Last weekend, I went to video for one of my former students who is in training to become a Certifying Official for the NACSW (she is also a current CNWI, and an AKC judge). The CO is the person who plants the hides in NACSW, and chooses the search areas at a trial site, figures out the path to the search areas, how long a search should take, basically oversees the whole operation. As part of her CO certification, she must set up a vehicle search, and video dogs running it. So, she offered it up to some students and I was able to watch and video for her.
One of the hides she was required to set up, was a “seam hide”. Now, normally in NACSW, the Vehicle hides are in a trailer hitch, under a license plate, in a wheel, but, she set a search up with those requirements. She placed a tube w/ scented Qtips in a door seam, and dog after dog, struggled with this. The only 2 dogs who got it fairly easily, were 2 Summit (highest level) level dogs, who were just brought along for the ride, and pulled out to see what they would do with it. No problem, they said! They have seen seam hides, or flat surface hides as I call them, before.
So, it made me think… have we done “flat surface hides” in class recently, or, at all? One way to practice is to put a hide in a cupboard and crack the door to start. Once your dog figures that out, you can place a hide in a cupboard / cabinet / desk drawer / filing cabinet and close the door. Odor escapes, and it’s fun to watch the dog work up and down the seam until their nose lands just opposite where the hide is.
Short of brining a cabinet or bureau into the training space, I brought in my scent sticks! I haven’t used them in years. A student (one of the Summit dog handlers) had made them for me years ago. Basically, there are pre-drilled holes you can stick a Qtip into, and you butterfly clip the two pieces of wood together. There is a channel or groove left in between the two pieces, so odor will travel up and down / back and forth the groove, shooting out the ends.
We started class w/ one scent stick w/ one birch Qtip in it, placed across 2 chairs. Piece of cake! What, one hide? Front and Center? How tricky could that be, there isn’t even any hunting involved, really.
Well, the dogs worked the first one ok, but as I moved the stick from the chair seats to the floor (all kinds of air currents down there!) to up against the wall, to leaning on a diagonal against a chair or wall, then added an Anise then added a Clove stick, things got a little trickier! The goal / object was to only reward them when they were AT SOURCE. That one little Qtip, not the end of the stick (where odor was surely shooting out) and not a sweeping wave of the head “hey, there’s odor here!”, but nose on the Qtip.
Well, this little “search” / exercise, really was a challenge for these guys! We were asking them to be so precise, it really used a lot of brain cells. For my greenest class, I paired, placing a treat on top of the Qtip, either on top of the scent stick or in the groove on top of the Qtip itself. I was looking for the dogs to work the channel, then pause / nose punch / stop at the Qtip.
I didn’t video every run, but here is a sampling. I hope that this exercise not only helped the dogs understand how to follow odor to its strongest point of source, but also helped the handlers see what their dog looks like when they hit SOURCE not just odor.
** Bonus feature **
Quattro and Coach working the scent sticks at home. Note my bad timing / reward placement w/ one of Quattro’s searches – he was ON it, I don’t reward, but reward when he is about 4“ to the right of it!?! I don’t know what I as seeing… most of my timing / placement is pretty good, but this gives you an idea of how we can confuse the dogs – is it SOURCE that pays, or ODOR that pays? It should always be the strongest point of source odor. My bad!