Nose Work 2 Trial: A Learning Experience

With a deep breath and the mantra “Trust your dog” going through my mind, we step up to the Exterior search start line.  I bend down to Pongo telling him, “It’s time to do some Nose Work” and then asking him, “You ready to work?”  I knew even before we got to the start line, this dog was ready to work as he pulled me full throttle down to the search area from the staging area.  With the “Go find” command, we’re off.  He hits the first hide in probably less than 15 seconds.  ALERT!  I get the OK from the judge, reward him and we’re off again.  He checks out the area around the first hide and then moves to the other part of our L-shaped search area.  He’s on to something but can’t quite pinpoint where it’s coming from.  The wind was blowing through the area sending the odor down to the corner where our two search areas converge.  I knew there was no way they would have put the second hide so close to the first so I direct him back to where he was showing some interest.  Then I hear, “30 seconds.”  PANIC sets in.  I give one more, “Go find it, Pongo.”  He’s working so hard and I am just praying he find it in the few seconds we have left…


My heart drops.  I can’t believe we just timed out-something Pongo rarely does.  The judge shows me where the hide was so I can reward Pongo at source.  As soon as I saw where it was, I was kicking myself-it was the one place we passed by several times, without really getting down and dirty with the area.  It was a total handler error.  I was beyond disappointed.  I knew that we were out of contention for our Nose Work 2 title on the very first element.  As much as I tried to reframe it: well, the pressure is off rest of the day, I just couldn’t accept my mistake.  We’ve always let Pongo choose where to go when searching…

Lesson #1: Keep track of where we’ve been and where we haven’t.  Make sure we hit the whole area even if you have to give him some guidance.

I had some time to reset myself and get back into the game before we needed to head to the Interior search.  I needed to be on for Pongo despite my disappointment.  We get to the start line and he is ready and rearing to go.  I think the Interior searches are his favorite; mine, too.  “Pongo, go find” and he’s off.  He quickly moves to a table pushed up against something big and black (I’m not too sure what it was as I wasn’t paying attention to anything but Pongo).  He ducks under the table, nose working 50 miles a minute.  He goes back and forth along the table a couple of times and hits it-ALERT!  Yes!  Pongo gets his reward and is already off, with the “1 more. Go find it” command, before he probably even swallows his piece of cheese.  He starts checking the perimeter of the room working counter-clockwise.  He zips past the judge and videographer making his way back to the start line.  I see him starting to cross the start line, thinking maybe he’s caught the scent coming under the door from our second search room.  There’s no penalty going out of “bounds” but I didn’t want him focusing on that second room yet.  I remind him once more, “Go find it” and he swerves back into our search area.  He starts heading back toward the first hide but makes it only a couple feet before I get this beautiful head turn-he’s caught the odor.  He whips around, sniffs a trash can then starts to move along the baseboards. He stops about 6 inches from the start line and starts pawing and then sits-ALERT!  Yes! He’s found the second hide, stuffed into a small hole in the wall.  Good Boy, Pongo!

The judge asks me to hold Pongo as they open the door to the second search area.  The judge and videographer walk in to the tiny room and let me know I can move to the start line.  I get Pongo set-up, his nose already working and give him the command.  He runs into the room and immediately becomes interested in a table to our right.  He checks out on top of the table and moves down along the edge of the table.  That’s when I notice the tall garbage can under the table.  Oh, please don’t let him start dumpster diving!  Pongo is really working the garbage can and sticks his nose under the edge of the top lip and immediately sits.  This is where “trust your dog” comes into play…ALERT!  The judge acknowledges his correct find and he gets the biggest piece of cheese I had in my pocket. What a smart boy!  I was so proud of him!  He rocked the Interior search: 1:37.25!


We even earned a “Pronounced” on this element, which means the judge thought we demonstrated exceptional technique and teamwork.

Screen Shot 2013-05-05 at 11.54.04 AM

The success was bittersweet but after hearing how many people were not able to find all three hides on the Interior search, I knew we had something to be very proud of.  Pongo and one other dog were the only ones to find all three hides in the Interior search!

After a lunch break, our next element was the Container search.  This was the one element I was expecting some difficulty.  We had only one hide to find but it’s a mixture of boxes and luggage AND food and/or toy distractions.  I wasn’t worried if they had toy distractions because Pongo has shown no interest in the toy distractions in our practice runs.  It was the food I was worried about.  In practice, he was about 50/50 when it came to ignoring food distractions: sometimes he would totally leave it alone and other times, he was all over it, especially when cheese was used.

