Seems I’ve been having trouble keeping up w/ notes from individual classes, so here is a summary of some highlights in the last week.
A week ago Wednesday was Paul’s first night of bringing his Agility classes inside for the winter. This means our Wed night NW class will be either outside or in the Daycare building. I want to be out as much as possible, and after seeing NW2 and NW3 dogs struggle with Vehicles in Lake George, planned on a Vehicle search. I used the trailer, my car and the dumpster. The biggest challenges weren’t the searching, it was the lighting and footing! Lots of holes and lumps and bumps on the ground, and dark spots and blinding flood light, had the handlers attention split between their dogs and their safety. I had an inaccessible hide on the trailer and an accessible hide on the dumpster. My car was clear, and it was interesting to watch the dogs spend very little time on my car, until they came to the front, where odor from the trailer was pooling up. It was neat to watch them figure that out. Don’t worry too much about your dog going under a vehicle – hold them so they are not completely out of sight under the vehicle, and give them the opportunity to work the other side, but if they are curling around a tire, it is probably an inaccessible hide! I think the judges would rather you take the fault than see you pull your dog off odor.
Things were smoother once I moved my car into the light and on even ground. I think it’s good to challenge yourself and your dog – keeping all safe, of course – but it is good for both dog and handler to get out of their comfort zone sometimes. How willing is your dog to get to source, when there is something weird going on? Hunting in the dark, the uneven ground, mom/dad moving weird, blinding floodlights, etc.
Here I wanted everyone to see the difference between what your dog looks like when odor is present, vs when there is no odor. I set up 3 pods of chairs, and for the first class, odor was on the first pod of chairs for their first 3 hides. The dogs did not need to spend time down the length of the search area – it was pretty obvious they weren’t picking up anything and came right back to the hot chairs. Their next runs, the hides were at the farthest pod of chairs, and there were never hides on the middle pod of chairs. The dogs all took a quick pass at the blank chairs, but moved along. This will be helpful when you are doing a blind search in a large area – don’t be alarmed if your dog cruises thru an area, or doesn’t even go in an area – there is a good chance there is no odor there!
I did the same for our more experienced class, although there was plenty of odor already on the first and last pods of chairs. But again, we saw the dogs do quick searches of the blank chairs and quickly work the scent cone to the hot chairs. One of the chairs was pretty close to the wall with a hide on the back of it. This was similar to a hide we had done over the summer, that all the dogs really struggled with (I think there were 4-5 minute searches on it) Well, this time, the dogs all got it relatively quickly and easily – Much better than a few short months ago! My goal was for everyone to see their dogs scan an area, and feel good that if there was odor out there, they would find it. And, if your dog has scanned an area but is not coming up with anything, take a few steps into the area to get them to get them deep in the search area. One of the hides was way down at the end of the search area, and the dogs were circling and scanning, not narrowing it down. Once the handlers took a step or 2 deeper into the search area, and it wasn’t much movement on the handlers part, it got the dogs to move into a productive area. So even though I encourage everyone to move minimally in the search area, there are times when you need to step in and assist your partner. Once you see them pick up odor, or move into the area you want them, hang back and let them work.
Fun! New search areas for most of the dogs, much more complex than we’ve been doing. A few dogs were a little wary of the grooming tables, and then the tub room. Lots of dog and dog shampoo smells, plus an open window! I think they all did great, especially after that first run. The grooming table room seemed easier for them to track down odor. Keys here were to hang back at the start line – let your dogs enter the search area without coming up too closely behind them. This allowed the dogs to pick up the threshold hides, in some cases, before the handler even stepped into the room! The tub room was more challenging, and we’ve seen this room be challenging even for the NW3 dogs. The window was cracked, there are crates, nooks and crannies, cubbies under the tubs, cupboards, all sorts of things going on! The hide on the ladder facing the open area of the room – I think the odor was pooling on the crates nearby. The hide on the ladder facing the wall – the odor was pooling on the wall and nearby crate, but the pressure of the small space and on-lookers created a small challenge. I loved seeing Gidget figure out how to climb up the steps to access odor! Phil has really come a long way in his willingness to get close to elevated hides – he either balances on his hind legs, or stares directly up at the hide. Once he’s received a treat, he’s pretty willing to put a paw out to stabilize himself. Mia did some good focused searches, once she got her first pass out-of-the-way, and Oasis really shined – having more experience than the others, she made every hide look super easy.
