From Zero to Hero – No hides to LOTS of hides

Wow, I have been off my site for an embarrassing amount of time!  Between summer gardens to keep up with, 5 new classes a week in Manchester, trials, volunteering, ORT COing, Off Site trainings… I have not made time for the computer!

Well, I had some comments on last nights classes that I wanted to share, especially because, for various reasons (health – dog and human, weather, planned events, etc) they were VERY small classes, and I felt like these were too good to keep to ourselves.  It gave us the opportunity to do something different, that we probably wouldn’t have had time for if everyone was present, and was one of those exercises that made me think, man, I should do this with my OWN dogs!  I had this morning off, so that is exactly what I did!  I wanted to share some of the benefits, challenges and learning that occurred.

For the first class, (Mary & Gemma, Barbara & Macy and Christine & Reo), we did a blank room search.  Yup, the whole room, searched on leash, with no birch, anise or clove.  I had left 6 chair set ups up from my tricks class: 3 double chairs had their backs to the mirrors, and three double chairs had their backs to the agility equipment.  The grooming table that had all sorts of treats and my Tricks notes on it, was right inside the ring gates by the green rugs, and there was one of those blue Klimb tables w/ a shallow box of stuffed toys on it in the middle, and an agility table out past that, in front of the garage door.
The handlers knew it was blank (ie, no birch anise clove), and were instructed to have their dogs search / cover the 3 tables, and the 6 sets of chairs, as well as the edges – mirrored wall, back wall – but the agility equipment was out of play.  The dogs came in and all immediately started hunting… they went from chair set to chair set, the tables, on the agility table, checked out the stuffed toys but left them, and overall looked pretty bored and unenthusiastic, but going thru the motions of hunting target odor.  There was very little looking for food or crumbs, and no one decided to play with the toys.  There was one chair that all 3 dogs paused to sniff the corner of – like there had been dog slobber there – and there was a little interest in box of toys, but all moved on.  I think on the chair investigation, it was pretty clear that it was not target odor – the dogs were stock-still, no bracketing, going under, around or side to side on the chair, just standing still sniffing the corner of a chair.  Pretty clear that there was no target odor anywhere.
Run #2:
I put out “a whole bunch of hides” – at first I said 9, then realized I’d lost count and it was actually 12. Barbara and Macy came in first, and Macy was off and running.  WAY faster than her first run, more excited, happy to work, she pretty naturally went to the chairs, tables, and then the mirrors.  I believe they found 7 hides in like 4 mins.  When I realized there were more than 9 – oops, there are 12! – I figured we’d save the hides not found for the next run. Barbara came back in to watch Gem and Reo.  They mostly found the same hides Macy had – it also helped that I gave them a more specific start line, so Reo and Gem worked the grooming table hide, whereas Barbara and Macy were in a rush to get into the main body of the room / search area, and had missed it (remember to take your time at the start, and let your dog lead out – don’t rush in behind them). I think the most found was 7 or 8.
Run #3:
Man, the dogs were even faster this time!  I left all 12 hides where they were, and the dogs came in and quickly re-sourced the hides they’d already found. Now that the handlers knew where they were – I either pointed the previously missed hides out, or coached them before they left an area / hide, it was clear what the dogs were working.  A hide in the “corner” could have been easy to miss – once the handlers thought to go there, the dogs found it easily.  Most often, the dogs wanted to go from the grooming table to a polka dot chair, and skip the corner by the entrance door (there was a hide on the wall there). Then there was a hide on the wall of shelves, toys, junk at the back of the room.  It was in a little metal bucket, on a shelf nose-height to a German Shepherd.  Then there was one on the back garage door.  These were also missed in Run 2 – these missed hides were a good lesson in covering the search area.  Most times, we assume our dog will find odor if it’s there, but sometimes, they have to be guided / brought to an area before they pick up odor.  In the case last night, there was so much converging odor, that it was easy for the dogs to skip that corner hide in favor of either the polka dot chair or grooming tables hides, and in the case at the back of the room, there was a hide under the agility table that kept sucking the dogs in.  I think the hide under the agility table, although mostly inaccessible, unless they pulled a Quattro and snaked under, was SO open – SO much odor was available from every side of the table, that for dogs not as used to working out converging hides, they didn’t think there was a reason to check anywhere else.  Don’t forget, these hides are all fresh-from-the-ORT Qtips, so they are super strong, lots of odor.
I think it was good practice in leash management – how do I gently hold my dog back from re-alerting over and over to the hide under the agility table, and get them to move on? It was good learning for the dogs, that, hey, don’t give up on that more difficult hide in favor of an obvious hide, and it was a good example – over and over – for the dogs to work pooling odor and work it back to source.  There were chairs that had no hides on them, but behind them, there was a hide on the edge of the mirrors, and then a hide up on the leash hitch at the end of the mirrors.  The odor collected on the chairs perfectly, causing the dogs to circle the chairs, then figure out that the odor was coming from BEHIND the chairs.  It was really pretty to watch them go from chair to wall to chair to wall… oh! Pinpiont!  And none of the dogs pooped out – they were happy searching and finding, searching and finding, searching and finding… lots of success and lots of rewards!
