My hope for my students is that when they do the walk through at a trial, or step up to the start line at an Element Specialty Trial, that they don’t think “Oh *&*#!, we’ve never practiced THIS before!” While it’s difficult to foresee every possible search area, distraction and hide placement you will see in a trial, I do my best! Many times, I’ve been lucky (or used my crystal ball) – and the hides we’ve just practiced in class, end up being set up in a trial! A hide in broom bristles, hula hoops, a high threshold hide, under a rock. Hopefully, mixing up hide placements and hide containers (tins, cardboard tubes, plastic tubes, straws etc) really teaches the dogs that odor can be anywhere, in anything. And hopefully, the handler’s don’t have any preconceived notions “they wouldn’t put a hide in THERE!”
This week in Saco, since we had another couple of really nice days, we worked on Vehicles. Another outdoor element that we had not done all winter! We had a tractor, with fresh mature in the bucket, a golf cart parked next to it, and a high pickup truck in front of the tractor. On one side of the tractor, was a snow bank, with just enough room to walk between the tractor and the snow, and on the other side of the golf cart and a little distance from the truck was a raised flower bed, built up with landscaping bricks. The vehicles were parked on pavement, but the dogs had access to grass in a couple places.
For NW1, again, it was some of the dogs first ever time working Vehicles, and for others, it had been months since they’s worked a vehicle. And, we’d never searched in this particular area of the parking lot. I opted to do one search/find and back to the car, one paired hide, the whole class. The wind was blowing on a diagonal across the start line, bringing odor right to the dogs. This was perfect for our first time out, the hide placement was fairly basic, and the dogs did great! One hide was on the front of the golf cart, on a little metal tab under the front bumper bars, one hide was on the tire of the tractor, one hide was on the back of the golf cart under a plastic flap, one hide was on the up-wind side of the big tractor wheel, and one was under the bucket of the tractor. We talked about how the wind was moving, where it would be bringing the odor, what we expected the dogs might do. If you have a good eye for when your dog is in odor and hunting, vs crittering, checking p-mail, generally distracted, you can feel confident when they range out to the brick wall or to the snow bank. You can see them chasing odor, then do a big turn / curve and chase odor back to the vehicles. Early in my NW career, it would drive me nuts when my dog “wasn’t searching the vehicles”. I had a vision of the perfect vehicle search being the dogs nose hovering and hoovering along the side of each vehicle. Police will train this way, with a short leash, but they are doing roadside vehicle searches, where they cannot afford to have their dog chase odor onto an Interstate! Our dogs are trained to follow odor, if it gets weaker, they turn and come back to where it’s stronger. So now I have no problem letting my dog range chasing odor on a vehicle search. Unless, of course, I know the wind is pushing the odor across the parking lot into other cars, and my dog wants to search cars I know are out of the search area (see my post re. my first NW3 trial w/ Quattro) But a wall, a curb, snow bank or another vehicle? absolutely, let them check the pooling odor, and follow it back to source.
This night was great, in that we searched 2 unique vehicles (and we get a lot of golf carts to search at trials, many camps have them and allow us to use them as a vehicle), there were some things for the odor to cling to that were NOT vehicles (the snow bank and wall of bricks) and it was windy! Oh, and the scoop of the tractor had fresh manure on it, and the wheel of the golf cart looked to have fresh dog or other animal poop on it. Real life distractions, and the dogs all did GREAT! The dogs who struggled with our first Exterior search of the season last week, looked like pros. Confident, on task, full of purpose and motivation. I think the wind helped, as well as the pairing, and the one search back to the car. We didn’t give them a chance to get lost or struggle in the search area, all searches were quick and successful. Success breeds confidence, in both dogs and handlers, so I hope you all feel good about your dogs!
BoomBoom and Tyrah this week. We did some of the same hide placements as the earlier class, along with some on the pick up truck. The hide behind the running board on the truck was a good challenge. The running board was rounded in the back, and I used that card board tube again. Odor was channeling all along the back side of the running board, collecting in the wheel wells, but not enough for the dogs to alert to. The dogs finally picked it up from the rear wheel well, followed it up the running board, and made their decision right at source. I tried to do the same hide placement, but on the upwind side of the truck. The odor was blowing directly to where the first hide had been, but weak enough for the dogs not to alert. Tyrah was casting about UNDER the truck, and Jeanne moved her to the other side (this was blind, up to a point) On the “hot” side of the truck, because the wind was blowing strongly, there really was not much for the dogs to pick up. A little in the wheel wells, but otherwise, the odor was blowing straight under the truck. At this point, I told Holly and Jeanne where the hide was, and what was going on… Jeanne had Tyrah detail the running board, and only when Tyrah had her nose stuck behind the running board, did she really alert. BoomBoom I think we rewarded his interest in the wheel well, and brought him to the hide to reward. I think in a trial, they would take the complete other side of the truck, due to the wind. If the hide was in a more protected area, like behind a wheel or corner of the bumper, they may have been able to work some pooling odor, but this placement and wind combination, did not create any pooling odor. Since this was practice, it was a learning experience for the handlers more than the dogs. Chalk it up to bad hide placement thanks to the conditions (wind) and go for something else. We ended with a traditional trailer hitch hide.
