So much to share from my trip to San Diego and the California Narcotic Canine Association / K9 Nose Work symposium! I think my biggest take away, was that even the professionals start small and build on small, short, quick successes. They reward along the way, keep the dogs wanting more, use the reward that is THE MOST valuable to that particular dog, and keep the dog successful all along the way. Yes, their dogs are specifically bred and selected to be driven, high energy, motivated dogs, but even they can have an achilles heel (the German Shepherd who was afraid of stairs! the Belgian Malinois who was afraid of water!) And the training to get them to overcome those challenges? Just like what we would do… start small and build (the German shepherd started up just a few steps, got rewarded, and they slowly progressed him up the full flight)
So, I wanted to carry that theme to class. Short, quick, successful searches. I also wanted to work boxes for the NW1 class, and containers for the NW2/3 class. Meghan Ryder, and my assistant for the Beginner Agility class I teach before Nose Work, both offered to clear out the agility obstacles for our NW class. At the last minute, I thought it would be fun to leave it all in place and work around them. So, we scattered about 20 boxes all around the room, next to, behind, and between the agility equipment. Two boxes were hot, and we started with them just inside the start line, one to the right, one to the left. I had handlers stand back from their dogs, allow the dogs to get to the threshold, and hold the dogs there until they felt like their dog picked up odor. Most times, we saw the dogs choose a direction – they would scan right, then left, then seem to lock in on one side or the other – and most dogs lowered or dipped their heads. At that moment, the handlers would let the leash feed out before following their dog. The dogs did a great job of heading right to one of the boxes, and then quickly figuring out the second hide. Zeke stands out as one who is no longer “rounding up the sheep” – he is going to the hide and staying with it. Sakura really was perky, energetic, and clear in her final responses, she worked really well! Sam was much more focused this week – was it the leash? More stuff in the search area, and not as wide open as the past 2 weeks? Whatever it was, he did a nice job working right from the start line. Sophie was consistent – a good worker, very clear and solid. And Shandy did much better this week, too. She seems to be getting more focused and independent, and Jo is doing a nice job staying back and letting her work, yet being quick to get in and reward.
The dogs got a LOT of runs in, with the one real challenging hide placement being in the Bermuda triangle area – over by that wall w/ windows. Was it the heat, pushing the odor towards the wall? Was it the obstacle placement, and the lone box that looked like it was outside the search area? Maybe some of both… dogs not seeing the box, and the odor pushing away from the dogs. This was a good example of when the handler may have to step in – where has my dog NOT searched? That is the nice thing about NW1 & NW2 – knowing the # of hides! The dogs really impressed me with how focused on the boxes they were – they really did a nice job moving from box to box, not really thinking about an area search. Although it was clear they used the obstacles to work pooling odor, it was just as clear that they were not searching the obstacles themselves. I thought it was a nice leash handling exercise, as well. Since we are inside for the winter, we need to keep our long line handling skills sharp. Nice job to everyone for keeping the line off the floor, not hanging it up on obstacles, and not choking up too much on your leashes and crowding your dog. Because the idea of using a long line is that the dog feels like he is off leash, being light on the leash and preventing it from tangling (on your dog or obstacles in the search area) is key.
For the NW2/3 class, there were again 2 hides each run, however, this time, one was in a box, the other in a suitcase. There were 3 similar suitcases, so I tried to vary the placement of the suitcases… one run the hot bag was upright, the others on their sides. The next run, the hot bag was on its side, the cold bags upright, and one run had the hot bag and blank bags in the same orientation. Then all 3 in a row, fairly close together. Sometimes the box was near the suitcases, sometimes off by itself. These dogs were similar to the first class, in that they worked from container to container, not worrying about the room so much. The hold at the start was really effective with BoomBoom – he pretty much went straight to odor after assessing the area from behind the threshold. Teddy and Logan, however, really rely on the start line routine, and the verbal cue, before they wanted to move forward on their own. I think both dogs had a start line routine for different reasons, Teddy, to settle down and focus on the task, and Logan, to settle down and use his nose vs his eyes and ears (he is a sighthound, after all!) When I tried holding Quattro back at the start up in Saco, he was confused as to why he was being restrained, and turned back to look at me. So his LACK of a routine and all of a sudden having to stop at the start line had the opposite effect! Bailey and Max seemed to like being able to assess the search area then choose when to move forward. My hope for you all is that at a trial, you are thinking about focusing on your dog on your approach to the line. I tend to make eye contact with the judge’s steward, look forward into the search area, and THEN look to my dog, when we are toes on the line. My goal will now be to focus on my dog was we approach, and not be so polite to the judges steward! Those moments before crossing the start line can give your dog a huge amount of information, let’s use that and save time in the search area!
Most of the dogs all wanted more – we’d done several weeks of long searches with multiple hides, so finding 2 quick hides then heading back to the car left the dogs trying to continue searching as you pulled them away. Since the goals for the class were short, sweet, successful searches, I think we accomplished them!