For my 6:30 class, it was only Pam & Aspen and Barbara & Midnight.  Now that the room was a complete odor bomb, they did not have the luxury of working a blank area, unfortunately.  Barbara had Pam go first, since most of the hides would be blind for her (she may have seen Gem work a couple).  We told her there were *12* hides, have fun!  Aspen was zippy, drivey, motivated and clear – I think she had a ton of fun, and it’s clear she is feeling MUCH better after her arthritis medication.  One thing I happened to notice, is when the leash lightly tangled in front of her shoulder, she would alert farther from the hide, and not work around to get to source. I think the slight leash pressure was a restriction for her pain-wise, because on hides where the leash was behind her / alongside her, she was eager to move and circle around the object to get to source.  So, something Pam will be extra aware of… the leash will get tangled despite our best efforts, but now we can see it’ll be important to straighten it out quickly.
For Barbara and Midnight, now that Barbara knew where the start line was and where the hides were, they flowed smoothly thru the search area, and Midnight made short work of deciphering pooling odor on the chairs meant the hide was nearby… she was very quick to move from pooling odor directly to source time and time again.  Both Pam and Barbara sourced the 12 hides in about 5 minutes.
Round  #2
Ok, so what was I going to do to up the challenge?  Add more hides, of course!  I added *6* more hides – I had a difficult time coming up with new places to put them without adding more chairs, buckets, things to the search area.  I wanted the only change to be the additional hides, not objects.   THIS was a lot of fun.  The dogs ran in, psyched that they knew where a lot of hides were, but, now they worked the hides a little differently.  The additional hides made a new scent picture / puzzle… Midnight cataloged – she scoped out the joint before going back to get the work done, picking off hide after hide.  It was like once she double checked the existing hides, and made mental note of the new hides, she could get down to business. The additional 6 were blind to Pam (Barbara got to watch, them run it), and it was fun to see Aspen surprise her.  Me:  “That’s a Yes.“  Pam:  “Oh!  I didn’t even see that!  Aspen, you’re so sneaky!”   (It was a hide under the mat at the back of the room)  Me:  “Watch her… “  Pam:   “Oh! I see what she’s working.” (It was a high hide by the back door).  The dogs slowed down slightly between the hides, because in many cases,  there was a new hide between the already-found hides.  The handlers were ready to move on to the next known hide, but the dogs did an awesome job of over-riding their handlers, and staying in the area to work out the new problem.
One thing that stuck out here, was the importance of covering your search area… and the balance of honoring the dog who is driving to source.  Midnight was driving to the polka dotted chair, but Barbara, not wanting to be burned by missing the corner hide again, tried to put a hard stop on the leash and get Midnight to the corner.  Midnight overruled her, and continued to drive to the chair.   THEN Barbara was able to get to the corner.  Midnight is pretty strong and doesn’t mind the leash pressure, and Barbara realized Midnight was going to the polka dot chair hide no matter what, and honored her.  However, if you have a more sensitive dog, you would really kill their drive to source if you tried to change direction suddenly on them.  Honor the dog first, and THEN bring them on your path / pattern (which is what Barbara did).  Don’t make assumptions – on some of the chairs, the dogs would skim the fronts of the chairs, and find a hide on the front, but if you brought them down the line BEHIND the chairs, they would find a hide on a chair back that they’d missed previously.   Converging hides are challenging!  In one area, we had a chair hide (on the front corner of the chair they’d all shown dog interest in), a hide in the toy box on the blue table, a hide on the back of a chair, and a hide on the support bracket of the grooming table.  That’s four hides roughly the same elevations – with a hide flat on the floor at the base of the end of the ring gate.  Since Midnight and  Aspen are just at or over the elevated hides, it was really challenging for them to break the plane and get down to the floor on that one.   Overall, they found 18 hides in about 7-9 minutes.  Phew!
 My turn! Quattro and Coach – I did what the classes did, start to finish.  The first pass was blank, no target odor. They were racing around the room, flowing from chair set to chair set, checked out the toys first, and moved along at a good clip.  The only place they stopped, was the front underneath of the polka dot chair!  Quattro even tipped his head under there. Lingering from last night!    Next up, was 12 hides.  Now, the environment was not exactly the same as last night, so my runs were not carbon copies of yours. The 6:30 class had fresh dog and treat smells from my tricks class, and the 7:30 class had fresh dog and slobber smells from the 6:30 class.  The heat was not on this morning, and the sun was coming in the windows by the agility equipment.  I think the sun caused my dogs to work into the agility equipment more than I saw last night, which is interesting, and they didn’t seem to have as much of a challenge of “chairs to hide on wall” back and forth as last night, probably because the heat wasn’t pushing odor around.  The third pass, with 18 hides, was exhausting!  For me!  I was trying to remember what this dog had found, what we’d missed, or was that Quattro? Did Coach get this one already?  Oh wait, he got that 4 times… what did we miss?  The high hide by the back door was the most challenging… and I think the sun played into that. Both dogs really really worked the agility sand bags, the agility tire – high on the frame – the pole by the water buckets… I think the sun had the odor lofting up and away from source, only to land on the tire frame.  Barbara, you must have been exhausted last night, running 2 dogs!  At least my dogs are tired and have left me alone to type this!
I would not want to do this ALL the time, but it was a fun exercise in just letting the dogs flow thru an area, then come back in and pick off hides.  I most liked how they had to work converging odor, they had some high-low-high hides to sort out, and some areas of pooling odor (the chairs) when the hide was a little ways away (the wall).  What looked like a pretty basic set up, lent itself to loads of learning – and rewarding!  Pam commented that the dogs were ready to go around again… and again – they’d be happy if there were 24 hides out there.  They did not seem burned out, instead, they were a bit crazed!  Quattro and Coach were the same.  It was a nice drive building exercise – they had the excitement of being correct over and over and over… and that is motivating.
Now, if *I* were really motivated, I’d go do some outside hides in this crazy wind… hmm… I think I’ll day dream about summer…

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