So, the countdown to your trial is here. You’re excited, a bit nervous (ok, a LOT nervous) and you want to showcase your dog, your training, and make your trainer and friends proud. No pressure! Other than cramming between now and then, what should you do?
In last nights classes, I had everyone list what they were concerned about going into the trial (or if you are not trialing, what you struggle with when going into a blind search) Here are the lists from each class:
For the first class, environmental concerns were pretty high on the list. This could be pee, general dog smells, some THING in the environment or the environment in general. While this had been an issue for a couple of the dogs in the NW3 class, it really no longer poses much of a challenge to them. If Logan is worried by something, he easily and quickly rebounds and works through it. If Ella starts to notice dog footprints, she can get back to work with a gentle re-cueing “Find it, Ella”. For the dogs in the NW1 class, I think you’ll find as your dogs gain more exposure, time under the collar and positive experiences, those worries and distractions will fade – for both your dog and you!
So what does your dog look like when he is sniffing, not hunting? Usually, it’s nose to the ground, and the dog looks like he is tracking invisible footprints across the floor. For Phil, he works the edges and nooks and crannies, sniffing for rodents. For Dugan, he is cataloging every footprint that came through, pausing to lick (eew!) the floor on occasion. For some dogs, they might tilt their head, and slowly sniff a vertical surface or post… then do the dreaded sideways slide… cozy up to the post and start to lift their leg.
So when you are practicing at home, address those fears. Better to do it in training, than at a trial, as Mike said. Evaluate your environment, and decide where to set a hide to help your dog work through this. We decided the posts would be a good place to put a hide (high probability of pee smells) and to make sure the dogs were successful, we paired the hide. This kept them focused on HUNTING and not CATALOGING or thinking of peeing.
Also, think about accepting less to gain more. For example, Phil did a slow circuit of the room, nose to the baseboard, hunting for rodents… he almost completed his circle, and walked into odor. The hide was elevated (for him) on a large black metal object, a little scary for him. He raised up on his hind legs in front of the hide, paused, then dropped back to the floor and completed his circuit of the room, and continued sniffing for rodents. We SHOULD have rushed in to reward, and not worried so much about staying at source, going back to source, etc. Just a fast reward with praise, and we would have avoided a lot of excess unproductive sniffing.
When your dog IS struggling in the middle of a search, another tactic you can try is refocusing them by reminding them what they are working for. Get their attention up off the footprints, let them sniff your closed hand with a fistful of treats, and re-cue them to work. OR, you could try leashing them… sometimes just that connection makes them “get serious” and get back on task.
Some “help” is less than helpful. Sometimes, you are fighting your dogs instinct, and that creates conflict, causing your dog to push back harder (i.e., work harder at sniffing for rodents or footprints) That conflict can arise when you try to pressure them to work too soon – some dogs need a moment to feel safe, before they can get to work, such as Cecil. If you move in on them while they are trying to get their bearings, or busy working their own agenda, they work harder at it. They ignore you and sniff harder – but on their agenda, not yours. Getting frustrated and annoyed, makes them want to avoid you, and stay on their own agenda – its an ugly spiral. That is when you either reset them, leash them, take them out briefly while the hide is adjusted, or remind them what they are working for.
Once we got that initial conflict resolved, the dogs did great! We will repeat some of these hides and challenges, building confidence on both sides of the leash.
The NW2/NW3/Elite class had some different concerns. Multiple hides, converging odor, and confidence in knowing when to call Alert. We set up the first hide so it would be clear to read the dog from every angle, the hide was accessible to the dog, and fairly straightforward. This gave the handles a baseline – THIS is what my dog looks like on a simple hide, and HOW they tell me they’ve found it and need to be paid. The second round, we did one high threshold hide. This was tough! We covered some of the concerns; stamina, inaccessible (for the Corgis) height, and reading the dogs. Sometimes, when a dog takes longer to get a hide, it gives you more time to watch and learn from them – when are they picking up odor, when are they losing odor, how do they tell us about an inaccessible hide. So while the video can be a little looong, watch for how your dog works hard to figure out the problem. No false alerts, no big cues from the handlers, no giving up. How could we have supported them? In hindsight, I would have had a way to lower the high hide for the Corgis (with poster putty for example) By being able to lower a high hide, you can see where their line of demarcation is – where their sweet spot is, and where exactly it is that they struggle. Also, do we know for sure that it was the height, or was it maybe the flat wall and the way odor travels on it? Was it the open door, that was sucking odor into the grooming room? We’ll try an equally high hide later on, but in a corner. I’ll have a way to lower it, if the height still proves a challenge. That way we can isolate what the issue might be. One thing to look for with the bigger dogs, is how they pick it up odor before they cross the threshold. Most scan the door or door frame before entering. Watch for that, and don’t rush them.
Tuesday night, I had a plan, I knew what we were going to work on… and got stuck in traffic for half an hour! Making me 15 minutes late for class! http://www.pressherald.com/2016/09/27/truck-crash-in-ogunquit-disrupts-travel-on-maine-turnpike/ But, Andy to the rescue – he pulled out some hides, and he, Sarah and Kendall worked outside before I arrived. Thank you!
We listed off each handlers challenge: Calvin – committing / staying with high hides, thresholds. Rita – working through dog odors, Rita peeing in the search is in the back of Sarah’s mind. Panda – communicating, being animated, knowing when she is done, walking off source.
The high threshold hide from Monday night was the perfect challenge for Calvin and Panda, and a hide on the post was a great way to work Rita through dog smells. Little did I know, by placing these 2 hides out at the same time, they would create a converging odor problem! The placement of 3 long boxes really collected odor from both hides. I LOVE that no one false alerted on them. Watch the dogs get stuck on the rotary, in the fog of odor, trying to find the right exit.
Oops… your videos are below, but tell me that doesn’t play in your head while you watch your dogs work!
We really pushed the dogs this week, this was training, not something you’d do every time you practice, and not what you’d do in a trial. But, sometimes it’s good to stand still and let the dogs work out the odor problem, and not have them train you to keep rewarding them at the first hide. It was pretty clear that the dogs knew there were 2 hides, they just couldn’t quite source one of them. My hope is as we do more converging odor problems, the dogs get quicker and quicker to pick the correct exit, and spend less time passing Big Ben and Parliament.