When Things Go Wrong

Updated: Sep 2

You're trialing with your dog. You're confident in your training. Yet, you go to a trial and things go terribly wrong. What do you do now?! The answer: it all depends.


First of all, breathe.

We must all recognize that our dogs are just like us: living, breathing, thinking little beings who can have both good and bad days. This means a poor performance could simply be due to a dog not feeling well, either physically or mentally. For instance, your dog could be battling a stomach bug that you were unaware of, perhaps tweaked their back jumping off the couch the night before or they were startled the morning of by a large boom while they were out for potty and haven't recovered yet. Point being, no amount of training will overcome these issues. Your dog simply needs time to feel better. How much time? Again, it all depends. All you can do is take a step back, observe them and slowly re-introduce them to Scent Work using fun and engaging games once they are feeling better.

"But I'm entered in a bunch of trials...my entry fees!"

Only you can make this call. You are your dog's advocate. Their guardian. The person who looks after their best interests.

I would only urge you to evaluate the situation in a way that is unbiased. Try to the put yourself in your dog's position. Imagine if you had the worst flu ever, every part of your body ached and someone entered you in a biathlon where you had to do super complicated math questions every few minutes in addition to all the running, going over the obstacles and so on. Doesn't sound like a lot of fun, does it?! So it may mean you have to pull your dog from some trials or cut the number of classes that they are running in. But again, this decision is entirely up to you.

"I don't think that my dog is sick or was upset by something...they just didn't find the hide!"

Did you order a video of the searches in question? I really hope so. They will give you a lot of helpful information. Our memories are not something we should solely rely on. By reviewing the video, you can see exactly what happened...and what didn't happen. Perhaps your dog was trying to tell you that the hide was in the corner you missed, but you were obsessed with having them check that chair over and over and over again. Or, maybe you forgot to cover the corner at all! Point being, you cannot come up with a suitable plan if you do not really know what happened in the first place.

"I don't think it was my dog at all! I think it was the judge!"

Alright, this is when you REALLY need to take some good long, deep breaths.

Handle Yourself Maturely and Professionally 

Is it possible a judge or hide official made a mistake? Sure. They are people just like us. Does that mean that we should blast them all over social media or shame them in other ways, calling for fire to rain down upon them and all their family and friends? No.

It is true that, sometimes, hides are not the best at trials. It could be that conditions changed dramatically from when they were first set, so now the odor picture is entirely different. It is also possible the placement was just not a good one to begin with. Regardless, these things are not done purposefully or with malice. Trial officials, at least 99.9% of them, are NOT trying to fail you or your dog. Rather, it pains trial officials when dog and handler teams do not do well. They are rooting for everyone to Q and when a team doesn't, they feel terrible!

That being said, we need to recognize that human beings are officiating and as such, they can make mistakes, can have different levels of experience and expertise and so on.

"It shouldn't matter! My dog and I should not be penalized because of a trial official's mistake!"