Wow, what a busy month June has been! When the weather is nice out, I’m out in the gardens, weeding, watering, more weeding, cutting flowers to bring inside… when the weather is lousy out, I’m catching up cleaning the house, doing laundry… and no matter the weather, I’m out with the dogs, and the website and computer work get left behind. I have a fair amount of video that I’ll add links to here – very behind!
Here is something that sums up my thinking:
Dust if you must, but wouldn’t it be better
To paint a picture, or write a letter,
Bake a cake, or plant a seed;
Ponder the difference between want and need?
Dust if you must, but there’s not much time,
With rivers to swim, and mountains to climb;
Music to hear, and books to read;
Friends to cherish, and life to lead.
Dust if you must, but the world’s out there
With the sun in your eyes, and the wind in your hair;
A flutter of snow, a shower of rain,
This day will not come around again.
Dust if you must, but bear in mind,
Old age will come and it’s not kind.
And when you go (and go you must)
You, yourself, will make more dust.
But back to dogs!
Ok, testing my memory, June 12th was a tough day for the Monday night Saco class attendance. Sick dogs, travel, work commitments and heat all caused folks to miss class. So, Holly and I combined classes (then chatted for another hour since I had no 7:30 class that night) It was really fun to watch Sakara’s sister, Questa, and Cindy work. And it was great to meet Jane and Meadow, a handsome Doberman who is not yet on odor, but is a very strong hunter. And Nancy and Stella – the most experienced of the group, who have recently passed their ORT for birch. Quite the variety of breeds and search style! The dogs got a lot of runs. I had already put hides out for my class, so some were a bit challenging, especially the last search outside in the daycare area!
Things to watch for in the videos:
-Dog changes direction
-Dog closes mouth if searching the room with an open mouth
-Change in breathing – heavy sniffing, that “ka-ka-ka” back of the throat sound dogs make when they are sniffing fast with their mouths open
-Head snap, or hitting the breaks (change in stride)
-Bracketing – heavy sniffing in an area, up and over an object, right to left of object, back and forth, etc.
-The final pause at source – identification that they have found the hide. Usually accompanied with a pause in breathing, so you’ll hear silence for a beat or two when they stop the heavy breathing
Here are the videos from that nights hot, humid class:
The first hide was in the bucket of toys in the break room, and from there, we went to the storage room, where the hide was up under the shelf. Since the shelf was open grating, the dogs could alert top down, or go under, and alert from bottom up. I’m sorry we didn’t just go in and reward Stella when she was on the bucket of toys in :28 seconds… it was a “soft alert”, meaning, not very emphatic, but definitely a clear “bracket – nose pause on source – look at mom for treat” pattern. That delay in reward caused her some doubt – maybe that’s NOT what I’m supposed to be finding? and she searched for another minute, before returning. Something we don’t want to have happen very often.
For change in breathing near source, check out Meadow’s video of the storage room. You can see his mouth close as he works the shelves, and you get a good picture of bracketing. He doesn’t quite figure out the problem his first time there – different than Stella at the toy bucket, where she HAD figured out the problem, we were just late / slow in rewarding her – but Meadow goes back and again you see the mouth close, see him bracket and narrow down the area where the food is paired w/ the hide, and finally dive in for the treat.
The next search, we had the dogs work a clear room, before moving into a room with odor. Sometimes, even in NW1, you need to work through a large blank area (area with no odor) before the dog gets to odor. A vehicle search where the hide is on the last car, for example, or a large classroom, etc. Sometimes, it’s just the way the dog decides to work the search (goes right instead of left, for example) that brings him into a large blank area, before they move to a new part of the search area and start showing odor interest. When you watch Questa the Leonburger work the blank space, she is pretty clear – after a pretty detailed pass around the room, she says let’s get out of here, there’s nothing here! Once the dog has searched the room, I had handlers open the door to the “tub room” where there was a hide. Little different look to the dogs between the two rooms!
We did 2 more searches back in the break room and storage room, and then went outside. Keep in mind, it was just over 80 degrees and humid out all evening. Yuck! Then I bring them to an area loaded w/ dog pee and dog smells. So, we had some additions to the search area. Even pairing wasn’t quite enough to keep them on task, so with Questa (sorry I didn’t get great video of this search) I ended up “teasing” her w/ the odor. I picked up the tin, got her attention, and fake-placed it down several times while she chased it. I finally fake tossed it under that little bench thing, and while she was sniffing under there, was able to place it out in the open w/ a treat on it and I stepped back. She came out from under the bench, still working and in odor, and got it. It was a good way to get her jazzed about the search, and take away the frustration of watching her sniff dog odor and try to eat grass or pee. She got really excited chasing my hand w/ the tin in it, and very focused, trying to keep up. That is the kind of behavior we want to see in any search area – novel, crowded, big and open, lots of dog distractions, lots of food distinctions, critter smells, etc. We want the dogs focused and on task, with a single purpose – find birch! and everything else should be background static to them. In a perfect world!
The following week, was a drop in / make up session for the Monday night class. It was beautiful out! Not nearly as hot and muggy as the previous week, so I wanted to take advantage of the gorgeous night. We did a vehicle search. Yes “a” vehicle search, just the tractor. Sometimes when the environment is it’s own distraction, you don’t need to get all fancy or complicated. I had Jeanne park the tractor on the grass where many dogs come to potty, in line of sight of the horse, mini donkey and mini pony. Jeanne and Bob were buzzing around in their golf cart/off road buggy, so there was a lot to compete with the dogs attention to birch!
