True or April Fools!

Since Thursday is April Fools Day, for three of my classes, we played Truth or April Fools!

The three classes had Interior search areas (not the Gym), were given a time limit, and a range of hides of 0-3. I would give them a “factoid” at the beginning of the search, and they would have to tell me if that was the truth, or April Fools, once they did the search. For example, “Think thresholds and high hides.” However, for that search, there were no threshold hides, and the hide was nose height to a Basset Fauve Bretagne (not high).

The Tues 6:30p class, had the whole hallway down to the Exit door. So the threshold of the door to the hall was the start line, I held the door open, and they searched past the cart of folding chairs, past the baby carriage, straight past the + of the hallway, to the dark-ish alcove by the Exit door. There were 2 hides: one at the end of the metal chair cart, and one deep in the corner to the right of the door, on the handle of the sand/salt bucket that was turned into the corner. Most dogs found the 2 hides in less than 2 minutes, but the handlers stayed searching until the last second, some timing out (running beyond the 3:00 time limit.

In the next search area, the copy room, I had said nothing, so people were still thinking threshold or high. However, it was a blank room. Some dogs, (Beans) detailed every pencil and paper clip in the room, both directions, independently of Tammy. Tammy stayed in the hallway while Beans went to work. Just to be sure, Tammy stepped in after Beans had done 2 rounds of intense hunting, and had her check the far corners. FINALLY it dawned on Tammy that the room could be blank, and she called Finish.

Tracy and Seun worked it a little differently. Seun did a quick pass, but her searching was a quick U up and back the room, not the detailed sniff everything that Beans did. Tracy wanted a little more thorough search from Seun, and stepped into the room, to make sure she covered every corner. Lightbulb moment – oh right, this could be blank, and if there were odor here, my dog would have been clear. Now, Seun did spend a little more time on the copy machine, and gave Tracy a quick look, that could have been convinced into an Alert, if Tracy had moved in closer, or was under pressure and did a blurt Alert.

Tracy commented after class that she has an easier time reading Seun in a large, open blank space, but in a small room, she has a harder time telling if she is done searching or not. It made me think, Wow, that copy room has a LOT of human touch odor all over it! The copy machine, the table w/ hole punch, the closets w/ office supplies in it, waste paper baskets, on and on. Human scent is interesting – and a tell-tale clue to the dog that human scent is usually paired w/ odor. In a large open blank space, there are typically not as many human-handled items. So, something to keep in mind when your dog is hunting in a small busy room – are they checking everything, but not settling or detailing any one area? Does nothing really grab their attention? Then it is probably blank.

Back in the Gym, I was called Liar, liar, pants on fire! Insert evil laughter here…

The next day, one class searched the cat kitchen. I told them to think thresholds (true), and the dogs were immediately in odor from the threshold. The trick was that there were *2* threshold hides, one on each side of the doorway. All dogs but Dash picked up the hide on the bottom of the utility sink first, then most tried to turn around to get the other hide that was out there. However, the handlers were very focused on the rest of the room, and unwittingly blocked the other hide. Unbeknownst to ME, there was the lid to a tin (for nose work) that was laying on the floor right in front of me, at the back of the small room. It was a brand new tin lid that had fallen out of the box it came in, and handlers saw it and thought it was a hide “in plain sight”. NO dog showed any interest, so no handlers false alerted. I left it there, since it made a great decoy! One suggestion I had, was when you see a large “thing” in the search area, such as the floor cleaning zamboni, is to be sure your dog checks it. I think just bringing your dog to check the zamboni would have allowed them to pick up odor from the hide that was in the rubber broom behind it. And, keep in mind the search area includes the whole space, and be sure your dog accesses it all.

Oh, and Dash? She an Tracy were all lined up to come in and search, when someone came in to heat up their tea in the microwave. Tracy backed away from the start line, to the right of the doorway, and I’m sure Dash had time to smell the hide seeping thru the door crack. When she came to the line, she turned and pulled right into the hide. Keep this in mind, if something like that happens to you at a trial. There are times the judge realises they have the wrong scoresheet, or the hide fell, or there were treats on the floor, etc, and you get pulled back as they fix the search area.

If you are at the NW3 or Excellent levels or above, you will be searching not knowing the number of hides. How do you know when your dog is done searching? Many dogs will keep hunting and hunting, after they’ve found all the hides. And some dogs will show MORE interest in an area when they are done. Some will start looking a little frantic / frenetic, and some will start searching high, desperate to find SOMETHING. You’ve kept them in a search area and they’ve found all the hides. The longer you keep them in an area where there are no more new hides, things they skimmed by earlier will all of a sudden start to seem interesting. You see interest, and move in closer, ready to call Alert and reward. Your dog feels you moving in closer, and starts to sniff harder. Or they hear you reaching for the treats, and they look back at you, and you call Alert… and hear No 😢

So how DO you prevent that, and know when they are really done? We say Trust your Dog! But I also like to add, Trust your Training! You know your dog, and know roughly how long it takes them to find a hide. And if they have covered the search area, and are not settling on any one place, or, they’ve skimmed the area twice, then all of a sudden something they’ve already sniffed becomes interesting, I know that is not how my dog searches. If there is a hide, my dogs will detail the area until they’ve locked down the hide and alerted. Is the dog starting to climb the walls, but has not shown any head casts, nose lifts, or other hints that there is a high hide prior to this? Are they are just jumping up all over the place? It is probably them being desperate to find something! Most times, nothing good happens after the :30 warning, so if you keep your dog searching fruitlessly after you hear “Thirty seconds!”, it’s probably time to call “Finish!”

