Ep. 20: A Summit Trial Experience

Jul 6, 2019

Summit trials. One of the most challenging trialing experiences offered in all Scent Work competitions. A 2-day competition featuring expansive search areas, difficult hides and odor problems, and a system where only those competitors who are in the top 20% will earn a title.

In this podcast episode, we speak with Scent Work University Instructor, Natalie McManus, to hear about her Summit Trial experience, what she thinks dogs and handlers need to do prepare to successfully compete at this level as well as some pros and cons of this type of trial. There is a TON of information packed into this short podcast episode that competitors at ALL levels would benefit from, so be sure to check it out!


  • Dianna L. Santos
  • Natalie McManus


Dianna Santos: Welcome to the All About Scent Work podcast. This is where we talk about all things that work that can include training tips, behind the scenes, look at what your instructor or trial official may be going through and much more. In this episode we're going to be speaking with Scent Work University instructor Natalie McManus as she describes her summit trial experience. Before we start diving into the podcast, let me have Natalie do a very quick introduction of herself, where she can tell us all about her training experience in Scent Work overall.

Natalie McManus: Thank you Diana. I'm delighted to be here on the podcast and looking forward to telling you guys about the summit trial that I did recently. It was my first one and it was very different and interesting. So thanks Diana for having me on.

Dianna Santos: We are delighted to have you. This is something that we're looking forward to be doing more in the future just to allow people to have better understandings about how different things work, depending on where it is you may be trialing and different experiences people may have. So just so people have a little bit of an understanding about your background, how long have you actually been competing in NACSW?

Natalie McManus: So I started nose work in, it was either June or July of 2009 and then I did my first NW one in May, 2010. So it's been just over nine years since my first trial and I've trialed six dogs in that nine years since then.

Dianna Santos: So when you're saying that you have all this experience in trialing in NACSW, you've trialed a number of different dogs, were they all different types of dogs? Were they different types of drive or background or breeds?

Natalie McManus: There's been a little bit of a variety, although they've all tended to be fairly high drive. My first nose work dog was a Border Collie-Aussie mix. She was very reactive and she's why I got into nose work, mostly that reactivity, giving her an outlet. But I've also trialed two Border Collies, one of my own and one of Michael's. Belgian Malinois who's my youngest now and a Pomeranian belonging to a friend of mine. So very different size and type, but very high drive still. Then the last one is a Duck Toller who belonged to a friend as well.

Dianna Santos: So it's really exciting that you have this big variety, even though the drives may be the same. All very different sounding dogs.

Natalie McManus: Yes. Well it was really fun to compete with the Pomeranian because I could just pick him up which I can't do with my own dog.

Dianna Santos: And that is the plague of anyone who has a larger dog. Is there are times you're like, if I could just pick you up, it'd be so nice.

Natalie McManus: Yes, they were late in calling us to one of our searches and so they were kind of asking me to hurry and it was a bit of a walk. I didn't want to make him run the whole way and then do a search. It was hot outside. So I picked him up and ran him over there.

Dianna Santos: That's a really good point. So I think that the one great thing about these podcasts is that they are pretty fluid with how we talk about things. We may have a general topic, even when I'm doing it by myself, sometimes you just talking to me like, wow, that's a really interesting thing to think about. Is when you're all doing trialing with your dogs, definitely keep in mind the fact that what they're doing before each of their searches, even if it's going from search A to search B, that's still calories and energy that they have to expend.

Natalie McManus: Yeah, super important. Especially when it's really hot or really cold or any kind of extreme. But even regular trials, although in southern California where I've done the majority of my trialing, it's pretty much always hot when we're trialing. Even with my Border Collie-Aussie, she hates being picked up. She's 32 pounds so I can pick her up. But the only times I subject her to that are it's really hot and we have to walk over asphalt and it's just not going to be good for her. But she glares at me the whole time.

Dianna Santos: I mean like, "You know what, I did not appreciate you doing that. I'm a big dog. I can do it all by myself." And you're like, "No, I need to do this for your safety."