Containers, containers and more containers! I wanted to expose the dogs to a variety of containers with odor, as well as various container configurations. Our first run was a LONG line of containers, with every other container being “hot”. This gave the dogs a chance to find 8 hides in all different types of containers. Interestingly, the little pink cosmetic bag that the NW2 dogs struggled with at the Sniff Thru on Sunday, did not pose any problems. The banana chips and Pirates Booty (cheese “popcorn”) was popular, too. After really warming them up on containers, I did a circle with only 2 hides. The handlers could stand in the center and sort of “lunge” their dog. This keeps you out-of-the-way, so if the dogs want to double back, they are not bumping into you. Lastly, I added some bags in the middle, and tried to have tall containers next to the low hot containers. The goal tonight was to teach the dogs that odor can come in any sort of container, that odor pays (not food), to work around dog drool (because every single bag had been sniffed over by the dogs at this point, so every single bag had some good, fresh dog odor on them) and for the handlers to keep track of what their dogs had checked or not, then make sure they hit each bag. NW2 is a little easier – once your dog finds the prescribed # of hides (1 or 2) you are done. NW3, you have to keep it going until you are satisfied that they have found all that is there to find, without keeping them out there so long that they false alert. I’m glad we got a lot of Containers in, but didn’t realize how warm it was outside – in hindsight, it would have been a great night to be outside! Oh well. Dress warm – we’ll probably be out next week.
After seeing NW3 and NW2 dogs struggle with the inaccessible vehicle hides at Lake George, that is what I wanted to work on. We used my car and the propane tank as vehicles, and between the spot light Jeanne hooked up and the great light Andy brought, we were able to get some good searching in. The inaccessible hide was deep behind my rear tire. The first pass, the dogs made it look so easy, you could hardly tell it was inaccessible. They were pretty quick to decide it was in the wheel well. I then moved my car but kept the hide where it was. This changed the scent picture quite a bit – the wind really had the dogs picking up odor under my rear bumper, causing them to want to go directly under the rear of the car to get to the axle where the hide was. Try to keep your dog from disappearing underneath a vehicle, but recognize that they are in odor and desperately trying to get to it. Move around the vehicle to see if they get a better read on it. Be willing to take a fault vs pulling your dog off odor. The dogs did classic sourcing behavior on an inaccessible hide – they worked the top of the tire, the spokes of the wheel, behind the wheel, moved off to the front of the car then back to the back tire, went around the back of the car then turned and came back to that wheel. They finally made their decision – some chose on top of the tire, one dog chose the spoke, and one almost crawled behind the tire and was practically at source. Remember the judge will not ask you Where on an inaccessible hide. In NW2, MOST LIKELY if there are 2 hides, they will be on separate vehicles. So once your dog finds a hide, move on to another vehicle – there can be up to 4, parked at crazy angles. Make note of where they show interest in case you have to get them back there. Many times I see dogs leave an inaccessible hide to go to an easy accessible hide first.
We then moved to do some general Exterior searching. With the steady wind in our faces, the dogs loved it! We had some good examples of dogs working, getting sidetracked by pee, then going back to work. The blank area at the far side of the search area had the dogs go flat… Ella and Nellie looked sort of bored down there, Koda did a quick scan. Remember if the wind is coming at you and your dog is scenting facing outside the search area, they are not picking up birch or anise! Turn them around and head with the wind back into the search area. The dogs all picked up the fence gate hide and did a right angle turn to get to it. The low hide on the far side of the tree and the wind pushing odor up the tree – if you didn’t know any better, you’d think it was a hight hide the way Nell worked it… until she dropped and worked the ground before alerting on it.
You have a few weeks before the trial in Spencer – get out a few times to NEW places you’ve never trained before. Set out your hides, then walk your dog in area away from your hides and encourage them to pee. Once they’ve found one or 2 hides, allow them the chance to pee again, then put them in the car and reset your hide(s). Keep your first couple hides simple and available . Try to set out the odor so that it can pool against or under something, like a chair or table. If it is on flat surface or pole, that can be trickier, as the odor is really free floating and not collecting (pooling) anywhere. This can be tougher for the dogs to pinpoint, especially if they are someplace new… it’s easy to get distracted by other odors. Practicing in the dark/semi-dark may be different for you and your dog – as long as you’re both safe, it’s good to take yourself out of your comfort zone. Figure out what will help keep your dog focused – is it re-cuing them to search? or does allowing them to scan the whole area before they start hunting work better? I think the biggest boost you’ll get is from working in new places.
