From the Merriam-Webster dictionary, journey is defined as:
1. an act or instance of traveling from one place to another: trip. 2. chiefly dialect: a day’s travel. 3. Something suggesting travel or passage from one place to another.
Now that I have given you the definition of journey, let’s explore why so many of us, students and instructors alike, refer to K9 nose work as a journey. We started playing the game of nose work for different reasons.
We had an elderly dog that was retired from another sport and wanted to keep his brain engaged. We had a young dog that was getting into trouble at home and wanted to give that dog an appropriate outlet. We had a dog reactive dog that was not welcome in other sports. We had a sensitive dog that was fearful and was looking for a way to give him courage. As you can see, I can’t possibly list all the reasons for starting nose work but there are many reasons why you would.
The first goal of K9 Nose Work is to give the dog permission to hunt. By the third or fourth week of Nose Work class, many dogs are dragging their owner into the search area to find their reward. For the owner, this could be the first time they witness an independent hunting dog. The owner is suddenly hooked on the game. Some want to move to odor and begin thinking of the competition side of the sport. As the instructor, I would tell the student, “Enjoy the journey - don’t be in a rush.” The student may be left to wonder what that means.
A large part of the journey of nose work is the learning of a new language.... the language of dog. The skill of reading dog will allow you to tell the difference between your dog sniffing the aromatic aroma of another dog’s drool or if your dog is sniffing for the target odor. An analogy I enjoy using is: if I were to drop you off at the shores of France, I would not expect you to speak French in 6 weeks but by 13 weeks you may have started to learn a few phrases. In a year's time, I would expect that your French would be much improved, however, would you sound like a Parisian? When learning a new language our fluency increases by the amount of time spent practicing. I bet you are much improved at the three year mark versus the one year mark.
“Enjoy the journey” means that I want you to savor the moment when you recognize that your dog is in odor. I want you to appreciate when your dog decides not to lift their leg to mark on a tree but instead finds the invisible line of odor to the hide. I want you to cheer your fellow student’s shy dog when they manage to walk on a slippery floor.
“Enjoy the journey” means Nose Work is more complex than just food in a box. It is a journey for the human to experience. It is not about competition; that is strictly for the human. It is about fully understanding the ability of your dog without any interference from the human half. It is about giving over control to the dog and appreciating that your dog does not need you as much as you think they do. Each dog team will have its own challenges giving them their own unique journey.
For me, K9 Nose Work has opened a realm into the world of the dog and how their senses and abilities work together to form the amazing creature in front of me. It has deepened my relationship with my dogs to the point that I truly understand what they want. After 7 years of playing the nose work game, I am still learning new concepts and still marvel at my dogs’ abilities. Before nose work, I demanded and they needed to listen. Now, I ask and they choose to comply because I never ask more than they are capable of giving. It makes me humble and grateful that I have been given this opportunity to understand an animal on their terms. The Nose Work journey is about accepting who the dog is with no attached labels.
Welcome to the ride!