I’ve been waiting a long time (5.5 years, to be precise) to report this: Key got his NW3 Elite title on Monday!

This is not a photo on the day of his title. But he’s just as cute now as he was a few years ago.

For those whose lives don’t revolve around their dogs (what do you do with your time?) I’ll remind you that nosework “was developed…  to bring the concept of detection-dog style training to dog lovers and their companion dogs” (from the NACSW website). Dogs are trained (with CHEESE!) to find three scents: anise, birch, and clove. A small piece of cotton is dipped in the essential oil of one (or all) of these scents and then the handler follows their dog until the dog finds it, lets the handler know (alerts), and the handler pays out treats (CHEESE!) Dogs go to trials to test their skills. Those skills are (roughly):

  • Odor Recognition = recognize odor (alert)
  • Level 1 = find odor (1 hide in each location)
  • Level 2 = find multiple odor (1-3 hides in each location, handler is told how many)
  • Level 3 = clear the room (0-3 hides in each location, handler is not told how many)
  • Elite = anything goes

When I got Key in 2016, I was his fourth home. While very sweet, he definitely had some things to work through, so I immediately enrolled him in basic behavior classes. He gobbled them up (CHEESE!) and so I asked a friend if she knew of a dog sport that was lower impact than agility, which I had done previously with my other dogs. She suggested nosework, and soon we were addicted (CHEEESE!).

Key went to his first trial in 2018 and rocked it. We made it through Level 1 and Level 2 within a year. Then Level 3 came along. Whether it was the death of my mother at the end of 2018 or a version of “I Never Make the Same Mistake Twice I Make It Five or Six Times, Just to Be Sure”, Level 3 became an ongoing disaster.

I have entered Key in 35 trials and got in (you don’t always get in) 21 times (60% of the time). Over the course of five years, Key got cheese and I made every imaginable mistake. We didn’t get our first Level 3 title until 2021. You have to get three of those to move up to the Elite level.

All around me, people I had trained with got their NW3 Elite title. Then their new puppies did. And I was back here with a CHEESE! mortgage, trying desperately to put it all together. (Note: Key got CHEESE! He never cared about ribbons or titles.)

The low point came in 2022 with a complete disaster of a trial. Until that point, I had entered 4-5 trials per year; it was almost a year before I entered another competition.  Last year we cobbled together a couple of entries to get a second title, and last month he came out of a nice trial in Vancouver with a “leg” toward his final title.

So, last Friday, I loaded up the car and drove 350 miles to La Grande, Oregon. The trip took most of the day. Saturday, I went out to Ladd Marsh to do some birding (more on this below). Sunday, I volunteered in the score room for the first day of the trial. Monday we competed. We drove home Tuesday. It was a long drive, but knowing the NW3 ordeal was over helped take the sting out of the hours behind the wheel.

I announced Key’s accomplishment on social media, then began planning this blog post. Last night I put together the graph below, to show you how long and hard this task has been. But the graph also shows me that we have been making steady improvements over the years; the graph (generally) trends upward.

I’d like to report that this has shown me something about perseverance or learning rates and I will remember this lesson the next time things don’t go quickly. But I think we both know… I won’t remember a thing.


As I mentioned above, I did some birding while over in La Grande.

There are a couple of (unfortunately blurry) sequences of photos that I may try to work into a painting. These cliff swallows fascinated me with their shadows.


Before I left for La Grande, I painted this piece on a whim, mostly because I liked the title.

“Modern Society” – 15″ x 11″ (watercolor on paper)

Musings on My Sabbatical

As I said, Sunday I worked in the score room at the trial. The basic (volunteer) job is to assemble the paperwork used to judge the dogs, then enter the scores on the paperwork into a computer after the dogs have run. It’s the kind of geeky, computer-y job that I enjoy, but haven’t done very often. A very nice gentleman named Bart was the score room head, and so I mainly worked to file things and double check results. I got lots of breaks, lunch, and to sit down. Pretty cushy.

Before I turned up for my assignment, I noticed I was feeling a lot of anxiety. The score room can be an intense place; at various points everyone is waiting on the score room, and the score room is scrambling to get out the correct data in a timely manner. Time pressure has never been kind to me, and I found myself dreading the end of the day and the endless talks I would have to give myself in order get over whatever happened and turn it around for the next day’s competition.

Bart was a joy to work with and at the end of the day, his easy-going style had me feeling proud of our work. I tried hard to be quiet and helpful, but Bart was chatty and fun. He was complimentary about different tasks throughout the day and didn’t make a big deal when we noticed an error. We just fixed it. “I’d go back to work in a heartbeat if I had a boss like this,” I thought at one point. It’s been almost four months since I turned in my notice, and this was the first time I could honestly visualize going back into the working world.

Lately, I find myself noticing things that bother me. I notice. I analyze. I breathe. I move on.

If feels like such a luxury.

This is the first time I can remember having time to notice but not react to the external world. “That bothered me,” I think. “Why?” I don’t always have an answer, but more times than not, I find myself remembering something else that happened that I didn’t have such a calm reaction to. I have been working with someone to sort through some of my reactions. (Note: Kelly’s website says: “I am a certified Trauma Recovery Coach and Grief Recovery Specialist who supports and guides people through their journeys of hope and healing out of complex trauma. I specialize in PTSD recovery.”) A lot of what we talk about has to do with the nervous system. I find myself able to notice when I’m tired, upset, happy, or even neutral.

I stopped providing a daily update on Facebook about my sabbatical because I realized that I was trying to justify my decision to take this time. And I made the radical move to stop making excuses.

I’m doing this.

And I think I’m learning something.

However, as discussed above, while my learning curve tends to curve up, the rise is pretty flat.