One of the new sports I had picked up was scentwork with Zap. We started in late August after a local kennel club was going to be offering an introductory 6-week scentwork class. It had been on my list of sports I wanted to try out with my dogs for a while and I didn't want to miss out on the opportunity to sign up; especially since I had weeknights free at the time since I hadn't started offering my own manners and obedience classes yet since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March. Normally Tesla is my "go to" girl for trying out new things, but we have been working on a lot of rally stuff since she is so close to earning her AKC RACH that I didn't want to tack more on with that being our main goal at the moment. Phoenix had been dock diving all summer long and that was drawing to a close. I hadn't been really working on much with Zap for the last couple of months, so I figured I would take a chance and learn something new with her since she hasn't gotten nearly as much attention as the other 2 girls were getting. So, we signed up for class and attended 5 of the 6 weeks (week 6 was on my honeymoon) and Zap and I enjoyed all that we had learned.
We continued to practice at home and in new locations like parks and playgrounds. Zap was getting better and better and really enjoying it, as was I. We attended a match in Joplin, MO to see where we were at in September and Zap struggled with all the elements with the exception of exterior, surprisingly enough. I learned from where she struggled and mistakes made on both our parts and kept practicing. A second round of classes was going to be offered, but because I had to start teaching group classes myself on those weeknights, I was unable to attend, so we just kept working at home with the skills we had and practiced in some new environments.
I had noticed that there was a trial coming up in Springfield, MO October 24 & 25. I didn't really feel that she was that ready yet, but I was worried that she may come into season sometime soon in early November and was also concerned that since the pandemic is still going on, what those late fall/winter trials might be if they can be held depending on what is going on in the world. I decided to enter Zap not necessarily to be a serious competitor, but to see where we were at in our training and hopefully learn some more while we were there. I had started practicing more with Zap and also started working more on the buried element now that I had the supplies for it. We had only been working on buried about 3 weeks before the trial and we still weren't quite consistent at home yet.
The first day of trials appeared and I was ready to have some fun with Zap. The first day would have 2 trials of buried and interiors.
For trial 1 of buried, Zap was pretty excited to get to go sniff. Buried was her weakest element by far and also the newest to her, so I didn't know what to expect from her. When we came up to the line of 6 buried containers, I released Zap and her first instinct was to first try to say hi to the judge and spectators, then sniff the side of the building, the grass, basically everything except for the buried containers. This was my biggest worry with Zap and one of the areas we still needed to work on; sometimes Zap gets excited about the new environments and smells, especially if there is urine smell, that she doesn't really focus on searching for the sent of birch and instead just enjoys sniffing everything else. I refocused her, brought her back to the line to start again and released her back towards the boxes. She was a bit calmer, but again, she was sniffing more the bottom of the containers and not really sniffing over the top. Then after a bit more time, Zap started offering her "paws up" behavior where she places both front paws on an object. This is Zap's "go to" behavior when there is an object in front of her and she doesn't know what we are doing. Knowing that Zap was confused, I went ahead and called "alert" knowing it likely wasn't going to be the correct box and I was right, so it was an NQ. I was later told there was lots of pee spots in that area and that is Zap's current kryptonite; the smell of urine beats out the smell of birch any day in her mind. We went back to our car to hang out for a bit before our interior run when we got called back over to buried to do it again. They said the area was contaminated so they were letting all the NQ dogs have another try at it. So I quickly grabbed Zap and we were up to the line again. They had moved the buried containers so they were perpendicular with the building and a little bit further out than where they were the first time, but I released Zap and she just attempted "paws up" on 3 boxes in a row looking at me, so I realized she still has no clue the game we are playing, so I went ahead to call "alert" even though it was the wrong box so she couldn't continue hopping on the containers. So for buried trial 1, still holding an NQ.
