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No Q? What to do?!?

For those of us that compete in any dog sport it is important to think about how we’re going to handle those darn NQs. If you’ve been in dog sports a while, you’ve seen them all the handlers we're about to talk about.  Which type of handler are you? Or maybe you fall into a few of these descriptions?  If you don’t like being that handler, set goals now, before trial season really gets going, to be the best handler you can be and the best partner for your dog. 

The handler that just wants to have fun and doesn’t care about the Qs.  I like this handler.  This handler puts their dog’s fun and enjoyment first and they don’t stress when things don’t always go perfectly.  This is a handler I strive to be sometimes.  I want my dog to have fun, but I also want to see that my training is working for the test in front of us.  So, fun is #1, but make sure you’re still putting the work in so that your dog can have fun while playing the game appropriately and can also do well in a trial.  At some point all of those NQs will add up and it won’t be fun for the handler or the dog anymore.

The handler that gets so down on themselves that they fall apart when they get the NQ.  Ooh, ooh, ooh – I know this one!  Where are all my overachievers at?  It is hard to not get that Q!!  If you truly care about the sport/activity you’re competing in and have put the work in AND you’re used to doing well, not qualifying can really punch you in the gut.  If you’d all like to join my support group, this is what I will tell you:  no one is perfect (even if you really, really, really try).  Your dog is not a machine.  Sometimes you just have a bad day.  Sometimes something happens that is completely out of your control that can affect your or your dog’s performance.  And sometimes, you just have to go home and train more for that one thing that threw you in the trial.  And if you’ve practiced mental management/mastery – think about the positives you can take away from the day.

The handler that blames everyone and everything for their NQ (it couldn’t possibly be a training issue, right?).  Don’t be this person.  Don’t act out your frustrations on the judge, CO, volunteer, host, fellow competitor, your Aunt Susie or neighbor Bob.  Again, no one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes.  Maybe that hide just didn’t work the way the CO meant it to.  Maybe the volunteer forgot to turn the ringer off their phone.  Maybe someone accidentally dropped their crate just as your dog is entering the ring.  Things happen.  And it really, really stinks when you have put the training in and you’re ready and someone does something that affects your run – but that’s dog sports!  Things happen.  But think about what you could have trained for to set your dog up for success when x, y or z happened.  My favorite saying is:  train, don’t complain…even when you really, really want to.

The handler that blames their dog for failing them, for lying to them, for not being absolute perfection in all things at all times.  As a trial official, this is the most difficult handler to observe.  Everyone has a different relationship with their dog and I understand that…but ouch.  Just don’t be this handler.  And maybe don’t enter competitions if you and/or your dog is not ready?

The handler that just quits one sport after the next because that sport is hard and they don’t want to work that hard for ribbon.  I can look at this handler a couple different ways.  Usually, it is the handler that wants all of the glory, but doesn’t want to put the work in.  But sometimes it’s the handler that knows their dog, knows their breed, wants to try all of the things, but picks the one that is best suited for that dog’s instincts and ability.  I mean, why work super hard for something that you’re just not suited for?  I get that.  Lazy handler that wants the biggest, prettiest ribbon without putting the work in…not so much.

The handler that trains hard, plays hard and makes a game plan after every trial, Q or no Q.  If you really are invested in dog sports, this is where we should all strive to be.  This is the handler I want to be.  This is the handler I try to be.  Strive to be the best, but understand that things happen, our dogs are dogs and sometimes there’s just a hole in our training that we didn’t even know about. Make that game plan and put the training in!

A dog alerting on a bin in a nosework trial.

But the reason I wanted to write on this topic is because NQs are hard for everyone, all of the different types of handlers.  And it’s really hard when you are used to doing well and then you don’t.  But I ask you to ask yourself, why did it happen and what can you do to be better next time?  Or maybe there really isn’t a next time.  Maybe it’s time to retire from that sport, maybe it’s time to try a different sport, maybe it’s time to take a break and try again in the future.  These are all okay options.  We’ll visit the topic of retirement in a future post – stay tuned!    

We'd love to hear about what kind of handler YOU are. What do you do when you don't Q? Comment below.

Lori is passionate about strengthening the bond between owners and their pets. She is thrilled that she can devote herself to teaching Nose Work classes, both in person and virtually. 

In addition to instructing classes at Do Over Dog Training, Lori works with students virtually through Scent Work University.  She is also a member of the NACSW Trial Staff and works with several departments within the organization.  If you’re looking for Lori on a weekend, you’ll most likely find her at a trial!  Lori spends many of her weekends at trials as she is a Certifying Official and Judge for NACSW and also a trial official for AKC, USCSS and C-WAGS.  If she’s not out of town working as an official, she is most likely hosting a trial or event locally. 

While Nose Work is her passion, Lori also enjoys teaching Dog Parkour and C-WAGS Obedience & Rally classes.


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