Ah, so bittersweet! Our last get together at Paw-zn-Around. With another major blizzard due in on Tues, I decided to condense the classes and go out with a Sniff Thru. Which I think was a fun thing to do! It ended up being a novel environment for the dogs, they walked into areas that looked nothing like what they’d every searched at Pawz before. I loved watching everyone’s faces when you walked into the Gym – loaded with pretty much anything that wasn’t nailed down (I take that back, there were things that had been nailed down that were there, too) all prepped for the yard sale on Saturday, it was nothing like the big open space they knew and had searched, in some cases, for years.
Even the “bedroom” – not an area we used much at all, but now all the crates were stacked to the side, the rubber mats were ripped out, the half-wall small area was gone… that became a container search. In the former break room, there was only one thing left in it, and that became an off leash container search, since it was one of the few areas with a door still attached!
So as much as it looked different to us, imagine your dogs surprise when they walked in. The smells were completely different, since items that had been set up in various parts of the daycare were all together in one room, and things were missing from former familiar areas. In effect, it was great for a sniff thru!
A few things came up as we did the searches that I wanted to comment on.
- Undefined boundaries
The first two search areas had boundaries defined by cones, and outside of the cones were LOTS of interesting tables, stacks, piles of STUFF. The dogs don’t know the boundaries, so it becomes the handlers job to keep their dogs focused and in the given search area. On or off leash, you had to decide if your dog was chasing odor out of bounds, or if they were hunting out of bounds. At a trial, every second can count, so time spent hunting out of bounds, is not going to be helpful. How can you tell the differnece? Chasing odor, the dogs nose is up or he looks like he’s being led by his nose out of the area, but then turns back on his own as he realizes the odor he’s following is getting weaker, not stronger and closer to source. He should turn around and come back into the search area as he follows the strand of odor back. Hunting out of bounds, looks like the dog is generally exploring and checking things out, not settled on any one area, but just cruising around checking everything out farther and farther from the search area.
How do you get them back on track, if you’ve determined they are hunting out of bounds? If the dog is on leash, you will give them a limited reach, maybe 6-8ft of leash out of bounds. You do not want to give them your full 10-12ft of leash, especially in that crowded of an area. You’d want to ease pressure on the leash as your dog is heading away from you, and when they respond to the pressure and turn back to you, make sure you step out of their way so they can come back into the search area – don’t block their re-entry.
If they are off leash, you can use a clicking or kissing noise, or call them back by name. If you do that, many times your dog will come running to you, make eye contact, and stop hunting between the point they respond and the point they come to you. This happened to Jinxx and I at a NW3 trial – I didn’t recognize that she was chasing odor out of bounds, so I called her back. She came out of hunting, came to me, and we missed a hide. I never had her go back to the area she had been working before going out of bounds and before I called her to me. I think it was Barbara who called Midnight back, and as soon as Midnight’s nose crossed back into the boundary, Barbara re-cued her to Search. Midnight immediately stopped her trot to Barbara, and began hunting – and ran into odor, sourced and alerted on a hide. That was perfect! Wish I’d done that with Jinxx way back when.
So that begs the question, which do you do, on or off leash? We normally practice off leash, allowing the dogs to work independently. Would you do it off leash if you were given an area like this in a trial, that had blue tape on the floor as your boundary? Odor doesn’t know boundaries, and your dog doesn’t know non-physical boundaries, either. I would ask myself – will my dog get sucked into the big space and all that STUFF? Would I have a hard time getting him back into the search area w/ my voice alone? Coach and I had a similar set up for our NW1 trial in a commercial kitchen… it was a huge kitchen, but we were only given a small part of it, the rest marked off w/ blue painters tape. I debated, up until the start line, should I go on or off leash? I decided to risk off leash, since that is mostly how we practice. This was NW1, so I knew there was only one hide. And while there was a lot of stuff in the kitchen, it was all stainless steel, drawers, shelves, appliances, so I thought he wouldn’t get too sidetracked. He is pretty focused on hunting and not the curious “must check out everything” type. That worked well for us. But if you have a curious, needs to feel comfortable in the environment type dog, on leash might be the better option. In the search area at Pawz, while there were stacks and tables of STUFF, the search area was a big open rectangle, there weren’t many items to get your leash hooked up on, unless your dog went way out of bounds. All things to think about, and practice each way – on and off leash, just in case you walk into search area without physical boundaries.
- Multiple hides
Since we started with the more experienced dogs, they mostly ran it not knowing the # of hides that were out there. I think they did a great job calling Finish! It’s hard to walk away from a busy area, knowing your dog has covered the area and having the confidence to call Finish without over-working your dog. JJ is a dog who would continue to search – and search, and search – if Jeff let her. That can make it difficult to read her when she’s done, because unlike some dogs, who, once they’ve found all the hides, will turn and look at their handler, or will slow down, or just keep going back to previously found hides. So with a dog like JJ, you are going on your observation of how your dog has covered the search area (did they miss any areas? Did they search both sides of that table that’s in the middle of the room? Did they cut a corner that has some stuff in it?) and relying on your trust that if there was another hide out there, your dog would have shown interest and worked it to source. If you feel comfortable that your dog has covered the area, and you have not seen any major changes in direction/head lifts/nose on the floor/other changes in behavior, then you can feel good about calling Finish.