Next, we were ready for interiors. This isn't Zap's strongest area in practice, but she has been getting better. Sometimes Zap likes to indicate on things she thinks are more interesting like mop buckets, trash cans...essentially anything "stinky". She also has had trouble in the past where if she doesn't know an object could potentially be in a certain spot, she won't search there and even if you take her to it, she doesn't sniff well. At this point, I have to be hands-off or she focuses on me, but I also have to set searches up so they can be easily found and then slowly build up the difficulty in our training sessions. There wasn't much expectation, but again, my main goals were to get more experience and evaluate where we are at training-wise, and if Zap got a Q in the process, that would just be extra gravy on the biscuit, so to speak. It was our turn next and we got in and I noticed it was a bunch of objects, but it was almost like the sections of objects were lined up similar to a container search. I asked Zap if she was ready and released her and she immediately started sniffing past each section quickly until she made her way to one furthest away and she gave me her alert on a thermometer. I called "alert" and the judge cheered "yes"! I was so ecstatic! Just getting a Q in our first real scentwork trial in a sport I am still very green at was extremely uplifting.
After the trial had ended, results had been posted and I was absolutely stunned to find that Zap had earned 1st place in the Novice A Interiors class! Zap's find was in 7.38 seconds getting first place out of 12 dogs in the Novice A class. The next dog behind her was around 10 seconds. I was absolutely astounded and so proud of Zap. I did take a peak at the Trial 1 results for buried and only 3 dogs Q'd in that and I had heard some of the more advanced competitors mentioning how only a couple of teams out of advanced, excellent and masters had qualified as well.
We had our trial 2 run for buried and while I wasn't feeling too confident in how we would do, I was hoping that now that Zap has had a successful search with interiors that maybe she would be more focused for buried this go around. Our turn came up again and this time when I released her to search, she definitely appeared more focused sniffing the tops of the buried containers. The second one down the row she did a "paws up", which is not her trained alert so I told her to "go find" again. She sniffed the next container and did a "paws up" again, so realizing the same thing as the first time was happening, I went ahead and called "alert" to end the search. It turned out that the first buried container she did "paws up" on was actually the correct buried hide. So, another NQ for buried, but I was pleased to see her more focused this time around, which tells me it's more a matter of training and getting more practice in. And it turned out that even more trial 2, not many teams got a Q in novice, advanced, excellent or masters with the buried hides.
Next, we had trial 2 for novice interiors. I was feeling a bit more pressure because she did so well in trial 1. Was it just a fluke? We arrived towards the start of the search area and this time the area was different. It was essentially a perimeter of stuff including crates, etc. I had practiced these types of searches in my own training building with Zap, but she didn't do as well with perimeter-type searches in the group class and it doesn't really yield obvious places to make sure the dog searches. So, I got Zap set up, asked if she was "ready", told her to "go find" and she was off! She immediately ran in and alerted. I called "alert" and the judge said "yes"! I was absolutely flabbergasted! She found the hide in 3.69 seconds and I am sure 2 of those seconds was just me breathing and getting out the word "alert".
The trial ended and I was thrilled to find that Zap had gotten first place again! In the Novice A class, Zap received first place out of 10 teams with the second place dog getting the find at 9.22 seconds. I was overly thrilled with Zap and couldn't believe we not only got 2 Q's in Novice Interiors, but first place in both as well. It was a very exciting drive home and we were ready for day 2 of trials!
For day 2 of trials, there would be two trials each for containers and for exteriors. Exteriors I was the most nervous for because again, Zap can get distracted by other smells and not alert on the birch outside, especially if there is urine. While she had done really well in the match a month ago in exteriors, that didn't necessarily mean she would do well here as well. For containers, that is definitely the element she is most consistent with in practice, but she didn't do so well with
it in the match a month ago just from the sheer excitement of being somewhere new with new smells, so I was pretty anxious to see how Zap would perform.
First up we had containers. We got inside, Zap got in her starting position, I asked her if she was ready, and then told her to "find it" and she was off! She immediately got to sniffing and searching. I did my best to try to remember not to walk her down the middle of the containers so I don't mix up the scents in the air. And within 4.91 seconds, Zap had quickly found the hide and alerted. She only went through a couple of boxes before alerting and I have learned with Zap that if she alerts, I just need to trust her and not force her to search everywhere else. The judge called out "yes" and I was thrilled. This earned her another 1st place and one of the judges and a couple of other teams were commenting on how Zap must be living up to her name with the lightning speed she was showing at finding all the hides. The dog in second found the hide in 9.94 seconds.