The dogs did great! Cecil especially did a great job of HUNTING – he wasn’t paralyzed by the people watching. All the dogs did a nice job on the hides on the railing, gate, and trees. They all showed non-odor interest in the same areas the NW2 dogs showed interest, but all moved on easily to get back to hunting. Now it’s just a matter of the handlers recognizing hunting vs distraction sniffing. And then, what to do – let them work it out? Re-cue them to “Search”? Move along so they come away with you? With the hide behind the first tree, there was pee on the front side of the tree. The dogs hit that first, then picked up odor and got to work. If you pull them off too much/too far, they may leave the odor. Later on, we had some fresh pee to work around, and the dogs had to work past the pee to get to a hide. The wind in their faces really helped lead them to odor, and they made it look easy. I tried the more congested area with my car, some bushes and the building. They did a really nice job on the barn door hide. If they overshot the start line area hide, it was just a matter of how to get your dog to move back there. And the hide under the mat was probably the trickiest – but fun to watch the dogs work along the ground before pinpointing it. I thought it was a great successful night for your dogs – lots of outside hides, in a distracting environment with unknown, unexpected distractions, yet they all worked through them and were rewarded at source.
Another beautiful night outside under the lights! Here we worked a “hallway” / chute – I really want you to assume there will be a threshold area hide, and allow your dogs to enter the search area independently and work it, before you come in behind them. Too many times handlers step in behind their dogs and push them past the first hide. In a large search area like tonight, it’s tougher to get back there in time. The dogs did well here – a couple missed it, but did get back. I liked how the dogs all worked “around the corner”, off to the left of the start behind the left tunnel. It didn’t look like there was a lot of handler influence there – the dogs naturally moved in there, which was nice. And the hide on the chain was fun – even from a good distance, I could tell when the dogs were on it. The second pass had the dogs working converging odors – the ground hide on the right tunnel, and the hide on the little tire thing to the left. Max was a great example of this – which way do I go? Where do I start? Once he chose one and got rewarded for it, he pretty much knew where he wanted to go next. The ground hide near the weave poles was fun to watch from a distance – the dogs worked pretty close to the poles, then took a direct right angle turn to the hide. I have to believe the odor was pooling on the poles. The wind was at their backs from the start, so the hides in the left corner were actually blowing out into the center of the search area. When they got to the end of the left tunnel, they picked up that odor. Every dog got the hide in the grass by the weave poles by walking INTO the wind – they had gone down to the AFrame, turned and walked into the wind. And the last hide was interesting – Logan and Isaac really wrapped around the backside of the AFrame then came back to the hide – and Isaac was so clear in his alert that I knew it had fallen and was on the ground just from watching him alert. Jolie did a nice job on one of her hides, where she nose touched, sat, then got up and nose touched it again, making it really clear WHERE the hide was. And Max on his last hide – maybe the wind changed direction a bit? because he picked up odor from near the start and air scented and worked the scent cone directly to the hide. That was fun to see. I didn’t mention it, but I had done a private lesson w/ 2 dogs in there earlier – we walked and I’m sure dropped crumbs all over the ring, but the dogs were right on task. Ok, maybe the first run a few dogs weren’t hunting right away, but they all locked into the game quickly. I liked how in the second run everyone really let the leash feed out and worked at a nice distance from their dogs. In a nice big open space like this, there is no need to be on top of your dog… space allows them freedom to backtrack, circle or spin without running into you, and you can see the whole picture of their search, from nose to tail. None of the dogs took longer than 3 minutes to find 3 hides.
Now that Ozzie, Logan and Izzie are all in the NW3 trial in December, and with Isaac in the Nov NW2 trial, we have some pressure to practice! And of course, we can’t forget, Max and I will be in the NW1 trial in just over a week! Everyone may want to consider the Boyleston MA Element trial as good practice – and the chance at an Element title. It opens Tues Oct 21st. And, I recommend everyone read the rules for their trial level. If your’e like me, you can’t remember all the rules for all the levels, but learn the rules for your level.
Ok, I’m sure there were more things that crossed my mind in the last week, but I think that’s enough for now!