My Jaunty Gentleman

Success! Having made it through all the walking Rhonda’s nose work trial had entailed on Saturday, on both even and uneven ground, I had crawled into bed tired to the bone, but exuberant.

My total steps for trial day #1.

Sunday morning, day two of the 4-day K9 Nose Work trial, arrived too early for me. Laying in bed with eyes closed, I took stock of how I felt.

A little achy … that’s to be expected and wasn’t all that bad. Oh, and the heaviness I felt in my knee turned out to be the ice pack I’d fallen asleep still wearing.

Relief and joy bubbled to the surface when I swung out of bed and felt only minimal stiffness. Yesterday’s excursion hadn’t resulted in adverse consequences. Yay!

With a smile, I turned the tea kettle on for coffee, dressed myself and leashed the dogs for their morning potty walk.

Today would be Baxter’s day to play! I had been trying to mentally prepare myself to scratch Baxter if I’d awoken with a swollen and painful knee, and was so grateful this wasn’t the case. I wanted our old boy to have his day to shine.

After enjoying morning chit-chat with co-competitors, Baxter and I quickly found ourselves engulfed in our day’s searches. He so enjoys every aspect of this game.

Side note: I tend to forget, not all my followers are avid scent work enthusiasts. For those of you who aren’t, here’s the scoop.

Search areas can be a group of vehicles, an outside area, a whole room or part of one, or a pattern of containers, with orange cones showing the perimeters.

A “hide” is a small tin or plastic tube, etc. containing 2-3 tiny Q-tips. The Q-tips have been lightly scented with any combination of birch, anise and/or clove essential oils and are well hidden within the search area. There is definitely not enough odor for the handler to smell – it’s all up to the dog.

Our dogs are trained to find any hide in the search area with those source odors, ignoring any food or toy distractors the judge may have also placed in the search zone.

12-year-old Baxter was his old, tail-wagging, jaunty self, confidently trotting through search after search with bright eyes and a quick paw. Tap! It’s right here! Tap! Tap! Hurry up, Mom. Pay me!

Not to be outdone by his talented younger “sister”, Baxter was making short work out of each search area, finding hides promptly, impeded only by Mom, who was slow to call Finish, even though Baxter knew this game well and was pretty darn clear about telling Mom there was nothing more to find. 😉

Baxter has been at this game for many years, and thankfully seldom “false alerts” out of frustration due to his handler keeping him in a search area too long. Even after all these years partnered with such a thorough and efficient hunter, Mom still sometimes wonders, “We only found one … maybe there’s more?”. Baxter has been known to literally roll his eyes and walk out of the search zone in disgust.

We don’t always earn placement ribbons in NW3, which are competitively based on time, but Baxter usually Q’s (earns a qualifying score).

However, Baxter is only as good as he can be within the confines of the length of his leash.

Our NW3 Exterior search was a fairly large space, with picnic tables, fire-pits and other objects. As usual, the search was on leash. Baxter promptly found two hides (remember, there can be from 0-3 hides in any search area).

Thinking we’d covered the whole area (it really doesn’t pay for me to think during a search 🙄), I called Finish and headed out of the search zone. As we were leaving, Baxter pulls me towards a trash container near the far upwind corner of the search area. “Wait”, says he. “You haven’t paid me for THIS one!”

An honest dog. Too bad I had already called “Finish”. 🫤 My bad.

So, my immature calling of Finish in this one search cost Baxter his NW3-Elite title (the highest K9 Nose Work title you can earn in Alaska, since we don’t yet offer Elite trials).

On the bright side, with only one fault for the entire day (six searches); Baxter did earn one “leg” towards this long-elusive title. So next year, if we either manage a perfect score and title outright, or finish another NW3 trial with just one fault – he might just reach this pinnacle.

Either way, fun was had, my knee didn’t seem much the worse for wear and the weather was once again gorgeous. Note to self; apply sunscreen more often! A sunny day in May in Alaska is intense!

Finding My Balance

Arriving at a dog sports event the evening before it starts puts a smile on my face, gets my heart pumping and engenders an almost giddy feeling of anticipation.

It also gives me time to settle myself and the dogs in, take a walk to accustom the dogs to the new environment, and get a good night’s sleep before the activities begin early the next morning.

This time the emotions were heightened by the mere fact of my being here at all. Walking the dogs in the grass behind the motor home took on a new meaning this year. Wow, look at me heel-toe walking right along!

I had pulled “Roada” (the RV, for those of you who are new here) into the nearly empty, tree-bordered parking lot of the small Anchorage area High School soon to host the event and parked temporarily in a shady section. There were a few cars and one other RV I recognized already on site. I knew from experience that someone would pop out to direct me to the competitor parking area.

Once settled where it turned out we competitors belonged, behind the main building, I managed to feed myself and two excited dachshunds as I watched several other RVs pull in to park. Oh! It was good to be back amongst friends.

I absolutely love being able to overnight at a trial location with my motor home. There is no frantic early morning packing, worry about forgotten gear or treats or a tiring early morning drive. I’m able to wake up, make coffee, walk the dogs – and be bright-eyed and ready for the 8:15 am check-in.

