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Things I did Differently with my Second Scent Work Dog

We all learn from our first scent work dog. I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that we rushed things maybe a little bit too much with our first scent work dog; honestly, we probably rushed things a bit too quickly with our first dog sport dog in any sport, full stop.


Arya was my first scent work dog (and first dog sport dog) so naturally, she's been my "learning companion" since I got her in 2018 and dove into the world of dog sports. When I first got her I wasn't exactly sure what sports we'd get involved with, and have dabbled in a lot of different sports since then (dock diving, agility, scent work, rally, disc, freestyle, trick dog, barn hunt and so much more) but our favorite sport to do together has been scent work since 2021.


She got through her novice titles quite quickly, which I didn't expect since we only prepped for trialing for a couple of months before debuting. She excelled, placed often, and we had a really good time together - so we moved onto advanced. For the most part, advanced wasn't too difficult for us, we got through our advanced container and interior titles in a single weekend during our advanced debut. After a break to have her first litter, she came back and finished off her buried advanced title very quickly (as well as her elite titles for advanced container and interior), and spent some time to get her exterior advanced title. As she finished up those titles, we simultaneously trialed in excellent, and she quickly got her container and buried excellent titles, and has legs towards a few master titles as well.


Writing all of that out, sure the success feels great, but it also feels rushed in a way. We climbed up the levels because we could but not because we necessarily should have. Yes, she debuted in spring of 2021, and it's now 2024, so that seems like an adequate amount of time to get the titles that we have together, but in reality, we haven't trialed a lot, and took off for almost all of 2022 for her first litter, and only started really trialing again more consistently in summer of 2023, alongside her daughter Rainier who I was debuting at that time.


Originally, my plan wasn't to go for the elite titles with Arya. We only got our SCAE and SIAE titles because during her debut weekend in advanced she got an additional Q towards elite in both, and I figured, why waste them, so we continued towards elites in both of them. If that hadn't happened, i'm unsure if we would have pushed for those two titles. But after she got her container excellent title (before she got her SCAE), and now is 1 Q away from her Master Container title, it became pretty clear to me that the element type that we've trialed the most in, is arguably her most successful element within trials. It shouldn't be surprising since she's had so much trial experience in containers.


If I wasn't a green scent work competitor at the time, and was more thoughtful about the way I was going to plan my scent work journey with Arya, I probably would have decided to go for elite titles in everything as we travelled upwards in the levels. I feel very strongly that she would have been even more confident in the sport today if we had, which seems crazy since she's a wonderful and confident scent work dog, but I feel like our teamwork would have been even better than it is.


It shouldn't be surprising that with my second scent work dog, Rainier, I've made some changes. Because I knew scent work was going to be my main focus with her, we started training early. I had the benefit of being Rainier's breeder, so we introduced  the scent work odors as cocktails and individual odors during ESI when Rainier and her littermates were very young (Day 3 to 16). Starting at 9 weeks we started doing what I call 'baby searches' and very easy discrimination tasks, and little baby Rai Rai thrived. The video below is of a 12 week old Rainier doing a simple scent work task, her freeze has been consistent ever since.



Rainier and I made our AKC scent work debut together when she was 10 months old in March of 2023, and I knew that I would want to do elite titles with her from the get go. She also quickly got her overall novice title in July of 2023, and then a few months later got her overall elite titles in November of 2023. It was incredibly clear by her confidence in search areas as well as confidence in different venues that I made the right decision for her, and us as a team, to do the elite route. Her times became "faster" as her confidence grew as we continued in elite, and we became a solid team. Towards the tail end of getting our last Qs for our elite titles, we debuted in advanced, to test if we were ready, and outside of our first trialing day in advanced, had an incredibly smooth advanced journey with virtually only Q's the entire time. Two trials after her SWNE titling trial, she also got her SWA in March of 2024.


We are currently in the process of obtaining our remaining legs for our elite advanced titles, and due to that have debuted in excellent, where she is, well, doing excellent. She already has her SEE title, and has Q's towards her buried excellent and interior excellent titles.




Having said all of this, Rainier isn't 2 yet, and is very quickly catching up to her mother in terms of "titling" with the AKC Scent Work program, but I haven't felt this journey to be rushed, despite the fact that we've only been competing for just over a year together and have had this much "success". Our focus has been scent work, so we have been to more trials together (1-2 a month), but because of our elite journey together (which will continue throughout all of the levels), I haven't felt rushed with our experience as a team, and feel really happy with the choices I have made for us to enjoy this sport together. Whenever we find "training gaps", it's easier for me to piece out what the actual issue is, and solve it with her, due to our experience together.


Additionally, Rainier and I from the get go as a team together worked more on concepts and skillsets instead of just setting up hides without a direct plan for every session, which is how Arya and I got started. Now, when I want to work on containers, for example, I never "just set up containers". There's a plan involved, whether it's testing air flow and setting up a fan (blowing in different directions of the hot box, depending on what we're working on), testing different patterns, testing food distractors, testing toy distractors, and so much more - there's always a plan. Because this has been our learning history together, Rainier has just learned in a "smarter" fashion, simply due to my growth as a scent work competitor (and my growth as a scent work enthusiast aka obsessor).


I've learned a lot from both of my incredible dogs, and apply what I have learned from both of them to each other. Rainier has the benefit of learning from a better handler, a more seasoned trainer, and someone with more trial experience. Arya has the benefit of me ALSO being a better handler, a more seasoned trainer, and someone with more trial experience at this point, to help us as a team get to where we can be together. She just had to deal with me being green originally! This means a little bit more tweaking than I have to do with Rainier, but it's just apart of our journey together, and there's nothing wrong with it being a little different. I just know that moving forward I most likely will always give my dogs the benefit of more trial experience by going for those elite legs and titles.


So now Arya and I will gain more experience by going for elite legs in things that I feel we need more trial experience in, as we continue to gain the upper level legs in elements I feel we are well prepared for (container & buried). We'll continue to set up problem solving tasks within our practices that are tailored to us as a team, instead of doing the same problem solving tasks with both dogs for the sake of problem solving. We'll go back to the basics here and there to freshen up on driving to odor, just as I do with Rainier. And most importantly, Arya and I will have so much fun and play throughout all of it. There's nothing better than playing my favorite game with my favorite girls and have them equally enjoy the ride with me, even though their experiences so far have been different. To my favorite girls, thank you for being on this journey with me, I can't wait to continue learning together.


Michelle Belio CDBC CPDT-KA FFCP




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I just loved reading this as I am on a similar journey with my girl, Venus. Keep up the great work!

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Thank you!!! Loved watching your journey with your girl, enjoy the ride, right!

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