NW2 Trial recap

3 NW2 students made the drive to Litchfield, CT, on Memorial Day weekend to attend a NW2 trial.  For one, it was their first attempt, the other two have NW2 trial experience under their collars already.

Although there were no new NW2 titles in Maine after this weekend, by all accounts it was a good experience.  Sandy and Nell felt like they learned the most after this trial, Janis felt the most relaxed and confident in her dog at this trial, and Barbara was able to get Oasis back in focus in the last :30 seconds to overcome distractions in her first element, then move on to do really well in Interiors.

The challenge for some was the Vehicle element.  Held in a large building, the 4 vehicles (including a boat trailer and go cart, 2 vehicles) were fairly far apart.  This caused some confusion for Nell, and in hindsight, Sandy wished she had stepped in and helped her dog here.  There is that balance of letting the dog work, but knowing when they need help, either refocusing, or getting to a productive area.  Maybe they are stalled out because there is no odor where they’ve searched?  Maybe they are stalled out because of some environmental issue, or because they are hot, tired, etc.  That is where knowing your dog comes in, as well as knowing how to move them out of their funk.  Barbara felt Oasis was super distracted and not hunting during this search… she found the first hide, but was still having trouble with focus.  Barbara stepped in and tightened up the leash, and did a more directed search.  At the :30 warning, Oasis snapped into odor and they got the 2nd hide.  Billie Sue, however, really liked this search.  Maybe the spaced out vehicles suited her search style, because she came in 2nd place!  A nice comeback after the last NW2 trial, where it was the vehicles that tripped them up.

I personally like to let the dog work on their own, chose their path in the search, but if I see my dog getting sidetracked by animal odor, or distracted by the volunteers, or stall out, I will step in… either re-cue them to search if I feel like they are on animal odor or people, or if they are just sort of stuck, I’ll step forward and try to bring them to an area we have not covered before.  Once they get back into hunting mode, I hang back and let them lead again.  But sometimes you keep thinking they’ll snap out of it, only to run out of time 😦

The Interior rooms sounded small, a threshold hide and 2nd hide deeper in one room, and the 2nd room super small, hide under a sink.  Nell found something about the area under the 2nd hide aversive… would not search the chair, a chair like we search all the time.  How to get your dog to search an area they find aversive, yet you can tell there is odor there?  Well, Sandy felt like maybe she could have put the leash on Nell and led her over there.  That might have worked.  She thought about directing Nell to the chair, that might have worked, too.  You can also pull out treats mid-search, talk to your dog, do whatever you need to do to make them comfortable, and re-cue them. Obviously, I try to let the dog work it out on their own before I step in, but you CAN talk to, guide, treat, leash, and encourage your dog mid-search.  The good news, Sandy didn’t talk Nell into a false alert, and Nell didn’t false alert to please Sandy.  Oasis really liked this search – she came in second place!  And Billie Sue came in 6th.

I liked the feedback from the Exterior search – 2 hides, one they all seemed to find first, was in the handle of a bucket. The other hide, was up on a deck.  I liked hearing how after the dogs found one hide, the handlers thought, where haven’t we been?  And steered/guided/directed their dogs towards the deck, then let dogs work.  Perfect teamwork!

Lastly, Containers… always tough when you go into Containers last, after passing 3 elements.  You start to worry about your dog false alerting, you start to think you are THIS close to your title if only you don’t false alert, you start to think, so what IS the difference my dog shows between food and odor? And all that thinking about a false alert can steer you right into a false alert.  Oasis slipped on a banana peel (haha) and showed just enough interest in a banana distraction that Barbara called Alert.  Billie Sue prefers baked goods (I’m with her!) and alerted on a blueberry muffin.  Nell had no problem with this one.

