Partnerships Are Unique



Scent Work continues to grow as an activity and sport, with more and more dog and handler teams taking the plunge. However, there are plenty of us who may be embarking on the journey with their second, third, fourth and even fifth dog. The common expectation is these journeys will be easier since the handler has been through it all before and may have even enjoyed some trialing successes. Be warned: this is faulty and deceptive way of thinking that can set a team up for endless frustration and heartache.


STARTING OVER REGARDLESS OF EXPERIENCE LEVEL


The phenomenon we are talking about applies to all dog training but is especially true for teamwork-based activities such as Scent Work. A handler may have very well achieved marked success with a prior canine teammate, but this does not translate to a shortened or abbreviated journey with their new dog. If anything, there is likely to be a period of adjustment, and even struggle, as the handler comes to terms that their new teammate is just that: a new teammate and not a younger version of their prior dog.


Let’s take an example outside the context of Scent Work to help this make a bit more sense. You shared the past 14 years with a wonderful dog that played a variety of activities, went on traveling trips with you, loved visiting with friends and most of all going camping. They were well-behaved at home, even while you were at work, and were just a joy to have around. After grieving their passing, you decide to get a new puppy. There is a level of excitement as you daydream about all the fun you will have together! Then reality sets in. This bundle of joy quickly morphs into a bundle of a stress, between the chewing and nipping, potty accidents, singing the song of their people in their crate and your overall loss of sleep. When you had your friends over, the puppy jumped all over them and was just a twister of chaos! You tried going camping, but it was an utter nightmare. All of those plans you had seemingly fade away. You are frazzled, wondering where everything went wrong! Your prior dog was nothing like this, what gives?!


Yup, your 14-year-old dog was indeed a saint when compared to this brand-new-to-the-world-blank-slate of a puppy. However, you might as well be comparing apples to elephants. You seem to have blocked out that first year or two when your Mother Theresa of a dog more closely resembled your new Puppy Damien.


We cannot transplant the learning achieved by Dog A into Dog B. It simply doesn’t work that way. If it took your first dog a year to master all the skills to not only competently tackle a search but also cope with the realities of an entry-level trial, it is likely the same amount of time will be needed for your newer dog to do the same thing.


Now, you as a trainer and handler have likely learned some of the common pitfalls and how to avoid them. This knowledge is invaluable and will likely cause your journey to be a bit smoother with your new partner. However, please do not expect everything to be unicorns, rainbows, and smooth sailing. You may have done all of this before, but your new dog has not.


STEP OUT FROM YOUR OLD TEAM’S SHADOW


This is extremely difficult to do but is crucial for your new partnership to truly blossom. Perhaps when tackling large exterior searches with your prior dog they would be off-leash at first, casting out to find as many hides as possible, and then you would put them back on-leash to do more detailing. Yet when you try this approach with your newer dog it is a mess. Not only do they seem overly distracted as they bound around off-leash, trying to get them back on-leash is a hassle and then their excitement plummets when you finally do get them back on-leash, to where they are barely searching at all. What is this dog’s problem?! Nothing other than the fact they are not your prior dog.


“But we never had to do that!” is a phrase that will drag your new team down. The moment this idea enters your mind, stop, breathe, and evaluate what it really means. Instead of being disappointed, approach this as an opportunity to hone your own training chops. Maybe your prior dog was older when you organically developed the “we start off-leash and then go