There is no recipe for success-it is as unique as you are. --Natalie Massenet
As Winnie and I continue to forge our journey together thru the sport of Nose Work, I have noticed there are as many methods for training as there are instructors out there instructing. It has been helpful for me to seek training, coaching, and advice from as many trainers as I can and the reservoir of knowledge is kept and readily shared by many a passionate practitioner of NoseWork. Jane Austen wrote "Too many cooks will spoil the broth" but regardless of number of cooks, too few ingredients in the recipe makes for a bland dish.
This weekend, while Winnie spent quality time with "dad", I poured myself into our chosen hobby and volunteered at the AKC Scent Work Trial at Flying Could Farm hosted by Connie Bartlett of Sonoma County Agility Club. I enjoy volunteering, hanging out with good folks whom I have much in common, and learning more and more about Nose Work. For three solid days I timed searches, assisted judges, and helped set up and take down search areas. I got to observe many runs and found it to be an enlightening experience. Not one search was the same, there were no two teams alike. Each handler started the search in a unique way and each dog approached the area differently. Some teams walked across the start line with no pretense while others seemed to have a ritual. Some dogs were fast sniffers, others were slow, savoring sniffers. There were many environmentally distracted dogs and a few who searched with razor-sharp focus. The variations were fascinating. It was fun to witness the vastly varying "alert" signals from the dogs, some who scratched and pawed and risked earning a fault, others who indicated beautifully with just a look. I also enjoyed watching the handlers, admired many for their quiet connection to a shy sniffer or their ability to do gymnastics while handling the leash of a dynamo sniffer. Across the range of differences can also be recognized similarities and I have a theory on the reason for this. Dogs are influenced by odor, handlers are influenced by trainers and peers.
For dogs, the patterns were clear and the odor's path could be "seen" after the third or forth dog ran the search. The dogs picked up on odor at similar points within or just outside the designated areas. All the dogs found odor, every single dog smelled Birch at Novice and Birch/Anise at Advanced in every single search area. The differences lay in what the dog did in response to the odor. Dogs with strong odor obedience were able to override the desire to catalog the many distracting environmental smells around them and go directly to target sources. Some dogs were sniffing critter smells and essential oils simultaneously and when given time remembered, "oh, yeah, I'm here to sniff and get a treat", while for some dogs no treat was as interesting as the smell of a resident cat, rodent or horse.
With handlers, I also saw patterns; how they altered their dog's approach to the start line, where they stood and how they moved (or didn't move) in relation to their dogs. How they use treats and the very important timing in delivering the reward. I also noticed differences in how and where handlers held the leash, be it loosely with slack or tight with a death grip. All this, I attribute to who we listen to for training and advice. I think we are doomed when we allow ourselves to be influenced by peers or limit ourselves to the voice of only one trainer in our heads. It is my observation that handling style is as unique as our thumbprints but the only thing that matters is that our style doesn't impair the dog's natural ways. The dog's nose should write the agenda, our only job as handler is to get outta the way.
My advice is to go to many NACSW seminars as a working team or auditor, listen and select the things that make sense to you but don't think you have to do everything they say. Seminars are geared to teach general knowledge and also teach specific ideas to individual dog/handler teams. Not everything you learn at the seminars applies to you specifically. Learn the physics of air movement, things that affect the flow of odor. Take classes with more than one instructor and again, extract that which works for you. The beauty there is you will hear things you have heard from other instructors which I find very reaffirming. Volunteer at trials so you can watch many, many dogs searching. Watch and listen to the dog, most of what they do while searching is the same because they are working the same odor in the same environment with the same variables. You also can learn a lot from listening to the judges, too, if/when they interact with a competitor after their search or during the debriefing at the end of a trial.
In conclusion, I would say when it comes to scent work, the input from many sources can enrich your knowledge, develop skills in your dog, and lead to better enjoyment and less strife. Many cooks can help you make a good pot of NoseWork stew but you need to have a clear idea of which ingredients to choose. Take time to evaluate yourself and your dog and select from the vast pool of knowledge what works for you. In this way you can capitalize on all there is to learn and make your and your dog's unique, one of a kind recipe for success.