Natalie McManus: Yes, exactly. Unfortunately I can't tell her that she's going to burn her pads off she insist on walking.

Dianna Santos: So I think that actually leads us into our next part of this, is what are the kinds of considerations just on that field alone as far as making sure you're keeping your dog safe and all the different things you have to think about? Does summit trials demand that you have an even greater appreciation for that? Because we see some of the videos online, you're like, my God. So what is it that you have to consider when you're thinking of doing a summit trial?

Natalie McManus: Yeah, absolutely. So just to start out, it's two days. So maybe you and your dog could handle being out in the heat or the really cold for one day. But are you both going to handle that well for two days? And people definitely need to be thinking about whether acclamation as well as their crate and car set up and their own setup. There were a few people at the ... So at the summit trial, which was up in Minnesota, it's not winter anymore right now, this was about a month ago or so that I went up there. But it was about between 30 and 40 degrees during the day, the whole time and either raining or snowing pretty much the whole all day, both days. There were a few people who didn't have remotely appropriate clothing and maybe hadn't brought as much as they would have normally. So that becomes really taxing over two days.

Natalie McManus: I think even for myself, I know I was super tired by the second half of the second day and my dog seemed to handle it quite well because she's a lunatic. But that was something I needed to prepare more myself, both physically and mentally for the stress of two days. Then really protecting her rest time. So I do the bare minimum of walking my dog around when they're not out for a search. I potty them and I make sure they have water and maybe they get a snack at some point during the day. But other than that I let them rest in their crate. But I've also spent time building the love of the crate and the ability to settle, which I know that not all dogs have when they first start nose work. But I think that's one of the most important components of enabling the dog to rest well in their crate and conserving their energy for those searches that especially at elite and summit are going to be big and long and draining.

Dianna Santos: That's actually a really good point and I think it's something that people don't really consider. We're always so concentrated on having the dog find the hide, but there's all the [inaudible 00:06:37] things that go into it. I think that piece that you just talked about of knowing there's a finite amount of mental and physical energy this dog is going to be able to expend. And that you're trying to protect that. Then also ensuring that you have those rest times, but that you as a handler, that also applies to you. So could you go into a little bit more detail about what it was like at the summit trial that you went to? You can go into as much detail as you like, but I think just to give people a picture, how many search areas, how many hides, how far apart they were, how long the day was. Feel free to go into as much detail as you like.

Natalie McManus: Great. So yes, it was at a fairgrounds in Barnum Minnesota out kind of in the middle of nowhere. We had four searches each day, but we did the walkthroughs for all eight searches at the beginning of day one. So that was quite different for me because then I'm having to kind of keep it straight in my head of, "Okay, this is what is relevant for today. This is what is relevant for tomorrow." And I don't even normally document my walkthroughs very much. I don't draw things out or take pictures or videos normally. But I did because it was so much bigger than normal. We had mostly big barn type searches. There was a bit of variation. Some of them were more barn like, some of them were more kind of really indoor feeling. One we actually had to drive to, I was sort of on the other side of the fairgrounds and so it would have taken us all a really long time to walk over there.

Natalie McManus: And the weather was nasty like I mentioned. So they had us drive kind of two at a time over there. The first two searches on the first day were six minutes. So that was quite a lot of time to start out. The one I ran second was the one we had to drive to is three barns back to back, and you had the time in between the barns was also in play. I think you may have even posted a walkthrough video of that back at the time. The first barn had no hides, but we didn't know any information for this search at all. So First barn had hides, second barn had one hide and the third barn had two. So by the time you're done and there's pretty much no way to not use basically all your time to search the barns and get over to each one.

Natalie McManus: I think it left a lot of us feeling like we didn't cover the search area as much as we wanted to and we would have liked to kind of feel more confident in our decision to move on each time. I ended up missing one hide in the final barn but I didn't call any falses which I was really happy about in that search. Then the search I ran first that day was also a six minute search, it was bleachers on one side and a sort of long strip of grass on the other and it was actively raining when most of us went. Bleachers are already kind of tough to walk on sometimes and these were also wet even though there was an overhang over them. So I took them pretty slow. My dog was very nice to me, which was great.

