Wow, I guess I went on summer vacation from my computer almost all summer.
Not sure I can relate all the details from classes, practices and workshops, but here are some highlights.
I think we had some gorgeous evenings this summer! It wasn’t crazy hot, there were actually a lot of nights outdoor searching where everyone was bundled up in sweatshirts or blankets! So I am grateful that for the most part, the weather cooled down, the breeze picked up, and the mosquitos were kept mostly at bay.
Here is video from York’s Thursday classes from August 17th. Watch for the special visitor, who came almost like clockwork on Thursday nights with his family! This was a Container search, simple in the containers (boxes, then boxes plus plastic pencil cases) but complex in that there were two open doors with some air movement, and overhead fans with air movement. Also, there were quite a few containers, and we had not done containers in a loooooong time.
Some things that stood out to me as I re-watched them today.
- Watch your leash. Try not to let it drag or touch the ground
- When you are using a long line, use it! Don’t keep it looped up, walking 1ft behind your dog. Stand back from your dog so the leash is extended almost it’s full length
- Let your dog lead… off the start line, and as you make your way around the containers. This doesn’t mean you are not in control of the search, it means you are well back of your dog, watching their whole body for changes in reaction to odor. I think we can do a better job of preventing our dogs from going back to a found hide (myself included!) This is something we will work on in future weeks
Then there was the class (no video, sorry!) where we worked another indoor/outdoor search area. The class was sitting inside, facing the parking lot. I had you start your dogs from the car, basically, and just see where they picked up odor from well outside the building. Some of the multi-hide placements: on the outside of the yellow door, on the garage door frame, on the inside of the yellow door, on the wall near the clock, and some good challenging ones were in the pavement cracks and gap in the rubber mats. We had not done floor/ground hides in a loooong time, and the first pass they all struggled with this. After that, though, they knew to check low and figured out how to follow odor along the cracks and along the floor. Lastly, for the NW2/3 class, we did 2 tight converging hides, about 16″ apart on the inside of the yellow door. There were no hides down by the desk, and I think it was a great way to see what the dogs look like when there is odor present (from previous hides) but no source. Don’t impose YOUR idea of what the search should look like, listen to what your dog SHOWS you the search looks like.
Margeurite came back from vacation, and congratulated Quattro and I on our NW3 Elite title. She asked what was different with him, vs Izzie and Jinxx, as she remembered many (many!) times when I came back from a trial, and said, no, still no NW3 title 😦 Then to title in NW3, back to back to back with Quattro… was it because he was a younger, faster dog? Or did I do anything differently with him? Good questions! My answer would be, a little bit of both. Yes, he started out doing NW at 8 wks old, vs Jinxx and Izzie, who started out at ages 9 and 5, but I also did things differently with Quattro. In my effort to not false alert (something I struggled with with Jinxx and Izzie) I set Quattro up to do a lot of independent searching. First it was just food, then odor paired with food, but I stayed out of his way. I did not rush in to pay / reward, he was self-rewarding for months before I hand-delivered a treat at source to him. And then when I realized he was eating a treat, moving on to the next paired hide, but sometimes returning to a previous hide (now that he had eaten the treat off it, he would pause at the lonely tin) I figured well, I HAVE to reward going to source… but I STILL want to keep my hands out of it. So I would toss food when his nose was on / at the tin. My timing had to be good, to catch him at source and before he moved off. This steady tossing of treats kept him from looking at me, it also kept him ignoring my hands in or around my treat pouch, and basically ignoring whatever I was doing… he was focused on hunting or staying w/ the hide. Quattro is so independent, that things can fall in the search area, I can open and close a plastic bag of treats or a string cheese stick, and once I even threw up mid search, and he stays hunting or on source. That has made a huge difference in our success… there was no guessing game – he never looked to me for information, I never second-guessed his alerts. He is so clear when he is at source, there is no guess work involved. And, I trust that when he is sniffing hard around a chair or table but leaves it, there is nothing there (but maybe pooling/trapping odor from a nearby hide) Whereas before, I was SURE there had to be a hide there, and Jinxx was just not telling me about it. I would bring her back and back to an area – I clearly remember our first NW3 trial where I did this in the Exterior at Fishkill – and wait for her to alert where I was SURE a hide was. She finally decided we’d switched from the “hunting game” to the “shaping a trick game”, and would offer the behavior I was expecting. I can’t even tell you how many false alerts I talked her into doing! Having that trust in my dog, that if there is source present, he’ll stay with it, and if there is no odor or source, he’ll cruise on by, have made the biggest change in my success rate. And yes, he is young and fast and confident, so that has helped with placement ribbons. But Jinxx and Izzie have their share of placement ribbons, and they were not young or fast or even always confident – we had some great searches, just not all on one day! They were good questions from Margeurite, and really made me think and articulate (I hope!) the differences.
