This past weekend, I judged a beautiful NW3 Exterior search. Partway through the run order, conditions changed and a relatively straight-forward hide became unexpectedly complex. The complexity was difficult to resolve within the time constraints. Team after team began NQing despite their obvious skills and talents. It was heart-breaking. The disappointment on the faces of the competitors was unmistakable, even as they did their best to support and take care of their canine partners. Having been there several times myself, it was impossible not to empathetically suffer right along with them. All seasoned nosework competitors know this pain. I started thinking about the “Whys” of the pain. Why does it hurt so much to fall short of our performance goals when ultimately, this is just a fun game we play with our dogs, a hobby we share with our friends and classmates?
I suspect that many of us on some unconscious level believe that our nosework performances somehow publicly demonstrate the strength of our relationships with our dogs. Without knowing it, we link our competition competency with our relationship, and when we stumble, we feel like we’ve betrayed our partners. There is real pain in that, and I think we’ve all felt it. However, this pain is based on a false premise. Trialing does not affirm or reflect our relationships with our dogs. It just doesn’t. Trialing, instead, is a snapshot of our TRAINING. Trialing captures a moment in time where our training is tested under ever-changing conditions. That’s all. Trialing results never speak to the sum total of the love we share with our dogs.
Odor is fickle. Trials results are always impacted by randomness and luck. Well-prepared teams will always have an edge, but the wind is always changing, the run order is always moving, and sometimes you’ll go left when you should have gone right. The variables are always part of the game. It makes no sense to link “relationship” with “trial outcome.” The two have nothing to do with each another.
At any given trial, teams will have masterful moments and segments of incredible teamwork. These moments may or may not result in a placement or a title, but they will be there. The volunteer crew and workers will see those moments and will be touched by them. We will see them. I promise. And these are the moments that reflect on who you are as a team, who you are becoming. Know that we cheered quietly and celebrated with you.
In the end, this will always just be a game that we play with our dogs. Almost all of us have come to understand that this game enhances our understanding of our partners, our sense of play, our friendships, and our lives. But always, nosework is a pathway to growth and bonding, not a measure.
Photo by the incredible Caprise Sireay Adams She caught me committing a horrific handling error. Gator still loved me! One of my favorite photos ever.