Natalie McManus: That's another thing to think about. You may be walking in areas that are not as comfortable to you and is your dog willing to kind of help you out or be nice or are they going to drag you to the top of the bleachers and back down again? And just thinking of ways to keep both of you safe in situations like that if you do have a really intense dog. So then in the afternoon we had two more searches. The first one I ran we knew that there was a range of one to four and we had four minutes and it was a large long barn of horse stalls. So it had kind of two sets of stalls and two sets of stalls with an aisle down the middle and then both ends were also in play. There were only two hides in that search and they were both quite close to the start area.

Natalie McManus: So that was a bit challenging for a lot of people because you had this huge area and some of the stalls were opening and so you want to check all those out. But then you were only finding and seeing odor changes of behavior right at the beginning there. So a lot of that is just mentally trusting that your dog is doing their job and that you don't have to cover things over and over again when it's big areas and not very many hides. Then the last search that I ran that day was a really big building that I don't know if they mostly use it for storage or what, but it was kind of separated into two different main rooms, quite long, probably a couple thousand square feet or so.

Natalie McManus: Then some side skinny like storage areas or something. That you could get into parts of them, but then you couldn't get through the whole space and there'd be another door a little ways down and you could get in there. So kind of interesting from a handling perspective, but a really fun thing about that search is that the CO gave us a potential bonus if we stayed in the start box that they had instead of a start line, it was a start box. If you stayed in there while your dog found their first hide and you called the alert, you got a one hide bonus which equals five points, which was very nice to have. I think the majority of people ended up getting that although not everyone. In that search we knew it was a range of two to six hides and we had five minutes. It ended up that there were five hides plus you could get the bonus.

Dianna Santos: So that's crazy. Well, like the kind of things that you're talking about, I mean for really intensive challenging searches. I mean, just the times alone are about three times as much as what you would normally see at a trial. I think what a lot of people who are first starting out just always equate amount of space with number of hides. But what you're describing is that these are very large areas, but they don't actually have that many hides at all. So how would you suggest that people deal with that dichotomy of how, "Okay, great.

Dianna Santos: I listened to Natalie's podcast. It sounds like something interesting. I may have to train for the next umpteenth years in order to get there. But I'm excited and I want to be able to do it." So what is it that people should do in order to prepare both themselves and their dogs to maybe ultimately do as summit trial? How is it that someone is supposed to, at the very least, just from the time standpoint, set up a training exercise where their dogs could potentially be in a space working out a six minute search, but there's not 30 hides?

Natalie McManus: Yeah, so that is a great question and it's something that a lot of people are struggling with moving from elite to summit, especially those have been doing elite for a while and they've gotten really used to having most of their searches contain a lot of hides. So probably the majority, at least for a couple of years, had been maybe six to nine hides per search and not usually as big as these summit searches. So people have been coming into summit with the expectation of a lot of hides. Or just getting used to like within themselves that reinforcement of the judge saying yes and getting to pay their dog and saying yes to getting to pay the dog over and over and over again throughout these searches. And not having a lot of kind of what you might think of as downtime where you're just searching and not having anybody let you know if you're doing well or not, or if you're getting it right or getting it wrong.

Natalie McManus: I think we're also probably reinforced by just seeing those odor changes of behavior in our dog too. Because we've learned what those mean and they lead to that, yes. So from a handler perspective, that's really hard. Even if the dog is okay with it, which I'll talk in a second about some exercises you can do. But that's one thing that I noticed amongst my fellow competitors, because this was my first summit trial. Also I've been kind of watching trials for a while both elite and summit and noticing that they don't all contain a lot of hides. They moved away from that to some extent in the elite and they definitely aren't doing that in summit where it's just gobs of hides the whole time. So I was a little bit prepared that I might either have no hides in some searches or very few.

