to children and to dogs each day begins fresh with unlimited possibilities
Children and dogs are as necessary to the welfare of the country as Wall Street and the railroads. Harry S. Truman
In writing this blog, I began with the intention of sharing a journal type account of Winnie's and my latest effort since the beginning of the year to grow as Sniffing partners. We ended 2019 with many accomplishments in the sport of NoseWork: trialing in AKC to the Masters level and in NACSW to two NW3 titles. We enjoyed many exciting adventures participating in as many seminars as our calendar would allow and took our biggest trip ever together, a ten day cross country voyage to Colorado Nose Work Camp. The year 2020 was going to be no different. Our calendar was filling up with dates blocked off for volunteering, trialing and learning. We were rolling along gratefully, happily until we weren't.
There is not a single one of us in this world who hasn't been affected by the events of 2020 from January and on. The degree of what has been lost in each of our lives might be varied but we all have lost something. I am fortunate to have suffered very little losses compared to many. Not a single friend or family member have become ill, my daughters have kept their jobs. I am still able to walk dogs and earn enough change to continue this hobby with my dog. We have kept busy doing Nosework online virtually and have been able to participate in trials though many were canceled. We are even back to taking in person classes under adherence to all the physical distancing requirements. It was at a recent class held at a small neighborhood elementary school that the realization of how much some have lost really hit home.
With anticipation I had gathered Winnie's equipment and headed out for a Saturday morning of sniffing. Since earning her NW3 Elite and with the next level looming, I have had some training goals on my mind. I specifically wanted to work on my handling visa vie giving Winnie lots of space, taking control briefly and only when necessary, following her lead exclusively and above all "listening" to her. I also wanted to practice being 100% consistent when I did need to speak using only the specific words that mean something to Winnie. We did 4 exterior searches this day.
I could tell Winnie was affected by my energy as my mind wasn't a blank slate focusing only on her but rather filled with a silent dialog reminding me to make changes. We moved through each search and made some progress. Winnie even began to agree the changes were good though she at first seemed to look at me often as if to say, "you are doing something different." By the fourth search it felt like if Winnie could speak she may have said, "different, yes. But keep doing that, I like it." Dogs never carry with them any baggage from the moment before. The epitome of resilience.
The fun of searching is part one, but equally important is watching our searches back on video. In downloading and reviewing the videos for studying and learning I noticed Winnie's response to things I did that helped and things that still hindered her. I noticed I had done things I had hoped to do and others I can still improve upon. As always, I wrote a narrative for each search, a tool that helps me retain some of the learning, but what carried on for me this day was the audio included in the videos. The background noises. Voices of children laughing and playing. Though we were at a children's school, sniffing around the tables in the courtyards where they eat lunch, detailing the small rows of hooks down the hallways where they hang their back packs, following an odor cone across the black top where they bounce balls, I knew children hadn't been attending school since February. I hadn't notice the presence of kids in the playgrounds and around the halls while we were searching but the sounds almost haunt me right now.
We were at a school, there should be sounds of children. What is haunting about it? Truth is that is not what was scary. What is however bothersome and should be troubling us all is what this year 2020 has done to the children. Never since WWII have issues from the world of adults had such an impact on our children. Childhood with it's carefree innocence is everything but that for our youngsters today. Children can make no plans for tomorrow or for the near future, they have no security in knowing what is next to be expected. Kids had the rug pulled out from under them and are punished by the unimaginable unintended consequences of decisions made with little thought put into having things that support their welfare and best interest.
The adults have failed, it is all our collective fault but I know the children will forgive us. I believe in the children. I believe in their laughter and playfulness. I believe they, like our dogs, have terrific resiliency and through my own grandchildren I have witnessed their unending energy and their ability to adapt. Meeting the next day with humor and optimism I now remember as Winnie and I waited this day for our turn to search hearing a parent shout out into the play field in the direction of his kids, "C'mon guys. It's time to go." And from afar a voice shouts back, "We can't hear you, dad." This is the ultimate example of what I am talking about. If we adults could be half as good people as our dogs think we are, we would be able to always see what is best for our children.
I will include in this blog links to the videos from our searches this day with my running narration for those folks who might be interested.
Search 1 9/5/20
This exterior search was "L" shaped along a building and included a corner. My goal for the day was to let Winnie lead and wait for her to move off a found hide with no or little input, this was our first search of the day. Winnie convincingly found the first hide along the benches and moved on with only a "find another" from me. The head lift farther down along the bench was a clue I missed : ( as the second source was right there but Winnie moved past it and I probably pushed her into the converging problem from the source around the corner. Had I seen the head bob, I could have slowed down, perhaps even if odor drew her around the corner, she may have come back to the bench hide. Winnie works to sort out the hide around the corner then we cover the rest of the area and work our way back. As Winnie returns to the converging puzzle, I do nothing to support her and only get in the way, UGH! It's hot and she knows where it is and even looks at it from across the walkway, but after trying repeatedly to work it only to keep getting pushed by me Winnie stops. I saw Winnie look at the bench and look directly at the source, too not knowing that is the source. But Winnie told me even ifI wasn't listening. As Candy begins to coach us, Winnie watches me point in the general area then walks over to where she had looked as if to say, "fine, I told you with my eyes, now let me point to it this time!" She works odor around source but doesn't give a final response that she has decided, probably because it's exhausting trying to get her handler to respond, and since I still don't acknowledge her efforts she finds something on the ground to self-reward, maybe a dropped scrap from a previous dog? Luckily, the day's searches get better with an outstanding search after this, the second search of the day where Winnie was so efficient I didn't have time to get in the way.
Search 2 9/5/20
This was an exterior divided into two sections with instructions to clear one half before moving on to the next half with no going back. We were coached to trust our dogs. After the first search where I made many mistakes, I decided to let Winnie lead and she travels through the first half hunting but not finding anything to source. Winnie never carries any baggage into the next search and luckily this time neither did I. I am redeemed. With Winnie leading the way, we move through and find each source in the order intended. In my complete relinquishment of control, I forgot to count how many.
Search 3, Exterior, w/2 hides, blind and unknown
Search 3 9/5/20
This was our third search of the day, the need to re-cue Winnie could be attributed to the rising temps. She had been putting herself back to work nicely the search prior to this one. After she finds the source in the crack in the concrete, she stalls and I only cue her once, then wait. I will not re-cue her again, she circles around almost reluctant to head across the black top. The odor finally pulls strongly enough and she makes a bee-line following a cone across to source, then gathers info to quickly locate the exact spot for the second hide. Winnie moves off the hide and chooses to detail the line of benches. She begins canine sniffing which takes her into the dirt and weeds which stick to her left front paw due to some pitch she picked up while we were standing under a pine tree waiting for our turn. I must stop and clean off her paw and should have been thinking she is finished but instead I must re-cue Winnie. Candy doesn't wait for me to call "finish", instead advising we have found all sources in order to get Winnie off the hot pavement.
Search 4, Exterior, w/1 hide, blind and unknown
Search 4 9/5/20
This was the fourth search of the day of practicing dog led searching, and it was her best. Winnie likes to be in charge. It was an unknown number of hides and after Winnie efficiently finds one source and in reading Winnie’s behaviors I felt she had nothing left to work so I asked the trainer who then told me there was only one hide so as to get us off the black top in the 90 degrees temps.