Welcome to 2018! I enjoyed my Christmas break, between my brother visiting from Montana, my dad being healthy this year, walking in some beautiful snow storms, and being home in front of a fire every evening, it was a nice break. But it was also good to be back with all you guys! Fun classes, when there are about 3 side conversations going at any given point, you know everyone is happy to reconnect after the break.
I had no classes prior to 6:30p last night, so set up a somewhat busy area, with chairs, a bucket, flowerpot w/ pinwheels in it, the small table, and 2 tables on their sides, forming a sort of hall way, leaving areas outside the sideways tables that were sort of formed nooks.
Pam asked what level the dogs in the 6:30 class are, and I realized that it is basically a NW2 level class! Sam & Bella earned their NW1 title at the Nov 19th trial, Aspen earned her NW1 about a year ago, and Sophie, while not a dog who is planning on trialing, is a NW2-3 level dog. Snickers was not there, but he is a strong, motivated little worker, and just got his ORTs in the fall. It will be a fun group!
For the first pass, we worked on just one hide at the start line / threshold. We did it on leash, just to work on some leash skills, and I had everyone stand still and let the leash feed out while the dog entered the area. Everyone did great – perfect timing on releasing your dogs, beautiful job letting the leash slide out (except once when there was a birds nest in the leash, and only 8ft could feed out – it happened to me at the CT Elite trial, so don’t feel bad!) A good reminder to make sure your leash is straight before releasing your dog, if you can help it. We did 3 threshold hides in that first pass, one was on the right, one was on the left, and another on the left but slightly elevated under a lip on the coal bucket.
Next pass, there were multiple hides, deeper in the search area. I wanted to see how long it took the dogs to move past the area w/ a lot of lingering odor (the start) and move deep into the search area. A corner, one on the outside of the “hallway”, a chair hide, one in the “nook” behind one of the sideways tables. The last pass, we had 3 hides, which of course, being the last run, ended up being the most challenging. One hide was in a new “container” – an earbud case to an Apple iPhone, and was sitting on top of the grooming table, near the edge. The dogs showed us the odor was wrapping under the table, but there was no source there, so they would move on. There was a nice easy hide on the bottom of a table leg, totally accessible and the odor was contained to some degree by the table, the table leg, and a nearby chair. The 3rd hide was on the back of a metal chair, and the chair was about 5ft from the wall, under the heater. I think the odor was just being pushed to the wall (at least, that’s what the dogs told us) and it wasn’t until they’d come to the front of the chair that they might pick up odor on the seat of the chair, and work it around to the back. Both the table hide and chair hide were similar to suspended hides – odor didn’t have a large area to pool up in, rather, it drifted or blew away from source, and it took some distance for it to cling to another solid surface.
How do we help our dogs understand this? Practice, for sure, but pairing helps, as well as opening the container and fanning the odor around a bit, which is what I did w/ the earbud case on the table. I also was debating at one point putting the coal bucket under the hide on the table, thinking it would give the odor something to collect in, and see if the dogs had an easier time following it up. Maybe another time we can experiment with that.
All in all, the NW2 level dogs and handlers looked great! Really nice leash handling and moving thru a crowded area, moving in and out, keeping distance between you and your dog in small crowded areas, keeping the leash from getting tangled around chairs, and under dogs legs. The dogs did a great job following odor and detailing to get to source, some of that searching was really pretty to watch! In the next weeks, we’ll have you practice calling Finish. It’s a skill to practice keeping track of the # of hides you are told at the start line, and saying Finish ONLY after you’ve found the given # of hides! I know people who have the F word on the brain, and even when they know there are 2 hides, they call Finish after the first hide, ending their search 😦
The 7:30 class – I started all these more experienced dogs off with where my NW2 class left off. And they had some challenges! The same issues cropped up, and now the odor had been sitting out even longer for them, really collecting and pooling and building up farther from source (which hadn’t occurred to me last night). We had the chair near the wall hide, the table hide, and the floor hide. It is so interesting to me to see what order the different dogs find the hides in! Sometimes, the search area has consistencies, other times, like that one, each dog seemed to find a different hide first, but a hide another dog found right off the bat, took the next dog the longest to find. We will work on higher hides for Molly, her hound nose does not want to come above the plane of her shoulders it seems, and for Max, we’ll work on pooling/trapping odor. Pro Isaac had NO problems with the pooling odor on the wall and walked straight from the wall to the chair, walked right up to the table hide (although he got it from the back of the table, different than any other dog) but had a heck of a time with the low “easy” hide on the table leg! Which is what makes Elite so interesting – some dogs nail every hide, some get 3/5, others miss a hide that some found right off the bat.
At first, I wasn’t sure if the ear bud case was the challenge – I’d never used it before, and really didn’t know how much odor was escaping. But when I put it in a pile of buckets/flower pots in the “hallway” for the second run, the dogs had NO problems with it. So it wasn’t the odor container, it was the odor placement on top of the table. It was nice to end with some hides that were a bit more accessible and contained, but it was good in that we know what we want to focus on. Since there are no trials in the immediate future, we’ll be working on some skill building, like the high hides, the pooling odor problems, maybe some inaccessible hides and distractions. Sarah reminded me of the “blind handler” exercises we had done a few years ago… one was a search in the dark, and then one where you had to sit w/ your back to the search area and call Alert based on what you could hear your dog doing. The heater makes a lot of noise, but I could hear Isaac sniffing from more than 10ft away, so I think we could try it. It really sharpens your focus, since all you have is hearing their movement and breathing. It’s fun to test yourself to find out how well you can feel and hear your dog hunting.
It was good to be back, and it’s exciting to see Sam, Aspen and Bella all moving on to NW2 challenges! And, how fun to have some visitors at the end of class last night, Lela Mae (Isaac’s new “sister”), and “Sebastian”, the foster puppy. Both are super sweet and social – so nice to see! I look forward to seeing what Lela Mae develops into – I think she’ll be fast, with those long legs of hers, but Isaac will still give her a run for her money 🙂