Natalie McManus: So I was able to, not perfectly but able to kind of help myself mentally of not getting worried about that. But I was talking to some people who had done more summit trials than I have, and some of them were saying that they just don't enjoy that feeling of not getting the odor, odor, odor, yes, yes, yes, over and over again. So I think that that's something that you can prepare yourself in early on. That searching can be fun and exciting for both you and the dog for searching sake as much as for finding odor sake. So like if you're an explosives or narcotics handler, you're not like, "Oh, let's go find something. I want to find 10 stashes or 10 bombs today." You kind of want to find as little as possible. You want to do your job and find what's there, but you don't want to find tons of stuff. People also who do environmental detection and things like that, they're often not finding thing after thing. They're searching potentially acres without finding something or finding very little.

Natalie McManus: But that's not the way we usually set up our classes or our practices or trials. It feels like there are a lot of hides all the time and the hide finding is our goal. Which it is because we have to find the hides and usually do that perfectly in order to Q or title. But I think finding excitement and joy and fun with your dog in searching the area, in clearing the area as much as finding hides makes a really big difference. And that attitude in us makes a big difference in the dog too. If we're bummed out when we go for 30 seconds or a minute and a half without finding anything. Our dog thinks they're doing something wrong or that something's going on. So I think attitude is really important there and setting kind of correct expectations depending on, what kind of trial you're going to.

Natalie McManus: Of course no one going into an NW one would be disappointed that there weren't three hides because they know that there's only one. But the different sorts of trials we get into kind of set our expectations. So from an exercise perspective, I like to work on things where I'm stretching how long my dog can work without finding a hide. And depending on the level of the dog, when I first do this, I might start a little shorter. But when I first started doing it with my Border Collie, I think she had been in NW three already. But we searched a house for like I think four or five minutes before I started setting hides. I [inaudible 00:17:53] had some on me and if she was searching ahead of me, I started just sort of setting them down behind me or throwing them behind me. Then we worked around the area and then she got them.

Natalie McManus: So she was getting used to, "I searched really hard and for a long time, but that doesn't mean I should give up because I still could find something." Or if you have a really large area, most of us don't have access to really large areas where we can just set one thing way, way in the back, which is why I tend to do blank first and then hide something. And if you have an instructor or training partner, you can have them kind of surreptitiously fitting things down for you. And you could start with just 30 seconds or a minute if your dog doesn't have experience with working for longer. But I definitely think it's worth stretching it to six, seven, eight, 10 minutes because it doesn't really feel that long once you're doing it.

Natalie McManus: But if you've never done it, if the dogs are used to finding a hide and getting paid within 30 seconds, it's going to really freak them out that they haven't. That's when you will often get false alerts. But if you have a really big area and you can set one thing way, way in the back and work the whole area, not like you know, that there's only one in the back, but like you really think that there could be something there and you need to cover your search area thoroughly, if you have the luxury of access to large spaces.

Dianna Santos: That's a really excellent exercise that you just outlined as far as introducing dogs to the concepts of working blank and then being able to introduce some hides even after they've searched an area. But again, because I know that people at different levels are going to be listening to this and I'm always worried as an instructor that we're going to be like, "Oh great. I just started my dog on odor yesterday, so now I'm going to be doing what Natalie told me." First of all, when should people be introducing this kind of concept and then how often should they be doing it in their training?

Natalie McManus: So I wouldn't necessarily do it like first week or even first month on odor, but I might, if I have an extended primary stage with my dog, which I think can be really worthwhile for most dogs. I might do this with a dog, 30 seconds of blank or a minute and we have something set out there. When there's kind of less on the line because you're not worried about screwing up their response to odor and searching for food is just so, so natural. But I again, I would not do that first weak or couple weeks that I am starting a dog on primary either I would want to really build their expectation and foundation of hunting and going out into the environment and searching for themselves. I wouldn't do it with a dog that still looking to me for answers. But then once the dog's on odor, I think it's worthwhile to work on blank even before NW one.

