Thursday, May 14, 2015

Paid in Full - Adapt

Paid in Full

As summer approaches it will mark four years since we made the decision that if we couldn’t find a way to learn to deal with our adolescent dog; his neurotic energy, dog reactive outbursts, violent resource guarding, the biting me, then we would euthanize him. Little did we know at the time that I had been given a glorious adventure that would send me on a wonderful journey that continues. This all happened because we started K9 Nosework®.

After a couple of months of freeing him to hunt for treats in boxes, he started to be less neurotic which allowed me to be successful with other training. It wasn’t easy; we spent every day for 8 months working through the resource guarding, success was being able to put a bowl of food down in his crate and release him to eat without a violent display. We accomplished a number of things after starting nosework; walking nicely while on a leash was big and not reacting to almost every dog we saw was still over a year away. We had set backs too, I learned to see when he was uncomfortable, the warning signals returned, we adapting to him and this summer will also mark 3 years since last incident with me. Throughout this time the constant was nosework, we played the game a lot; some weeks multiple times per day, everyday, and it worked like a valve on a pressure cooker and relaxed his mind. He became eager to “work” for food in all training situations, and nosework changed him in a way I can’t fully explain. My intense little dog is still in there but it’s channeled into the fun work we do and the weight of the world on his shoulders diminished.

When we started nosework we just wanted a happy home life, and he had so much fun hunting for the treats and then odor, I decided to try the competitive venue. I drove to Colorado, a short 16 hour drive to run him in an ORT for the first odor birch. We didn’t pass the ORT so I drove the long 16 hours home. My dog succeeded by not loosing his cool, being in a venue with many other dogs, and we passed another ORT a few months later only having to drive a short 13 hours (one way). That was just the beginning. In total, I have traveled 100s of thousands of miles for nosework; seminars, camps, trials, training and teaching. I enjoyed handling a dog so much I worked a dog professionally for a pest control company for a year of windshield time, yes more driving. I became an instructor through the NACSW and I thoroughly enjoy spending hours coaching others in classes each week as the sport grows here in Texas.

When I started competing for the first title level NW1, I thought there was a pinnacle to be achieved the NW3 Elite (3 NW3 Titles). If I got there then I would have paid my penance. I know that is not the right word for it, but it has stuck with me over all those miles. I OWE every last hour and every last mile traveled to my dog named Atlas who gave me a path I didn’t even know 4 years ago. And I know I’m not alone, I have met so many other nosework enthusiasts and new friends in traveling all those miles. Atlas and I have competed in over 20 nose work trials together we have earned some title ribbons and I continue to compete yes for the title ribbons because to me it represents the payment I owe Atlas.

It wasn’t until I was competing with another dog that so thoroughly enjoys nosework so much, that it has begun to change my perspective. Bailey is a whirling dervish when it comes to nosework, a little tornado that is a day of entertainment to watch her work; zoomies around a room when she couldn’t work out an odor problem. (And the realization that I couldn’t change it) She has more intensity than Atlas but she isn’t holding the weight of the world upon her shoulders, she always looks like she is having immense fun. I can only imagine a billboard over Bailey in each run “get out the way”!  I saw that in Atlas from the beginning but I think I needed a reminder of that perspective from Bailey. I will strive to "honor" Atlas as a great passionate companion and marvel at all that I have learned from all those miles.

Adapting in nosework is a fundamental truth, if we are lucky we get to marvel at our dogs as they adapt so fast we sometimes don’t even realize it is happening. The conditions change and each dog, each handler changes even if they can’t explain how. It is art in motion, entertainment, and the beauty of a calculus problem in the mind of a focused and passionate puzzle solver.


  1. Thanks for sharing your and Atlas' Nose Work story. My NW dog is dog reactive and environmentally sensitive. He has come a long way since we started doing NW about 4 years ago. He has gained confidence and not as bad around other dogs, not 100% perfect but much better. We love NW!

    1. Thanks Terry, NW is a wonderful gift to our dogs for sure!