Whenever somebody enrols on one of my courses, I get a little ping on my phone. Each and every time it happens I smile. Because I know that another dog is getting to indulge her love of sniffing alongside her best friend. I know this sounds cheesy, but it’s a fact. Whether the dog and handler are brand new to scentwork. Or they are working on new skills, building in new challenges. And it makes my heart sing. It makes me happy. With the world seeming to collapse around us, terrible atrocities on the news every day, to have something that takes you away from all that is an absolute blessing.
I first recognised ‘the zone’ when I was working with a young border collie. It was during a private training session with a client in her home. Mid-way through playing tug with her dog, I suddenly realised that the client had been talking to me. But I hadn’t responded, or even noticed that she was talking. So intense was the connection between me and dog that nothing else mattered. Driving home from the consultation, I thought back over my career and realised that ‘the zone’ was my happy place. And that I’d been lucky enough to visit there often.
Working with dogs, you get used to people watching as you work. Folks notice the dog. And then the handler. Whether I’m out teaching a client how to help her dog walk to heel in the park. Or searching a cargo shed with my detector dog, people are watching. I recall searching a factory and only when the search ended did I realise that all the staff had stopped and the whole place had been watching my search. If I’d known that while I was searching I’d have been mortified.
On another occasion I was taking photos of my own dogs at the end of the Cobb in Lyme Regis. This is the harbour where Meryl Streep famously walked in the storm in the film the French Lieutenant’s Woman Anyway, I was working with three dogs, asking for sits and downs and stays. Once I had taken the photo I turned around to walk back to shore and was greeted with a round of applause from a gathering of folks who had been watching me and the dogs.
In a bubble
When I’m in the zone, nothing else matters except the dog and our connection. It’s why I find myself in the scentwork zone more often than any other doggy activity. As a handler, it’s what I love most about scentwork. The dance. The working as one. The intensity of the moment. Boiled down, what I’m really doing in concentrating. Giving my full attention to the task in hand. Aware of what’s around only in relation to what we are doing. I’m not thinking about anything else, just this search in this moment.
This sensation of being completely enveloped by a single activity is something that many of us yearn for. A way to shut off the internal chatter. The endless worry. The feeling of helplessness in the face of unrelenting misery. Being in the zone gives me a sense of enormous wellbeing (to quote Blur) I feel happy and centred. I feel like I’ve achieved something. There are other pastimes that come close. For example, I find getting involved in a game on the Xbox makes me focus and stops me thinking about other stuff. But even though I enjoy it, it does’t make me feel like I’ve achieved anything. Quite the opposite in fact. But it’s fun while I’m doing it.
Scentwork can lift my spirits like nothing else. It brings me great pleasure to see my dogs so engaged, so happy. I love the rapport and the teamwork. I love their faces when they find the article. Such joy! This is what I imagine every time I see a new student sign up to one of my courses. I picture them in the zone, happily working with their dog, both achieving more than they ever thought they could. And that thought can give me a spring in my step. Another happy scentworker has joined our merry band.
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