This weeks classes in Saco were about observing your dog in the presence and absence of odor. At this stage, everyone recognizes when their dog is “in odor” and nearing source. For most dogs, it’s some combination of any or all of the following: a big head snap or change in direction, slowing down, closing their mouth, audibly sniffing, wagging their head up and down back and forth, becoming more animated, wagging their tail, then planting their front feet and hovering at source. For some dogs, they wag like crazy at source, for others, they point or freeze at source, and others paw.
But what about the time between the start line and source? Some dogs do a quick buzz of the room, scanning as they go, getting their bearings, then head back to where they’ve cataloged odor of interest. Others enter cautiously, and methodically work their way around the edges or head to productive areas, such as tables, chairs or boxes. Some get their bearings at the start line (provided their handlers give them adequate time!) and head in the general direction of source in an efficient manner. Some dogs start out hunting, but get side tracked – by dog odor, dropped treats, a dead leaf on the floor – then get back to work. Most are clear when they are sniffing non-target odor. On dog odor, they are very stiff and still – yet this is not a final response, such as a point or freeze. This stillness is not preceded by the head snap, audible sniffing and jerky head motions as they chase odor. This stillness has them sniffing in a small area, investigating it, not tracking it.
Then there are the times when you know your dog is working – he’s moving through the search area, hunting, sniffing, detailing and spending time on productive areas such as tables, corners, chairs, but is not staying in any one place. He has not found any odor at this point, and if he stays circling the area too long, will start to look either flat or frenetic. Sometimes the dog will broaden his search on his own – move to a new area or corner he may have glazed over initially. If not, now is the time to step in. This could be as simple as moving to the opposite side of the room, moving towards an alcove you’d like your dog to check, or moving deeper into a large room.
To put all this into practice, I had dogs in the NW1, NW2 and Continuing NW classes work lots of odor in one room, while giving them access to 2 additional rooms (the bathroom and “tub room”) Dogs had the option to go in, yet there was no odor in either side room during their first run. The dogs found 4 hides in the grooming room, and would occasionally buzz into the bathroom and come back out, or take a step or 2 into the tub room, and come right back out. There were 2 hides where the dogs went into the bathroom or tub room, then came out and went right to source. It was as if the odor was drifting into the blank rooms, the dogs chased odor and realized they were moving further from source, turned around and followed it directly to source. Note to self: don’t panic if your dog is leaving the designated search area. Odor does not know the search area perimeter, and neither does your dog. There was one hide in the bristles of a broom at the start line. The dogs that missed it, worked into the tub room, up and down the door jamb, then around the corner to the broom. Very fun to watch!
For their 2nd pass, I put a hide in the tub room, fairly deep in the room. The dogs came in to lots of pooling, lingering odor in the grooming area, and scanned the room – most dogs did several laps before deciding to broaden their search to the tub room. Some dogs got stuck in the grooming room – they just had lots of success there, and it did smell like birch, so there has to be a hide here! These were the dogs who just needed the handlers to take 2-3 steps into the tub room, and they would run in ahead of their handlers, pick up odor and work it under the tubs to the little stool.
So, you can practice this odor/no odor at home, using contiguous rooms, allowing your dog to find several hides in one room, then set a hide in an adjoining room. See how long your dog takes to widen his search area, and think about when and how you would step in to help.
NW3 this week was also about odor / no odor, but in a different set up. The first room, the small break room, was clear – NO ODOR. Handlers were given 2 minutes. Every dog, when given the search/find command, took 2 steps in, then tried to U-turn and squeeze their way out of the room. Holly, Mike and Sarah all jokingly said, I almost called Finish when my dog tried to leave in the first 3 seconds! Good read on your dogs! But, you never know if there is a hide deep in the room, so you do want them to at least give it a scan. Most handlers waited to the :30 second call to call Finish. The dogs all scanned and scanned, circled and circled the room, but did not stay in any one place. The room is small enough that the handlers could stand at the threshold and let the dogs work. At this stage, if your dog does Alert, even if you can’t see their face/nose in the crowded space, you have time to move closer because your dogs will stay with source. If you come up behind them in this small space, you put importance on an area that potentially has no odor, and block them into an area, which may make them work harder, thinking there must be odor there… the harder they sniff, the more certain you are that there is odor there… and you each start to sell each other on a hide that is not there. Go with your initial instinct – the dogs all wanted to leave the room, they circled that small space for a minute and a half without coming up with an area of interest, it’s time to get out of there.
