As the activity and sport of K9 Nose Work continue to grow rapidly throughout the country, more dog and handler teams are finding opportunities to build their skills in classes and to enter competitions, experiencing new kinds of success. Achieving success - or watching others achieve it - at any level of class or competition can create an expectation of continued success, and can sometimes cause us handlers - often unintentionally - to put a lot of pressure on our dogs to perform. As handlers, we can easily forget who our dogs were before K9 Nose Work and what kind of awe inspiring transformations they've undergone since their journeys began. Most importantly, we can forget that K9 Nose Work is and should be all about the dogs. Paula Nowak's post is a wonderful reminder to treat our dogs with care and patience, playing the game at their pace and enjoying the unique journey we each share with our dogs, as well as the joys of belonging to a community of likeminded dogs and people; all the while knowing that, in time, beautiful things will happen for our dogs in K9 Nose Work.
A Dog In Bloom
by Paula Nowak, CNWI
A rose in bloom is very beautiful, smells good and can brighten someone’s day. It’s a flower that symbolizes love for many people. This flower is also very beautiful while it is still just a bud and as it gradually opens up it slowly progresses to full bloom, which is when it reaches its full potential. The rose’s bloom cycle (the time from pruning the plant until bloom) can be anywhere from 6 to 8 weeks. Ask anyone who enjoys these flowers and they will tell you it’s worth the wait.
A typical Intro to K9 Nose Work group class covers a 6-week period. During this time each dog has a short amount of time to search within an hour or a little more once a week. In many cases, in this small amount of time once a week, or even within the first week’s session, you’ll see a change in the dog’s level of security and confidence for those dogs who are fearful. The same is true for those fearful dogs that have their first K9 Nose Work experience at a workshop. It’s amazing to the observer how much a dog can change in such a small period of time. For dogs that are in a 6-week course you may see a large change in behavior of various sizes each week.
The “bloom cycle” for a dog to build confidence through K9 Nose Work is very different than the bloom cycle of a rose. There is no set time frame to expect a dog to change in confidence and that is a hard realization for some owners. There is really no guarantee as to when the dog will make progress, but I can attest that it’s very much worth the wait!
Recently, a student in an Intro to Nose Work group class had a fearful dog that had a very challenging time with mild noises or new objects in the search area. On week 6, he initially thought a folding chair lying flat on the floor was going to kill him. By the end of the night he was able to work a simple hide near the “killer” chair. His mom really felt like he’d progressed, but saw the other dogs in class progressing faster and it seemed she wished he’d been able to progress more. Fast forward to his 7th week (week 1 of his second round of K9 Nose Work) and he was a very different dog. He was much more confident than the previous week. Everyone who’d seen him the previous week, including me, was shocked at the amount of confidence. From that week forward he continued to amaze us by searching in different environments with a new confidence.
It’s sad to think we might have missed his blooming moment, had his mom stopped at his first 6-week course thinking he wasn’t progressing fast enough. The impact K9 Nose Work has on a dog’s behavior cannot always be predicted, but the results time and again show how much it can help them build confidence and help them bloom into a more balanced dog.
Post a comment sharing your dog's "blooming moment" or other special achievement that you gave your dog time and support to realize on his own terms in K9 Nose Work.
Happy Sniffing & Happy New Year!