Quattro’s first Nose Work trial experience! Why drive to PA for an Element Specialty trial? Well, there has been nothing on the calendar so far this year, Element trials seemed like a good first step into a trial experience, and 2 Element trials equate to 8 quick searches, with all the complexities of a real trial: parking lot etiquette, waiting in the car, waiting at the staging areas, searching with a judge, timer, videographer, photographer. Oh, and the hotel and travel time – all things to get used to.
I felt ready – we had done a lot of box work in the house when Quattro was neutered and on “house arrest” (i.e., no off leash play for 2 weeks!) and he had been looking really good at our monthly practices with Gail and Nancy. And then… one week after he was neutered, he came down hard with Lyme. He slept and did not eat for 4 days, had intravenous antibiotics and pain meds, plus needed about 12 pills a day. I almost pulled out of going, but thought, he HAS to be feeling better by Sunday! And he would have 2 days of rest: the drive down and then when I volunteered on Saturday. So I was hopeful he would make a turnaround, perk up and feel good enough to eat and be willing to play.
The trial site was really pretty – a camp on a hill, with 2 ponds, many outbuildings and lots of pretty landscaping. For the NW2 trial, I video’d interiors and worked with a new judge. Lisa is a bed bug and drug detection dog handler (for the private sector). I found her to be very fun, engaging, knowledgeable and supportive. She felt SO bad saying “no”. Here are the things that stuck out to me from the searches, in no particular order:
-Odor obedience will overcome environmental challenges and handler nerves. The dogs who had a strong response to odor could work through any worries about the slippery floors, the people in the room, the handler being too close or crowding them. The handlers who recognized their dogs change in behavior and paused to observe their dogs were able to overcome any nerves. Once the dogs showed odor recognition (change in direction, slowing down to sniff an area, focused sniffing) the handlers relaxed and felt confident in calling the Alert.
-Some dogs came in with one thing on their mind: finding the hides. These dogs were very motivated to search; they were unafraid of the slippery floors, not phased or interested in the volunteers and not bothered by where the handler was or what the handler was doing. These dogs made it look easy, because they were so single-minded in their task, and clear and easy to read when at source. However, it would be interesting to see them really be challenged by a hide – would their handlers have the skill to step in and take control of the search, or would they be used to the dog doing all the work? For those of us who have worked dogs who are NOT that immune to environmental distractions, we know how to “pick up the slack” for the dog to get them over their nerves, so the odor obedience kicks in and the dog does the rest of the work. To me, this is what it is to really be a team. Some dogs make it easy to be a team of one – the dog is so clear and motivated that the handler does very little. Yes, they finish in the top ten and they title, but when things get tough, how will they do? There is a lot of learning that happens when things don’t come so easy.
-Some dogs came in with nerves over the highly varnished floors, the judge, the timer in the corner, and me the videographer positioned between the two hides. The handlers who allowed their dogs time to settle in – do a lap around the room, give me a sniff, look at the timer – gave their dogs comfort just by allowing them a few moments to do a “safety check” on the environment. Once the dogs had that out of the way, they got down to business and found the 2 hides. When they got to the second room, they wasted no time in going to source. These were nice teams to watch – the handler assisting and supporting the dog, and the dog doing the work to communicate the find.
-The struggles some of the teams had were when the dogs were a bit apprehensive, and the handler was nervous, feeling the pressure of the clock. They transmitted that time pressure to their dog, who needed more time to feel comfortable before they could search. The more pressure the handlers put on these dogs, the more the dog shut down. Some examples were constantly telling the dog to “search” or “find it!”, moving the dogs along – sometimes pulling them away from odor (these rooms had to be done on leash, since they were fairly open to each other with no doors separating the 2 search areas) and general tight leash and directed searching, when the dog was not ready to search. The dogs responded by sniffing the floor, looking out the windows, and generally walking around not searching. Which of course only made the handlers sweat some more… it was a bad downward cycle.
