This is the beginning of the story of my journey to turn my little eight year old, rescue mutt into a therapy dog...
A Year ago I got my ABCDT training certification and successfully graduated the Dog Obedience program from Animal Behavioral College [ABC] with Honors.
See in my mind if it didn't have the "with honors" part it might not be considered successful...
The next question naturally was, "where do I begin?"
Through my schooling I was offered a job as an assistant trainer to the mentor trainer I had completed my externship with from ABC. It was a great start and it allowed me to continue learning while on the job. Through there I got a referral for my first private client from the old assistant trainer and then just like that, I was dog training. Not full time, but hey, it was something.
When I first started studying to become a trainer, I wasn't really sure why I was doing it. I just saw it as the next plausible step in furthering my career in the pet industry. By the time I got out of school my mind was racing with urgency to start my career and start doing the work I knew I was meant to do.
But what kind of trainer would I be?
To be perfectly honest, I still don't know the answer to that question and it was in searching for the answer to that question that just so happened to set my sights on my dog, Hunter.
They say you need 10,000 hours to become an expert at something and after meeting with who is now a dear friend and mentor, it was suggested to me that I train my own dogs in the meantime.
Yes, I do have two dogs and I chose Hunter not because he's my favorite. Actually the contrary, Hunter is really more my fiancé's pooch and our bond was pretty non existent. He only got up to greet Kirk when he returned from work and in the mornings Kirk would have to walk us out the front door just to get Hunter to go on walk with me and his sister without Kirk coming along. So I thought, "THIS! This would be an interesting challenge"
At the suggestion of this same friend and fellow trainer I enrolled Hunter into scent class and we started doing nose work together.
Nose work or Scent work (depending on which organization you are going through) is a search oriented competitive dog event. Your pooch learns how to identify three different odors (or more if you are involved in both organizations) and they learn how to find them in different arenas. There is an outdoor search, indoor search, container search and buried search. That last one sound like exactly what it is! They do really bury the odor under 6 inches of sand and your four legged friend has to tell you which sandbox the odor is in. It is very cool and very awe inspiring to watch your dog work in this manner.
So Hunter and I enrolled in these classes with a top trainer and drive ALL the way to Pasadena to learn from the best. For me, I was looking at this as an opportunity to meet with a top trainer in the industry and possibly work with/for her. Also, to discover if perhaps competitive dogs was the route I wanted to venture down in my training career. Ultimately to see if I could train Hunter, my now 8 year old rescue dog enough to turn him into a therapy dog.
I immersed myself, we took Scent work, then scent work level two then before I knew it we were in the competitive level class. I was having so much fun watching my little guy learn this new information. More exciting yet, I was seeing that he loves to work and most importantly, that we work well together.
So before too long I was convinced to take Hunter up to Big Bear and compete in our first ever scent trial together. I was so nervous and to be honest, I didn't feel ready. I had no idea what I was doing and I had no idea how the competitions even work. Regardless, I forged ahead! We signed up, registered the with the AKC and were ready to head Big Bear for our first ever scent work competition.
I had no clue what to expect. I knew enough to know I needed a folding chair and plenty of water but that was really the extent of it. I felt a little like a fish out of water. Luckily my friend was there (I knew she would be as she convinced me to come up) and walked me through the need to knows.
First trial up was buried. I felt pretty confident there as I knew Hunter really enjoyed the buried searches and was fairly quick at them. He got it right away, I called "alert" and sure enough! Whew. I huge feeling of ease came over me. Next up Exterior. Very hard category but again, I was so green I didn't even know what I was getting myself into. Then interior, then containers then we were done.
To qualify in a round, your dog must correctly identify the oder in under two minutes. In order to take a title, you need to qualify three times for each search type and then you earn your title. For example: Hunter qualified for his novice buried search and got his little green qualification ribbon. He then would need two more ribbons in the novice division to then move up to the next division of competition. This level up would only apply to the buried searches though. He would need to qualify three different searches in each category to move up in each of the four search categories: buried, exterior, interior and containers. There is also a fifth category called HD (Handler Discrimination) where you dog needs to be able to identify and discriminate between their handler odor, so literally my smell, and someone else (the judge specifically). Hunter and I really had only done this once and we definitely weren't ready to compete this category yet.
I think for our first time out we did pretty well!
I knew this was only the first step in the journey with my little guy and really, scent work has literally nothing to do with therapy dog work. However, what I learned was, Hunter likes to work. What I learned was, You can teach an old dog, new tricks.
What are your life goals with your four legged companion? Answer in the comments!