Workshops, mock trials and camp – I know a lot of you participated in various extracurricular NW activities, and I think those are super important things to do. Having your dog work behind new dogs (different slobber and footprints than their classmates!) work someone else’s odor (yes, birch is birch, but everyone has a slightly different batch, and different environmental scents that come along) work someone else’s hide placements and working in a novel location are all super important things to do to advance your dog and elevate your teamwork.
For me, in July, I went to Cornwall-on-Hudson NY for an Elite Mock Trial and a separate mixed-level sniff thru. Yes, it was a super long way to go for something like that, but here is how I justified it.
- Coach’s first time in a hotel since he was about 14 weeks old
- Totally new location for both dogs – it was at the Storm King School, a private high school. Coach has NEVER searched anyplace like that – desks, slippery floors, new people, vehicle search (I think he’d done about 4 vehicle searches ever) white ORT-style boxes, something I don’t practice w/ him with very often AT ALL, working out of the car… lots of good practice for a real trial!
- Quattro has never done anything like Elite… the closest I’ve come is to run Dog in White, with someone else’s dog! So that was totally new for both of us. Having a large range of hides, having a total unknown # of hides, having super close converging hides, having some huge search areas (3 classrooms plus hallway was considered one search! We had 5 minutes, with unknown # of hides… there were 6, and we found 5)
It was a super fun trip. There was no one near our room in the hotel, so it was very quiet. The sniff thru that Coach did ran ahead of schedule, and he did awesome (his weakest element was the Container search! although 2 floor fans were running, so I’ll use that as my excuse) and we had lunch with old NW friends, and rehashed previous trials at Storm King school. Most of our early dogs who were in those trials have passed on, so they were bittersweet memories. And I learned I need to practice converging odors, and a little more control w/ Quattro now that we are in Elite.
Later in August, Coach and I did our ORTs. I had not done boxes since the July sniff thru, and luckily we worked boxes in our NW class on Friday before the Sunday ORT. He bombed in class – he ran by the hot box multiple times, thought it was a room search, it was ugly! He finally seemed to get it on our last run. I didn’t have a chance to practice before Sunday, so I figured, well, what the heck, he’s young, there is an ORT somewhere every month w/ no waitlist, this is just an ODOR RECOGNITION TEST, nothing fancy required. I shouldn’t have worried – I was very quick to call his odor recognition (I would probably wait a bit longer if it was a NW1 trial that I was lucky enough to get into) and we passed all 3 tests. Birch in :14, Anise in :10 and Clove in :05! Again, I just went on odor recognition – he head snapped or doubled back on a box, and I was calling Alert. It was pretty fun and liberating! He still needs some work in the crate in the car as dogs walk by, he tends to bark at them 😦
Camp is a whole other post, as is the Fred Helfers workshop I did w/ Quattro yesterday… Lots of fresh ideas and exercises that I’ve plagiarized (is it stealing if I give credit?) so stay tuned!