Ok, I REALLY have to get better at posting!
Here is a summary of some of my thoughts and goals for this session so far…
Week 1 – The Obstacle Course
Welcome back! Well, I started everyone off with a challenging evening for their comeback after Holiday Break. The dogs had 4 hides, arranged in a long, slightly narrow search area. The first thing they came to were 3 boxes, one had odor, nice and simple. After getting rewarded there, they moved forward, where there was a screen blocking them – they could either go around one narrow side, or under the AFrame to get to source. Either way, they had to walk through a large pile of crumpled up brown paper to get to source. Once they got that, they moved forward to another hide, that was relatively easy. The next hide was behind a screen of sheets – they could go under the sheet to get to source, or around into the small space to get to source.
The idea here was, how badly do they want to get to source? I think they all enjoyed the challenge of the AFrame / paper, although the first class had never done a search where there were 4 hides out at once, and really struggled with moving on after the first find. You could see how conflicted they were – they found the first easy hide, and knew there was another, but between the draft from the heater and their experience level, they kept getting drawn back to the first easy hide. It seemed they could find 2 hides, but had difficulty in separating the converging odor into 4 separate hides.
The second, more experience class had no problems moving from one hide to the next, although it was interesting to see their comfort level with some of the “obstacles”. Little Sophie had no problems going under the AFrame or under the sheet, while others preferred going around the screens to get to source. Sakura wasn’t keen on the papers, once she heard them make a noise. Cindy did a great job of first waiting her out (maybe she would decide to go back into the paper on her own?) and when Sakara showed that she knew odor as in the papers, but looked to Cindy for help, Cindy marched through the papers herself, then backed out. That gave Sakara the support she needed to wade in go to source on her own.
We’ll do more of this sort of exercise – get the 5p class so they can work multiple hides, and get both classes comfortable in unusual environments. Because you never know – there was one trial where we had to go over a bridge spanning a river, one trial where while searching a bathroom, the urinal flushed! there was an Element trial where dogs searched on Astro turf, then up on narrow bleachers, etc. So while there won’t be intentional “obstacles”, things may happen during or on the way to a search that may throw you and your dog – the question becomes, how quickly can you both recover and continue searching?
Week 2 – Multiple Hides in Boxes
So continuing on with the multiple hides theme, I kept it a little more simple by just using boxes in the search area, no screens or obstacles. I didn’t used to do multiple hides for the NW1 level dogs, but found that when dogs were ready to move to NW2, and started training with multiple hides in the search area for the first time, that was a big challenge for the dogs. They were SO used to getting lots of rewards for one hide, they were reluctant to move on. Especially if one hide was fairly accessible and the other was more challenging – why leave the easy hide that pays, to source out a second hide? By doing searches where there is more than one source present, dogs realize that they can get paid as they move on. It is a skill dogs have naturally – there are 3 squirrels under your bird feeder, you let your dog out, and they chase down first one, then the next, then the 3rd. Lots of converging odor, 3 different paths to get to three different sources (squirrels)
So the search area looked similar to the previous week – long and narrow, but this time there were boxes scattered through it. There was a threshold hide (all the dogs got this one, every time) then a tall box with odor at the bottom of it, then a tiny little box, then another big box lying flat on the floor, with tall boxes in front of it. There was a fifth box this week, back in the corner of the search area behind a chair.
The first class with less experienced dogs, all did great with the threshold box, and the tiny little white box. It was really fun watching them work the odor that was pooling on the blank upright boxes – sometimes they would work a blank box then go back to a previous hide, other times they would work the pooling odor deeper into the search area to a new source.
The more experienced dogs in the next class did a nice job with the pooling odor problems. BoomBoom was on fire, moving from one to the next smoothly and efficiently.
What I liked about this exercise was 2 main things. The learning on the dogs part: working different types of boxes made for different odor problems – tiny box w/ 4 Qtips has a high concentration of odor, large box with 4 Qtips means the odor is not as concentrated, tall box with a long opening meant the odor was rising from inside the box like a chimney and spreading on the AFrame – could the dogs figure out that the source was actually down low in the box, or that that box held source? Tall blank boxes acted as walls to catch odor from nearby boxes – could the dogs figure out that pooling odor and work it back to source? The other main thing was the learning the handler did… not just observing their dogs work the above problems, but learning how they needed to move through the search area to make sure their dogs were covering the whole area. Where to position yourself so your dog works an alcove, or goes deep into a space, or gets into a corner? Having hides spread through the search area, and knowing where the hides were helped you see where your dog had covered / worked and where they missed. Even in NW1, where there is only one hide, if you see your dog hunting but not coming up with anything, consider moving to a new space in the search area. A large classroom can be challenging, if your dog is stuck in the front third of the room, and not coming up with anything, you may want to move deeper into the search area (without saying his name or calling her to you!) And of course for NW2, your dog needs to understand they found one, now let’s move on and get the next one. For NW3, the handler has to keep track of where their dog has and has not been, since they won’t know the number of hides, other than that there COULD BE up to 3.
Week 3 – Simple, or Not So Simple?
So, after some complex problem solving from your dogs in the past 2 weeks, I thought I’d pare things down. I did a straight line of 12 metal chairs, with a start line between 2 ring gates. Simple, right? Ha! There were no boundaries for your dogs – they were free to roam the entire building once you let them loose. The simple part was that the hide was always on the same place on the pink chair, and they’ve done lots of chairs. The CHALLENGE was the dog didn’t know that, AND the first run, the hide was chair 10 in the line. So your dogs stepped up to the start line, and really didn’t have a lot of odor available to them. Unlike the last 2 weeks, where there was a hide 3ft in front of them. I was curious – how your would dogs work this? Would the 5p class be motivated enough to go deep into the search area, when they were starting without the strong presence of odor? When I moved the pink chair from 10th in the row to 1st in the row, would the dogs still race to the back of the search area? What was the heat going to do to the odor – were the handlers going to be worried their dogs were “wandering off” or could we tell that they were chasing odor? I had also put a ring gate near the pink chair, thinking the odor might pool up against the gate. Would the dogs figure out how to work the pooling odor back to source?
For the second run, I moved the pink chair to a corner, near the mirrors and a screen, positioning it so the hide was back in the corner. The 5p class with all the tall dogs, worked to source over the top of the seat of the chair. The 6:15p class dogs worked it from over the top, as well as around the back and from under, depending on the size and comfort level of the dog. I also moved the chair so it was near the AFrame (tucked up tight for the more experienced class) and off to the side of the row of chairs.
Here is the link to the videos for the 5p class via YouTube
And here is the link to the 6:15p class via YouTube
Find the answers to the questions I had before class started (how does environment, expectation, experience factor in), and see how the different dogs work – breed, experience, individual characteristics all influence the way they work.