Of course, this time there was still the minor stress of wondering if my new knee was up for this, but honestly, I had high expectations. I was walking fairly well, with a steady stride and almost no pain, at least on even, level surfaces. Uneven ground was a little more iffy, but my knee wouldn’t dare fail me after all my hard work, right? My retired GP’s parting words came flooding back to me … “Just don’t fall down.”

Saturday morning was gorgeous; you couldn’t ask for a prettier trial day. The sky was a clear blue, the air crisp and cool and the dogs were in high spirits – ready to play. I walked each of them, if not with a spring in my step, at least with confidence.

Saturday was Rhonda’s trial day, so Baxter was free to chill in the RV, watching the action from his favorite perch in the plush dog bed on the passenger seat. Of course, he had plenty of opportunities for potty walks and attention between Ronni’s searches.

Ronni rocked her searches, finding every single hide in her Exterior, Vehicle, Container and Interior searches – all six of them.

Unfortunately, she didn’t quite know when to quit (she and Mom had not put any practice in all winter on what to do in a search with NO hides). Yep, in NW3, any one of the six searches has the possibility of being a “clear search”, one without any hides at all.

So, there we were, at just the 3rd search of the day. We entered a school room, which Ronni quickly and efficiently searched, just as she had another room just minutes before where she had found and been rewarded for two great finds! She searched and searched, sure she would find something for which to be rewarded. When she came up empty, clearly not understanding this part of the game, she just buckled down and tried harder – sniffing each and every table leg from floor to table.

Had Mom been paying closer attention, she might have noticed this change of behavior and thought, “Ah hah! This good little hunter is not finding anything – maybe I should call Finish.” Nope, Mom does the exact opposite, and calls “Alert” on a table leg Ronni was hoping would result in a treat. Not a reward, mind you, since there was no hide to find – but she really wanted that treat.

Mom did this not once, but twice – on two different table legs. Sigh. This resulted in two faults in that one search, and was the sole reason Rhonda didn’t earn a NW3 title that day. What a GOOD hunter! She just needs a better handler. 🤷🏼‍♀️

It’s a bit of an art, and takes a degree of communication and trust, to know when your dog is telling you there is absolutely nothing to find and we should call “Finish” and leave. Complicating matters at this advanced level; each and every search has anywhere between 0-3 hides and that’s all you are told. 😬

Ronni and I will work on our communications. Maybe next time, I’ll understand her when she all but shrugs her shoulders and says, “I don’t know what to do – there’s nothing here!”.

At the end of the day, it’s all about having fun with your dog(s). And lots of good, heel/toe walking!

Tired dog, happy life. 😉

Sunshine and Perseverance

Mid May in Alaska seldom starts the day with t-shirt weather. Friday, May 20th, was no exception, dawning clear, sunny and a chilly 43°. Temps were forecast to be in the 60s, but that was hours away.

My mood that morning was a mix of emotions as I sat patiently waiting for my turn to have brand new tires installed on my vehicle at our local tire shop.

I’d put off getting new tires earlier in the month because of the expense, but also because I was unsure if I was going to hit my goal of being physically ready to attend our first K9 Nose Work trial, scheduled to begin the following day.

Ready or not, it seems I was going. On the bright side, waiting for an early morning tire install in a motor home meant I could make coffee, scramble a couple eggs and even use the bathroom – all without exiting my warm vehicle.

Once I had new treads, I returned home to grab the dogs, fill my fresh water tank … and worry a little more about the wisdom of my decision.

Almost exactly four months post op from a total knee replacement (TKR), I was heading out, not just to Anchorage for a four-day K9 Nose Work trial with two dachshunds, but also on a three week road trip. The aforementioned K9 Nose Work trial was my version of dipping my toes in the water.

More aptly, I was throwing my partially-healed self right into the deep end. Would I sink or swim? Was it too soon? This date, this trial, had been my motivation to suck it up and work through the difficult process of knee replacement recovery. Was I being overly optimistic?

Raindrops and Eagle Songs

I awoke at 7:00 am to the joyful dance of a soft, steady rain on the roof of my motor home, accompanied by the mystical, musical sound of a pair of bald eagles in the tall spruce trees on either side of my campsite.

If you have never had the privilege of listening to these majestic birds calling back and forth to each other in the wild, you should put it on your “Bucket List”. It’s an enchanting sound, and not a little intimidating when you are walking a small dog on a leash. A very short leash!

I’ve been watching and listening to this pair off and on for over a week. I’m not sure if they have a nest in the area, or if the Kenai River is just good hunting grounds. Needless to say, Ronni has not been on her favored 15’ Flexi-leash at this campground.

I highly recommend you watch and listen to this entire video clip. Bald eagles have an entire vocabulary, not just one or two calls. Quite amazing.

Living, even temporarily, pretty much “between the wings” of a pair of these feathered icons, I was impressed by the many and varied vocalizations. I’ve previously heard the piercing single-note of an eagle flying overhead, but this was my first experience of eagles conversing.

I wonder if they were exchanging pleasantries, or discussing the morning meal options?

THIS is not on the menu!
%d bloggers like this: