So I finally did it… and am so glad I did! Nose Work camp has been on my radar/wish list for several years. But the distance, cost, and fact that it is on a holiday weekend has held me back… and having a dog who can handle crate time, shared cabin time, and lots of working time was also part of the reason for not going.
HOWEVER… four and a half jam packed days working a dog, attending lectures, watching dogs work, discussing training challenges, doing mock trials and blind hides in MULTIPLE novel locations with MULTIPLE dog scents with MULTIPLE trainers, and hanging out with other nose work junkies, was definitely worth the drive, cost, and holiday weekend away!
Quattro LOVED camp, although it was the most leash time he’s had since his neuter surgery, something he is not very used to. And also lots of crate time. Because I got off the waitlist and got a last minute working spot, I was put in the Logistics Team Member cabins (the workers, who put up signs, hauled crates, held dogs while we set up our crates and chairs, prepped cabins for campers, and did a quick cleaning after camp). My 2 roommates did not have dogs with them. One roommate, Cat Z, came from California. She is an Associate Nose Work Instructor, and has attended one other camp. The other, Gerry, is a Search and Rescue handler from PA. She is an NACSW judge, and was one of the judges at Quattro’s NW1 trial. Both were great roommates, and gave Quattro lots of love, even letting him out of the crate for a game of tug and cuddle on the bed if I was in a lecture or in the dining hall.
We were broken into groups of 8, with dogs of our level. Our group was all small dogs, Quattro was the biggest! We had a 4lb Yorkie, a Maltese, a pug / schnauzer X, a beagle, a Jack Russell Terrier, a mini mini Aussie, a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever and Quattro. The Toller worked VERY much the same way Quattro did, you could almost guarantee that they were going to work the odor problems the same way. It was interesting to hear the small dog challenges. All the dogs were motivated and could work independently, and all were very responsive to odor, so overall, I felt we were all at the same level. The challenges I came into camp with that I wanted help working, were:
1) Quattro’s habit of running far and wide chasing odor – how and when do I step in to reign him in?
2) Problem solving 2 or more hides. Quattro many times finds one hide, begins to work another then gets sucked back to hide #1.
3) a subset of #2, Getting Quattro to leave a hide. Yes, odor obedience is great, but now you need to move on!
4) Leash management in vehicle searches – see #1
So our first session was Friday afternoon. We did containers – fairly simple, open boxes. The room was novel – a gymnastics building! A very springy blue matted floor, with gymnastics mats and equipment everywhere. We did a simple line of boxes to see how the dogs responded to odor, we did a big circular scatter pattern of boxes, we did a line of boxes along the mats, we did a line of boxes on and off the mats (so some elevate, some on the floor, up and down like a wave) We turned on a giant overhead fan to see how that changed things (pushed odor out to the edges of the room, just like at it’s a dog’s world) And we also did an exercise without dogs – one person clipped a leash on themselves, and the other person walked behind. The idea was to keep the leash from dragging, and feel when the handler applied pressure to move the other person. And, for the person playing the dog, to make random movements and change direction, so the one holding the leash could practice feeding it out and reeling it back in. It was fun to watch the dogs chase the odor, and it was an interesting way to practice managing the leash. After dinner, I went to hear a talk with Ron. It was kind of an open forum to ask questions, and listen to Ron talk about working dogs.
First thing Saturday, my group did a vehicle session with Ron. We worked on converging hides, two hides opposite each other on 2 vehicles. I used my 6ft leash, in the spirit of working a little closer on the cars, and that was a challenge! I had to run to keep up, and still had a tight lead. It was tough to keep Quattro from returning to the first hide, although Ron talked about how sometimes the dogs use the first hide found as a sort of anchor point. A sort of, “yup, ok, I did get that one already, and there is another out here somewhere… “. So I didn’t leave too comfortable with my short leash experiment, and Ron doesn’t give a lot of detailed, specific moment tips like Amy would. He more tells you what the dog is doing, and will tell you to move when he feels the dog is stuck, or have you stay, when he feels the dog is working something out. For me, I left with some questions and things to mull over.
