Yesterday I told you all where we went, but today I plan to talk about WHY we went there.
Since March of last year, Key and I have been taking scent work classes. The basic idea is that the dog learns the handler wants him to find particular odors, then does his best to find them and get a reward.
Here is a video taken this summer of Key doing a basic “container” search.
Before a dog can compete in a trial, they need to be certified that they can find an odor. Remember that this whole process starts out with just food. My instructor (Dana Stillinger of Best Friends K9) was sneaky and didn’t even tell the handlers when the dogs started learning odor; she just started pairing it with food.
Key has been to a fun match and he is doing really well in class, so I felt it was time to make him official. I looked on the NACSW website, but it didn’t look like an ORT (Odor Recognition Trial) was coming up in my area anytime soon, so I decided to use the trial as an excuse for a little vacation.
Key did really well at the trial, though he surprised me by needing some time to “settle” into searching. Lately he has been doing practice searches extremely quickly, so when we walked up and down the boxes row six times I was nervous. But I KNEW he knew this, so I just did what our instructor said and paid attention to what he hadn’t searched thoroughly and waited for a change in behavior. Of course, it feels like forever while you are waiting, but we had three minutes to find one box out of twelve.
Sure enough, after a few times through, Key’s nose engaged and he gave a nice, clear alert. I felt so proud. The volunteers and staff complimented him on being “a good little hunter” and “so enthusiastic!” “He really likes this” the judge told me at a break! (Note: “Good little hunter” must be some kind of instructor code because our instructor uses the term too. It must be something they learn…)
Key settled into searching a little more quickly with each subsequent search, and at the end of the day we celebrated a “hat trick” of being certified for all three scents.
Tomorrow I’m going to try to get him registered for his first “real” trial in April. I feel a little nervous about this, but I feel like going out and searching is really the only way we’re going to improve. He’s very good and I just need some seasoning.