When the hide was on the upwind side of the tractor in the wheel, the snowbank that was opposite the tire really absorbed some odor, and the wheel itself helped hold and pool the odor on all the lug nuts. The dogs in both classes had no problem with this hide.
So, rather than get frustrated that your dog missed a hide, think about why… is it a reason or an excuse? If there is a valid reason, ask yourself it is a training issue, or if it is a hide placement / conditions issue. When the only thing you can do to get your dog to find it, it to lead and guide them to it, I’d rather skip it, and move on to another hide set up. Revisit it if it is a training issue, adjust it if you can, or simply do something else.
It was pretty much full on dark when the NW3 class got started, Jeanne had her headlights shining on the search area and there was a beautiful full Pink Moon, so everything was backlit. It was a great thing to practice and listen for the breathing changes, and to know that the dogs are truly using their noses! So if you are ever in a trial that runs late in November, and you’re running out of daylight, you can feel confident that your dog will find odor.
It was colder than Monday night again, the moon was behind clouds, and it was breezy, not windy like Monday night. This was the first time in a loooonnnng time on Vehicles for many of these dogs, so we did the same drill: One search, back to the car. For these guys, I did occasionally put 2 hides out at once, so they got to work blowing/pooling/converging odor, and we did one inaccessible deep under the truck. Little Rita was able to stretch and nose touch it, Eliot worked under the bumper to the right, to the left, then stopped in the middle, and looked back at Sarah. He was not too eager to dive under the bumper, which made handling easier (when do I restrain my dog, how far is too far under?) and he clearly made his decision directly opposite from the hide. Dugan was more inexperienced in inaccessible hides, and he didn’t quite know what to do… he swept by the rear bumper, then wanted to leave and find something stronger. Back at the bumper, he ducked to go under, and I had Shona reward. We need to practice inaccessible, to see what our dogs look like working them, but we still want the dogs driving to source as much as possible. So we don’t want to do too many hides where source is not accessible to them.
How do you know when a hide is inaccessible vs on the other side of a vehicle? Watching the dog, are they trying to go under the vehicle to drive to source, like Tyrah on the running board example, and Stella did in the NW1 class when the hide was on the upwind side of the tractor? What is the wind doing? These are examples of a hide on the other side of the vehicle. Or, are they working around the edges of a tire or running board or bumper, trying to get to source from multiple angles, like Eliot and Ella did? They try right, left, around – all in a general area – then its probably an inaccessible. If they are casting their nose and head up in an arc on a vehicle, working the entire side of a vehicle, but not settling on any one spot, there is a good chance that it is pooling on that vehicle. Turn around – have them work the vehicle behind them, and source may be on that.
Lastly, leash management. While I’m not perfect (I was trying to undo a knot in Quattro’s leash in our last Interior search at the last trial, when he alerted, and I thought “oh well!”and let him do his thing) a couple things came up.
If your dog seems to be getting it under his front legs a lot, and is tangled, try keeping it above the ground at all times. This will mean sliding it in and out faster (esp w/ a fast dog), and feeling when they change direction and start to back track – they do that, take in some slack. Let it slide out when they move away from you again, always keeping it taught enough so that it is over the floor/ground (rather than raising your hand higher) There are no bonus points for leash handling, but me personally, I know it can bother me during a search, and that’s the last thing I want to be focused on.
At the start, try to have the leash loosely rolled and ready to be let out smoothly. Unlike my Exterior search, where it was balled in a knot and I had to try to untangle it w/ the judge watching, try to get it or keep it in a smooth roll while you are waiting in the staging area. Then, as your dog takes off across the start line, let it feed out, and be prepared to MOVE when your dog is getting near the end (Shona, I think your dogs run similarly to Quattro – they RUN!) so they don’t feel a tug or resistance. That would be our Vehicle search at the last trial – me sprinting behind Quattro, since he took all 12′ of line in 1.2 seconds and was off.
We also did a run in the wall – after the inaccessible hide, I wanted to end on something quick and easy, so there were two tins in the brick wall. The challenge was the wet leaf pile under one of the hides – the snow bank that was there had just melted, and I’m sure there was lots of melted dog pee, along with it. Some dogs didn’t notice, some hopped up in the flower bed to avoid it.
So, in one session, your dogs worked: Vehicles, 2 unique vehicles, wind, manure, in the dark, worked odor off a snow bank, and lots of dog smells and distractions from other classes going on nearby. And you know what? They found odor every time. Nice job!