Tues Saco June Drop-Ins

Hard to believe, but our spring session came to a close on June 6th.  With only 3 Tuesday nights before the July 4th holiday, I decided to do 3 drop in nights, each with a theme.  It seems that this June has been a tough one for folks, with work commitments, sick dogs, travel, etc.  So I thought this would be the best way to get some class time in before we break for summer.

June 13th – The Dogs Honest Truth

or, Who Do You Trust, Your Trainer, Your Classmates or Your Dog?

This was a really fun night!  Probably because I was setting up the falsehoods (insert evil laugh here) I had several rooms set up, and broke everyone into groups.  So some people got  to watch, some got to do a blind search.  The idea for this weeks theme was from trials and what happens when you inadvertently hear a fellow competitor say something that throws you off your game, or gets stuck in your head.  If there is a grassy Exterior search, you’ll hear comments like “lots of opportunities to pee!” Other things I’ve heard in the parking lot or on a walk thru:

-This (fill in the blank – saw horse, garbage barrel, wood) – doesn’t belong here, I bet there’s a hide there

-They wouldn’t put 3 hides in this small room!

-I bet this is a clear room

-Chatter after 2 competitors finished, but the trial was still going on comparing notes… only thing was, they remembered the # of hides in each room incorrectly.  Which really bummed out the person who heard it, since he had found a different (turns out, the correct) # of hides

-The air currents are going to be really hard for the dogs to read in here!

While some of this information may be pertinent to the person uttering it, other information can be completely wrong.  My dog may not have any problems w/ grass, but now I’m remembering the ONE trial that he peed, and it’s in my head. If seeing is believing, visualizing is reality… if you visualize something, it usually happens, and that is one vision I don’t want!  I don’t want to hear someone else’s preconceived notions about a search area during the walk through, I want to have a clear head to focus on MY dog and MY search.  So, I thought we’d practice planting some real and fake information into everyones head before their search during practice, to hopefully desensitize everyone to that background chatter and static you get in the parking lot.

The false information everyone was given was:

  • There was a blank room
  • Think Thresholds (some rooms had a threshold hide, others did not)
  • There were no distractions
  • The air currents are challenging in here (nothing specific)

The truths were:

  • All rooms had a hide
  • Think Thresholds (true for some not all of the searches)
  • There were distractions everywhere
  • Think High Hides (2 rooms had very high hides)
  • Think Corners (some rooms had a hide in a corner)

Round 1:

Andy & Panda went first, and searched the Orange room.  This was a tough one, because there WAS one hide, high up in the little drawers on the wall.  Panda, being vertically challenged, didn’t make any indication that she’d picked up odor, and Andy called it clear.  They then did the break room, where there was a hide in the toy bucket (a distraction) and one at the threshold.  She did great in the break room, found both no problem, and Andy had a moment’s hesitation over the dog toy bucket hide, but called it.

Shona had seen Panda’s search in the orange room, so when Dugan ran in and started jumping up on the half-walls and door, then ran out of the room, she called Finish with authority (insert evil laugh).  Their 2nd room was the supply room, where there were 3 hides.  I don’t think we’d ever worked 3 hides in that small room, and Dugan does not have a lot of experience working multiple converging hides.  He began working the hide on the mop handles on the right side of the room, then moved into the room and found the other 2 hides. When he ran out, I was thinking he was chasing the threshold hide out of the room, but  Shona called Finish pretty decisively.

Round 2:

I had let Kathy in on where the hides were, so when it was her turn, I wanted to give her her own blind area to search.  She and Buddy got the old grooming room (aka the lounge) and the tub room.  The first room had a hide high up in the cupboard over the sofa/futon.  Buddy was picking it up under the wooden table, down under the table, around the sofa corner.  I asked the observers what they thought – was there a hide in the room?  Shona and Andy both said no… Kathy said, “well, he was showing interest over here (gesturing to the table) but, you’re right, Finish!”  I forget which room they did next, I’m thinking it had to have been one that was used already.

Barbara and Midnight arrived, and did the supply room.  Midnight worked the threshold hide beautifully, and Shona said “Ohhh, Dugan WAS working that corner.  I can’t even see the hide”.  Midnight found all 3 hides in that room.  This is where my memory gets foggy, I can’t remember what room she worked next, but since it was Barbara’s late night, she hadn’t seen any of the searches, and got to run most blind.

