What’s an injured dog to do?
Working with odor is pretty much a completely different “department” of dog training from all the other training endeavors I pursue. What characterizes my usual training is a focused interaction where the dog and the handler work and play together, with that interaction being the central component, and a common thread among them all. Doing nosework with a dog is different (from what I understand). Allow me to insert that I am by no means an authority on the subject! While I’ve dabbled with tracking and detection with some well-versed people, including police trainer Steve White, it never really got me excited before.
Originally I thought Zeal, my BC boy, would excel at tracking since he scours the ground endlessly on hikes (or just about anywhere outdoors) with full tracking body language (it’s fascinating to watch). While yes, he’s a stellar tracker, I have yet to figure out a way to counteract his desire to abort the trail I laid on the heels of more exciting pots of gold (you know, squirrels and rabbits and such). I don’t enjoy frustration (neither does he), so we abandoned that pursuit.
At a month long training with John Rogerson, we worked a number of dogs on detection and tracking. But it never really excited me. One of the things about working nosework is you are less involved with the dog, it’s more a matter of setting the dog up to learn and observing and capturing their natural behavior. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an awesome direction for people to take dogs that lack confidence, have aggression issues, or if you just think it’s fun. But for me, I rather work on tricks, assemble them into chains, train my dog to play with me directly in lots of different environments, make heeling as much fun as running around an agility course/chasing a ball/tugging. If you can train something as boring as heeling so that it makes your dog’s pupils dilate, you know how to train.
But I recently had a giant change of heart. And a big part of that reason is I found a scent sport that marries all the things I love: truffle hunting. Before you run out and rape the land of these treasures, I’m going to warn you that there’s a lot of training involved. And I know from decades of seeing people with their animals, most people wouldn’t want to put in all that work (and a portion of them couldn’t if they tried). But for me, that’s the selling point. Wrap your mind around how involved you’d need to be with your dog—your dog has to find something buried, alert you, selecting the spot from among lots and lots of other smells (including other sources of your target odor and critters), taking changing winds and strange currents into their calculations, and continue to help you dig for the exact location. It’s like an old-school geo-cache! Keep the muggles out of it, K?
What could be more perfect for someone who already spends hours upon hours in the woods? And with a couple of injured dogs, training odor is a great game to exercise a dog’s mind. Exercising a dog’s mind makes him more relaxed/tired than just exercise alone can. That’s a big reason why most of what I train capitalizes on teaching the dog to think—it leaves a dog pleasantly tired. But you don’t want them to think too hard…that causes bad stress. Good stress builds a strong creature, bad stress breaks him down. And that’s an important topic for us to talk about.