I am done with NW3s
Iona and I competed in our second NW3 yesterday (11/24/18). I had been anxious about this trial all week long and really was stressed throughout the day. As usual, Iona was phenomenal. However, she was not perfect and we did not title. This experience really crystalized a feeling that I have been having for some time now: I am done with NW3s (and for that matter NACSW).
First off, I want to make a few things clear. NACSW is a phenomenal organization that is responsible for getting thousands of dogs into the sport. Without NACSW, Iona and I would never have even known about this sport! I owe them a lot. NACSW consistently has quality trial locations and judges. I also want to give a shout out to Agile Paws who put on the trial and all the volunteers who helped. It really was a tremendous trial. My real issue is the NW3 rules. For a team to pass their NW3, they need to be perfect all day. They run 6 searches: a container, a vehicle, an exterior, and 3 interior searches. All searches have an unknown number of hides. Interiors have between 0 and 3 while the others have between 1 and 3. Finally, you do not know the results of the day until all the teams have run every search at the end of the day. This is stressful. Titling is difficult because the margin for error is very small. As a result, few teams pass. There were two out of 35ish teams at yesterdays trial that titled. There is also a significant bottle neck effect. To move on to Elite trials (which have arguable more lenient rules), your dog must get three NW3 titles. As a result, there are long wait lists. We have entered close to 10 NW3s and have gotten into two of them. One both of our NW3 attempts, we missed one hide. Sigh.
I practice nosework with my dog because it is fun for her. I compete in the sport, because it is fun for me and because it is good to test my training. I learn from my mistakes, so that we can become a better team. I have competed in about 25 trials with NACSW, AKC, and USCSS. I am always a little nervous going in, however I am almost always able to change nervousness to excitement and then to happiness as Iona runs. But it feels different with these NW3s. Maybe it was the long waits to get into the trials, the mind games of not knowing how I did after the searches, or just the frustration of feeling like all of her great searches were wiped out by a small mistake. But NW3s are not fun.
Luckily, there are other alternatives. While the AKC program is new and the judges are still not super consistent everywhere. I can say that I have had great experiences with the clubs in my area. Furthermore, they are closer, held more often and there are no wait lists. Most importantly, you do not need to Q in every element to title. Each element is separate. This is great because it really lowers the stress levels. If yesterday had been an AKC trial, I would be walking away with three legs. Finally, NACSW is very strict about keeping dogs in their kennels/cars throughout the trial, they only leave for potty breaks. For an active dog like Iona, this is very difficult. At the AKC trials, Iona and I go for long walks after she searches, and hang out by the car. We even visit with friends. I know that there are a lot of teams stuck in NW3 limbo, to those teams, I would recommend giving AKC a shot. All you have to lose is your vehicle search!
I should probably give you the low down on the trial. This was held at a church. It was put on by Agile Paws. The club, the CO, the judges, and the volunteers were awesome. It was a nice location and the temperature was cool with somewhat overcast skies all day. Slight breeze. There was a really tight parking lot and the potty area was right behind the cars. The dogs were not allowed to leave the parking area. Iona was 8th in the running order. She was eager to search but not overaroused. She really was phenomenal.
The first search was an interior with three hides. I was so thankful that Iona found all three quickly. What a relief. This was a large room with a small reception area, tables and chairs, and a cubicle. Lots of stuff. I wasn’t too concerned about this search area. My strategy was to treat each little area as a separate area and make sure that they were clear. Iona picked up odor near the start line but then left it to push all the way to the back of the search area. I let her go and after a few looping passes, she found her first hide in the back of the room on the lip of a trash can. The then returned to the threshold which was in a filing cabinet near the threshold. The third hide was under a bookshelf along the wall in between the two. The judge said that if teams worked the area linearly, dogs missed that hide. No problem there. Iona does not do linearly.
Second search was exterior. I felt that this would be the most difficult search. It was a large outdoor area with tables and chairs (the waffle kind that let air through). 4 large columns with a roof thingy, a entrance way and some plants, hose bib, and chairs near it. I started Iona towards the wall where she quickly found a hide under a chair. Then she just worked pooling odor for the next 2 min and 30 seconds. I correctly figured out that this was from the first hide. Proud of myself on that one, however, I felt that there might have been another hide and did not know if I made the correct call till the end of the day.
Next up was vehicles. Three cars, one in front of another, and the third off to the side. Iona fond a hide on the license plant of the first car in about 10 seconds and then wanted to search the rest of the cars in the parking lot. I made her search the other two again and again until time ran out.
The following two rooms were very small and Iona found a single hide in each of them. At this point I was thinking that something was up. Single hides for the last four searches? We must have missed a hide somewhere.
Our last search was containers. They were different boxes in a big loop around some children’s play equipment. Again, I had to kinda muscle Iona to the boxes as she wanted to search the whole area. However she found the two hides and then…. falsed on a single tortilla chip in a box. This is pretty weird because we have been training this A LOT. But….she does love tortilla chips. I think if I had waited another beat, she might have moved along, however she was in such a grove up to that point that I was just trusting her fully. Oh well.