Natalie McManus: Because even though your searches, you'll have odor in all of your searches. You're going have potentially sections of your searches that have no odor and the dog needs to have the ability to work through that and get to odor. Like say the CEO set a really nice vehicle search where the odor was blowing straight to the start line. Then before you come the wind switches and it's now going exactly the opposite direction. So your dog needs to say, even though I don't smell anything now, I'm going to trust that there's something out there and utilize my love of hunting and go out and do my job and find it once they get into the right area. It can also help the handlers who read ... People say, "I can't read my dog on odor." Well most of the time they can, but they have a hard time reading when it's not odor. So that's really important too.

Natalie McManus: So I think, I'm not going to throw it in every week or maybe even every month. But I think every once in awhile, even at NW one and two, it's worth having, it doesn't have to be really long. Could be 30 second to two to three minutes, just depending on the dog and the situation. And if you have somebody who can be their timing with you and giving you feedback, because it's really easy if you're training on your own to not feel time passing correctly and either get worried that anything, get worried that the dog hasn't found it, get worried that the dog is bored or frustrated. If you're the only one there staring at your dog, that can be really hard to interpret. So if you have someone who can help kind of talk you through it, that's really helpful.

Dianna Santos: That's great. I mean I think that's a really helpful outline for something that people could do. Obviously if they're interested in doing summit, having a dog, being able to work these giant spaces where there may not be any order at all or there may just be such little amount of it as far as number of hides. That is definitely something that I think is missing from a lot of training programs. Because we do are constantly trying to get the dogs to hunt more and that usually the way that we think of it equates to hunting for more odor. So the way that you described I think is really important and that I think ties into the next thing that I wanted to talk about was in addition to being concerned about overall endurance.

Dianna Santos: So being able to deal with the weather, being able to deal with the mentality of going through this two day really stretching event. I mean summit is supposed to be like what the name says. The absolute top like hardest thing that you can ever do. So in addition to doing endurance, in addition to having your dog being able to work these giant spaces that may or may not have the large number of hides in them, are there any other skills in particular that you would think that dogs or handlers definitely would need to perfect or work on if they were interested in going toward the summit experience?

Natalie McManus: Yeah. Well, I think from a high perspective, once you're past NW three, so like elite and summit hides tend to be relatively similar with the individual hides themselves, even if the quantity over the whole search is different. So making sure that your dog can find hides that are quite close together, like just a couple of feet away from each other, between maybe eight and 24 inches. Dogs tend to not be fully paying attention again, when they've been rewarded and they start searching again. And so once you're past NW three, I think that's an important skill to kind of solidify with them of making sure they're searching again immediately and understanding that there could be hides really close together, because the dogs search in the way that is the most efficient and reinforcing. So if they never have hides closer than like three to five feet apart, they're just not going to search that area as carefully because it's not calorically efficient.

Natalie McManus: Then also at elite and summit, making sure that they fluently can work very elevated hides. That's not something I like to work a lot because I don't like to do a lot of inaccessible because I want my dog to always be driving to source and I don't want to teach them through doing inaccessible over and over and over again. That further away is fine. Maybe today I'm paying you a foot away from odor and then tomorrow I'm paying you five feet from odor. But then sometimes I want you to get all the way there. I think that's a little bit of an unfair thing to communicate to the dog for doing a significant amount of inaccessible. Or even trialing a lot because the dogs tend to not be necessarily sourcing and we're not paying the same way we would if we're trialing over and over again. So I would work on significant elevation and more accessible.

Natalie McManus: So they're fluent in the concept, but then not doing it a lot, maybe once a month or something like that. Maybe a little bit more when I'm kind of cementing the idea, but then going back to accessible hides, they don't have to be easy hides, but I want my dog to get all the way to source. Then also when I am working significant elevation, I like to set things up so that my dog can actually get to the hide. So maybe I have a staircase or something I can use so they can work the odor picture of significant elevation from the ground, but then they can problem solve that up the stairs and still get to the source and still get paid for that. Where we used to live, we had a barn with hay in it for our sheep. Sometimes they would be kind of stair-step staggered and when they ended up like that, I would put a hide on the ceiling or the top where the wall and ceiling meet.