Here is a video of Quattro and I doing an Elite search. We had 2 small busy rooms at a camp to search, and were given 2 minutes to search both rooms, unknown number of hides. Yikes! That was a tight time frame. And, the other kicker, was once we searched one room, we couldn’t go back to it. Rules have since changed, but in 2017 you were NOT given a :30 warning for searches under 2:30 minutes long. I did not use a stopwatch at the time (still don’t), but I set my phone – I figured the 2nd room was bigger, so set the alarm to go off after :30, giving myself more time in the larger room. My internal timing was pretty good! I was getting ready to move on, when you hear the phone chimes go off.

I figured he would have narrowed something down in that first little room, he had swept the whole room, both directions tick tock, lets move to the next room. And in the next room, he was pretty clear – he narrowed it down immediately to the shelf / bed, then dove under the bed. I was getting worried about running out of time and almost called Finish, but then he showed interest in the bookcase, and alerted on something in there. Apparently, a lot of people either spent too long in the first room, then found the one hide and called Finish, or timed out. We got first place for this search 😊

Now, that was the pretty blank area / unknown # of hides search. Here is my very first NW3 with Quattro. A rare opportunity to do an Exterior search off leash. Note how long it took him to find a hide (:27 seconds), and how much longer after that I keep him searching. And note how he tries to leave the search area – hint hint!

Quattro’s first NW3 trial. Unknown # of hides – NW3 Exterior

Ok, back to classes. In the 9:30a class, we also worked a small section of the hallway,, only halfway down the chair cart, and did not include the cat kitchen (although the door was open). The hide was on a hinge on the door to the cat boarding area, about the same height as the door handle. Since this class was mostly small dogs, it was way over their heads. There is a wooden sled thing opposite it, and the odor was collecting on it. Kaley bounced back and forth, circling between the wooden thing and the door, tested out the door handle, then stopped and stared at the hinge. One thing to keep in mind, is when you see your dog searching a surface clearly in odor but not coming up with an alert, make sure you are not blocking the opposite surface, and have them check it. Many times, the odor is trapping on the wall across from the hide. Pico, being the tallest, was able to just nose touch it: he picked up the scent cone from the entrance of cat room, then you could see him follow the line along the wall and right to the hide.

The next class started with just the dark-ish alcove by the exit door. Small area, they had 2 minutes. I told them to “Think flat surface hides” (there are number of closed doors in the hallway). However, this was an April Fool’s joke, there were NO hides in the hallway. Several dogs tried to leave, some didn’t really want to go in there, and NONE false alerted – yay! Again, I would say, “maybe that was a hint” when the dogs tried to leave the hall, but most people were focused on trying to get their dogs to search and find something, to really hear what I was saying. Hahaha! Sometimes learning the hard way will stick with you, more than me giving advance advice or telling you where the hide is (or isn’t). And it’s a lot better to learn the hard way in class, vs a trial!

From there, we moved to the copy room. In this room, the hide was in a plastic mail sorter directly to the left of the threshold. The dogs were SO happy to find odor! I put most people and dogs out of their misery on this one, and once the dog found it, I let them know that was the only hide.

My next two classes aren’t quite up for blind or blank searches yet, but we did use some of the same search areas. I paired for most teams, and told them ahead of time where the hide(s) were, and it was really fun to watch the dogs work in a new environment. For Jackson, the challenge was working near the shovels (scary!) for Peter, it was a VERY new experience his first time out, but he really got into the game after a few runs. For young Brio, he was really focused and on task! Almost more so than he is in class sometimes. And for Daphne, Guinness and Tulip, they really cruised thru the searches, after the first run. I had a lot of fun watching them work it out and get better and better each run, the only bummer is that I was the only one who got to witness it!

And for my last class of the day, Welcome back to Joanne and Molly! Kozmo had to miss a week, so it was just Molly and Jack. This was a very different environment for them, too, and I ended up giving them the hallway just outside the Gym. Again, it was fun to see them get better and better with every pass. Molly hasn’t missed a beat! She was on fire, and did really well.

So, for those of you doing blind, unknown # of hide searches, be brave and call Finish! I think it’s better to miss a hide, than to false alert, time out, or (ugh) pee in the search. Stay in the moment, be sure your dog has covered the entire search area, know when they are just hunting like a drunken sailor (ie, not really hunting anymore, but going thru the motions because you’ve kept them too long), bring them to an area you think you saw interest then back off, and if nothing is going on when you hear the thirty second warning, call Finish! It’s exhilarating when it goes well 🙂

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