Trialing With Grace
By Judy Bonner
Gracie and I recently competed in the first east coast and the second in the country fully sanctioned NACSWTM K9 Nose Work® Level 1 Element Specialty trials hosted by Sarah Woodruff of Paws N’ Sniff in Stroudsburg PA.
The Level 1 Interior Element Specialty trial was in the morning and the Level 1 Container Element Specialty trial was set to run in the afternoon. I registered both dogs, Gracie and Banner, in both trials. Gracie and Banner were both selected by lottery for a trial spot in the Level 1 Container Element Specialty trial, making it necessary to pick one dog for the trial. I selected Gracie as this is her strongest element. Neither dog won a running spot in the morning interior trial, both being wait-listed, with Gracie lower ranked on the wait list than Banner.
A few days before the trial, I received an e-mail from the trial host stating Gracie was next in line on the waitlist for a running spot that just opened up. Initially, I was hesitant to take the spot as this would require Gracie working a long and full day. Last year around this time, Gracie was diagnosed with a partial CCL tear in her left leg. About a month ago, she started favoring her right leg. A check by her physical therapist revealed the right knee now being “looser” than her left knee! She was dealing with two bum legs!!! I had to cut back on her physical activities and was not sure if she could and/or if I wanted to subject her to a full day of trial activities. In the end, I decided to take the trial spot for the morning Interior Element Specialty trial with the realization that I would need to be vigilant for any signs of physical stress and pull her from the trial if need be.
The Element Specialty trial had a few twists from the K9 Nose Work®Level trials. The Element Specialty trial would consist of 3-5
The Element Specialty trial would consist of 3-5 search fields, there would be no walk through, the search times would be shortened from the time allotted for the element in the NW1 Level trials, and at the CO’s briefing before the start of the trial we were told we would not be given the allotted search time for each search field until we were at the final staging area for that search.
Gracie did a great job in the Level 1 Interiors Element Specialty trial. She found the hide in each of the 4 search fields in less than the allotted times, her fastest being 11.24 seconds and her slowest being 59.99 seconds. She titled! I was so proud of her accomplishments.
We had a good hour until registration for the afternoon trial. I wanted to give her a break from all the energy and excitement in the parking lot. I left the trial site, drove down a back road, found a safe and quiet area to pull off the road and parked the car. We went for a short walk to stretch Gracie’s legs, we cuddled, and we took a snooze together. I thought we were both refreshed and ready for the afternoon trial.
The CO’s briefing for the Level 1 Container Element Specialty trial revealed there were 5 search fields with one hide in each and that two of these search fields were outdoors, something which usually does not occur in a NW1 Level trial.
The sun was shining but it was cold and very windy.
Again, Gracie did a great job in each of the first 3 search fields which were run consecutively. We had to return to our car and wait our turn to run her final 2 container search fields. During this time Gracie drank water, but not as much as I would have liked. She started with hiccups which led to episodes of gagging as I was getting her out of the car to prepare for our final runs of the day. I could not get her to drink more water. It took us longer than usual to get ready so we had little time between getting out of the car and finding ourselves at the final staging area. There, I gave her a few treats to keep her focused. But, with her mouth being dry, the treats got stuck in her throat and she started coughing to get them out. At this point, I did not know what to do. Should I pull her from the last 2 search fields which would be run consecutively? I asked Gracie what she wanted to do. She did her little dance, licked her lips, looked deeply into my eyes, turned around and forged ahead to the entrance of the search field.
This search field was in a big room with slippery floors; there were many sizes and types of “box” containers but a quick glance revealed a pattern to the layout of the boxes. Gracie ran into the search field from the start line but then just lingered around; she did not feel as well as she thought she did and she was initially taken back by the slippery floors. With very little allotted search time and a lot of boxes to check, I took the lead in this search, which does not happen often as Gracie is a very independent sniffer. We did a pattern search and found the hot box in 37.90 seconds, making this her slowest time in the container search fields, but still ranking her 6th of 30 dog/handler teams running this search field.
The final container search field was outdoors on a 3 tiered handicap ramp to the building. Boxes were set in a linear pattern from the beginning of the upper tiered ramp down to the end of the lowest tiered ramp. A lot of containers and ground to cover in just 1 minute and 30 seconds! Gracie ran past the start line to the first box, sniffed it, and then ran down the balance of the first tier passing all the boxes. Standing there at the end of the upper tiered ramp, she gave me a visual that the hot box was at the end of the lowest tier of the ramp. I nodded to her to go on. She ran past all the boxes on the middle tier and the bottom tier of the ramp to the final box at the end of that ramp. Running behind her, I am thinking “she better be right” as there would not be enough time to search all the boxes back up and down the 3 tiered ramp. Gracie gave me a strong alert, I called it. She was right!!! Her search time in this field was 15.68 seconds, taking a first place ranking on this search. Her search times ranged from 07.30 seconds to 37.90 seconds over the total of 5 container search fields, giving her an overall ranking of 6th place out of 30 dog/handler teams. Gracie also titled!!!
I am continually amazed by this beautiful creature I share my life with. Gracie is a strong, independent border collie. She is not attached to my hip like my Aussie, Banner. Yet, we are connected far beyond this worldly life and have been from the moment I first put my arms around the bundle of fur. She finishes my thoughts,she springs into action before the words fall out of my mouth, and she stirs in her crate in the family room as I stir awake during the night in my bedroom on the second floor.
I am extremely proud of the work we accomplished at these two Level 1 Element Specialty trials. But, the titles were only a small part of what we accomplished that day. We approached search field after search field, not knowing what we would be entering into. We had only each other to rely upon to accomplish the tasks at hand. We worked as a team with complete and utter trust in each other. For me, this was a pinnacle experience in our life’s journey together. I think it was for Gracie too. Since this day, I often find Gracie looking steadily, deeply and lovingly into my soul.