For some of the greener dogs, moving beyond hide # one proved more of a challenge. For those still looking at getting a NW1 title, I would reward each time they go back to the hide, and then use the leash or my body language to keep them moving on and prevent them from returning. You are also watching your dog to determine if they are working a new hide, or are they re-working the first hide. For example, in the first search area, most dogs found the hide in the food dish first. Once they finished that, I would focus on the stuff in front of and to the right of the door you came in on, since that could be an area that held a hide (although most dogs checked this area first, before finding the bowl hide). Once I felt the dog cleared the stuff to the right of the door, I would prevent them from returning to the bowl by using the leash, or my body. I would walk facing the area opposite the food bowls, with my dog slightly in front of me. If they crossed in front of me to dart back to the food dish, I would treat, and continue on to the final tables. Is my dog in odor on the table closest to the food dish? That could be that same hide they are working. Wait – my dog is showing a lot of interest in the open box – it’s far enough from the food dish, to probably be a 2nd hide. With it’s open flaps and placement near the hide under the table, a lot of odor pooled in that box. Picture the odor from under the table dropping, floating, and settling – right in that box! It’s a great thing for the dogs to learn – and handlers – that pooling odor looks different from source odor. Many dogs worked the edge of the table, surface of the table, showed nice changes in behavior and changes in direction (Jazmine’s search comes to mind), giving you a hint that there was a second hide somewhere near that table. For the shorter dogs, the hide was a sort of suspended hide – it was over their heads, sort of floating in mid air, since it was not on a solid object or surface (it was on a support strut). This makes it a little more challenging for them to figure out how to get to source. For the bigger dogs, once they ducked under the table top, they could easily walk directly into the hide.
- Inaccessible hides
So we had a discussion before we actually did any searching about what a dog looks like hunting an inaccessible hide, like what you’d see in NW2 and above. The odor is accessible, but the dog cannot put their nose on source. An example would be if the hide were on a shelf in a cupboard, or in the middle of a drawer, or deep in a stack of chairs. The odor can escape out the sides of the cupboard and drawer, and can escape all around the stack of chairs, but unless your dog is extra clever or very destructive, the dog will not be able to nose touch source.
Based on the challenges of the search area environment, and the fact that we had mixed levels of dogs running the searches, I did not set up any inaccessible hides. But I LOVED how several of you had it on your mind on the search in the 2nd interior, where the hide was on top of a little cupboard/end table / bedside table. The hide was out in the open, completely visible to all, yet because it was in a cardboard tube that looked like a straw, and there was so much stuff in the environment, everyone that that’s what it was, just a straw! The odor was apparently cascading down the front of the little cupboard, and collecting on the drawer pulls and woodwork and cracks and crevices, so when the dogs came along, they picked up odor there… and there, and there… so several folks started to think, maybe this is an inaccessible hide! So I love that you were thinking that, because the dogs did look like that was what it could be… until they lifted their heads (or bodies) up and pinpointed source in the straw. So that was fun for me – making the handlers think in an intelligent way as they observed their dogs work out that problem. Another thing that was fun about that hide, was how many dogs picked it up on the little sofa directly opposite the hide. If you watch the videos, you’ll see dog after dog work the surface of the couch, then turn and almost walk directly to it.
- When to call it quits, when to adjust your hide
Another few things that came up, were when some dogs struggled on the 2nd hide in the first search area. A couple dogs actively avoided the dog dish – was it because it smelled like too many dogs, and it turned them off? Was it because it was under the table, crammed with a lot of STUFF around and over it, and they were sensitive to that pressure? Not sure, but rather than stress them out, I had you move on and abort that hide. If this had been class, I would have pulled the dish out from under the table, paired it if it wasn’t already, or perhaps put a box or familiar item near it to collect odor and hopefully lure the dog to the hide without handler intervention. But, since we had a good number of dogs to run, I kept things moving. But keep that in mind for when you are practicing at home – doing adjustments without forcing things is the best way to learn from your dog. WAS the issue that it was too close to a tall object? WAS the issue that it needs to be paired? WAS the issue that the dog needed something to collect more odor, to help them follow the collection of odor to source? This lets you help your dog be successful, at the same time, you gather information about where to go with your dogs’ training. Another option to try at home, is you can reward on the hide they find, pull that hide, and go back to the search area later, and see if the issue was your dog needing help figuring out converging odor. Just be sure your dog doesn’t have access to the search area if you leave the hide adn plan to go back (like, you’re hanging out in the living room with a hide there)
- When to move on / change positions / search a new area
During Jeanne and Tyrah’s second search, Tyrah was working and working and working the back area of the search area. There were no hides nearby, although some odor from the straw that was up on the nightstand/end table may have been collecting there. Tyrah was hunting hard, so you’d think there was a hide nearby. EXCEPT that she kept making her search wider and bigger, ranging from the sofa, out to the chair, then the wicker chair, the garbage pails… continuously moving to the edges of the search area, not coming up with anything. That would be where you would say, “all right, my dog will find source and work to source, narrowing down where the odor is, and here, my dog has been searching but not narrowing anything down. She keeps leaving the search area and widening her circles – I don’t think there is a hide here”. All Jeanne had to do was step back and Tyrah moved back towards the front of the search area. Tyrah was very clear when she figured out there was a second hide – she goes back to the fountain hide, then lifts her head and checks the seat of the chair, the seat of the sofa – clearly a different hide than the fountain hide. That was fun to watch – and something I sometimes still struggle with. Understanding when my dog is working something he’s already found, vs working a new hide.
All in all, a very fun night! I hope everyone got to do the “Self Sniff” in the large room at the back. I really enjoy doing those at NW Camp – there’s no pressure, you can reward as long as you want without holding people up, and you get to work someone else’s hides.
Paw-zn-Around was such a great place for nose work! Jeanne was always accommodating, generous with her space, and enthusiastic about anything to do with classes. I will miss those tractor, horse trailer, boat, ATV and lawn mower hides! I think all your dogs are solid searchers because of the varied rooms and vehicles we had access to. We’ll see what the next chapter brings!