Many handlers wonder if they are ready to enter an NACSW Trial. Many dogs enjoy classes, and are very eager to search for hidden odor. How do you determine if you are ready? The following are some questions to ask yourself if you are considering entering a trial with your dog:
• Has my dog searched in many different kinds of locations? Can my dog maintain focus in new search environments? Locations and search environments will be different each trial. You may be searching in a business park with a greenbelt adjacent to the search area. Can my dog navigate the search area without being pulled off course to sniff foliage where other dogs have been? Can my dog stay focused if squirrels or other critters are present in the search area? If my dog startles at a flapping tarp, or something novel in the search area, can he regain his focus?
• Ask yourself about your dog’s “batting average.” What you are looking for is a dog that is task oriented, and will stay on target to find odor in many kinds of search environments. A good K9 Nose Work dog is built over time.
• Does my dog show “odor obedience?” The term odor obedience means that the dog is irresistibly drawn to target odor, like it is “calling” to him, and he has no other option but to respond. This drive to get to the source of odor will override other distractions. It is an impelling force that is cultivated in the dog by rewarding the dog over and over for going to source.
• Can I “read” my dog in odor? Do I know when he has gotten to the source? Do I trust my dog’s communication that he has found the source?
• Do I know the rules at the level that I am trialing? Has my dog earned the ORT title?
• Can my dog maintain energy for the search, going from crate to work several times? Can my dog wait in a crate or in the car without stressing?
• NACSW Trials are not like other dog sports where you can just show up, take your turn and leave. You will be at the trial location all day. Has your dog been conditioned for this kind of work? Many of us have to travel to trial locations in other cities. How does your dog handle travel, and hotel stays?
• Am I a member of the National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW), the official sanctioning body for the sport of K9 Nose Work?
If you feel ready for competition, your instructor will be a vital link in your journey towards trialing and titling. Ask your instructor for feedback on your handling, and your dog’s performance. Another way to gain experience is to enter “Mock Trials” in your area, and to attend workshops designed to help handlers prepare for trials. Volunteering at trials is a fantastic way to see what a trial is all about, and get a feel for what you and your dog may encounter at a trial. For volunteer opportunities, check out the trial calendar.