For the second week of class, I wanted to work on the puppy/dogs understanding of working an area, wall to wall and corner to corner. Sounds pretty complicated for week 2! But it is amazing to watch them learn in front of your eyes.
Last week, the focus was simply on them being successful finding food in a box, so they were learning that boxes migh pay – I’d better check all the boxes! This week, I wanted them to gain success in corners, along a wall, deep in a search area or close to the start line. Using hide placement “teaches” the dog where to check/search. Dogs are learning by experience, and will remember a positive (or negative) moment and apply that knowledge in future searches. Much more so than if we are trying to train them by showing them every inch of the search area, telling them to “check, check, check” and guiding them thru the search. That teaches them to wait for direction and to follow direction from the handler, rather than moving forward on their own. When *we* think we know how the odor is moving, or when *we* think we know the pattern the dog needs to work, yet are not correct, the dog either is at odds with the handler (“yeah, but the odor is over THERE!”) or the dog gives up their independent working and relies on the handler to guide them around. I’ve seen many dogs look lost in a search, because they are waiting for some direction, to be told what to do. This is different than the dog who has worked independently thru a search, and then encounters a particularly challenging hide. They may look at the handler for comfirmation or help, but up until this point, they’ve done the work to bring them close to source. When you see professional K-9s, they are so driven and motivated to work, that some handler guidance does not slow them down, and is often necessary because of where they are searching (a car on the side of a freeway, public area like the Boston Marathon, an airport). These dogs were bred specifically to have high drive, persistence, be self motivated, and just a little crazy :-). Unlike our pet dogs, who come from various backgrounds and breedings, and whom we are trying to teach good housemanners to from the moment we bring them home. We are constantly reinforcing them for looking at us, offering cute behaviors, and following us. Now, we are encouraging them to be bold, make their own decisions, and leave us behind while they are using their hard wired hunting instinct.
Back to hide placement. I did almost every run with a “threshold” hide. While we obviously didn’t have a physical doorway as our start line, we consider a threshold hide anything within 3-6 feet of the given start line. This gets the dog hunting right off the bat – that quick success primes them for the rest of the search area. This is something I need to (or should have done) more of with my dogs, especially Quattro. He is famous for blasting out to the far end of the search area, finding a far out hide, then working his way back. While it’s been successful for us since he is fast, and I know to bring him back to be sure he searches the starting area before I call Finish, in Elite, the search areas are BIG. Which means I’m running to keep up as I follow him thru the search area, and hustling to get back for him to actually search the start area. Hopefully we set your dogs up for less rounding up the odor and instead knock off hides in a more methodical way! I think there was maybe one dog who bypasssed the threshold hide, went deeper into the area, then came back for the beginning hide.
The search area itself was much bigger than last week, long and narrow, with 2 rows of boxes, rather than piles of boxes like last week. I like working in rows like this early on, because the dogs get the idea to go down the line checking the boxes methodically, but then it is clear when they pick up odor in the other row – you see them take a hard right or left angle turn to go get their treats. This will help when you do your Odor Recognition Test (ORT) where the boxes are set up in 2 lines of 6 each, one having target odor. Staying out of their way allows them to work and follow odor to source. While an ORT is done on leash, my hope is that you get used to the dog working in front of you, and are picking up on the dogs signals when he’s picked up odor. For us humans, it’s the repetition of seeing a dog work and be successful that sticks in our minds.
Corners – rather than calling a dog over to a corner and telling them to “check”, hide placement in corners of the search area teaches the dog that corners are productive places! The dog learns to follow odor along a wall, along the ring gates, off of nearby boxes, and follows that odor to the hide, which happens to be in a corner. As you move up in levels of nose work, having a dog who can independently move thru and cover the search area is a nice thing! And, having a dog who is not afraid of tight spaces, walls and furniture looming over him, and is expecting that there is a CHANCE a hide could be deep in a corner or along a wall, will prove beneficial later on.
There is a live action video followed by the same video in slow motion (except Muddy’s first run, sorry!). I sped it up in a few places, if the dog ran out of the ring for example, and then slowed it down when I saw a nice change in direction, change of behavior, good detailing close to source., etc. I almost think the slowed/fast video is more helpful than the live video, you pick up things you don’t when it’s at regular speed.
