Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Participating in a Scent Trial

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I'd decided to sign Barley up for a scent trial (you can read about our decision and preparation here and here) through C-WAGS. We had all kinds of plans for training--including having my parents hide our scents for us so I could know for sure that I was reading Barley's alerts correctly and not just imagining she was alerting because I knew where the scent was hidden. We were even going to take our scent kit on our road trip to get my sister to hide the scent for us.

Of course, none of those things happened.

My parents and I were on the go for their entire short visit, and while the dogs got a few adventures in with them, there just weren't enough hours in the day to set up searches. When we packed the car for our Memorial Day road trip, all of our bags were packed to the brim and the scent kit just didn't make it in (which I regretted when we were trapped inside with lots of rain and waiting for my sister's flight to arrive).

Even when we were practicing at home, things didn't go as planned. Rye snuck into the room where the boxes were and chewed on a few of them. Soth took over some of the boxes that I'd just folded closed by crawling on top of them until the flaps folded in and he had a good bed.

We still got in some practice every day leading up to the trial, but I wasn't feeling confident.

Post-bath sniffing is always fun.

The night before the trial, Barley kept alerting on an empty box and she was so insistent that was the correct box that she'd lay down beside it and refuse to keep searching. I was pretty sure that we'd wasted our money signing up for the trial.

Arriving at the Trial
The trial location was about an hour away from our house, so we got up early, ate breakfast, and left the house about an hour and a half before things got started so we'd have plenty of time to get settled in. 

When we pulled up, it wasn't completely clear where we should go, but I quickly befriended another first-timer and her boxer-shepherd in the parking lot and we muddled through together. I hadn't decided whether I was going to keep Barley in the car or bring her portable crate into the building. The morning was cool, so I knew that physically she'd be fine in the car with the sunroof open and the windows down, but I also knew I had to stay close so I didn't miss hearing our turns called--and Barley does not like being left. I scattered some treats around the car and left Barley in the car while I checked in and scoped things out. We were run #18 out of 20 for round one. The crate room was large with plenty of room for Barley to not be right next to another dog, so I went back to the car and took the crate in to set up before brining Barley in.

Beginning the Trial
There were a lot of people attending their first trial, so the judges spent some time introducing themselves and reminding us of the rules. I also appreciated that the coordinator of the trial reminded everyone that this is a sport for all dogs, so dogs needed to be kept away from each other and not allowed to roam in the crate area. The judges also allowed everyone to step into the course without their dogs to get an idea of what the set-up would be like. I was one of the only people who opted not to do this. Even though Barley stays in a crate at home and had just spent plenty of time relaxing in her portable crate while we road tripped, I knew that she would not be happy about me walking away from her when other dogs were crated near by, so I stayed sitting on the floor dropping treats into the top of her crate to keep her calm while other people went to see what they should expect. To me, keeping my dog comfortable was far more important than giving myself an idea of what to expect--I'd seen the sample layouts in the rule book and that was going to have to be good enough.

She looks smiley, but she was panting and a little stressed. 

We spent about an hour after getting set up listening to the judges and then waiting for our turn. At first, I had to drop treats into the top of Bar's crate every few seconds or she'd start to fuss and try to sit up and poke her head out of the top. Eventually, we could go a few minutes before I had to remind her that she was being good, but I was never comfortable leaving her--even just to go across the aisle to talk to other people.

Round 1
The judges recommended that before our turns we take our dogs outside, then take our turn, and then take them back out. We'd set up near the back door and the gate steward called out the dogs in sets of three, so when we were the third dog called, I took Barley out of the crate, let her have water, and then we went out the back door and walked around to the front door to get in line. That worked really well and gave Barley some space while the dog ahead of us waited to go in. Barley was excited to be in line to do something, but she was also very focused on me and listened when I asked her to stay in a down at my side while we waited. 

When we entered the search area, the judges asked if we were searching on or off leash--we stayed on leash since even though it wasn't likely, it was still possible Barley could get out to the crate area--and then they told us the timer would begin as soon as we crossed the start line.

For the first search, the boxes were set up all willy-nilly around the area. I was too busy focusing on Barley to count, but in C-WAGS there are 8-12 identical boxes in Level 1--and I think we had 12 in each round, but I wouldn't swear to it. The boxes were all small, unmarked, white boxes with their tops open just a crack.

Barley was pretty distracted at first--she sniffed the boxes, but she was more interested in the tarp at the side of the room that separated the different areas. At one point, I thought she'd found it because she finally gave one box more than just a passing sniff, and I said, "Alert," but the judge told us to continue. In C-WAGS, you can still qualify if you have one fault (dropping food, touching the dog during the search, an incorrect find) in a round, but with two faults you don't qualify, so we had one more chance to get it right. The judge gave us a 30 second warning (you have 2 minutes per round in Level 1) and I was sure that we were done. I walked Barley around a little more and eventually she paid more attention to another box and we alerted correctly. It took us 1 minute and 43 seconds, but we passed round one!

Round 2
After Round 1, Barley was reluctant to get back in her crate, but she was more relaxed, so I let her sit with her head out of the crate watching her surroundings as long as she stayed calm (she had people around us cracking up every time she poked her head out!). If she started to get to interested in something and looked like she might try to jump out or if dogs near us where moving in and out of crates, I had her lay back down and went back to treating her. 