The next area was a new area – yeah! The “bedroom”, filled with crates, a few poles, 2 alcoves, a few exterior doors, 2 open windows on one side of the room, rows of crates with wider aisles up the center of the room. I wanted the dogs to walk into source odor, so there were 2 hides within 10ft of the start line, one straight ahead and nose level to a greyhound, the other on the floor in a corner of the first alcove. The 3rd hide was WAAAY down at the back left corner of the room, on a folding chair that was on a crate at the back (nose-height or just above for a greyhound)
The first 2 dogs, BoomBoom and Roxie, bypassed the first two hides, but REALLY enjoyed their scan around the room – they moved quickly, independently, sniffing as they went, did a big loop before slowing down and focusing on an area. I think they both got the hide at the back of the room first, then worked back to the front. BoomBoom picked up odor at the back of the room and followed it down a very long narrow aisle behind a row of crates. He got all the way to the half wall (source was on the other side of it on the floor) and had to back all the way down the aisle, come around the front of the crates, sniffing all the way, and then finally around this little wall where he picked up the other hide. It was great – Holly saw the higher hide and figured that was what he was working, Jeanne saw the hide on the floor and thought that was what he was working. He was probably working both – converging odors! He circled around, Holly stepped out of his way, and he got the one of the floor, then turned and went right to the higher one. Roxie chose a similar path, except on the opposite side of the room – she ran all the way down the other aisle of crates, but this one had an egress, so she didn’t have to back out. It was pretty clear when they were scanning the large open space between the hides – yes, they were hunting, but just not in odor. When they got close to source, it was clear they were in odor. Logan is the only one who went directly to the 2 threshold hides. For the environmentally sensitive dog, he really proved you can’t label a dog, and to leave any preconceived notions at the door. The rain was dripping off the roof onto something metal outside the open windows, so there was some noise distraction, that he was aware of, but able to work through. He got a little hung up on the hide on the far end of the room – the open window was pushing odor into the alcove by the other exterior door, and he was in odor on the opposite side of the crate from source… Mike (and Sarah with Rita) just had to walk around the crate, and he worked his way around to source. Tyrah did a nice job moving through the space, and was very clear when at source. Jeanne did a nice job of letting her work the alcove and giant crates, then backing out so as not to box her in. For Rita, our NW2 dog, she worked a room with 2 hides (one inaccessible) and then worked the large room. She did a great job going directly to the accessible hide, which I had thought would be challenging, due to the plant, the stool, the fact that it was a “hanging” hide on the side of a floor lamp, but she made it look easy. She spent her energy after that sniffing dog odors, and then trying to figure out the inaccessible hide. We had her find one hide (her choice) in the large room, rewarded, and ended there.
So, this is something to practice… get your eye used to seeing what your dog looks like when they are scanning – moving quickly yet still hunting – so that when you are in a trial, and are in a clear room, or your dog is working a blank vehicle, you don’t panic and think they are not really working. I like giving them a larger space to work, too. All the dogs searched longer than I think they have in the past. I gave the NW3 dogs 4:30 in the large room, and this was after they searched the blank room for almost 2 mins. I don’t always want to have the doing LONG searches, but sometimes it’s good to stretch what your dog has done in the past. Building that sniffing endurance and seeing how persistent your dog will be, without demotivating them and have them give up or burn out, I think it’s good to throw at them every so often. And, it’s good to push our patience with them, too – how long are we willing to let them work it out without stepping in? It’s good exercise for dog AND handler.