We started w/ one hide, on the far side of the tractor arms. The arms had the forklift attachment on it, and I had Jeanne leave it elevated just a bit. I thought that might mimic the underside of a car somewhat, or at least do some interesting things w/ the odor. The breeze was blowing in from the fields, directly to the start line, pretty steadily. The challenge the dogs had, other than the grass that they all wanted (and some succeeded) to pee on, was that once they followed the odor thru the breeze to the far side of the tractor, the would lose the odor. The wind was blowing it under the tractor arms / forklift attachment, so they did not have a direct line of odor to get to source. They lost the line of odor in the forklift, then took some time to chase it down before they got to the hide. The hide up under was a challenge – for some dogs I flipped it so the tin was front and center, nose-touchable, rather than up under.
I snuck Coach in for a run, but just pulled him out of the crate and started him, in effort to save time. Well, haste makes waste, literally, as you can see in the videos… He starts to work the problem out, then pulls off away from the tractor. He does this several times, and I thought it was because the hide was up under, the wind was tricky, he is a green dog (7 mos, normally does paired hides) but the final time he breaks away from the search, he does a long pee. Poor guy! I think he would have figured out the odor problem if he wasn’t distracted by his need to pee. I was not listening to what he was trying to tell me – I put my own assumptions on the situation, and read it wrong. Lesson learned!
We then added a second hide, anise, on the front of the tractor wheel facing the start line. The original hide was still there, so they had another chance of success. Sometimes, adding a hide complicates the scent picture, but I think in this case, the wind and distance between the two hides kept them separate enough to not cause confusion. It was fun to watch them come around the back of the tractor and hit that rear wheel, then work each bolt until they got to source.
Inside, we did 2 rooms. Molly struggled a bit w/ the people distraction, but her response to odor initially let Christina know the general location of the hide. I’m not sure if the leash made a difference, or if it was Christina moving with Molly around the room that made the difference… Did the leash alone give her more confidence, or was it the fact that Christina followed pretty closely behind Molly, once the leash was on? Something to play around with in practice… following her thru a novel room, vs leashing and following her vs letting her work independently. I wouldn’t necessarily do this in an area she is comfortable in, I would try it in a new environment.
Catcher does a nice job working out the hide under the table in the first room. There was a time not all that long ago, that something like that would have mildly frustrated him, and he would have been spinning around the room. I love how he problem solved, getting up on the sofa to get to source! Billie Sue follows suit, and Phil works it from underneath. I can’t remember if Nancy and Stella left early, or if I just missed their runs, and I assume I missed Bella’s runs. It is interesting how the dogs all picked up odor on that corner of the sofa. Anywhere there is a change in the plane, you’ll see the dogs have a reaction. That could be rounding a corner into a new room, a doorway, or in this case, rounding the corner of the sofa. The odor starts to travel along the side of the sofa, then wraps around the front side. The dogs pick up that difference, and react – and that would be a big clue to you that something’s going on there.
For Billie Sue’s runs, I loved working it like a NW3 – 1-3 hides is what I told Janis, but since she had already run it w/ Catcher, and thought she knew the hides, that sort of went in one ear and out the other. You DO have to call Finish in NW2 and NW3 to stop the clock. I have seen someone just walk off after calling Alert in a Container search. I was the timer, and had to let the clock run down 😦 She got credit for the hide, but at NW3, you also get points for the Finish call, so she did not get full points for that Element (Containers). But, that’s why it’s good these things happen in practice! Because at a trial, your brain can turn to mush and things that seem obvious get forgotten. In the second room, Billie Sue does a great job bracketing under the tubs, and narrowing down where the hide is. I think my battery died before she got to the hide in the cupboard, that may be why I don’t have Stella and Bella’s last runs.
My takeaways from this night, are:
- Odor obedience is key! The dogs who are not environmentally sensitive AND who are super odor obedient worked the tractor hide(s) really well. That means, if your dog struggled, more visits to novel locations both working and not working. So trips to Agway, Tractor Supply, walking trails, outside malls and grocery stores, inside Lowes/Home Depot, your bank, etc. Some trips will be just “let’s walk around and explore”, some will be “Let’s focus and do some simple obedience” and some will be “Hey, guess what, there’s a hide out here – Find it!”. I would bring the best treats/food, and pair if doing NW.
- Focus – I noticed I’ve gotten into the bad habit of tossing my leash down when I reward my dogs. I actually did it in the first NW3 trial that we titled at – luckily I think the judge may have been filling out my scoresheet and didn’t notice, because that could have been a fault. Wouldn’t I have been mad at myself – it would have dropped me down to last place of those who titled, and that was a 2nd place finish for us! We should use the time our dogs are still / at source to gather in extra line as we walk into our dogs, and keep it in our hands as we reward. I think it’s a lack of focus – or so much focus on rewarding the dog, that the other details get forgotten.
- Do not make assumptions without understanding the big picture. Coach tried to tell me *4* times that he had to pee, and I was assuming he was giving up on the hide. Watching the video, it’s pretty clear that he is trying to break off to pee, not to go follow a bug or sniff dog smells. In NW3, you cannot assume a pause to sniff means there is a hide there, you cannot assume because there is an oddly placed chair or garbage barrel that there is a hide there, you cannot assume that because you have 1 minute or 4 minutes that there are only 1 or 3 hides. Watch your dog, and listen to what he is telling you… is he done searching? Is he working something? Again, the “things to watch” I list at the beginning of this post will help you decide if you should let the continue working or call Finish.
While I’m sorry we didn’t do our Spring Sniffin’ Social, this was a fun night. I enjoyed having a blended level and working 2 elements, in cool, breezy conditions. Perfect dog weather! I hope you all have a great 4th of July and happy summer, hopefully I’ll see you before September, but if not, make the most of your summer!