After lunch we did Containers with Dana Zinn, and instructor from Colorado. This was in an outdoor covered floor hockey arena, and reminded me of the Container search area in Lake Geoarge, that I did w/ Jinxx and Izzie. We started with white boxes in rows, and Dana talked about how odor will travel outside the square of boxes, especially at the corners. So don’t prevent your dog from drifting wide past the corner and end containers – they are probably chasing odor. She added some food distractions, then made the boxes more of a random scatter. Her tip to me for moving Quattro along after he got paid on a hot box, was to stand up straight. That body cue should communicate that that pay off is over, time to move on. I need more practice on this, but I liked the idea. These searches I was more comfortable with – my leash handling felt smooth, Quattro did well. Dana tucked the hot boxes into a black suitcase, and had us work on the other end of the rink. There was a circle of tall suitcases with 3 low duffle bags in the middle. She let us work off leash – yeah! All the dogs checked the outside boxes, then moved to the wall of the rink, skipping the center bags (one was hot) Quattro did the same, then cruised over to some hockey nets… and alerted on the black suitcase off to the side that held the hot white boxes! Good dog! I ran over and paid him, and he cruised back to the bags, and got the center duffle. Well, I guess he learned that chasing odor pays, and I learned that he IS chasing odor, not goofing off. One thing Amy Herot said that stuck with me, is Trust your training, trust the dog. I know from our training that he demonstrates pretty obvious signs that he is in odor, he is VERY clear when at source, and he is a focused hunter 95% of the time. So, I can trust that when he cruises “out of the search area”, that he is most likely on a mission following odor.
After a 45 minute break, we did Exteriors with Leah. She was the CO at the Ashby, MA trials where Holly and Mike were Volunteer Coordinators, the trial where I blurt Alerted in our very first search of the day and blew a NW3 title for Izzie. Anyway, we worked in open lawn in breezy weather. She did a really high hide on a post to a deck. Quattro has had some experience with hides on trees, so he did well with that one. She did some hides tossed in the grass – again, something Quattro has experience with, but this time we were down in the running order. He was really hung up on lingering odor and dog smells, which is unusual for him (note I said he as focused 95% of the time, not 100%!) After some tips from Leah, he seemed to pick up odor… but he chased it in a direction we didn’t expect. He started to go up the stairs to the deck, and I thought, maybe he’s following human scent? But Leah had been holding a piece of surveyors tape, and pointed out that the wind had shifted, and was blowing right to the building. So, there he was again, chasing odor pretty far from source, but still working. We were glad she had the surveyors tape so we could trust the dog on that one.
Dinner, then a lecture / video presentation from Teresa, who was our first Container presenter. She has the first dog trained to detect C-Diff, a bacteria found in hospitals and nursing homes, that can make people, especially those with already weak immune systems, very sick. She outlined the training she did w/ her English Springer puppy, and it was very much like what I did w/ Quattro. Lots of exposure to places and things, lots of encouraging, rewarding and fostering independence, confidence and curiosity to new things, spaces and places. She was a great presenter, and the videos she showed were great. She stressed the importance of independence and motivation when searching – something I’ve been conscious of building in Quattro and all the dogs in classes.
The following day we worked w/ Jeff McMahon. He has been the CO at a couple trials I’ve done and writes the K9NW blog. We started off w/ a Q&A on Interiors and converging odor, then got to work. There were 2 hides, blind to us. 2 decent sized rooms, with a hall separating them. Jeff hinted that there might be a threshold hide… and Quattro blew right by it. He’s quick and confident, picked up a hide on a chair, then went back to the entrance and got the threshold hide. Shoot! I feel like I work those, but it sure didn’t look like it here. Our next pass was 4 hides in a small-ish room, all around the edges. Our job was to stand still like we were a volunteer, and let the dogs do the work. Shouldn’t be a problem… but we missed the threshold, and then he got stuck on 2 hides, and bounced back and forth between them, frozen at each one for long periods of time. Jeff ended up pulling out one hide, and talked to me about being sure not to treat (reward) the freeze behavior – just the instinct of freezing. So, still had challenges #2 & 3 to work on (leaving a hide/getting stuck on a hide and not moving on to find the second/third hide) and now I had to add blowing by thresholds to my challenge list 😦 But perhaps changing my treat delivery slightly will take away that repeat freezing at source.
Next up was a lecture by Teah Anders on Mental Management. She was great! I want to re-read some of my notes, and will talk more about her message in a later post.
