A Box is More Than Just a Box

After collecting boxes from the holidays and all the home ordering we’ve done, I had quite the collection, and was accused of being a box-hoarder 🙂 But it’s all for a good purpose, honestly!

When I first started doing nose work, all I saw was my dog running from box to box, then stopping to eat (we started w/ the dogs looking for treats only, then paired the treats w/ a tin w/ scented cotton swab halves). I wasn’t really seeing the complexity that Jinxx was experiencing as she searched. It looked very random and luck-of-the-draw to me, I would be thinking, well, eventually she’ll run into the food.

Fast forward to my third nose work dog, well, puppy. By now I had done many MANY nose work trials with Jinxx and Izzie, age 9 and 5 when they started, an Aussie and a Great Pyrenees. They couldn’t have been more different! Now I was starting a puppy I was hoping would be a rockstar (he is!) and I had a much better idea of what he was experiencing as he moved “box to box” looking for food. It was MUCH more than just randomly stumbling upon treats!

How does this relate to our class last week? Well, I started my puppies (Quattro then Coach) searching for food in boxes. But now I knew a little more about what the odor was doing, how to set up the boxes to help the puppies accomplish specific goals that would help them down the road, and I could now see how my puppies were responding to odor. So when we were working “just boxes”, I understood there was a lot of learning going on!

Back to our classes. There were a variety of boxes, along with a couple chairs on the boundary. I also included 3 toys as a distraction. We’ve worked on food distractions in containers in past classes (remember to make sure the food is contained so your dogs can’t self-reward! They should be able to smell it, but not eat it).

For this class, I had the toys in open boxes. There were 2 braided tug toys and a Toppl, which is a rubber toy that is like a Kong that I fill w/ raw food, peanut butter, etc (this was run thru the dishwasher, so it wasn’t an ecoli bomb!) The idea was similar to how we let them investigate (but not eat) the food distraction. Here the dogs were allowed to sniff, lick, carry, do whatever w/ the toys, with no reaction from the handler. *IF* a dog was really interested in a toy, and wanted to carry it off to chew, I would have had the handler lure the dog away from the toy, re-cue them to Find it, and continue searching while I picked up the toy. I did not want them self-rewarding by chewing or tossing the toy around.

Fortunately, that did not happen! At most they gave the toys a good sniff, and then moved on. Note the stillness when they are smelling the braided fleece toys… the tails drop and go still as they smell dog odor (Quattro had been bringing these to us to tug with him in front of the TV the night before, so they had fresh dog slobber smell on them). Very different than the excited animation we see when they are anticipating food with their odor! Once they investigated each toy, the following runs they barely gave them more than a precursory sniff. The goal will be to get them to do just that on their first run – give it a passing sniff, and move on.

For the hide locations: I placed the first hide in a Chiquita banana box, which had round holes around the bottom of it, and was wide open up top. I put the hide nearest one of the open holes, but, that wasn’t exactly where the dogs picked up odor. They were picking it up coming out the top of the box. For the little dogs, they really wanted the treat it was paired with, and almost came off their front feet trying to get inside to get it! For the big dogs, they could step right into the box or just dip their heads and get the treat. For those that were doing it not paired, we saw pretty much the same things. Because they have been trained to go to source, they try as hard as they can to get to source. Even the shorter dogs worked the odor from the top of the open box, rather than the little hole at the bottom of the box. Shows you what I know!

The next hide was in a small box, open, but tipped on its side. This was a good example of the dogs working odor that had emanated out from the box, but missed the box itself. With the smaller box, the odor was more concentrated than the large Chiquita box, yet because the opening was on the floor, facing away from the start line, the odor was streaming out and landing on nearby boxes. The longer the odor sits, the more it spreads. The larger boxes with raised flaps collected some odor, and the dogs realized how to follow the odor back to source. Note the number of fly-bys, then quick turn arounds back to source.

We did a variety of hides in a variety of boxes, different types of boxes (large and small), some boxes were behind plastic and paper bubble wrap (which changed the way the odor moved) and some hides were outside of boxes, on the chair cart and on a chair edge. Again, think of what the odor might be doing. Is it coming out in a cloud, or in a stream? Is the stream of odor a straight line across the room, or is it more like a hose, that comes out straight for a bit, then drops? Based on the height of the odor, and the height of the dog, how is your dog reacting to the collected odor (collected in or on other boxes, under the mirrors, on the fencing, on me)? Not only is your dog learning to work out this collected (aka pooling / trapping) odor and work it back to source, hopefully you are seeing how your dog reacts to odor that is not source. None of the dogs linger for too long at the pooling / trapping / lingering odor… they understand that there is better stuff out there (either paired odor, or understand that they only get rewarded for going to source).

As easy as a box search looks, your dogs are learning to understand that dog toys do not pay (so no need to pay attention to them) pooling / trapping odor is not source odor (so they need to keep working to find source), and lingering slobber, crumbs and lingering odor from a previous hide does not pay (so keep working!)

For the upper level classes, I ended up putting two hides out, across the room from each other. There were some dogs who got hung up on one of the hides, going back to the same hide over and over, rather than really sticking with hunting for the 2nd hide. We were doing this off leash, and the handlers had a hard time getting their dogs to move on. This is where putting the leash back on can help. Not only can you prevent them from returning (over and over) to the first hide, it somehow seems to settle them. The idea is not to direct them with the leash, the leash helps anchor them to one side of the search area, away from the first hide found. It is something good to practice, clipping off-on-off in whatever order, so you and your dog are used to it, if you need it in a trial.

Here are the videos! Note I did not capture every run or every class, but this is what I got for that set up:

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