The take aways for me as an instructor, are:

-for ME to step in and tell students when it is ok and/or recommended that THEY step in to take control of the search, just for a second, to get their dogs back on track

-HOW to help their dogs overcome a challenge, whether that’s buoying them up, reminding them what the reward is, shortening the leash, bringing them to a more productive area, or leaving the search while I adjust the hide

-set up challenges similar to an exercise we did this winter, where dogs had one hide in the same place for all their searches… I added stuff to partially obscure the hide that the dogs had to work through and around, building their confidence with each search that they would / could get to source, even though they had to work for it

-set up a search area where there is no odor in one part, so the dogs have to work through a large blank area before they get close to the hide (I think we did that once or twice this winter, when we searched 2 contiguous rooms, and the hide was in the 2nd room)  Have the handlers think about when to move their dog on, and when to continue letting the dog figure it out

Containers:

When I first started NW2 Containers w/ Jinxx, I was trying to learn the difference between a food alert and an alert on birch/anise.  The class 3 days before our first NW2 trial, Jinxx false alerted on every single container.  However, in the 3x we took to pass NW2, we never falsed on Containers.  There were moments I was holding my breath, having a stare-off with her, trying to figure out if she was on odor or distraction, but in the end I made the right call.  It was a gut feeling – if it didn’t feel right, it wasn’t source odor, and I didn’t call it and moved on.

By the time we got to NW3, we had a LOT more Container practice behind us.  At this point, I had exposed her to as many distractions as I could think of: scented candles, coffee, baby powder, potpourri, seaweed, horse manure, all categories of food (meat, dairy, baked goods, combinations of all, fruit, pizza, sandwiches, etc) as well as toys.  We got to the point where she might show passing interest – a head flick – but barely a pause, she would move on and show a LOT of interest in the odor container.  This is not to say I NEVER false alerted in Containers, we did, but it was always after we had broken down elsewhere in the trial (a false alert in Interiors, where I kept her searching too long, and that usually broke my concentration and confidence in her for future elements.  This seemed to cause her to look to me more, probably sensing I wasn’t happy with myself and wondering what was up)

In practice, I always knew what was distraction and what was odor.  I completely ignored anything she did on non-odor containers, and waited for her to move on on her own.  As SOON as she showed interest in the hot bag, I swooped in to reward.  I did this many times, with many different container types, in many configurations, indoors and out, at my house as well as at a basketball court and tennis court nearby.  I didn’t wait for her “final response” – it was the interest I was rewarding.  The head snap, a longer sniff, a nudge.  Eventually she would get to the bag before I could, and her behavior at source developed into a down or play bow and aggressive nudging.  Some of my favorite searches became our container searches, when we just flowed through the search area, she giving each bag a quick sniff, maybe a slight double take, but moving on until one bag would stop her, she’d bow/down, and aggressively nudge it until I called alert and came in to reward her.  At our last NW3 trial, this is pretty much what she did, although after she found the (one and only) hide, she began pushing around every other bag.  But she would push it into the next bag, then push that one, then the next – just playing; she was done so I called Finish.  We got a Pronounced on that search 🙂 and came in 6th out of the 15 who passed that element.

So we will do more with distractions, and allow the dogs to explore a distraction (without partaking in it, of course!) and reward generously at source.  The reason I enjoy seeing teams place in the top 10, isn’t because I want everyone to be super speedy, or that I value fast dogs.  To me, it shows the singleminded purpose and focus of the dog.  The dog is able to forgo all the interesting smells, things, people and sounds in a search and get down to business.  They must have been clear in their final response, so clear that the handler could call Alert right away, with confidence.  As a handler, those are really fun searches.  My other favorite searches, are ones similar to Barbara and Oasis’s Vehicle search, where we had a challenge that we overcame, just within the time limit.  I was proud of myself for recognizing when I needed to step in, and for knowing what to do in that moment, to make us successful.

I’m proud of Janis, Barbara and Sandy for making the long drive, on a holiday weekend no less, venturing someplace new (first trial ever in CT) and coming away with great memories from their best searches, their day hanging out with others who share their passion, and ideas on what to focus on going forward.  And also all the Pronounced badges of honor that were earned!  And most of all, the positive attitudes of each person – it would make my “job” as an instructor a lot harder if everyone was sour about not titling.  At least if you were sour, you kept it to the car ride home, and I appreciate that!

I’ll see you all on Tuesday!

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