Does the Training Method Make a Difference?

In Montana things move slowly.  While nose work was spreading like wildfire across the country, its entry into Montana happened at a snail’s pace.  Except for a few outliers who found NACSW™ events rather early in the game, nose work was slow to appear on the radar for most dog people.  Many people referred to it as a “great retirement game for my dog someday”.

I started training my dogs in nose work around 2014.  There was no “method” per se but bits and pieces picked up from the internet, some online classes that were relatively new, and word of mouth ala “this is what worked for me”.  I think I saw pretty much every way possible to train nose work and then some.  Most methods required extensive human involvement (We need to teach the dog how to play this game, you know).  Regardless, at that time, if you asked me how to train nose work, my answer was “Odor.  It’s about odor”, a thought that still makes me cringe.

You know what else nose work was about?  A really cool final response.  Yep, when my dog found odor, she was going to do something really cool to let me know she found it!  So I took my 5 month old puppy and my super environmentally sensitive dog and put them on odor with a super awesome final response.  Cool, right?

Training a final response – April 2014. Can’t you see how much my dogs loved this? 😦

Fortunately the puppy had a lot of drive.  Scout participated in her first trial at 7 months old and we kept plugging along.  She earned her element titles and she placed at events.  All the while I just needed to see that final response, collect my ribbons, and set off to the next event.  No pressure – puppy – none at all.

On we trained, and we started setting out multiple hides – because five is cooler than one and ten is cooler than five.  Holding marathon practices that lasted hours.  More is better right?  I’m building duration in my dog, right?  If my dog can do this, a trial is a piece of cake, right?  Better make a lot of those hides blind as well so I can recreate a trial environment, right? And look at that dog….woah?  What is going on?  Why isn’t the dog finding the odor?  Why does the dog not seem to care?  Why is my dog blowing me off???

And then the day came when my little ribbon earner quit.  She stopped her fancy final response.  She came upon odor, sniffed it, and walked away.  What’s a girl to do?  Enter her adolescent in an NACSW™ trial!

Scout’s First Pre-Trial Test of Odor – May 2014

I can tell you our first NACSW™ trial did not go well, for a number of reasons.  However, the bottomline was the training methods suggested to me over the years had completely washed out both of my dogs.  Suddenly there was nothing about nose work that Scout enjoyed.

My older dog, who in hindsight had a remarkably good start in nose work searching for primary (toys), soon quit playing the game all together.  He either quit working, falsed to get out of the situation, or simply putzed around until he timed out.  Being an extremely environmental dog, I never gave him the tools or a reason to prioritize odor over his environment.

At the end of 2015 I realized that what happened to my dogs would definitely happen to other dogs and the sport would not flourish beyond a novel game to try.  Sure, people would be able to put a couple lower level level titles on their dogs in various scent sport organizations, or work their way through a successful NW1, but the foundation was not there for upper levels of the sport.

I started to wonder: Does the training method really make a difference?  Isn’t this simply about training the dog to recognize odor?  I spent some time thinking about nose work and if it was even worth pursuing.  The bottomline is my gut told me this sport was good for the dogs and for ALL handlers.  I took a look around me and realized that the ONLY consistently successful handler in the state, titling at high levels out of state, trained her dogs via NACSW™ methods.

I decided to contact NACSW™ to see if I could get onto the waitlist for their instructor program.  I also started working online with Kimberly Buchanan through her Joyride K9 Online Education site to begin the process of retraining my dogs.  2016 is when my education K9 Nose Work® began….

…To Be Continued…

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