Things for you to focus on in the slo-mo video:
Tails – is the dogs tail wagging consistently as they search, does it speed up or slow down at any points? No right or wrong, just observe and look for a pattern or common behavior.
Lip licks / tongue flicks – look to see if your dog flicks their tongue up to their nose at any point. Is it after they’ve eaten the treat? Or is it when they are getting CLOSE to their treat? Some dogs later on will lick when they get to source, which is a nice clue for the handler to call alert!
Standing still – does your dog stop and stand still sniffing at any point? That stillness with front feet planted and back level usually means they are sniffing dog odor, like saliva or pee. When they pause to sniff treat crumbs, they are still fairly loose as they snuffle.
Changes in pattern or direction – watch for the dogs cruising along on a path, and then all of a sudden break off their path and go a different direction, or double back. Something got their interest and attention, so it’s something to make note of.
Even though I talk about the dog working independently and the handler staying back out of the way, there are times where the handler is the active part of the team – you are a team, by the way! Gemma’s first run, she sort of got hung up in the first part of the search area, staying in an area the size we worked last week. There was still the hide down at the end, so I had Mary take a couple steps forward, and that was all it took for Gemma to head down there. Your puppy dogs are going to be aware of your subtle movement, and that is one way to direct them. Unfortunately, I either was late hitting record, must have hit stop one run right before Gemma gets to a hide, I just did a horrible job videoing her. I’m sorry about that!
I think I did the same with Muddy, missed videoing his first hide at least once. But, one thing I noticed from watching the videos back, is while Gemma wags her tail while she searches AND eats, Muddy’s tail gets still and sort of drops. My Pyrenees did that, and Quattro does that, too. Coach’s tail wags when he is at source. So, something to watch for as we move forward. Muddy also does a cool side step with his front feet in the first run. He’s following odor w/ his nose, and apparently the odor is to his left behind him. Rather than squaring up and walking to his left, he does a couple front sidesteps to his left. Just a little front food cross over, very cool. Dogs can detect smell from each nostril, so they can pick up direction in the wind or air from each nostril independently, unlike humans, who inhale one smell thru both nostrils. I think that was a good illustration of a dog picking up direction from one nostril.
I liked watching Macy and Libby’s first runs, because they both do the same thing, although Libby’s 6 years of experience makes her more efficient at it! It was the hide on the left against the mirrors, where dogs for the most part traveled up the right side, then got to a blank box opposite the hide, and took a hard left turn to get to source. Macy works the entire row on the right side, then starts to come down the left side. She peels off at the large box w/ open flaps (the hide was behind the big box) and heads back to the right side. Her next pass up the right side, she does the same hard left turn at the blank box that Libby does. Libby just went there on her first pass. Again, that is just a dog who’s lived 6 years of life looking for treats, tennis balls, squirrels and living life, while Macy is just a baby, and doesn’t have all that life experience in the bank – yet!
I froze one of Linda’s and Michelle’s videos briefly. Since these dogs are working on odor vs primary (treats), rather than grab a treat and move on, they are now being asked (not verbally, just by the treat presentation) to stay at source (the birch in a tin), understanding that their reward will come. And the longer they stay, the more rewards they get! However, when there are multiple hides out, we need the dogs to understand moving on to find more. This is where the handler steps in. It is important for the dog to move on after their reward. Watch your footing and body position when you are trying to move your dog along. Are you squared up to the dog, so that the dog thinks you are standing ready to deliver more treats? Did you step away, towards another hide the dog already found? Do you get the dog to move along, only to gravitate back towards the hide they’d just left? If you get the dog to move on, don’t hang out by the hide they’ve already found. You can shadow them thru the search area at a distance. For those of you watching, look for the connection between dog and handler. I like to see the dog aware of where the handler is, and the team moving with ease together, moving smoothly as a unit. Sometimes the handler steps back to give the dog space to work, other times the handler steps in to support the dog, and sometimes the handler steps forward until the dogs gets ahead, then the handler hangs back. We’ll do more with this going forward. Of course, at Nose Work 1 (NW1), there is only one hide in each search area, so you won’t have this challenge. But NW2, NW3 and Elite are not far away, and it’s good to learn that partnership and movement now.
Ok, enough reading, let’s see the visual: