Wow, April is quickly approaching, which leads into trial season. There is an OUTSIDE chance that Quattro and I could get off the waitlist and into the Summit trial in Kennebunk on April 13 & 14th, Coach and I are entered in a NW3 trial in Foxborough MA on April 20th, Coach and I are also entered in a NW3 trial in Connecticut on May 11, and then there are the 3 Element trials the dogs are in in Fryeburg ME on Memorial Day weekend. I have to enter Quattro in Beth’s Kittery trial in June… there is just a LOT coming up!
And I have been a bit of a slacker on my training, taking NW off between our NJ trial in mid-December, until about mid-January. I did a lot of house / basement hides in Jan / Feb, during bad weather, but realize I HAVE to get out to new places. The dogs know most of my at-home hiding places, and in their home territory, birch, ansie or clove really stand out as something different in the environment. When you work in a new environment, the nose work odors are competing with all sorts of novel smells for your dog, whether that is food crumbs, industrial cleaning smells, wall-to-wall carpet smells, kid smells, the dogs who ran ahead of you in the trial, wildlife, people, the list can go on and on.
And, when is the last time anyone has done vehicle hides?? I know for Coach, I’ve done one vehicle search at home since December’s trial. Craig’s (new) truck was parked near a snow bank, and my car was next to it. The odor was blowing off the truck and up on the snow bank, then bouncing back to the side of the truck. Even though I had placed the hide relatively low (so the dogs wouldn’t jump and potentially scratch the truck), the way the wind was blowing, caused the dogs to search high on the truck, leaving sandy footprints on the door and bed of the black truck. Oops. I definitely do not practice vehicles much at all, instead, I go to trials knowing my dogs are strong searchers with a clear response to odor, and I, the human part of the team, know the search area is limited to 3-4 vehicles. Not the best preparation, and not surprisingly, I’ve only once earned a Pronounced on a Vehicle search, but we manage.
So what do I do when I go off site with my dogs to practice? I try to place fairly simple hides, nothing too fancy or exotic, and I try to think about what the odor may be doing and where it may be going. Is the wind blowing straight at us, is the wind blowing the odor onto the wall of a building, or across a parking lot? Is it warm and sunny, cool and wet, icy and snowy? How will this effect the odor (it will settle on and cling to the wet areas, rise in the sunny dry areas, and I may have a challenge watching my dog AND my footing on slippery surfaces). I try to vary the hides from ground level, to nose-height, to stand-on-your-hind-legs-to-source-it height. Every so often I’ll throw a REALLY high hide in there, to practice for Elite (Quattro is Elite 3, and Coach needs to pass just one more NW3 trial to become an Elite level dog. Elite can have hides as high as 8-10ft up!). I try to check for safety… am I too close to a busy parking lot? Are there a lot of people coming and going, will someone move the object I’ve put my hide on? Is there any broken glass, dead mice (probably because they were poisoned), rat poison, sharp objects, disgusting food, pricker bushes, etc? I do not want to turn a fun training session into something my dogs and I will regret. The number of hides I set depends on how they do when I bring them out. I normally don’t set more than 6 out, sometimes less. If they are fast to find them, I might do 3 rounds with them, if they are struggling, I might just do one or 2 passes with them, then try to bring them for a walk or do something fun after the searching.
There are situations you can’t always predict or control, which is what NACSW is based on, real life search situations. While the Certifying Officials try to make things as safe as possible, sometimes, life happens.
Here are examples of 3 of my recent off-property searches.
Back in October, Quattro and I did a trial at Holman Stadium in Nashua. Two of the search areas were on the 3rd floor, and we had the option of taking the elevator, or walking up the outside stair case. The last time we were in an elevator, at a hotel, he wasn’t too thrilled… he was ready to get out, and hesitant to get in, so rather than stress us both out by going up to a search area in an elevator, I decided we’d take the stairs. Well! Surprise surprise, Quattro, Mr All Wheel Drive, fears nothing, super athletic dog, did NOT like the open stairs! He was slinky and slow, then would rush up a couple, than peer down thru the wire to the parking lot… oy. He did fine once we got to level ground and into the search area, but it was a surprise to me. So, I decided to practice in the new parking garage in Portsmouth. It’s clean, not very busy, and I figured we could do some NW as well as work on the elevator and stairs. Although, its not always a great idea to pair something that is supposed to be FUN (NW) with something your dog finds aversive (the elevator and open stairs). Anyway, I put hides nose-height right as we came off the elevator, on the railing of the outside stairs. Then, since the 5th floor was completely empty of Vehicles, I put about 5 hides down at the far end of the garage. There was a nice breeze coming straight at us, so I thought, good, he’ll pick up the odor from a mile away, and it’ll be fun for him! Well, he gets off the elevator, and is a little slinky and low to the ground (who is this dog?). He gets the nose height hides ok, then we go into the garage… he starts running into the wind, and picks off 4 hides nicely. The 5th hide was on a metal post… I didn’t think of it when I placed the hide, but it was in line w/ the wall that goes around the outside of the garage. Quattro followed the breeze and odor ONTO the wall… I tightened the leash at about the same time he realized we were 5 stories up, and he fell/jumped/got pulled inside the garage and off the wall. He turned around and sourced the hide with his hind legs on the floor. Phew! I am so glad I ran him on leash, I had actually considered running him off leash, since there were no cars there, but figured if someone saw me on video and came up to see what I was doing, it would be better to have my dog on leash. Thank goodness! I can tell you I will be a lot more cautious when placing hides in the future!
Search 2 was at a local park. I set some basic hides, 4 in a row on chain link fence posts, all nose height. I figured we’d build to more complicated stuff once we warmed up with basic hides. Well, we spent 40 minutes working on not barking in the car before I was ready to work one dog at a time (where did this behavior come from??) So right as I’m about to get a dog out, a car pulls up, and a lady with a dog on a flexi lead comes out, with a 3 yr old. Coach is still a little worried about kids under 5, and I hate flexi leads… but focus! Don’t fixate on things you can’t control. They moved away from my hides, and I worked kid loving Quattro first, and he picked off the hides quickly. Coach came out next (this is after the dog on the flexi peed about 18” from one of my hides) and he did great… sniffed the dog pee, but I quickly told him to Keep searching, and there were no problems. I moved my 4 hides to another part of the fence, farthest from the kid and dog, go to take a dog out, and don’t you know, they move to the basketball court 10ft from my hides. Real life searches… we can do this… and sure enough, the dogs did great, didn’t even bother with the mom and kid throwing a basketball around. In total, we spent 40 minutes working on no barking in the crate in the car, and 12 minutes searching.
I discovered that COACH was the trigger Quattro’s barking in the car, so I decided to take Quattro for a solo walk/search after Coach’s NW class. It was raining pretty hard today, but what the heck, gotta be ready for anything (anyone remember Oceanwood 2018?). We went to Short Sands in York… I knew it would be high tide, but figured that would have a small sand beach even at high tide, to let Quattro herd the waves as a reward after searching. The ocean was angry today, but it was a fun session. I set 6 hides, 3 in Jersey barriers, 2 on a chain link enclosure opposite each other, and one high on a handicap parking sign. It was windy, and we happened to work into the wind. I thought he might be distracted by the ocean, but he was right on his game, and picked off the hides quickly, even the super high one. I unclipped his leash after rewarding him on the high hide, since we were right on the edge of the beach, and released him to herd the waves… he stayed with the hide for a few moments, then took off like a shot. He was SO HAPPY! What a reward for him. I had to keep an eye on him, since some of the waves would come up high and deep, and at one point there was a little rip tide that he found himself in. I put him back in the car, re-hid the hides, and we went out to search again. I was impressed that he was focused on the search, and not trying to get back to the ocean. I gave him some more wave herding time after our last find. Super fun, even though it as wet, raw and cold! It felt good to thaw out in front of the wood stove.
I’ll have to do an inaccessible hide here and there, but I feel pretty good about doing hides close together, high, in inclement weather, and in distracting environments. Other than the high hides, most of my tins are nose-touch available, so I’ll also have to work on putting the tins a little deeper or at least not touchable.
So it’s time to take your NW game on the road! Don’t be afraid to pair your hides, and relax and have fun. Be aware of your environment (for hazards as well as Joe Q Public and his dog), but be prepared to be flexible and adjust your plan as needed. Don’t be afraid to do only a few hides that your dog finds quickly, and end your session. Short and fast is a nice way to keep motivation and confidence high. Remember to end with some fun for your dog, whether that is a play session with a toy, a walk, or chasing waves.
So get out, be safe, and have fun!