Lunch, then an Elite Practice Sniffer! There were 3 Elite practices set up, so the more experienced dogs got more challenging areas and set ups. We had an outside container search with 2 hides… nailed it 😉 Then an interior, sort of a game room, unknown # of hides. We missed a threshold hide (argh!) and he was working another hide when time was called. I think we found 3 within the time period, and got coaching on the threshold hide, but didn’t have time to work it. Search area #3 was another interior, smaller, and this time we DID get the threshold hide – yay! He worked a hide up under a table, and looked like he was reworking that hide. I was about to call finish, but the judge said to let him work – and he alerted to a hide on a chair, next to the table. Right! This was a mock-elite – hides can be very close together. This one was on me – he was working a hide, and I assumed he was still working the table hide. Something I need to train my eye for. Search area #4 was the covered hockey area. We got another threshold hide – yay! Found another hide, but the last hide was an inaccessible deep behind 3 rows of adirondack chairs that were piled up. No way for him to access it, and he didn’t quite make a decision. He has not worked something that inaccessible, and was trying to figure it out when timed out. Had a brief discussion w/ the judge – she was curious how he would alert to something inaccessible if he has a “lock on source” final response. I told her I think he would try like heck to get to source, then pick an area w/ the strongest odor and freeze… BUT, he hasn’t worked a problem that inaccessible yet in his NW career! Overall, that was a lot of fun, and it was fun to do it blind with assistance and some coaching. He really didn’t have too much trouble moving on from hide to hide, and we got 2 threshold hides. We had to do the hockey rink on leash, and that felt pretty smooth. So I was starting to see improvements in my challenge areas.
After dinner was an open forum on Elite trialing.
The next day, more Vehicles with Laurel Scarioni . Laurel feels very strongly about PAIRING – for every level, on every element. We did multiple hides on one vehicle, paired, and she gave leash and handling tips. I got some good information and things to practice that we will work into classes. Another tip I got was from someone in my group. She commented that she felt I didn’t seem to have much control with Quattro due to… my shoes! I was wearing my Dansko clogs, and she felt that they were putting me off balance, and it was harder to control him. He pulled like crazy all weekend, and he really hates his NW harness. I ended up using the harness as a no-pull harness when we walked from our cabin across the camp to the search area. So, I said I’d change to my sneakers at lunch, and see what it felt like in the afternoon searches. I’m used to wearing the clogs, but I’m also open to suggestions.
We had a lecture next, more of a demonstration – “Flying by the Seat of Your Pants” – which is something I’ll use for our next Sniffin’ Social (good idea, Andy!)
Exteriors w/ Jill was the afternoon session, in the skate park. And, I have to say, I DID feel better in sneakers. Quattro did some more ranging, following odor, and I got some more ideas from Jill on leash handling and opposition reflex. Another high hide, and then a couple blind hides. We did well with the blind hides – he was quick and didn’t have to travel far to nail the hides. Jill’s style is less talking at the beginning of the session, and more working dogs. She gave each person individual feedback, but would bring everyone into the discussion if she saw it was an overall issue with the group.
Last session of camp, was Interiors with Michele Garlick. Michele had been the judge during the Elite Sniffer, in the hockey rink, where Quattro timed out working that deep inaccessible hide. She broke us into 3 groups, and we all chose a place for a hide. The room was a little theater, with slopped floors and movie theater seats. Quattro paused at the threshold hide, went to the far corner of the room, alerted, moved on after being fed, alerted to hide # 2, moved on after being fed, and worked his way back to the threshold. He got a little hung up on some putty Michele had left on a podium near the hide, as soon as she picked it up, he got the hide. So our challenge of sticking to a hide and not moving on, and the challenge of bouncing between two hides, were not challenges! That felt like one of our best searches of the weekend to that point. But we weren’t done yet!
Tuesday was the optional Symposium Day. Quattro and I were chosen as a demo team (along with 4 others) for Ron’s Hide Placement segment. We worked back in that Gymnastics building, which had a hide on parallel bars at the door, a hide on the highest of the 2 uneven bars, and a hide across the room on the top of a door jam. There were about 35 people watching (yikes!) Ron had had one of the teams before us do it on leash, so I had Quattro on leash when we came in… he started working odor, so I let him start. Ron said, “you can do it off leash – oops, too late”. So I did the whole thing on leash 😦 It was good practice, since there were Adirondack chairs, a balance beam, all the poles from the uneven bars, mats, a trampoline, and then all the people in the middle. Quattro did great. He worked the bar hides, didn’t figure out the problem, so ran to the back of the room with the door jam hide. He worked that beautifully, and when we went back to the bars, he got the highest one first, then the parallel bars. He tried to stay at source, and ended up hugging the pole the hide was on. It was very cute!
After Jills afternoon session (planting hides and watching dogs work them) we had dinner, and then a Sniff Thru. This was 2 rooms in one cabin, and one big room/area in a 2nd cabin. We didn’t run until almost 8:30p, but he was SO fast! He did REALLY well, and had the volunteers and people watching cracking up w/ his contortions to get to source and his freeze. It was a great ending to a great weekend.
So overall, I feel like I left with several ideas from different instructors to address my challenges. I definitely want to play around with some of the leash handling, and I also have a better understanding of when Quattro is working pooling odor vs working a second hide. Lots of good tips and talking points that I’ll bring to class, along with some set ups and exercises. I am definitely ready to sign up for next year!