The big moment arrived: Tigger’s first Nose Work class. Was this a big mistake? Would he have a melt-down? Would I be shamed by the behavior of my dog?
It was never my plan. My other dogs had all been emotionally stable. But now I found myself living with dog full of serious issues. His high stress levels and complete lack of emotional control kept him teetering between extreme prey drive and intense panic, never spending time in between. He never relaxed and had no idea how it felt to be calm. Much later, one of the founders of Nose Work would describe Tigger as being “feral” or half-wild: constantly high alert for both danger and opportunity.
Being Tigger wasn’t easy. Living with him wasn’t easy either. He took all of our time and energy. Frankly we were exhausted. One result: the “good dog” in our household was being neglected.
We decided we needed a structured activity that would force us to make time for Bodie, a sweet, hungry, couch potato of a Labrador. But what would she like? Agility and Flyball were just too athletic for her: she wouldn’t like all that running around. She thinks both swimming and retrieving are pointless, which eliminates most of the other Labrador-friendly sports.
Then I heard about K9 Nose Work. It features Bodie’s favorite things: eating, sniffing stuff, and napping. I signed her up for the very first Nose Work class in the South Bay, with Pam Behrens of A Dog’s Day. Pam encouraged me to sign up troubled Tigger, but I was hesitant. He’s generally charming with people, but I knew he couldn’t handle a group dog training class. Honestly I was afraid that he would slide between massive panic and massive frustration, exhibiting uncontrollable behavior. It wouldn’t be good for him. And I’d be a nervous wreck.
In the end I let Pam talk me into enrolling both Bodie and Tigger into her Nose Work class. Now I had a month to crate-train both dogs, who hadn’t seen crates since puppyhood.
I showed up for the first class as prepared as possible. Tigger and I arrived very early, along with Bodie and my husband Dave. Dave helped us navigate the parking lot, shielding us from bicycles, skate boards, shopping carts, other dogs, and anything else that might upset my dog. Once inside, I set up Tigger’s crate in the most remote and protected corner, and draped it with blankets to block his view and to help him feel safe in his little den. Then I crawled waist-deep inside with him, and spent the next 30 minutes gently massaging him with a technique called TTouch. He began to relax very slowly.
As class time approached, I fitted him into a Nose Work harness and a Thundershirt, gave him some cookies, zipped his crate closed, headed to class, and wondered if he’d be okay. What would he do when I left? He gets so easily over-stimulated. He doesn’t know how to calm himself. He can’t handle a change in routine. He’s never had patience for other dogs. And he can’t stand the thought of other dogs having fun without him.
While Pam began class introductions, most of my attention was back at Tigger’s crate, anxious about how he was doing. One dog after another came in for a try at this new activity. Tigger barked a few times. I checked on him every few minutes, and worried. Would this all be worth it?
When it was his turn, I carefully made sure he didn’t see any dogs on his way to the search area. I brought him in and let him go.
Tigger discovered yummy treats in the boxes! He found that he was allowed — actually encouraged — to find and eat them! Delight! Success! Joy! I smiled and relaxed as he crashed through the boxes looking for more cookies, tail wagging happily. Tigger and I both fell in love with Nose Work that evening, and that love endures to this day.
Copyright by Linda Fletcher 2016
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