Natalie McManus: And have my dogs work that, that they could get up those hay bales and source the hides. And you have to always be looking at your dog's athleticism and mobility and safety and what can they really do. Don't set things up in a way that is going to be unsafe for them. But I also want them to be doing the best they can in searching. Then for sort of more regular inaccessibles, I'll sometimes set up amaze so that they can work the odor from the outside, but then they can also problem solve and work their way in closer and closer and get to the hides. So they get to see the problem kind of both ways.

Natalie McManus: Then in trial, I just have to call it if my dog has said they've checked kind of every angle that makes sense, they've bracketed this hide and it doesn't look like they can get any closer. Then I just need to call finish and not wait for some like magic communication of, "This is the closest spot I can get. But take their communication of if I could get closer to it, I would. I've exhausted my options. I don't mean to exhaust in, I'm going to push it forever. But exhaust in, they've either like say it's a large cart, they've got all the way around the cart. If they could have gotten to it, if it was sourceable they would have and they haven't.

Natalie McManus: Or like there was one hide at the summit trial that was in the back of a closed stall. So the best the dogs could do was kind of bracket both edges of that stall. Kind of had access to two sides of it, but there was no way they were going to get in and get to it. And so asking them to do much more of that is just unreasonable and of course wastes a whole lot of time in trial. So some of that comes down to handler, both reading of the search area of the odor picture and what the dog's telling you. Then just having the guts to make calls.

Dianna Santos: I think that's all really important things to point out, particularly when it comes to balancing the amount that you're trialing with the amount that you're training. How everything may be affecting what you and your dog are experiencing and what your dog is learning with every single outing. Because our dogs don't know the difference between training and trialing, to them it's all still playing the game. So I think that's a really important point to highlight is that that's something we have to keep in mind when we're doing these things. But as you were describing the types of hides that you may see at the summit trial and also when you were talking earlier about the bleachers and things like that. And again, this is just an opinion or what you've observed. But do you think that this is something that is basically barring certain dogs and people from participating or am I just not hearing that correctly?

Natalie McManus: That's a good question. I do think that a trial like this is a lot for like an older dog who's lost a lot of their mobility and just can't get around the spaces as well, can't lift up as well, dogs with rollback issues. Some dogs may still be able to communicate the hides well enough to the handler without taking those extra steps. You may get more you have then explain to the judge what your dog has explained to you. But I would say like the thing like the bleachers, that could be dangerous for some dogs, if the dog doesn't have very good traction. Like my first nose work dog. She was an Aussie Border Collie mix and she a degenerative neurological disorder. I ended up retiring her from nose work before she finished her NW3 elite because it just wasn't safe for her to search anymore. She would throw herself headlong into these odor problems with no regard for her own safety.

Natalie McManus: So it wasn't fair to her to ask her to do that because she couldn't self-regulate. So I would definitely say everybody needs to evaluate their dog and see if that makes sense for them. Then yourself too if you can't walk for a long time or if your own, like my balance isn't always super good and my traction isn't always super good. As soon as I saw the bleachers, I knew that I was going to need to take it a little slower and be more careful because I do have a history of falling. As a kid, I would twist my ankle all the time. So I took it slow and my dog responded pretty well to that, but she's a little older than she used to be. She's eight and a half now. Back when she was about four, I think I had twisted my ankle unrelated to dog stuff. Then we were doing an NW3 and she was running down this exterior and I ran with her because I didn't want to slow her down. Not the greatest thing for my ankle, but I did it anyway.

Natalie McManus: So I do think people, it's hard, like when you've worked really hard, you've gotten through one, two, three NW3 elite, and now you're in summit. It can be really difficult to say this isn't an inappropriate level for us. But people have to be careful with their dogs and honest with themselves about if it's the right thing to do. And for some people it may be better to look into other ways of playing nose work with your dog, either potentially other venues or mock trials and fun days. There are a variety of people doing different kinds of fun days that may have some aspects that are like elite or summit, but you can take things down and not just say, oh, I'm going to not run that one and not feel like it's this official event that you need to complete everything.

