Anyone who knows anything about me knows I get into the gear: tracking gear, hiking gear, nose work gear. Other women do shoes. I do gear. When Enzo and I started out doing field work for gun dog foundations, his harness and my bait bag were a matching deep plum. My field whistle was a complimentary shade of violet. Oh yes. We were a vision at that hunt clinic. Fake it till you make it or dress for success? (I’ll let you decide.)
It should come as no surprise to you that when Aoife and I started nose work, I immediately began researching the gear. There is a lot: tins, tubes, odor, containers, putty, sticker dots, lines, harnesses… I was in my glory! My instructor also said it would be helpful if Aoife had a separate harness, strictly for nose work. It would act as a cue, a signal to her what the expectation was, what behaviors she should perform. Liken it a school uniform versus Saturday play clothes. It would help set the stage.
I got right on it. Julius K-9 makes some very nice back clip harnesses. Light, comfortable, well-designed, with loads of fun colors to choose from, and–as if that wasn’t enough… the very best part?? You could order TAG LINES! YES! I know! Right?! I spent hours playing around with words. I’d seen some fun ones out there and I was excited to tag my girl. I finally decided on “Nose 2 Search”. That beautiful Bull Terrier nose, the play on words, my love of numbers and math. Perfect! Then, we had our first trial.
I signed her up with Performance Scent Dogs. I thought them to be the most beginner friendly. There was also a training center within an hour’s drive offering monthly trials. Tova Training dates back to Bess’s Barn Hunt days; my memories were of great people, loads of laughter, tons of fun. I wanted to make sure our first experience was a positive one–I knew I would get it there.
The day dawned- I loaded up the Jeep with the necessary supplies, plus some, and headed out. I had entered all three TOT’s (target odor tests for Birch, Anise, and Clove) as well as Containers and Distance. The nice thing about Performance Scent Dogs is that even if Aoife missed on her TOT’s, she would still be allowed to run. It simply would not count towards her title in that element. (See what I mean about “beginner friendly”?) No matter what happened, she would be allowed to run a search.
TOT’s ran first and when directed, we entered the building. I could see the area where twelve metal folding chairs were arranged in rows of 4 by 3. Underneath one of those chairs was a tiny tube holding 3 q-tips scented with Birch. Aoife’s job was to tell me which chair had the hidden tube. I had no doubt she would find it. We had trained and practiced for this. She loved nose work. I was excited; grinning from ear-to-ear as we made our way to the start box, where the judge and time keeper stood waiting.
And that’s when Aoife noticed… PEOPLE! Her delight simply could not be contained; she was absolutely, positively OVER-JOYED and made a beeline for them both. Dear God. (People? We had not trained for people.) It was all I could do to hold on. As I death-gripped the handle on her harness, my girl hopped, spun, bounced, whined, and wagged her entire body in a vain attempt to
jump on greet the judge. Fabulous, she pointedly ignored the small white freight train trying to steam roll greet her and asked if I had any questions. I shook my head. I was instructed to search when ready. I attempted to get Aoife settled (not happening), focused (perhaps? a little?). Then, I quickly stood up from my hunched over position and cheerfully called, “Aoife, Search!” She promptly boomeranged backwards, straight out of the search area, directly toward the judge. I grabbed onto her harness handle and dragged led her over to the rows of chairs. She continued to twist, buck, and twirl, all in an effort to say hello to ‘her’ people. Red-faced, breathing heavily through my mask, and with glasses fogging over, I once again attempted to redirect her to the chairs. She vaulted sideways, knocked two chairs a-kilter, bounced up on me and made for the judge again. Winded, sweating, bent over with my back in spasm, I circled her and hung on for dear life, praying for the madness to end. Then, Aoife stilled, head twisting to one side, and gave a cursory nose touch to one chair. I yelled “Alert!” The judge boomed “YES!” as she broke out into gales of laugher. Hobbling out of the search area with my joyous companion, I seriously contemplated a new sport and wondered if there was any Advil in the glove box.
Aoife went on that day to not only Q in both containers and distances, she earned first place as well. But I have put away the “Nose 2 Search” patch. Perhaps when she’s older? Maybe. But honestly? This one suits her style MUCH better.