Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Find your PACE

Find your PACE


Each time I trial, observe others trialing or practicing for that matter I have been struck lately about how many times we are out of sink, out of step, or just plan not on the same page with our dogs during a search. Under trial pressure we are excited and moving quickly, pushed by the time of the search clock only in our own minds anyway. I’m not immune I routinely find myself moving to quickly or I feel like my dog is pulling me more often than not during in a particular search. Many questions come to mind; do you run with your dog?, are you pulling or trying to moving them along?, did you call it to quickly?, could you have called it sooner?. These are all “PACE” issues to me and they are big; Patience, Attitude, Communication and Experience.

For many, the first time we trial, our Patience is the key to our trial success. Giving our dogs enough time to completely work out a problem or rather – not calling “Alert” at the first change of behavior we see in our dogs. Sometimes this means not even at the first point at which the dogs “decided” to make a decision. For example our dogs encounters odor and gives a; “look”, “starts to sit”, “paws” or some other communication response in the presence of odor. With patience our dogs then drive into the source of odor and we can clearly see that they have found a find. Even if out dogs have been clear early in their trial career, later they may need more time to work out more complex odor problems. This is an ongoing challenge every time we trial, it falls along a continuum, what happened early on doesn’t stay constant later when we encounter multiple hides or even at the Elite level when there can know be 5,6,7+ hides in multiple searches.

Our Attitude when our dog's pattern changes, be it; speed, consistency and our perceptions of how they worked that problem can sink a search very quickly. If you are trialing at Elite and get a “no” for the first time and become flustered, caught off guard as to if you continue working that problem or move on to another area can be very challenging. Since I heard “no” some many times at NW3 it was less about the attitude and more about my/my dog’s ability to adapt in the moment that made the clear difference. In one case, my dog clearly said no I want “THIS” hide and I’m not leaving until I get paid for solving the problem. Finding 1 hide out of 4 in the 2:30 minute in which many of the teams found 3-4 hides was a particular challenge to our attitude and adaptability. It can challenge a team on either end, if the dog looses drive to complete the problem after hearing a “no” then how can you motivate them to work – it becomes about your attitude. It is the same problem for all levels, whether you are going into the next search after hearing a “no” or working at the Elite level and still have several minutes to work an area.

Communication is required from our dogs, for us to be able to call “Alert”. Maybe it’s very clear, or very subtle, if you expect the communication from your dog to be clear and you find yourself in a search and the communication has become very subtle, our ability to over come that is difficult. Remember back when your dog was working NW1 and they came into the search and ran directly to the container and slapped it with their paw. If you had never seen that before, you would have been tormented by the thought of calling it having not gone to any other boxes. “My dog has never done that before” is an ongoing theme after we trial, and we may not understand the dog’s communication in these situations. In some cases it was odor, in some cases it was the dog’s frustration that caused them to sit at that box. Then throw into the mix how much we are communicating to them with “clues” developed in our practice – even if we didn’t realize we were communicating to them, we are.

Experience solves all of these problems right? I hope so, I’ll let you know when I have enough experience were I can say that. It is a dynamic model where our dog’s and our experience are changing each time we practice and compete. I had a problem with a high hide, so I worked some high hides with another instructor and my dog worked them well and didn’t seem to have a problem at all. Then I worked with another instructor and my dog obsessed about a phantom high hide in a search were it wasn’t that high. Not all experience is created equal, leaving a hide behind in a trial search might have compounded effect us or our dogs. We think we have found a gap in our training and then proceed to work (over work) that type of problem only to give our dogs the impression that this is the expectation for the next search. If we concentrate too much on one experience it can teach things we didn’t intend to give so much weight.

When I have an off day, it often seem like I was out of step with my dog, I called it quickly or imagine the NW3 first search of the day and you hear “NO” on the first hide you called (done more that once by the way). Being able to recognize that you need to alter your PACE to build some successes for the next trial or search is important. That is one extreme, but it can just be the morning versus the afternoon, recognizing that your dog is not the same as they were for those morning searches, adjusting your expectations for the afternoon(or each successive search can be a significant trial challenge. In some respects this is even more possible for Elite trials where a short time limit search with a range of hides can be juxtaposed with another search where you have 5+ minutes and an unknown number of hides. Try to concentrate less on the things you missed and concentrate on how to achieve the best understanding of how each dog works. I'm not suggesting you practice a "type" of problem that you missed, but remember that the more you focus on that one problem we might be pushing our practice to an far end of the pendulum. Have we learned to adjust our pace in all those other trials; element specialty, nw1, nw2, nw3. Where we can use our experience in reading the dogs communication and have a good attitude and patience in each search, and achieve a consistently changing pace!.