After the April Fools day snow storm, that dropped 10″ of wet snow, it was actually nice out! Mild, breezy, sunny. I decided to do class outside, and for the NW1 class, some of whom had never done NW outside before, I kept the search area small. We used a rectangular fenced in area, mostly under a portico. I wanted to keep the hides fairly simple, since the environment was going to be the big challenge. Although simple, with some wooden posts supporting the portico, a couple shovels, buckets and step ladder, it is used for the daycare dogs so had a lot of dog smells. Melting snow caused some moisture on the cement floor, and the air felt damp from the piles of snow outside the search area. The far side of the search area was chain link, into a large daycare pen (covered w/ snow). The other 2 walls were PVC type solid fencing, with open lattice across the top, and the 4th wall was the building and door we entered from. There was a breeze coming in from the open pen, yet there was also air movement coming through the lattice at the top of the solid fence. Since the dogs were well below the lattice, the wind was doing something very different at their level.
I kept the hide in the exact same spot for almost every search: on the side of the 2 step step ladder, but moved the ladder around each pass the dogs did. We’ve used that ladder or similar many times in class, so it should have been a straightforward hide placement for them. However, the breeze, the dog smells, the novelty of the area caused some dogs to struggle. Some dogs did great! They were not thrown off by the extra smells or breeze what-so-ever. I think it all comes down to odor obedience. Yes, some dogs are going to be more sensitive to dog smells than others, but all dogs can build their odor obedience so that other distractions in the environment fade away. The dogs with strong odor obedience were purpose driven, focused, hunting the whole time, and their only challenge was chasing the odor in the breeze, as it bounced off of or pooled along the walls and corners. They were fun to watch picking it up off the door frame, in the shovel scoops, up the posts. The other dogs, had to deal with all the dog smells blowing in from the large pen, and the dog smells in the search area, AS WELL AS the swirling birch odor.
The step ladder started front and center as soon as they came off the threshold, hoping to get them dialed in right off the line. The next one was on the dogs left, up against a post, and the next on the dogs right, against a post. The hide was always on the side of the step ladder, it was just the step ladder that moved. Next pass, the step ladder was out from under the portico, where it could really be carried by the wind, then against the fence, then near the door. The last hide was NOT on the stool, but stuck on the back side of a post, where there was only about 1-2 inches between that and the solid fence. No tin available for the dogs to target – but they did great! By this point, they really figured out how the wind was moving, and picked it up in the corner of the building/fence, then followed it along the fence right to the hide.
My homework for the dogs who were struggling, was to do simple hides at home, and reward at source. Don’t wait for anything fancy from the dog, just a quick reward delivery, even tossing the treat. Start w/ 3 open boxes, one has odor, and as soon as the dogs head is in the hot box, start tossing treats. By eliminating the delay between nose at source and treat, you are making “doing the right thing” clearer to the dog. We want the dog confident in the “odor brings reward” mantra, and we want to be sure the dog is hungry, comfortable in new environments, and motivated to work.
The next class, the NW2/3/Elite class, we did only one pass outside. The sun had gone down and it was chilly! The dogs did great, not distracted at all, and the breeze had calmed down a little. The experienced dogs were very quick in the 3 searches we did out there.
There was no obedience class going on, so we used the big gym. I had Jeanne and Janis do it blind. There was only 1 hide in that large space, and I gave them 3 minutes. The dogs found the hide pretty quickly, under :30. The dogs did a great job moving through the search area, and covering all the space. Janis and Jeanne both wanted their dogs to search deeper into the corner w/ the folded chairs, their dogs complied, but left. They both called Finish with confidence. Tyrah got really flat and bored looking when she got to the far side of the room (farther from the hide) and Billie Sue covered the area nicely, and Janis was able to call Finish at about 1:50. I switched it up for the next run, and put a hide in that corner w/ the chairs, making it fairly inaccessible. The dogs went in there on their own this time, proving that many times, a dog skips an area because there is no hide in it! I snuck an extra hide in on one of Janis’s runs, since she was running 2 dogs. Working her second dog, she thought there was only the hide in the far corner. She was sort of talking as she was following Catcher down the room, when he did a big curving turn, went under a table against the wall, and alerted. Janis had stopped talking when he did the big turn, so didn’t miss anything, but it was nice to see that odor obedience take over, no matter what the handler’s expectations are, or what the handler is doing. That was a lot of fun.
