Holiday Kick Off

First off, thank you Tuesday 6:30p and Wednesday morning classes for playing along with my Reindeer Games! For the 5p Tuesday and 12:15p Wednesday classes, while your dogs were finding “only one” hide at a time, they had a lot of variety of odor vessels and hide placements to work thru, for their challenge.

Basically, dogs were searching for target odor (birch, anise and/or clove), in a variety of holiday-themed items. The floor was somewhat crowded with objects, some that collected odor (the tinsel Christmas trees), and some that allowed odor to travel far and wide (the tall wine holder box, where the odor was sitting on top). There was the fake poinsettia, where the tin was tucked into the burlap around the “pot”, the little metal buckets, where when paired w/ a treat, the dogs with bigger schnoz’s could barely open their mouth, and odor placed on the top of little tins, out in the open but down low on the floor. This variety helps the dogs to continue to think that odor could be ANYWHERE, in ANY object, floor height or nose height. There were a couple chairs in the environment, but they did not have odor on them for the one-hide-at-a-time classes, they just collected odor in the environment.

For the other 3 classes, I put 9 tins out, 3 of each odor. And, coincidentally, there are 9 reindeer that pull Santa’s sleigh, when you include Rudolph (Donner, Blitzen, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet & Cupid. Each time the dog found a hide, the handler had to name a reindeer, but could not name the same reindeer twice. I did provide a cheat sheet at the start line, that was visible (sort of) when you were sitting waiting for your turn, and you could “phone a friend” and ask for help if you were stumped… although the “party line” was usually busy (chatting) and not much help! Since not everyone was familiar with Rudolph’s story and the song, there were some funny moments! Again, thank you all for playing along 🙂

What was the object of that exercise? It was to make the handler think of something else, have split attention on their dog and be distracted, things that happen in a trial often. I think it also caused the handlers a mild amount of stress, stepping to the start line trying to quickly memorize 9 reindeer names. Trial stress is something that is difficult to reproduce in a class setting. Even if I set up blind hides, you are in a comfortable environment, with people you know watching. This little bit of added stress and pressure was one way to mimic what happens in a trial. In a trial, you may be thinking of the judge watching, the volunteers (who you may or may not know), and you may be hearing my voice in your head… all minor distractions, taking your focus away from your dog. How does your dog respond to your distraction? Do they check out, get more insistent when they find the hide, walk away from the hide w/ barely a glance? When you are in the upper levels, you can be told there are a range of hides, and you need to mentally keep track of how many you’ve already found. The worst feeling is when I’m in a search that has a range of 4-6 hides… and I say Alert, and lose track if that was my 5th or 6th time saying Alert! I always think, during the search, What if that was my 6th Alert and I should call Finish? But if that was my 5th Alert, I should keep searching… what to do?! So this exercise was set up to make you keep track of the hides and the names you’ve already used, as well as keep track of your dog and, if you did it on leash, manage your leash around objects like chairs and poinsettias. Oh, and did I mention there was a 3 minute time limit? There was a lot going on!

The other object of the exercise, was to give the dogs lots of finds and lots of rewards. There was plenty of converging odor for them to work thru, with the same amount of varying hide placements as the other two classes had to work thru. I did add a high hide in a stocking up on the pipe/vent, and I added hides on the backs of 2 of the chairs. Those back-of-chair hides proved to be the most challenging! I think because the chair backs angle out just slightly, making the hides slightly suspended over the floor. The odor would drop and drift onto the seat of the chair, but also float out to the wall or other objects nearby. And then add the other 8 nearby hides, and there were a lot of odor streams they had to navigate! One additional skill this exercise worked on, was getting your dog to move on and find a “fresh” hide. The more times the dog “double dipped” (went back to a hide they’d already found), the more time was wasted. The dogs who ate quickly and moved on, were the most successful in getting the most hides in 3 minutes. One team cracked me up – the handler would pause at each hide, trying to come up with a reindeer name while she was treating her dog. The dog would gobble the treat and move on – he is very fast and very efficient – great! But the handler would get flustered, and say Alert after rewarding her dog. The dog would stop mid-stride and turn back to the handler, expecting another treat! It showed that it was ingrained in the dog that the word Alert meant treat was coming! Someone asked if I say Alert when I’m training, and I don’t, unless I’m working hides set out by someone else and am running it blind (which is rare). I do, however, say Yeeees! Which IS a marker for the dog (that they’ve done the right / correct thing), and that is probably just as bad. What happens when it is a blind search, in practice or a trial? I don’t say Yeeees! I say Alert, hear Yes (hopefully!) from the judge, then praise my dog as I give him a treat. I end with a short, quick Good!, which means they should move on and continue searching. Does it matter to train one way and trial another? Probably! I have not noticed any confusion with Quattro, but, maybe that is why Coach sometimes in trials pauses at a hide, then moves on. Maybe he is waiting for me to mark his find with a Yeeeees! Something for me to think about.

