A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to be coached by a trainer I very much admire. I was thrilled at the opportunity and couldn’t wait for my dog to tackle the puzzles. Unfortunately, he was less than stellar that day. Less than what I expected from him. Why? Because we both were being challenged in new ways, unexpected ways that stretched us both as a team. It was a LESSON! It was a learning opportunity, not a performance.
Now and then a student will say something along the lines of “she’s usually so much better” or “I don’t understand why he didn’t get that faster” or “my dog didn’t do well today because he’s never been exposed to that kind of problem before.” Please remember that you’re not the only one learning to do Nose Work. The dog is learning, too. The dog isn’t infallible. The dog has to learn and the dog will make mistakes. It’s OK!! The dog NEEDS to be exposed to new and more challenging scent puzzles for their skills to improve and the handler needs to be exposed to these things for their skills to improve, too. If my dog and I were both perfect, we wouldn’t need instruction, we’d ace every trial, and boy, would I save money!!
As a student, at the end of a lesson, even one that leaves me less than thrilled, I want to come away having learned something. That’s what makes it a worthwhile session. Not how perfect my dog was, or how wonderful my handling was, but what each of us learned from that session: from the environment, from the hide placements, from the success we had and, perhaps most importantly, from whatever trouble we had.
That’s the only way we can get better, and the only way we can give a great performance on trial day!