November 10 & 11 classes were a change from the past few weeks. Instead of large search areas, we worked little containers! We first did a couple runs with half a dozen blank birdhouses and one birdhouse that had birch Qtips in it to get them acclimated to the birdhouses. I added a birdhouse with anise, and then for the Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning classes, I added 3 piggy banks, one that had birch in it.
Even though these were all “containers”, the dogs reacted very differently to them. The birdhouses had 3 Qtips stuck just inside the “door” of the birdhouse. Lots of odor was able to escape from the door opening. Not much if any odor came out the top or sides, meaning if the dogs went by it the wrong way, they did not pick up any odor. And since the birdhouses were on the floor, the odor would come out and then run across the smooth floor inside, collecting and pooling on the nearest object, whether that was another birdhouse or the chairs on the side of the room.
In contrast, the piggy banks only had the slit in the top for odor to escape. The 3 Qtips were stuck inside on the bottom of the pigs, not exactly near the slit, so the volume of odor came across differently to the dogs.
Tuesday nights’ classes worked the containers in various patterns – random scatter, a straight line, and a “speed” set up (three groups of 3 containers, with a hide in each grouping)
Wednesdays’ classes had the luxury of being able to work outside! We started inside to warm them up on the containers, then moved outside. When I am working exteriors in training, my initial goal is to keep it simple and straightforward for my dogs. I know it’s fun to go to a new place and decide, Wow! I can put a hide way up here! Or make an inaccessible hide deep in this thing! When really, I want my dogs set up for success. Success to me is:
-Minimal interference / guidance from me
-Enthusiasm for the job
-Focus on hunting
From me as a handler, success means:
-Good treat delivery – fast and accurate
-Good leash handling – giving them what they need, restricting them when they are clearly going out of bounds
-Not standing by the hide, but if I do need to step in, guide them near the hide, close enough to where I think they will pick up odor and lead me to it
So for doing our outside searches, to accomplish those goals, that might mean pairing, limiting the dog away from the grassy area w/ pee, limiting them to just beyond the defined boundaries before gently bringing them back, and making sure they’ve covered the area (ie, by the building), and working on leash management and treat delivery. Start small – a small area with familiar items (hence we started w/ the containers inside before moving outside) and then expand the search area (placing a container or 3 on the grass, setting a hide outside of a container on the building)
I think the dogs did great! It was windy, there were a ton of dead leaves, it was tough for us humans to even see the birdhouses (luckily the dogs see with their noses, so they had no problem picking them out) and there were plenty of distractions – the peanut gallery on the other side of the fence barking at us, planes going overhead, smells from footprints and dogs who had peed in the grass. If you think about the differences in substrate, a smooth rubber floor vs the grainy pavement w/ leaves all over, the odor is going to act very differently. Knowing how your dog looks when they are chasing fast moving odor on a smooth floor following inside air currents, looks very different than your dog picking up odor on all the leaves as a breeze comes and goes.
Ok, without further ado, here are the searches I video’d of the Wed 12:15p class. Keep in mind, these are probably the greenest dogs of the 5 classes I teach, so I paired everything. They are also the most challenging class in that most of the dogs like to stare, but not be stared at, so just walking by other dogs without reacting is a major accomplishment!
So those are some tips as to how I would / did start my dogs working in distracting areas outside. Small search area, familiar items for them to check, pair, and keep it short and sweet. As they show they can handle it, I’ll increase the size, place the containers in more distracting or challenging locations, and probably continue to pair. I paired every hide in the training session I did with Coach before our Elite trail at Hadlock Field in Portland ME last month, and guess what, we came in first place overall! So pairing is NOT remedial, or a cop out, or whatever. I know sometimes it can be personal pride to do hides unpaired, or “let’s just see how he does… “, but really, many times, that’s not good enough for me. I want to keep my training goals in mind at all times: Independence, Focus, and Enthusiasm. If treats help in that regard, so be it. I mean, I like shopping, and if we went into a store that was giving out Lindt chocolates, Wow, I’m going back to that store!
So my Tuesday classes did not get to work outside, which is shame on me, since it was warm out, and my Wed classes did not work the pigs outside, since I figured the leaves and environment were challenging enough. But hopefully that gives you some ideas for success when you set up hides outside in a new environment.