Last May, Pongo and I experienced our first Nose Work 2 trial. We learned a lot at that trial and hoped our lessons learned would benefit us the next trial. So 4 weeks ago, Pongo and I traveled down to Ninilchik to compete in the Nose Work 2 trial. I realize I am only now blogging about it–very sad when life gets in the way of blogging!
Several months before the trial, I had made reservations at Ninilchik 132.6 Cabins and RV Park in hopes that we could take the Airstream down and camp overnight as the trial was on Saturday. Life is never certain when you’re married to a surveyor and there was always the chance that Steve would be out of town that weekend. So, I knew that Pongo and I may be car camping that Friday night. A couple days before the trial, Steve realized, with great disappointment, that he was not going to be able to make the trial due to work. I emailed the owner of the RV Park asking if he would mind if I car camped in the RV spot we had reserved. He was fine with that so, Pongo and I drove down to Ninilchik Friday evening all geared up to car camp.
As I came out of the mountains, my voicemail beeps. It’s the owner of Ninilchik Cabins and RV Park saying that he just wasn’t comfortable with me sleeping in my car and they had opened a bunkhouse for me to use. I was very touched by the gesture. I called the owner back letting him know that I very much appreciated the offer but I had my dog with me and I knew their pet policy: no pets in the cabins or bunkhouses. He told me that he would make an exception for me and allow Pongo to stay in the bunkhouse also. I was so grateful to have a warm place to stay that night so we could get a good night’s rest and be ready for the trial.
Saturday morning we woke up to brilliant blue skies and sunshine. It was going to be a fantastic day! We arrived at the State Fairgrounds, found Miss Sue who came down to support us (thank you, Miss Sue!), and signed in. The official briefed us and then we started our walk-throughs for that morning’s elements.
The first building we walked into, met us with a scattering of luggage, plastic containers, and metal tin containers. It looked like a bomb had gone off! Holy crap! The Container search was going to be our first element. I tried to reframe it in my mind: at least we’ll have the hardest element done first and we’ll know if we’re still in the running for titling or if it’s all for fun and practice.
The official then gave us even more of a shocker: we were going to do the two elements back-to-back. We would go right from Containers to the Interior search. Now, that was different and a little concerning as there would be a minimal mind-clearing break between elements. But, it worked with the flow of the building and we just had to roll with it.
We were released to our cars to get ready for the first dog. Pongo was number 3 in a line of 13 dogs. I pottied him and we took our place in line waiting for the go-ahead to enter the Container search. As we were waiting, I had a heart-to heart with Pongo; I let him know we were about to do Nose Work and “go work.” I looked him in the eyes (or least tried) and I told him how important it was that he leave those food distractions alone: leave it! PLEASE!!! I’m not too sure he was listening because as soon as I said, “we’re here to work” he was in work mode; his nose was searching for that odor and we hadn’t even stepped foot in the building yet. This was a good sign!
It was our turn. As soon as Pongo heard the “OK” to come into the building, he took off at Mach 3 for the 50 feet we had between the staging area and the building entrance. This dog was ready to work! We walked inside and I took a deep breath to calm my nerves. Pongo’s nose was already working. I gave him the “go find” command and off he went. He was all over the place-how was I going to keep track of what we had covered and what we hadn’t?!? I just had to trust my dog. He became interested in a plastic tub sitting on the ground but I could tell from his interest that it wasn’t source. Maybe, just maybe, Mama’s words of wisdom were running through his head when he smelled that sausage, egg, and potato container…”Pongo, leave the food; leave it!” He quickly moved on, making a wide swing around the outside of the search area and stuck his nose on a suitcase. This sign of interest was different. He sniffed the top of the suitcase putting his paws on it, knocking it over. He whipped around to where the zipper lay face up-“Alert!” I waited with bated breath for that single word of confirmation. “Yes.” I praised Pongo and gave him his cheese reward. I couldn’t stop telling him what a good boy he was and what a good job he did!
We had a very short wait before entering the Interior search area. It was two rooms: one with one hide and one with two hides. Pongo loves interior searches so I let him do his job. He found the first hide quickly and we moved on to the second room. He circled the room without really taking interest in any one place. I thought to myself, Alright, he’s just categorizing where they are so he can go back. He finally took some interest in a big, plastic tub full of rubber duckies and before I could stop him (he was off-leash), he dove into the tub, grabbed the hide and threw it at me. Thankfully, I had alerted while his head was still in the plastic tub. Oh, boy. That’s definitely a fault-throwing the hide at your handler. We had one more hide to find. I gave him the “go find” cue and he was off and running. He sniffed around the room for a few moments, which actually felt like an eternity, and hit on the bottom of a book rounder. I knew he had found source, so I called alert and immediately yelled, “Don’t eat it, Pongo!” He sat his butt down and got his reward. Whew! That was over but I was worried about that fault. You can only get 3 faults and still title.
Our next two elements, after a lunch break, were the Vehicle search going immediately into the Exterior search. We did our walk-through once again. The Vehicle search didn’t look too bad: a car, an ATV, and a tractor with a small trailer. Then, we walked into the Exterior search area…it wasn’t looking good. It was a huge barn with 3-4 stalls made out of metal. Our search area was the whole barn. What made it worse was the wind was blowing across the start line into the barn. The odor was going to blow straight out the exit! All we could do was try our best.
They reversed the order for the second set of elements. Pongo was now 11th in line. Pongo was ready to work but the anticipation and nervousness was killing me! When it finally was our turn to move to the staging area, Pongo was in full on work mode. His nose was working even though the Vehicle search area was a good 100 feet away. He was catching something and I just hoped it was revving up his drive to work. We entered the Vehicle search area, once again at full throttle. Behind the start line, I allowed Pongo a moment to focus on the task at hand. He was ready! I gave the command and he was off and running to the vehicle. He circled it once and then hit on the wheel-well closest to the start line. Alert! “Yes.” One more to find. Pongo worked his way toward the back of the tractor and inched his nose along the hitch that connected the trailer to the tractor. He alerted right in the middle. “Yes!”
One more element to go. Pongo was on a roll. The Exterior search was where we had timed out in our last trial. I had to believe that he could find the one and only hide in two and a half minutes. We crossed that start line and he immediately went to the right side of the barn. He became very interested in a metal U that was attached to the side of the barn. I could only guess that it was a place to tie up livestock. He wore a look of animal scent interest so I waited patiently to see what he would do.
He moved on down the wall and began nosing a beam where the actual source was hidden. I called “alert!” The judge responded with a “yes” and then a loud, “Don’t eat it, Pongo!” Well, that was embarrassing but I also had to laugh out loud wondering if the story of him throwing the hide at me had entertained the judges at lunch?
At the awards ceremony, I learned that we didn’t fault on him throwing the hide at me in the Interior search but we faulted in the Vehicle search?!? He had gone around the start line cone while I had gone through. I had no idea. I tried really hard not to kick myself for that but upon speaking to the judge, it sounded like Pongo had caught wind of the odor and bee-lined for it (on the vehicle) missing the start line. Unfortunately, that fault cost us second place overall but we got what we had come for: a Nose Work 2 Title. Pongo placed 3rd in the Interior Search (1:42.85) and 3rd in the Exterior Search (0:28.02). We were pronounced in the Interior and Exterior searches. His overall time was 3:35.50 (click here for complete trial results). We couldn’t be more proud of Pongo!
As you can see, the little stinker would NOT cooperate with Mama in having his picture taken with his ribbons.