Dianna Santos: I think that that's a really great thing for us to always remember is that particularly for people who have been involved with any given venue. But NACSW is excellent example, is that if you have gone through the levels, it's a lot of time, it's a lot of commitment and you feel as though you have to maybe potentially do this thing when really that's not true. If you have achieved anything, whether it be even just an NW one or an elite that is still your accomplishment. Is not as though you're now a failure because you don't do summit if you've determined that this may be not best fit for you and your dog. So I think that's a really important thing for people to understand because I know for a lot of my newer clients they just assume that if I start competing that means I have to do everything. Otherwise I haven't done what I was supposed to do and that's not really how it works.

Natalie McManus: Everyone has different accomplishments that are amazing for them and their dog. Like for my first dog, like I mentioned, she was very dog reactive and NACSW nose work trials were basically the only real competition I could take her to because of them being more open to reactive dogs, red bandana dogs. And there weren't obviously weren't any really any other venues around at the time anyway. But like agility trials were not the thing for her, they did not help her reactivity. So the fact that she got through NW1, two and did several threes was a huge accomplishment. At some points I didn't think I was partly be able to take her down the street with reaction she would have the other dogs. So that was very meaningful to me.

Natalie McManus: I would've loved to have gotten some more titles on her that was really more than enough and the fact that she got to play and even after I retired her from trials, we still played at home for a while until that was too much for her. So I totally agree with that. I think that a lot of people start nose work with somewhat older dogs as sort of their retirement sport. And so then you have to even temper your expectations a little bit more if you're starting with a 10 year old, you're not going to maybe get quite as far through the levels. Maybe you will, but you may not get as far as someone who starts with a two year old who has like, they're prime to be competing.

Dianna Santos: That's a great thing for all of us to remember is that none of these things are equating the quality that you have with your dog. It's not as though, well, you have this title that means you're great. And you have that thing, so that means you're gross. That's not what that means.

Natalie McManus: Yeah, absolutely not. For some people, competing isn't the right answer at all. Not even a ORT or Novice AKC, if that's going to be a really stressful, not fun environment for or your dog, it's not worth it. You don't have to compete, you can have fun at home, you can have fun in classes with your friends. Maybe even mock trials are not as stressful and fun enough. Maybe they're not. People don't need to feel compelled to trial just because a lot of us think that it's really fun.

Dianna Santos: So just because you've been so kind with giving us so much of your time today, just so that we can wrap up the podcast episode as far as what summit trials are like. If you could just describe three things that you didn't like about the summit trial, if you have three and then three things that you did like about the summer trial, I think that'd be great.

Natalie McManus: Absolutely. So three things that I didn't particularly like, and so one of these it's not the summit trials fault at all, but the weather was gross. It was very cold, really, really wet. But that being said, I prefer that to 100 degrees. So that was the main thing that was, I would say an added difficulty to what's already difficult about summit was just dealing with that. Another thing that was hard for me, it was, I think I mentioned this a little bit already, but a number of my fellow competitors weren't really having a great time either because they didn't feel like their searches were going well, whether they were not because some people felt like their searches weren't going well, but they actually ended up doing very, very well in the trial overall. Or because like I was saying, they like to find a lot of hides and that wasn't happening.

Natalie McManus: Or just sort of the cumulative stress of not knowing how you're doing for so many searches. So their negativity even though they were trying not to be overly negative was challenging for me. Because I wanted them to be having as much fun as I was because I was thrilled to be at summit. I had a blast. So that's something that I've dealt with at other levels too. Although usually it's more on the side of people trying to tell me how their searches are going, when I do not want to know anything when I'm trialing. I don't want to know anything at all. So I will sometimes like hide in my car more. And here being fairly social, but then working, I talked about the other kind of mental management type things that I was trying to work on, but this is another one of not taking in like other people's feelings about a given trial and that can be really hard for me.

