Spring and Summer Class Set Ups and Goals

Well, between puppy and yard, I’ve been avoiding my computer.  So here are some of the training goals I wanted to accomplish and some of the things we worked on to accomplish those goals in June and early July.

Goal:  Put a little pressure into class by giving people a short time limit and unknown number of hides.  How many could you and your dog find in a limited amount of time?  Knowing where the hides were afterward, would you have changed your strategy?

I set up some indoor/outdoor hides, I believe I had 8 or 9 hides out, some in the ground / on the floor, others on a metal chair, a table, on the wall or door.  I gave everyone :30 seconds to find what they could.  Some dogs didn’t pinpoint any, although they were working odor the whole time, others found 2 and got paid for 2 hides.  The 2nd pass I gave everyone 3:30 to find as many as they could.  While no one found all, the dogs did a great job of working out the converging odor problems that that many hides creates.

Goal:  Working in the wind – what does your dog look like when he is chasing odor, following pooling odor back to source, and where do you need to be positioned to allow him to work it out?

The set up that comes to mind here is the Saco classes, where we had a steady wind that the dogs were working into.  I had placed hides along the horse fence, then on the trees about 12ft away from the fence.  The dogs would work the fence and follow the channeling odor along a fence rail to source, then leave the fence to check out a tree.  It seemed the tree hides were pooling on the fence, so the dogs would do a right angle turn from fence to tree.  There were several hides out – 4-5 – and the dogs zigzagged down the long narrow search area, moving from fence to tree and back.  This was where standing back and out of your dogs way really made a difference.  We had one particularly high hide set up, that the dogs did a beautiful job climbing the tree to get as close as possible.  We had some fresh dog smells that were contributed to the search area, that were good learning for the dogs to work through and around.

In the York classes, we worked in the shade at the back of the School building.  The dogs were working into the breeze, and odor was on the school near the start, then down by the back end of the building, as well as on the grass under a leaf clump.  The dogs picked up odor from a good distance away, and followed it to source nicely.  The grass hide was a challenge for some dogs, others had no problem sourcing it in the leaf clump it was buried under.  The most interesting hide here was the last run, I decided to put a hide in the tree branch that dips down.  The dogs clearly were in odor, but the wind was swirling, and there was no solid surface nearby for them to use as support.  While only one of the Wednesday night dogs found it, I think it was good to keep them wanting more.  They all clearly knew there was odor out there, and were circling, chasing it, following it to the nearest solid surface ( the propane tank some distance away)  For the Thursday night dogs, I tried placing a chair under the tree branch, to catch the odor.  This did work in getting the dogs working the pooling odor, but it still wasn’t easy.  Teddy got so frustrated (and he was SO close!) that he began chewing grass and chomping on a stick frantically to take out his frustration.  This was an example of “accept less to gain more”.  If we had been quick enough to reward he and Zeke when they were nose-up toward the branch (accepting less than a perfect nose-on alert), we could have avoided frustrating them and possibly given them the confidence to check high the next time (gaining a quicker understanding of the hide placement).  I don’t think we broke the dogs, I actually think it’s sometimes good to push them to see what they can give.  Not every class will be that hard, and every practice shouldn’t be that hard, but sometimes it’s good to see how determined they are to “win”.

Goal:  Working in uncomfortable weather

While I could have done simple “hide on a chair” searches the night it was in the upper 80’s temperature-wise, I opted for a multiple hide search.  There was one on a shovel laying on the ground, there was one on the wall, there was one in the water bowl (!!) and one under a mat that all the dogs all had to walk over to come in. The mat hide ended up being the most challenging!  The holes of the tin were facing up, so odor should have been available, so was it the breeze blowing into the building that causing the dogs to chase odor into the search area, where they would find and alert on other hides, or have we just not done enough ground-level hides?  While the dogs were pretty hot and pokey, it is good to know what your dog looks like when he is working in conditions that aren’t favorable to him.  Also, working out what will make your dog more comfortable – running the car w/ the A/C on, wetting their bellies, neck and under their legs, getting them to drink, etc.  How do you keep them comfortable and motivated to hunt when they are hot and panting?  Can you tell when they are hunting vs trudging along panting?  Sometimes their odor recognition is more obvious when they are moving at a snails pace!

Goal:  Working converging “wind” currents

There were a few classes that we did indoors, with multiple fans blowing.  Floor fans and ceiling fans.  I set up wind screens (tables tipped on their sides) and the ring gates.  Dogs could go on either side of the screens, there was really no defined search area.  There was also a “wall” that created a small “room” (made of x-pens with sheets on them)  This room was the easiest place for the dogs to locate odor – as soon as tney entered the room, they almost immediately went to source.  The other hides were far trickier, but it was really fun to watch them chase odor across the floor and work it back, or work it along the tables (walls) then back to source.  One interesting hide placement which was fun to watch the dogs work out was on the side of the black metal coal bucket.  The tin was under a little overhang on the outside of the bucket.  The dogs seemed convinced that the hide had to be in the bucket, would walk away, then come back to work it again.  It seemed they had a preconceived notion (hide must be IN the bucket), but when they didn’t find source, knew they had to work harder.

Goal:  Remembering Vehicles

Gosh, it had been a LONG time since we did a vehicle search.  The nights we worked the car were hot, so we did some pairing, as well as multiple hides along the car to motivate the dogs to work the car.  Parked next to the building, odor would pool up along the garage door, causing the dogs to leave the car then work back to it.  Remember that during a trial – try not to stress when your dog is not glued to the vehicles, since they could be chasing odor.  However, if they are investigating pebbles, picking grass, or gazing into the distance, it might be time to get them refocused and take control of the search.  Once your dog gets back to the vehicle, step back and turn the search back over to them.

Goal:  Working a LARGE indoor/outdoor search area (NW2/NW3 Wed class)

This was fun, in that dogs started outside the training building, had the whole room, and into the agility field!  It was a LOONG narrow search area with multiple hides, and the 2 open garage doors sort of acted like a wind tunnel.  The 2 hides I thought would be challenging (one on each side of the far garage door) proved no problem.  The one in the grass was a little more difficult, and there was a hide or 2 in the middle that many dogs passed.  But I enjoyed watching the dogs cruise along the large search area, doing their natural hunting style with no real boundaries.

So those are some of the things we worked on, exposed our dogs to, and learned from our dogs.  Looking forward to more as we wind down summer… Expect some Vehicles and Container searches, as I feel like we’ve done a fair amount of outside hides.  There are lots of trials coming up this fall, so keep an eye out for entry dates, and if you are not ready to trial, or don’t get in, consider volunteering.  It’s a great way to support your fellow students, and get more comfortable with the whole trial process.

Happy sniffing!

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