Tonight’s theme: What’s Old is New Again
So, most of you heard that we are dog sitting for my in-laws Brittany Spaniel, while my step-father-in-law recocveres from back surgery. She is a trained bird dog who has lived in a barn for the last 5 years of her 6yr life, is high energy, and lacks house manners. So today is our 2nd week with Ellie, and she is now allowed loose in the house when we are downstairs and can keep an ear on her, she has not chewed the woodwork or destroyed any human property (Coach and Quattro’s property, in the form of stuffed toys, didn’t fare as well). With this cold, snowy, rainy, icy winter weather we’ve been having, I started her on nose work. I figure it will be a good way to keep her busy and mentally stimulated when she goes back to my in-laws, and is something they can do with her until spring hunting season opens. Her first introduction, was from inside her pen (ex-pen set up in my family room). I showed her I had a treat (did I say she was really food motivated?) and dropped it in a shoe box right in front of her, on the other side of the ex-pen. I put the box down, as I swung the door open, and said “Find it!” She ran out, and was so excited to be loose in the room, and excited to see me, knowing I had food, she just stared at my face and sat in front of me after milling around for a bit. I ended up putting the treat in a box lid, and really made sure she saw me do it, before releasing her. I would put 3 treats in 3 out of 8 boxes, and she would eat one treat, then come stand / sit in front of me, looking for more treats. Now, a week and a half later, she is a hunting machine, quickly eating and moving on from boxes to plastic baskets and buckets, quickly eating a treat and moving on, finding 4 or 5 treats in short order. Now it’s hard to get her to stop!
While this is going on, Quattro and Coach are standing on the patio looking in the back door, watching this. They are very bent out of shape that she is playing their game. So, once she has done a round, a drop a few tins in the boxes that just held food, and let them in one at a time (well, mostly. One usually manages to break in and we do a short round of tag team NW – which I do not recommend) Ellie has graduated from cardboard boxes to plastic pails, buckets, baskets and waste paper baskets, and now is searching amoung about 25 containers, for 4-5 treats. When I ran Quattro and Coach on Wednesday, I put out 7 tins. This is all confined to my family room, so there was LOTS of converging odor, and lots of food / crumb / dog smell distraction from Ellie’s food searches. They did awesome! They seemed to really enjoy running from container to container, moving on when there was no target odor, and staying put when there was. They were flying! Of course, they were motivated by another dog playing their game before they ran, but that’s ok. Ellie watches from inside her ex-pen, which I think is good stimulation for her. Unlike my dogs, she sits quietly and takes it all in. In a short, fast session, we get to cover multiple hides, converging odor, and distractions of a dog or 2 watching, as well as all the food smells. Their second pass is full of lingering odor – I mean, 7 hides moved into new containers means most of the containers have had or do have odor in them! And they cruise right by where the old hides were and search until they find a fresh hide.
Since my dogs and I had so much fun with this, I figured we’d do it in class, too. For our NW1/NW2 class, they were searching for 5 hides, and an area much bigger and more open than my family room. They also had the air current challenge of the overhead heater blowing, and the door opening and closing pretty constantly. I set the handlers up so they were in the heat zone, which meant the search area was in the cold air rush from the door zone. So while many of the hides were simple – tins in open boxes or buckets – the multiple hides – ie, an odor bomb – and the air currents that were constantly changing, posed some good challenges! There were times you could see a dog working a hide, then peel off and go back to an already found hide. I think they were just missing the strand of odor that would lead them to source… they would start to follow it, lose it, then get on the strand of a previously found hide and go back to it. The more experienced dogs, Aspen and Sam, and even Sophie, would move on and not always expect to be paid (and re-paid). I thought it was really fun to watch them begin to work a hide… then you’d see them lose it, get it back, realize there was a 2nd (or 3rd or 4th) hide out there, and work it to completion. Most dogs found 4 hides in short order, but there always seemed to be that elusive 5th hide… usually a different hide proved troublesome for each dog. They searched for 4-5 minutes! But generally all found 4 hides in less than 2 – 3 minutes.
I wanted everyone to know where the hides were. Because this was not a “clean environment” since the boxes and containers had been being used every day for 2 weeks and had lots of odor on them, I wanted you to know where the hides were so you could reward quickly. I didn’t want the dog to show interest in lingering or old odor, and have you think they were on it, and start to pay them. This creates doubt in the dogs mind, when I say No, not it! And you have to pull the treat back. I want to keep things clear to the dog, that target odor pays, not old or lingering odor, not crumbs, not dog slobber, and nothing in the handlers body language is indicating the dog may get a treat at something that is not source. I felt there was enough challenge for the dog – I didn’t want them trying to figure out the handler!
We also had a new “container” there, a foam cube that was the protective cover for the leg of a chair I had recently purchased. The round hole perfectly fit a tin, and it was about 3-4” deep. It was really fun to watch the dogs dunk their entire snouts in the hole all the way to source! And come up w/ the cube on their snout. I tried to get a picture in my second class, but since I was using my phone as a timer, I wasn’t fast enough getting to the camera to capture anything. The longer the hide sat in the cube, the more permeated it became, and dogs began alerting to the outside of the porous foam.
My NW2/3/Elite class did the same searches, in reverse order. When they ran, the hides had been sitting out for almost 40 minutes! The longer odor sits, the more it spreads (think skunk smell, or coffee or bacon). The dogs came in to a true “odor bomb” – odor, odor everywhere! They did a nice job of picking off hides, and were much quicker at leaving a found hide and not returning to it. There seemed to always be one hide that was elusive, and you could clearly see them working the elusive hide, ruling out previously found hides, and then see the recognition dawn on them that there was a separate hide out there. I tried to do a combination of start line hides, medium height hides, and floor level hides, and again, even though on the face of it, most were simple, easily accessed hides, the volume of odor in the area and the wind currents created by the door and fan, made it much more challenging than at first glance. Again, especially important that the handlers knew where the hides were, and knew to ignore any interest in lingering odor of previous hides. The dogs really were quick to move on, and didn’t try to false alert. I also liked the way the handlers had to sometimes move the dogs thru the search area to cover all corners. The yellow chair in the corner seemed to be missed, as did the buckets in front of the mirrors, and it was good practice to 1, be observant of areas the dogs didn’t make it to on their own, and 2, how to get them there in a natural manner.
This class found 4 hides in just over a minute, and the 5th hide took almost as long as or longer than the first four.
I was reminded of a NW3 trial I volunteered at that Beth and Isaac had done. I did not mean to revisit a sore subject or bad memories, but wanted to acknowledge how far they’d come. In that trial, the search I recall seeing that reminded me of our search last night, Isaac showed some minor interest in a freezer. Beth brought him back, thinking that might have been a hide he’d walked by. That was enough to convince Isaac that he SHOULD alert on the freezer, which come to find out, was filled w/ venison and deer legs! Watching him navigate past lingering odor and containers that had had food in them last night just illustrated how far he’s come, and Beth’s understanding of his working. Because here, where she had to move him to an area he’d skimmed by (that low chair hide!) he didn’t false alert on anything, he picked up odor, and worked and worked until he got to source.
All in all, I think the dogs had fun chasing odor, getting lots of rewards at source, and figuring out the odor puzzle. I think it builds good skills in the NW1 dog for the future (there can be more – lots more – than one hide, and figuring out the converging nearby odors) as well as the handlers – remembering what hides you’ve found already, how many you’ve found, and what areas your dog has not covered… these are all Elite level challenges. All these skills, being practiced in our old school boxes and plastic containers. Who knew?