Sergio was the Exterior and Vehicle judge. His comments were that everyone worked the Exterior well, but the Vehicle search had some trouble. It was on a hill, so odor was falling downhill and pooling against some cinder blocks on a pallet. Some handlers pulled their dogs off and were concerned that their dogs were not searching where they should be (on a vehicle). Odor knows no bounds, so let your dog work out the scent problem. The other issue was when dogs saw a golf cart for the first time – some climbed into it, making the leash work tricky. Some handlers got close as they worked the leash in the cart, and some called Alert when their dogs looked up at them. On the trial overall, the pass rate was pretty good – 16 out of 38 titled.
On to Sunday. Quattro was pretty perky that morning – he stole a wrapper out of the wastepaper basket in the hotel room, and jumped from bed to bed playing keep away, so that was promising. The morning trial was Containers. We had 4 search areas that consisted of containers only, one hide each, no distractions. In an element trial, the containers can be any shape box or tupperware type container, no luggage or bags at level 1. One judge was Lisa (I didn’t get her last name), the other was also the CO, Rosana Dropkin, Lonnie was the photographer and they had a videographer where you could purchase videos afterwards, so that was a first for me.
The first search was in the lobby where registration had been the previous day. There were ex-pens blocking off the large room beyond where Saturdays NW2 Container search was held. Quattro was still not his normal speedy self, but he looked alert and willing. The search was eight brown cardboard boxes and we had an off leash option, which of course meant we did it off leash. He went in, did a fairly slow search, but did a double take on a box and froze. Alert – yes. I treated him, and was about to leash him up when he took off… I thought he was going to keep searching the boxes, but he pushed past the CO/judge and videographer, and took off down a hall, took a left, took a right, and went into the mens room! That was odd – but more on that later. Here is the video:
The next search was flower shaped boxes, in a small area/room, off leash. He was pretty quick on that one. We took a break while the judges and crew moved to 2 more search areas. There was another room with white boxes, on leash, and then one last container search on a basketball court, something we practice often in Eliot. These containers were rubbermaid shoe box sized boxes. He started off methodically, then turned and went straight into the wind and stopped at a box. I called alert quickly based on his change in direction – and when I watched it back, I was surprised how quickly I called alert! But we were right and got our L1C title.
We all had a lunch break, some people left as they had only signed up for or only got into the one trial, and more people arrived. Interiors consisted of a small room with big plastic Coke bottles, the Ladies room, and 2 camp rooms. Quattro spent some time along the baseboard before going to a Coke bottle and alerting. We had to wait before going into the Ladies room, and I asked the CO if the hides had been out that morning. I was thinking maybe Quattro ran into the mens room chasing odor, but she said no… although the spare hot boxes were kept in the Men’s room! So THAT was why he ran in there! The Ladies room hide was a classic NW1 style hide, under the rim of a wastepaper basket. He gave a solid Alert, and did not want to leave source. I pulled out some more treats and lured him off, and one dropped on the floor 😦 That fault caused us to come in last place, although we were still able to title. The 2 camp rooms he worked well, nice solid alerts, and in every search area he was focused and on task. So despite not feeling 100% and not being the crazy quick, tail held over his back searcher he normally is, he got his L1I title. We came in 9th in Containers, and would have been 4th in Interiors, but that fault from the dropped treat put us dead last. Oh well.
Overall, it was a good weekend. I stayed in the same hotel, about 2 rooms down, from where I stayed w/ Jinxx 2 years ago. It was Quattro’s first elevator experience, and his first hotel stay without Izzie. He did awesome on the drive and at the trial site, it was fun watching new dogs and handlers, and it was fun meeting some new people in the parking lot during our trial. I was not nervous AT ALL, which is totally different than how I was with Jinxx and Izzie. I’m not sure if it was because I was confident in our training, or if I was just happy he was feeling better and wasn’t expecting much, or if it was “just an Element trial” or what, but it was a nice feeling! It was a nice warm up to our NW1 trial in June, also in PA. And it was nice to be at a Nose Work trial again! October with Izzie seems so long ago. I’m looking forward to seeing him work at his best!