Tuesday night – NW2 & NW3
Well, it wasn’t as warm as Monday night, that’s for sure. But after a long snowy, icy winter, and trials coming up, I felt like we HAD to get outside. We did the same searches as the previous night’s NW1 class had done, although the weather was wet and rainy – no pretty sunset over the golf course! Where Monday night had some damp spots on the concrete from the melting snow, Tuesday night everything was WET. And if your dog has ever gotten “skunked”, you know how rain brings that smell back, even months later. So the search area had a VERY strong dog-urine smell. Of course, I would assume the damp would make the birch smell pretty strong, too, although it seemed to cling to every surface, more so than Monday night. Similar to the NW1 class, there were some dogs who acted as if they were doing NW in their living room, and came in on task, hunting right away, and alerting quickly. There were other dogs who seemed very concerned with what was in the daycare play yard, the drips from the portico bothered them, the damp bothered them, the dog smells bothered them… and again, we want to up the odor obedience for these dogs. So that no matter how uncomfortable they are, they block it all out and put their energy and focus into birch anise or clove.
We came in from outside to warm up, and did the big room (not the training Gym, but the Daycare room). Some dogs had very little experience in there, and took a little bit to settle in. I used a cardboard tube w/ Qtips in it, w/ poster putty to stick it up. It blended in on one of the posts, and it was great to see the handler expectation – wait, what is my dog alerting to on the wooden post? The tube blended in perfectly, making it pretty camouflaged to the handlers, and the human brain figures a tin and magnet would not adhere to a wooden post, so was that really an alert by the dog? Another fun hide placement was that same tube stuck behind a PVC pipe behind some metal dog crates. It was really fun to see the dogs pick up odor on top of the horizontal pipe, then go to the metal crates, then go under the PVC pipe, follow the channeling odor to source.
Another wet and rainy day and night! For the NW1 class, I set up 2 rows of 3 metal chairs in each row, then 3 plain white ORT boxes lined up in the middle. The first pass, each hide was on a chair on the right side. This proved a little tricky, with the heater on, swirling the odor, and the odor would drop from the chairs, and land on the boxes. The dogs have a high expectation of odor being in a box, and would look like they were about to alert on a box, then move on. The next pass, all three hides were on the chairs on the left. And finally, there was a hide in a white box, and then one on the wall. I wanted to keep changing it up for the dogs, so they were not relying on visual cues (boxes, chairs) but completely relied on their noses. And the last hide being on the wall really showed they are not expecting anything other than finding odor! None tried to alert on a chair or box, they all worked the wall for the first time, when the hide was there.
My NW2/3/Elite class came in right as the rain REALLY came down. We started w/ the NW1 set up, then moved over to a couple tables set on their sides, with that cardboard tube hide stuck on the edge of one of the tables. It was a fun set up, and the dogs were doing well… and then the thunder started. It sounded like a freight train going by, I could feel vibrations through the cement floor, and there were LOOONNNNGG rumbling thunder claps, along with lightening. Luckily, everyone was in the building and Max was searching, when the biggest crack of thunder simultaneous with lightening struck. Something popped, a spark flew, the garage door shook, and the clock was shaking on the wall. Crazy! We did a quick pick up and bailed – too dangerous to be in a metal building, and having people walking across the parking lot in that weather! It’s too bad, too, because I think the set ups were fun for the dogs.
It’s is the beginning of the second week of April as I write this, and we just had a record breaking day – close to 80 degrees! The snow is melting fast, I think true spring is finally on the way! Let’s hope those April showers bring some May flowers. The woods around the parking lot in York have that wild Irish rose growing in the trees, which smells heavenly… that’s my kind of nose work!