Natalie McManus: Then the last thing, and this goes for a lot of trials not just summit but there were a few mistakes that I made in my searches that I really didn't like and I was kind of frustrated by them particularly at the time. But the nice thing also about having so many searches was there were a couple things that came up, two or three times that I was able to after the trial, really analyze and figure out what was going on with me and, or my dog, although it was me all three times. So that I can figure out how to address that and I want to go into the next summit trial way more prepared and have worked through some of that stuff. So that was frustrating, but a very, very good learning experience for me.

Natalie McManus: Then things I like, I really enjoyed clearing the big search areas, having those big long searches. It wasn't always like a blast in the moment. It was a little bit stressful at times, but it was challenging and it was really fun to have a new challenge. Like we said at the beginning, I've been competing in nose work for a really long time and I've been doing elite trials for maybe a little over three years now, something like that. So I've done quite a few of them. So this was something completely different. It felt completely different. The outcomes were different, the way the odor felt and the problems felt and everything was very different and very challenging. So that was kind of thrilling to go through. Then of course, having an extra day of searching with my dog was quite fun.

Natalie McManus: We've had some elite trials where we've gotten back to the hotel room at the end of the day and I'm exhausted and my Border Collie-Aussie is still asking me to play with her and do something else. So I think she really, really enjoyed having two days of searches. Then even though some of the negativity was frustrating, I always really enjoyed trialing where I have quite a few nose work friends or acquaintances or can make new friends and acquaintances. That's one thing that I love about the nose work community is that I basically know people every trial I go to and they're very supportive and a lot of them have become really good friends. So that was a really fun part of the trial.

Dianna Santos: Well thank you very much for sharing that and I think it's a really great way of helping people understand that while this may not be something that they thought was ever in their plan or something to do, they have a better appreciation for what a summer trial experience is like. I think it's always good to talk about the pros and the cons and then understand that. I think from what you're describing is that there's a lot more pros. Then I heard you say when I plan to do my next one, so I'm assuming you're planning to do another.

Natalie McManus: Oh yes, I can't wait. I haven't figured out what the next one is going to be, but I'm dying to do it.

Dianna Santos: That's a good thing for people to hear. Because I think when we start talking about the complexity of the searches, the types of skills that you need, the way that the day's laid out and also this stuff, it's sometimes can be perceived as, "Well my God, I couldn't possibly do that." But then it's the challenge and I think it's a lot of it is a personality thing. Where I think you are a really good representation of someone who enjoys competing, is able to view it through the proper lens of, it is a challenge, it's a way to test my training, but I'm still having fun with my dog. That's a really hard thing for people to have. I'm on the complete opposite extreme where I'm basically like, I don't care. It's just like trialing is like, I really just do not care. But I have to say, it's very invigorating to hear someone who is genuinely excited about trialing and looks at it the right way. And it makes me think, "Well, maybe I should try that trailing stuff again because she's having an awful lot of fun."

Natalie McManus: I do love it. I do think, like you mentioned, one of the most important things is attitude. If someone is trialing, if they're choosing to trial but not having fun with it, then they should look into ways to help themselves bring out that excitement and joy and fun for them and their dogs. Sometimes you have to fake it but then that'll transition you over time into really genuinely enjoying it. And for a lot of people, competition is just really stressful and it is stressful for me. But again, I think it's a blast. For people that do struggle with competition, stress, I think mental management is a really excellent tool and there are a lot of other ones like that as well. But being really cognizant of your own attitude and then also how you're transmitting that to the dog.

Dianna Santos: Well, I really want to thank you so much, Natalie. This was a fantastic podcast episode, I think was extraordinarily informative. Again, if people are just getting in like, "Oh, well, I want to see what the summit is." Well, you're going to get a lot more information out of this as far as things you could be doing with your dog at any level of your training. So I really want to thank Natalie so much for joining us today.

Natalie McManus: Thank you for having me. It was absolutely my pleasure.

Dianna Santos: Thank you all for joining us for our podcast today. It was very informative, happy training, and we look forward to seeing you soon.

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