There are so many ways sports can humble you. Just when you think you might just have found your groove, competition will take you down a notch or two. It’s like Tom Hanks said in the movie “A League of Their Own ““It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”
Now I have spent many a year as sporty spice. From Basketball, to Softball, Track, to Volleyball, Surfing, Climbing, etc. I’ve competed on the national stage and in small town leagues. All of these experiences brought memorable lessons, as well as great rewards and challenges. The sport of Scent Work is no different, but this time, I am communicating with another species. This makes this sport magical and at times extremely challenging. I believe my little terrier/poodle mix knows the game is on when we enter a competition, but as with all games, there will be unknown and unanticipated curve balls that will make you wonder if you belong in the game at all. This week we were pitched a number of curve balls.
The trial was located at the Reno Livestock Fairgrounds. The ground included a variety fabulous smells from rodents to stinky livestock. Scout was FACINATED by all of those smells and from the moment we got there she was hunting. Unfortunately it wasn’t always for odor.
The first search included 6 giant farm vehicles (for us city girls that means tractor, water trucks, dozers, backhoes, tractors, and pickups with giant wheels. You get the idea, not commute cars. We charged out from the start line thinking, hell they are just a bunch of big boxes with wheels. Well my dear, you are wrong. Scout was looking at me, as if she was saying “Do you friggin understand just how fabulous these vehicles smell?” There is all kinds of animal scat, hair, and poop right here on this tractor! I want to share this experience with you, so here, let me show you. I will drive my little head under and along the vehicle, and then look back at you to show you this smell ROCKS! When this happened, I was so enamored with what she found I called “ALERT”! I dug into my treat bag because I knew I will be giving lots of treats to my amazing dog. But wait, “NO” says the judge. “WHAT” says I? How could that be? Well, it be! You have been punked by a terrier/poodle. She is now going around ALL of the vehicles and is going to show you all of the places that animals, rodents and special friends hide. Not where odor is, but for her, it’s where the magic happens. The good news is we recovered and got most of the hides, but I had to, right after getting that no, say alert with confidence that she found odor. It felt like a high-wire act.
I’m coming around to the idea that when our Nose Work search goes off the rails, the real win is one’s ability to work through that challenge. Can you manage your ego, your expectations, and at times, disappointments, and reconnect with your furry partner believing what they are telling you is the truth? Can you do that even when you know what they told you before was wrong? When they indicate the next time are you confident that they are identifying odor, and this time you will get a yes? Do you have enough trust in your dog that you will you believe them? There are so many reasons a dog can miss hides, your job is to explore why that might have happened and rather than be mad, be curious and learn from that mistake.
The challenge for us humans is we think that outcomes (titles) matter more than anything else, but if that’s all we focus on, we miss the magic. When Riley, my other Nose Work dog passed, all the ribbons we earned meant so little to me. The time we spent training, trialing and hanging out with friends from the Nose Work community is what I cherish. The titles are just a cherry on the Nose Work Sundae.
Enjoy the ride, and as Maya Angelo said, “Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it.”