. We can share videos, ask questions, and see other's videos and respond.
I began exploring all the info on Stacy's website, Scentsabilities Nose Work, and stumbled upon a podcast from Sept. 2018 called, "Yes, but does your dog trust you?". I couldn't have picked a better Podcast with which to start. It really put to words some ideas I have had floating around, answered some questions and confirmed other things I have come to know. One concept is the importance of trust and Stacy explains how trust is a two-way street. I have heard handlers exclaim, "My dog sometimes lies," and Stacy goes on to reveal that in this instance a false alert is much more an indicator of a breakdown in trust. I think about the dogs I have watched during the many hours I have spent volunteering at trials and thanks to the Podcast referred to above, I have a better understanding of many things I saw. We often expect our dogs to start out in detecting odor as if they've already earned a college level degree when they are only in kindergarten. We compound this oversight by constantly testing them with blind searches in training and then again at trials. This situation does nothing for the confidence of the team and begins a downward spiral. The missing ingredient: trust. Each trainer may have a different view on this subject, each Dog/handler team will also have varying requirements, and it's all subject to change during anyone's personal progression. I used to feel quite inadequate as a handler and now I know I did way too many blind searches. We struggled through communication issues at our 3rd NW3 Trial this past January. I started doing known hides at all classes and lessons. We have much improved since then and Winnie and I will continue to trust each other. Right or wrong, we search as a team. If Winnie tells me she is done in an area, I believe her. Turns out in the next two subsequent NW3 trials we have left odor unfound but that just means we didn't cover an area completely, or perhaps I didn't support her through a difficult puzzle, or odor simply wasn't available to her. We have evolved our searching in a positive direction after I vowed to leave odor behind rather than false alert. For us, changing to this mantra has worked wonders with our mutual trust. We leave every search feeling so connected and we stay in tune thereafter. Just writing about it makes me giddy.
After hearing only one Podcast I feel confident I can personally recommend Stacy and Scentsabilities and encourage anyone to see for yourself all you may find to enhance your experience and be your dog's best teammate ever. Take this opportunity of being cooped up and held away from classes and lessons and nose work to access the wealth of information online at Scentsabilities and all the other training sites (just Google it). As always, remember to take it with a grain of salt, apply what works for you based on where you and your dog are. Take this opportunity to enjoy this iteration of your journey, I bet you won't be disappointed.
After listening to the podcast about trust, I remain ever humbled by Winnie and all our dogs for what they do for us. I feel like the kindergartener and am so lucky to have a partner who learns so fast she has us succeeding in college.