Then we had our first run into exteriors. Again, I was nervous and expecting not to Q at this point. When we approached the search area, Zap was pretty excited. There were lots of objects out near a shed with the boundaries marked. I released Zap and she immediately went to a patch of grass and kept sniffing the garage building. She was so focused on that area that I almost called an alert. But then I thought about how there are all of these objects scattered in the search area and Zap hadn't even bothered to go over there. And besides, a raised area of grass near a corner of a shed? If that was something to get peed on, that naturally was going to attract Zap to it. So I guided her away from the corner and told her to "go find". Then her nose and brain combo kicked in together and she quickly started searching and alerted on one of those objects that was scattered out. I called "alert" and the judge cheered "yes"! I was super proud of Zap and glad I trusted my gut to have her move along. She found the hide in 33.97 seconds with the majority of that time spent sniffing out something she apparently found more interesting. And to top it off, she got 1st place!
After the 1st trials were done for all levels, it was time to award High in Trial. High in Trial goes to the dog that out of all the levels had the lowest overall times and least amount of faults on their searches. The dog also has to qualify in all the elements offered that day. Zap had achieved that and was awarded High in Trial. It far exceeded any of my expectations not only for the weekend, but for the day! I couldn't have been prouder.
Next up was trial 2 for containers and exteriors. I was feeling relatively confident in Zap's ability to perform, at least with containers, but still a little nervous. I could also feel myself gaining some expectations of a Q after she had been performing so well this weekend and I was worried I would jinx how well she had been doing and didn't want to put any extra pressure on Zap. After all, this whole weekend was really just to have fun, gain experience, and see where we are at training-wise.
We had our next run of containers and Zap seemed ready to find that birch hide. I asked her if she was ready and released her with her "find it" cue and she zoomed off immediately and quickly searching each of the boxes. She made it to the end of the lineup and alerted. I called "alert" and the judge cheered "yes". Woohoo, Zap earned another Q. This time Zap found the hide in 9.31 seconds earning her a second place finish. I still was very proud of her and proud of the methodical and swift approach Zap was taking in her searches.
Now we had our last search for exteriors. My hope was that now that Zap had been warmed up and had a successful find in the first trial, that she would be more focused for the second trial. The setup was a little similar with a bunch of different objects scattered in the search area and the area was moved over a little from the first search area. This time, I asked Zap if she was ready, told her to "find it" and she was off! She quickly started methodically searching the objects and quickly alerted on a green drain. I called "alert" and the judge cheered "yes" amazed at how fast she was able to find it. Zap found this hide in 6.50 seconds earning another first place! I not only was thrilled with her time and that she Q'd, but I was more thrilled that in the outside distractions she could focus on searching the hides rather than trying to check for any urine smells or searching for other smells she found more appealing.
With a second and first place for trial 2, I wasn't sure we would be getting another High in Trial. I hung around a little bit while all the other competitors in the more advanced levels were finishing up their searches. As time went on, I realized we were going to be receiving
another High in Trial for the Trial 2 searches this afternoon. And when the day ended, as predicted, Zap earned her second High in Trial.
To say Zap far exceeded my expectations would be an understatement. The entire weekend when we entered I never even thought we would get Q's, let alone placements or High in Trials. I still learned a lot from listening to other competitors, getting some experience, learning more about setting Zap up for success and what to do in the in-between search times to keep her ready to search. I could tell she thoroughly enjoyed the weekend and getting to play scentwork and she was a nice, happy pup once we got home. And I can attest that I certainly got the scentwork bug and had such a fun weekend getting to play with Zap. That rush has us searching our for more competitions in the future to go to so we can play some more. Overall, I am extremely proud of Zap and how hard she has worked and she has blown me away showing me what she can do.
Buried Novice A: NQ
Interiors Novice A: Q and 1st place (1 out of 12) with a time of 7.38 seconds
Buried Novice A: NQ
Interiors Novice A: Q and 1st place (1 out of 10) with a time of 3.69 seconds
Containers Novice A: Q and a 1st place with a time of 4.91 seconds
Exteriors Novice A: Q and a 1st place with a time of 33.97 seconds
Containers Novice A: Q and a 2nd place with a time of 9.31 seconds
Exteriors Novice A: Q and a 1st place with a time of 6.50 seconds.
2 High in Trials