A brief summary of our June classes…
What beautiful weather we’ve had! Breezy and cool in the evenings after warm days, no bugs, just perfect! Let’s see if I remember what we worked on.
High hides – we did some hides in a tree branch. The NW1 dogs struggled a bit with this, the fact that the hide was just over their heads and suspended, not on a wall or other surface. I had placed a chair and a container nearby to collect some odor, but that seemed to get them more hung up. I feel like it was still a good lesson in pooling odor – yes, there is odor on the chair, but not source. I don’t recall the dogs false alerting on the chair, just working and working and working it. I ended up lowering the hide as best I could and we rewarded an upward head tilt. We ended with a nice simple chair hide.
From there, we went inside, where I had containers set up. I tend to forget about simple boxes, yet that is a major part of a NW1 trial, and certainly comes back to haunt you at NW2 and NW3! It was fun to see the dogs go from a challenge outside, to a nice, familiar simple search inside – they rocked the boxes! I think it was a nice confidence booster for the dogs to end on quick easy success.
For the upper level class, I put it on an even higher branch, kept the chair around to really let the dogs figure out the difference between pooling odor, dog slobber and source. They had some pee to work through, and every dog did fine with that. It was super breezy, with a nice breeze in their faces at the start line, but for the greener dogs, this just dispersed the odor farther under the tree branch. I think they all worked this well – the hide was really hidden in the branch, and the dogs did a nice job working until they had pinpointed it… making it difficult to reward quickly! You’d want to get in to reward their effort, but they continued working it – good dogs!
We then moved inside, where, in an effort to eliminate the false alerts we saw over and over at the NW3 trials in Durham, we worked the boxes the earlier class worked. I took the hot box out, and had the dogs work just blank boxes that had lots of slobber on them. The handlers knew there was no hot box, and had the dogs work and cover every box, and when the dogs had hit every box, my plan was for them to leave. The dogs actually finished and began to walk out on their own, which was perfect. We had the garage door open, so the dogs and handlers walked out… I placed a hot box out, and they turned around and came back in and searched again. They alerted within seconds. My hope, is that the dogs get back to what we originally worked on – only odor brings reward. Not a white box, not dog slobber, not crumbs, not the handlers stopping or moving or not moving, only source odor. I really liked how the dogs cleared the boxes on their own, basically leaving the building when they had checked each one. We did this again the following week, this time I added 3 black suitcases to the boxes, which were in an X pattern. The first pass had no hides, the dogs cleared it, left the building briefly, I added a hot suitcase and hot box, and the dogs came right back in and searched again. They did a nice job doing brief but thorough searches on the suitcases and showed a nice change in behavior on the hot suitcase. One dog knocked the suitcase over, leaving it hide-side down. It’s something good to work through – many times in a trial, the bags get scrunched up, stepped on, pushed over and reset between dogs. The volunteers do not go over and prop the odor side up after each dog, although they will slide the bag back into it’s original place on the floor. At a trial, we don’t know exactly where on the bag the odor is, so the volunteers put it back as best as they remember it being for the first dog. So it’s possible that the hot container gets knocked, flipped or pushed over and the odor isn’t always front and center (like I normally prop it up to be in class)
Earlier that same evening, we had done an indoor / outdoor search, again taking advantage of a beautiful night. We did the boxes in an X pattern, moving the hot box from right to left, then in the center. We also did some hides on the edge of the garage door and chairs. I got an idea to put a hide on the garage door, and raise or lower it to get the dogs working suspended high hides. I ended the 2nd class with one suspended hide and decided we needed to practice this some more next week.
So, the following week, I did some hides on the garage door. The door was opened about 18″ and there was a nice breeze blowing into the building. I set up ring gates to trap the odor, as well as one chair opposite the hide on the door. In hindsight, I should have given the dogs more room to work by setting the ring gates farther back. The dogs all tried to go beyond the ring gates, chasing odor across the room / floor. I’m not sure if they were really running down the odor, or just looking for a “thing” to search. The suspended hide was definitely a challenge to them! I lowered the door, and once it was nose height, they could follow a channel of odor to the hide. Some dogs went from the chair directly to the hide. Others spent a lot of time on the chair (similar to the chair under the tree branch) but realized there was not source there. I think this was good learning for the dogs and handlers – don’t talk your dogs into alerting to pooling odor, allow them to follow it to source, and you will see a different behavior from them. For the dogs, they learned (actually, already seemed to know) that pooling odor does not pay, only source does.
The second time in the room, they were much faster at figuring out that odor was up on the door. They still had to work from the door jam to the center, or from the yellow door to the garage door, but were much less interested in chasing odor into the room. For the very last run, we did one hide on the chair – again, ending with a super simple, confidence building hide. Fun!
The NW2/NW3 class did the same exercise, although we started w/ the door higher, about 3 1/2 feet open. The dogs worked it similarly to the earlier class, but did not range as far and did not take as long to figure it out. I could and did lower the door for some dogs, and when they were being rewarded, I sometimes let the door up a few inches. This exercise appeared easier for the taller dogs, and I adjusted the door height to the Corgis. The Corgis have not done this exercise before, so the dogs who had the brief experience the week before did not take quite as long to figure it out.
Would we see this type of hide in a trial? Not at NW1, and probably not at NW3… but I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw something like this at NW3 Elite! I really liked seeing the dogs work the pooling odor on the chair and gates before moving to the door – it shows they are really learning to follow the odor to source, and not just check containers for odor. So even though it is a little out of scope for most trials, it is fun to practice and challenge the dogs. There is always learning that both dog and handler can apply to other situations.
I only video’d Sakara and then the NW2/NW3 class… and several folks were not present, as they were en route to Friday’s NW3 trial. More on that in the next post…
Meanwhile, I’m glad we’ve had such perfect weather in the evenings. We’ll continue working boxes/containers, as well as other indoor / outdoor challenges. Happy summer!