I reviewed in my mind what Pongo’s alerts on food look like compared to his source (odor) alerts: he’s all over the food hide and it’s almost impossible to get him off of it.  We can do this!  I just need to be observant to what he’s interested in, note which containers we’ve searched, and make sure we hit all the corner containers.  We get settled at the start line and I give Pongo the command.  He starts by checking out a few of the first containers we pass and then moves toward a corner container.  He checks out the interior facing side of the piece of luggage but then quickly moves on.  He moves toward the middle of the search area and I think to myself, “How am I going to keep track of what we’ve checked with all this randomness?!?”  Breathe, Jen breathe.  Pongo then beelines for a luggage container on the edge of the search area.  He sniffs very interested, paws at it lightly, then gives me this beautiful sit and looks at me with eyes saying, “This is it, Mama.  I found it.” ALERT!  It seems like forever before I heard the judge say, “No.”  What?!?  Did you not see the absolutely textbook, beautifully gentle alert my dog just gave???  You can’t tell me he gave me that kind of alert for a food distraction!  I was dumbfounded.  The judge walked us over to that corner luggage container he checked out in the beginning, took us to the exterior side of that piece of luggage and had me reward Pongo at the source down in the bottom corner where the wheel meets the bag.  And once I found out what he actually alerted on, all I could do was laugh to myself; I guess he was really in the mood for buttered, wheat toast that day!

Lesson #2: Work both the interior and the exterior of your perimeter containers.  

After talking with a friend who was videographer for the container search, she said that I didn’t give Pongo enough longline and it would have helped if I had walked to the exterior of the search area.  For some reason, my mind went to “boundaries” when we hit the edge of the search area.  There are no boundaries-you can walk out of the search area; I knew that.  I also knew to pay attention to corner containers–I just didn’t pay attention to the outside facing side of that corner container.  It was interesting because ALL the big dogs missed the container with the true hide and almost all of them alerted on the food containers (the other food distraction was Doritos, which we had practiced with and he ignored).

We had one more element to go: the vehicles.  We really have not practiced much on vehicles so I had no expectations for this element.  There were two hides we had to find on a total of four vehicles.  I knew we needed to be meticulous about this search and make sure we search every side of every single vehicle.  The plan was to let Pongo choose which vehicle to start with and then I would be sure we hit all sides before moving on to the next vehicle.  When I gave Pongo the “go find” command, he headed straight for a snow bank that was pushed up against a dumpster.  I couldn’t quite figure out if he was distracted, mentally tired or catching the scent over there.  I let him move that direction before reminding him of what he needed to do: go find it.  He got back on track and moved to the vehicle closest to the start line.  He sniffed the hub cap we came upon first and sat.  Really?!?  I wasn’t even too sure I saw where his nose touched before he sat so I prayed the judge wouldn’t ask me, “Where?” when I called ALERT!  Pongo had hit source correctly!  I rewarded him and it was time to move on.

We walked around another car and once again, he moved out onto a snow bank.  I again couldn’t tell if he was distracted or using it as a way to clear his nose and reset but I went with it.  After giving him another “go find it” command he quickly moved to a blue Toyota 4Runner.  I knew he was on odor but just had to work it out.  Once he gets scent of the odor, I trust he will work it until he is right on source and that is exactly what he did.  He hit source within seconds of catching the odor and gave me a strong alert by trying to get at the source with his mouth (VERY BAD habit we’re trying to break!).  I immediately called ALERT! in hopes he would sit down and stop trying to get to the source.  He did exactly what I was hoping and the judge gave us a “yes.”  Pongo rocked the vehicle search with a time of 1:02.56!  AND, we were also awarded a “Pronounced” on this element!  I was one proud Mama and I think Pongo was one proud boy, too.


We were DONE!  A sigh of relief and a big hug and kiss to Pongo for all of his hard work!  I knew we didn’t title but also knew that out of the fourteen dogs entered in the Nose Work 2 trial, no titles were going to be awarded that day.  I didn’t expect to place overall because of our one missed element (Exterior) and one false alert in the Containers element but I was hoping that he would place in the Interior and Vehicle individual elements.  Pongo did place in both of the elements: 1st Place Interior and 2nd Place Vehicles!


At the end of the day, I knew Pongo had done his very best and loved every minute of it.  It was an incredible learning experience for all of us participating in the Nose Work 2 trial for our first time, and it will only get us better prepared for the next Nose Work 2 trial in September.  Click here to view the complete trial results.

I absolutely love this sport, and love the bond and sense of teamwork it instills between us.  Congratulations to Pongo for a job well done!