So we are two weeks into 2016 classes and in the heart of winter. While we do not have much snow, it sure was cold and windy last week!
Here is a little of my thinking for the past 2 weeks of classes, and what I saw.
6:30p Class Week 1: Containers, Interior
Week 1 followed 3 private lessons and an Agility class, so there were LOTS of dog and treat smells in the air! We did some “simple” boxes, about 12 white boxes, and from there the dogs searched a smallish Interior space. The grooming table proved to be the big challenge here, with toys and treats on top, some of the taller dogs would start to work odor under the table, then get drawn up to the distractions. It was a good challenge for them to chose target odor over distraction odor. The simple boxes were interesting to watch, as the heater blew the odor back towards the wall and around the base of the AFrame. Again, proving the point to let your dog work, and don’t be too concerned if your dog is working a wall during a container search. They may need to bank off the wall to follow odor back to source. Everyone had nice leash skills, no dragging leashes, no boxes getting looped in the leash, no feet getting wrapped up. That looked really good.
Week 2 also followed 2 private lessons and Agility class. This time, we worked a long table with chairs around it (and plenty of high value dog treats and toys on top of it), and some chairs kitty-corner in the corners of the small-ish search area. Table hides are always fun to watch. There was a hide on the end of the table, near my jacket sleeve, and then a hide up under the supports of the table. There were some interesting contortions by the dogs in order to get to source! Note / remember how the dogs use the environment to work odor back to source… several dogs needed to use the ring gates to “collect” pooling odor, then beeline straight to a chair or the table to source. Once again, making it clear that you don’t want to follow your dog closely or hover over them – they need space to work out the odor problem, and in a smallish space, where you have clear sight of your dog, hang back and watch them do their thing. There was also a wall hide, and a hide near the threshold but on the back edge of a chair. Dogs had to get into a small space to get that hide. Highlights for me were watching Shandy work out high (for her) hides – she was quicker to figure out the high scent problem this week. And Jo’s multiple rewards at source each time helped keep her focused and motivated, more so than week 1. Sakara looked back to her old self! Peppy and happy, very quick and motivated. She looked great! And Sam, while Cynthia felt like her now NW2 level dog has regressed, I think he’s telling us a clear message: Change my reward!! He is SO toy focused, why not use something he LOVES as his motivator and reward? The key is to begin by pairing the odor w/ the toy, and to have the toy on a string or rope so that Cynthia can control it. We don’t want Sam to run off with the reward and self-reward 10-20ft from source. If it is on a rope, Cynthia can keep the reward of the ball or tug fairly close to source. The next step is for him to search for odor alone, and AS SOON AS he’s there, toss the toy to him / source and tug it near source. You can start w/ open boxes so the toy isn’t bouncing all over the room. We can play around with that in the next classes. Zeke and Sophie were both motivated and focused, Zeke did a great job staying at source – especially his first run, where he many times likes acknowledge the hide, then clear the rest of the area and come back to the hide. He stayed right with it this week, no gathering sheep 🙂 Jean and Sophie worked a few blind hides, and Sophie did a great job sticking right with source, waiting for her reward.
7:30p NW2/NW3 Class Week 1
For the NW2/NW3 class, the first thing we did was search the whole room, minus a small ring-gated off area in the back corner. I can’t say it was a blank room, since I’d just had the earlier class working odor in 2 areas, but there were no accessible hides available. The idea was to follow the dogs, and when either you felt like they’d covered the area OR they turned to you (like, why aren’t there any hides out here for me?) you would take them outside. Outside, on the edge of the building, I had a box w/ odor in it, so they could get a find on their way back to the car. I have to say, I plagiarized this idea from a workshop I did w/ Carolyn Barney and Quattro, although we had a true blank area to start. If a dog spent some time in an area (Teddy focused on the front corner where my previous class had done the box hides), we moved them on. No sense in talking your dog into a false alert on lingering odor! Logan pretty much didn’t even want go to the far right of the room – he twice turned to Mike, like, what the heck, there’s nothing out here. On his second check in w/ Mike, we had them leave (and go to source outside, where he promptly smashed the box!). Isaac and Max did the full tour, but didn’t offer any false alerts, just worked honestly though the space. Bailey, too, did the round, probably the longest she’s worked a “blank” area. BoomBoom spent a little time in the front corner, but moved on, diligently working away. There WAS a hide in the back corner behind the ring gates, and I think he was the only one who really craned his neck over the ring gate and acknowledged the hide sitting out there.
The second time in the room, I opened up the back ring gates just enough for them to walk through, and added a hide by the dog walk, and one near the start. The dogs all worked these really well, all made their way into the ring gated area without prompting, and the dog walk area hide had some nice hunting. Max took the top down approach, and Issac went up and down the weave poles following odor. Bailey, Teddy and BoomBoom were fairly quick to get to source on this one, and I think Logan chased odor behind and under the dog walk before narrowing it down. Week 1 also saw some simple boxes. Yes, there have been NW3 trials with a Container search of just plain white boxes! One of yours had a toy in it, and another box had some stale dehydrated lamb treats. EVERY dog tried to false alert on the food! Since you all knew it was food, and showed no reaction, the dogs left it and alerted to odor. So, we know what we need to continue working on!
In Week 2, I liked the search area with the table and chairs so much, I used it in your class. We started with the same smallish search area and unknown # of hides, for those who wanted to work it that way. LOTS of lingering odor, slobber and crumbs to work through, and no false alerts. Yay! The end of the table hide was a good one, as was the hide on the table support up underneath. Some good hunting and persistence on those, esp from Bailey, who a year ago would have gotten frustrated, given up or started barking and trying to goof off. She especially showed some good endurance. Run 2, I opened up the ring gates, and gave you a larger area to work. The hide on the Aframe acted a little like a vehicle hide – odor was being picked up nearest the mirrors, when it was actually on the other side of the AFrame. Some dogs went around, others went under, Max went over – again, he likes the top down approach! The bigger challenge here for the dogs, was that the front half of your search area was loaded with pooling odor from both classes. They had to figure out that there WAS odor beyond the now-open ring gates and work through a relatively blank space to get to the last hide out there. So I thought that must have been interesting in their minds… how do they “clear” an area of hides, when there is a boatload of odor there, and know to move on? How and when does the handler decide to move the dog on? It reminded me a bit of Janis and Billie Sue’s NW3 search, where odor had pooled on a damp picnic table, yet there was no hide there. So I think it is a valuable thing for the dogs to figure out – when to give up on pooling odor. And valuable for the handlers to see, my dog is working away, but not coming up with anything, let’s move on.
We will do some more containers – not this week, but the following. I am heading to San Diego Wednesday for the California Narcotic Canine Association Symposium. Topics include, Nutrition for the Working dog, Selecting a working dog, Obtaining and Maintaining Excellence in the Working Dog, Understanding the Olfactory and the Hunt, and more. Should be fun!
See you all in February!