The dogs who “double-dipped” (going back to hides already found and expecting a reward) also makes me think of my training with my own dogs. Many times, once we’ve found all the hides, I make a game of racing them back to the hides to pick them up. If my dog beats me, I reward as I pick up the hide. This makes me think I probably should not be encouraging them to go back to previously found hides, even if we are wrapping up our training session.

For the one-hide-at-a-time classes, most hides were paired. I still want them staying w/ the hide, at least for a few seconds, rather than be sucked away to follow lingering odor, or to have doubt about what they are searching for. Especially for the 12:15p class, who had a LOT of lingering odor to work thru! I wanted them to be clear about where the hide was that they were searching for, and adding a small treat to it, really helps them zero in AND keep their motivation high. Be sure to be quick to come in with your reward, as soon as you see your dog eating the treat on the tin. This is a step towards keeping them at the hide and building their confidence in the game.

One last thing I’ll say, is about trouble shooting. What to do if your search goes south? For example, in my 6:30p class, I thought I’d end with an inaccessible hide. I picked up the 8 containers that had contained hides, and placed one hide under the big, wrapped present / box. Well, dog after dog struggled with this, not even really giving it a thorough up and down sniff! I ended up pulling the tin partway out from under the box (still didn’t help) and finally just left the tin on the floor next to the box. I told the class that it didn’t mean they had dogs who couldn’t find odor – their dogs had all just found 9 hides in 3 minutes! It most likely meant that the hide placement was bad. It was a flat box bottom laying square on top of a flat tin. I don’t think it allowed much, if any, odor to flow out to the room. Driving home and rethinking that hide, I think what I should have done, was to take the 2 little wrapped boxes, and place them under the big box, with the hide under the big box. That way, the big box was not flat on top of the odor holes, odor would have space to seep out. The dogs could have picked up odor on any side of the bottom of the big box/present, making any side acceptable to alert on, which was the goal of what I had initially wanted for that search.

The other trouble shooting / recovery situation, occurred with Jackson the next day. He was a little wary of the wine bottle box, especially when it was out in the middle of the floor. He knew it would wobble if he ate the treat off it, which he didn’t like, and would either not completely get to the hide, or dodge away a bit. I had crumbly treats on my, so as he moved forward, I would toss a treat (which broke into several crumbs, unfortunately). I wanted to build up his confidence in moving forward, to the hide that worried him, without luring him to it. The idea is to reward his own forward motion on his terms, not bribe/lure him forward on my terms. Everything was going well, until I tossed one last treat as Michelle had already turned away (my bad). The leash caught on the box he was worried about, and crashed down. Oh, no, just what were were trying to cure, we’d made a lot worse! So, I continued w/ the toss a treat for forward motion to recover his confidence. Again, I am rewarding him for his bravery by tossing the treat (didn’t help when I hit him w/ a treat and startled him), and not bribing him to get closer to something he is worried about.

Anyway, I think recovering from things that go wrong is just as important as a successful search. Things aren’t perfect, either hide placement or the environment, so it’s important to know how to keep things fun and your dog successful.

One last story. Tuesday before class I had my first cavity filled, at age 50! Chalk another one up for 2020. As the blond dentist was coming in towards me with his needle, all I could think of was, “Hermie wants to be a dentist!”. I had to try not to laugh… if you don’t know what I’m talking about, Hermie was an elf in the Rudolph special, that doesn’t want to make toys, he wants to be a dentist. He and Rudolph, with his “blinkin’ beacon” of a nose started out as two misfits, who in the end, use their special talents to save the day.

I hope you all had a healthy and happy holiday break! I’ll see you all next week!

Video from the 12:15p class, one hide, mostly paired

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