When our turn for Round 2 came up, Barley was even more distracted. This time, the boxes were set up in a horseshoe shape, so we just moved down the line--it was much easier to remember which boxes we'd sniffed in this one! Despite the ease of remembering what we'd investigated, Barley didn't really want to sniff anything. She just trotted along beside me as we walked around. After a little urging to "find it," she eventually started sniffing. When she finally paid attention to a box for more than a second, I said, "Alert" but it was another incorrect find and we were told to continue. Barley's alert is really subtle--basically, she keeps her nose on the box and refuses to look at me. If she sniffs a box and then looks at me, I know it's not the right one--but if I wait too long when she does have the right one, she'll get impatient and move on to sniff something else, so it's hard to decide when she's actually found it, especially since when we practice at home, I always know which box is correct. Soon after, Barley found the right box and we passed that round in 1 minute and 19 seconds.

Ending the Trial
I took Barley outside after Round 2. I knew the likelihood of getting her to go back into the crate and relax was not high, so I put her back in the car and gave her a dental chew to occupy herself while the rest of the trial finished up. Shortly after I broke down our crate and got our water dish and other things back into our bag, the judges came out to give out ribbons. We were one of the few dogs to earn qualifying ribbons in both rounds, so I was especially proud of Barley. 

Post-trial ribbon selfie in the car (and yes, I was wearing a Beowulf shirt for our "battle").

What's Next?
We took two noseworks classes in the summer of 2014 and since then, all of the training we've done has been on our own and pretty sporadic. I had zero expectations going into the trial. I wanted it to be something fun Barley could do to say we'd tried it--and she far exceeded my expectations.

In C-WAGS, you have to have 4 qualifying rounds in order to title in a level, so if we want to title in Level 1, we need to enter another trial. If we title in Level 1 or Level 2, we can move on to Level 3 where you search for 3 scent articles that may or may not be in boxes and items can be stacked. That's more the type of searching that Barley's been doing for the last 3 years, so I think she'd like that even better. I'm not sure how far we're going to go with this, or when we'll trial again--a lot of the C-WAGS trials are a few hours away, which means I would probably have to spend the night somewhere and the thought of leaving Rye alone by herself with a friend checking in overnight or in boarding without her sister isn't something I'm ready to do. The next trial at this location isn't until January, though, which seems like a long time to wait. Occasionally, there are trials where my brother lives in North Carolina, so Rye could come along and play with her cousin while Barley and I competed. We'll keep checking the calendar to see if closer ones get added between now and then--and we're definitely going to keep training! 


  1. Nice job! One of the hardest parts of nose work competition is the waiting. Going to classes helps teach the waiting in a crate. We take Madison along in the car and have her learn to do a lot of waiting too. Glad you had a fun time! One thing we learned at NW camp last fall was if your dog is super distracted by something, take those few seconds to let them sniff/see it and that will clear it from their mind so they can get back to work. Mom has to do that with Bailie sometimes.

    1. Barley refuses to go in a crate at our training center--she'll go in, but before I even close the door, she starts lunging and barking, so I was really surprised with how well she did at the trial. As long as I was there with periodic treats, she was happy to wait (until the end when her brain was done--being around unknown dogs is really exhausting for her, so I don't blame her for not wanting to get back in the crate). I'm sure the more trials we go to, the more comfortable she get with it, too. I'm glad your mom has figured out how to help Bailie get back on track--I think Bar may have been looking for an exit since we came in through a tarp door on the other side of the room ;)

  2. I'm so glad it went well, congratulations! Even with your best laid plans for practicing going awry, you still did it!
    Barley's alert sounds a lot like Cricket's...I have a much tougher time with her than Luke, because she can be so subtle, and yes, move on if I'm not quick enough. Luke is a lot more obvious and mostly sticks with it!
    Whatever you end up doing going forward, what a great and fun experience!
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

    1. Thank you! We had a fun time doing it--and now I can be an obnoxious person and show off Barley's ribbons to anyone who comes over ;)

      Bar and I are pretty in sync, so when she's less distracted and actively searching, I'm pretty confident I know when she knows she has it, but I just had to go with my gut this time!

  3. Yay for Barley and yay for you!! Delilah and I did this a few years back, but we never got to the point where I knew her alert sign.

    1. Thank you! Bar did all the hard work :) I was amazed when some of the other competitors told us how obvious their dogs' alerts were--when we took classes, most of the dogs in class were pretty subtle about it, so I totally know what you mean!

  4. Congratulations on your Qs!
    Is there a reason you wouldn't be able to take Rye with you if you went to a trial where you have to stay overnight? In our area, only 2-3 flyball tournaments per year are close enough that I could stay at home and drive up day of, and of those, I often choose to camp at at least 2 of them because the drive is still over an hour. We often have 4-7 hour drives.

    1. Thank you! I definitely couldn't handle Barley and Rye in the crate room at the trial (Rye gets so anxious in the travel crate that she flips it, so I wouldn't be able to walk away from her for Barley's searches) and she cries hysterically when Barley and I leave her (unless she's at home), so I wouldn't feel comfortable leaving her alone wherever we stayed, so unless we go to one near my brother's house we're going to stick to places that are 2 hour drives or less so that a friend can let her out and she won't have to be alone for more than a few hours.

    2. That makes sense. I guess I'm lucky, my dogs are really good in crates. Koira is horrible at home, but she is super chill in her crate while we are traveling and at sports. At flyball, she goes in her crate, lays down, and naps. Even right after a run, she goes out to the pool, then straight back to her crate with her tug toys, goes in, turns around so I can take off her vet wrap legs wraps, then chills in the crate when I close the door. Ptera happily crates, but can be loud if she thinks I am doing something fun without her. I'm hoping she gets better as she gets older.

      Hopefully you can figure out something that works well for you guys. It sounds like you had a lot of fun, so it would be great to be able to go to more trials.

    3. My girls are the opposite :) They stay in their crates no problem at home! Bar is just so reactive to other dogs that she needs me with her and focused on her to help her stay calm.

  5. Replies
    1. Thanks :) She can't wait for you to see her ribbons.

  6. Replies
    1. Thank you! I was so proud of my girl!