Instructor’s Night Off

In the last few months, I’ve been working with two other CNWIs at a neutral location (a Holiday Inn)  It’s not a training session per se, we are not giving each other instruction and it is not run like a class.  It is basically an opportunity for us to work in a new place, and give our dogs exposure to new areas and a variety of hides.  We are given rooms / search areas by the contact at the hotel, and we divide them up.  We each plant hides, and run it blind (if wanted) or blind with assistance.   It’s been great to get to a non-dog training facility, with all sorts of people and food smells, and LOTS of tables and chairs (we usually get conference rooms or theater type rooms), which would be typical in a classroom interior search at a trial.

One great thing that has come about from our training, is working someone else’s hides.  It’s not that I’ve noticed any difference as far as odor recognition from working someone else’s Qtips; I feel that Quattro is completely odor obedient regardless of whose hides he’s searching.  I HAVE realized that everyone has a “hide style”.  Gail tends to use tables and chairs, while Nancy tends to do higher hides.  Not sure what I’m known for – maybe threshold? or converging?  I’d have to ask them!  Another hide placement that was popular was in a closet.  One of the rooms we use has a wall of smooth closet doors, and 2 months in a row, Quattro has struggled with that hide.  It made me realize two things.  One, apparently I don’t do “flat surface” hides often, or if I do, I always place the hide near a “thing”, so odor can pool up on it, draw the dog in, and then allow them to follow the odor to source.  When the hide is just on a blank wall, with no door knob, electrical box outlet, chair, etc, to pool on, Quattro just ran along the wall of closet doors, not even pausing to search them.  Secondly, I realized, that since we had the same hide two months in a row, and he had the same struggles two months in a row, that I had not practiced what was obviously a hole in my training.  I figured if I’m not practicing this with my own dog, I’m probably not practicing it with my students dogs!  So, that was our goal for classes the week of 4/11.

The other takeaway for me, was how beneficial it’s been working someone else’s hides.  Everyone has their own way of looking at the world – and search areas.  So for the weeks of  3/28 and 4/4, I took the night off, and had students plant the hides.

In Saco, we could divide up the rooms, so each person had a room to plant their hides.  Half the class would watch dogs search 2 rooms, the other half would do 2 rooms blind.  We’d switch, so that everyone had 2 blind searches and 2 known searches, including their own hide.

In York, I gave general areas, and we did pretty much the same thing… people did some blind and some known searches.

They were all blind to me!  Which was really fun… and gave me to another reason for working flat surface hides the week of 4/11…

But back to working someone else’s hides.  I enjoyed watching the dogs work when I didn’t know where the hide was.  Obviously, at this point I’ve watched your dogs work hundreds of hides, so it was fun to test myself to see how well I knew your dogs.  I enjoyed hearing everyone’s thought process after the dogs had all worked the hides.  For some, it was, I really DIDN’T have a thought process, I just slapped a hide out on something metal!  For others, they wanted to work on something that is a challenge to their dog, such as corners, tight spaces, the tin not front and center to the dog, or height.  I then asked if the dogs worked the hide the way the hide-setter expected.  There were some yes’s, and some surprises.   A couple hides had things that moved nearby, that the hide-setters did not think about when placing their hide.  They only noticed when a dog knocked it on their way to source.  Then there was the hide that was unexpectedly difficult.  On the face of it, it was pretty straight forward, but there were a few environmental factors that upped the difficulty.  The thought here was that the hide itself was unusual – unless you were at the Sniff Thru in March, your dog had probably never found source in between 2 sponges!  So the hide setter decided to make the placement of the unusual odor “container” simple; the sponges were out in the open on the edge of a table in the small break room in Saco.  Well, what appeared to be simple in theory, was actually made challenging by the height of the table, along with some metal poop cans that were grouped underneath the table.  They made getting underneath the hide a bit of a challenge for dogs who don’t like tight spaces, and the height of the hide made it challenging for the shorter dogs.  Welcome to my life!  It usually backfires when I say, “let’s do one more simple hide!”  Those usually turn out to be anything but!

Then, there were some hides that were incredibly difficult, if not impossible.  One was on a fan, on a crate.  The difficulty was that the tin was out in the open, facing up.  The fan was in the middle of a wire crate, and the hide was towards the back of the fan, making it very difficult for the dogs to source.  There were several wire crates next to the hide, so odor was clinging to every wire bar, to the right, to the left, underneath and above the hide.  Dogs had a ton of odor available to them, but couldn’t quite follow it to source.  After watching a few dogs struggle, we accepted WAY less (i.e., farther away from source) than we normally would have, so we could reward the dog when they were close.  Most dogs worked a LONG time at this problem, without false alerting and without giving up.

Another impossible hide, was under a plastic cone.  I am sure SOME odor had to have been escaping from underneath the cone, but obviously not enough to grab the dogs attention.  I fanned the cone when the dog wasn’t looking, and that really worked to get them interested and then alerting to the cone.

And one last hide that was impossible, was in the drawer of a plastic set of drawers, up on a table.  Even with the drawer open, the odor was well over the dogs heads.  They did not pick it up on the bottom or sides of the drawer.

Were these bad hides? I don’t  think any were impossible hides, but each had their own unique challenges that none of the dogs could figure out on their own.  I have certainly set some of these hides up, myself!  Sometimes you don’t know until you see 2, 3 or 4 dogs struggle how difficult the hide placement is.  I think we could do a whole class on repeating the “impossible hides”.  I would start with the hide CLOSE to the impossible placement, and do 2-3 passes working my way closer to how it was set up in class.

I really enjoyed these hides!  What I want everyone to think about when you are placing hides for your dog to practice, is What do you think the odor will do, and, How do you think your dog will work it?  One or the other may surprise you!  Another thing to be cognizant of when placing hides, is, is it near something fragile, breakable, or that may drop, slide or tip?  Will my dog pick up odor near the moveable object, and possibly get hurt or startled by it, on his way to source?  Luckily, the 2 hides where this happened, were not too dramatic, and the dogs are all so focused on source at this point, that they were not bothered.  Sarah had a tableful of fluorescent light bulbs in her search area, that I didn’t notice until the first do ran.  She obviously placed her hides AWAY from that table!  So keep safety in mind when planting your hides.

Trouble shooting:  We tried pairing on some of the impossible hides, but that didn’t seem to make a difference.  Which tells us how challenging those hides really were!  If I could sneak next to the hide while the dog was busy sniffing someplace else, I might fan the odor off the hide (like the cone example) or move the hide so that it’s closer to the edge, make it more accessible, more items blocking the dog, or lower the hide.  If I can’t sneak that by the dog, I’ll remove the dog briefly, make my adjustment, and have him come back in.  That way he is not watching you help him, he just comes back in determined to find that hide, and he does!

So, I hope you had fun watching someone else’s dogs work your hides, and getting to see your dog work your hide.  We’ve used the same search areas over and over, I thought it was interesting to have some fresh hide placements.  I try to be creative, but sometimes run out of inspiration… hopefully, you were inspired by some of your classmates hide placement ideas!

Happy hunting!

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