Lastly, after filling everyone in on where the hides were, everyone got a chance to work a room they hadn’t, as well as go back and work the rooms w/ the super high hides.  Kathy’s comment when told there WAS a hide in the room she called blank, was “I fell for it! I fell to the peer pressure!  I THOUGHT Buddy was showing interest over here but when they said they thought it was clear, I went along!”  For some, I added a hide, for some, I added a distraction “Andy, your shoe’s untied”, so they really had to listen to what their dogs were saying.  Kathy and Buddy were great in the tub room.  Kathy wasn’t sure how Buddy was going to work the hide deep under the tub, but he did a nice job bracketing the supports to the tub, then ducked his head under.  On his way to the white cupboard, he passed it to work a 3rd hide I had added, unbeknownst to Kathy.  She was still by the tub, and he worked under the grooming table, worked around, heavy sniffing, bracketing, and settled on the hide. He looked up at Kathy over and across the table, and she said Aaaalleeeerrt?  Yes!  Nice work Buddy, working independently and convincing mom where a hide was, when she thought he was crazy.

Gosh, I wish I had written this right after class, since there were several “ah-ha” moments and “shoot, I fell for it” moments, as well.  The idea is to clear your head of the static – what other people innocuously say in the parking lot, what happened at your last class or workshop) and simply go with what your dog is saying.  If your dog misses an area, by all means step in get him to cover it, but if he says there’s nothing there, he’s probably right.  If you see the classic bracket, hear the classic heavy breathing and see the pause and cessation of breathing, they are probably at source, regardless of what you think!  The dogs are honest when working independently, and that’s the truth.

June 20th – Distractions!  **VIDEO COMING SOON**

This theme comes from all the trials I’ve seen, where regardless of any planted distractions in a NW2/NW3 Containers search, MANY things can prove distracting to a dog.  The dogs who can easily refocus, or who don’t even bat an eye or miss a step are the ones who make the handlers job easy.  The dogs who work dog odor, critter, are sound sensitive or worried are the ones whose handlers have a tougher time and stress.  The handlers end up doing work to get the dog refocused and relaxed, and stress that they are losing time, will the dog go back to hunting? and am I pushing my dog into an uncomfortable place, turning a fun game into a torture chamber?  So let’s work some of that out in class, in a safe environment, where we have more than 3 minutes.

We started outside at the tractor.  One vehicle with 2 hides on it, just like my Monday night dop-in class had done the night before.  Here the distraction was the grass, w/ plenty of pee from the Monday night class as well as daycare dogs, the horse, mini donkey and mini horse all watching us, Jeanne and Bob buzzing around in their golf cart / atv buggy, and barking dogs.  This class was quicker to source than the NW1 level dogs, of course, but we still had some good learning.  Avoiding pee, and for Gemma, working through the barking dogs.  I like how we were able to give her time to move away from the noise, decompress and sniff if she chose, but she chose engagement w/ Kathy.  You can see her perk up, engage, wag her tail and relax before her search.  She does pee before hunting, but I think it was as much a stress pee as anything.  She got the one hide, came over to me and I gave her what she finds rewarding (engagement / interaction).  The one thing I would do differently, is I would have rewarded her on the re-find.  When she left me and went back to the hide she’d already found, why not reward again?  For her, I think it would be a confidence builder, and boost her on the next search.  But she does get right back to work, and I’m glad we had the time to help her work through it, when Kathy wasn’t stressed or under time pressure.

It was SO nice out, I couldn’t resist doing more outside searches.  I put one on the whisky barrel and one nearby on the fence, so slightly converging.   I didn’t realize until 3 dogs in that there was a pile of poop under the hide on the barrel!  When I put the hide there, I thought, well, they’ll have to work through some pee smell on the barrel, but little did I know.   We had some super quick focused searches here.

Inside, I kept the hides simple and let the distractions be the only challenge.

There was a hide ON the food drawers.  We don’t ever have a hide there, but I thought, why not?  The dogs worked it beautifully, bracketing and pinpointing, they were clearly not picking out dinner, but going for the birch.

Next, was the orange room, with 2 hides in buckets, I think there were 3 buckets total.  For this search, everyone was completely silent, and then when I raised my hand or gave the signal, the onlookers all started laughing, chatting loudly, and clapping, carrying on a lively conversation!  This can happen in a staging area at a trial:  You are in your search, and all of a sudden whoever is staging after you gets in a loud conversation w/ a volunteer.  I think Panda glanced up, but for the most part, the dogs didn’t care.

Search 5 was the old grooming room / aka lounge.  There were 3 hides, and here I had one person go into the bathroom, close the door, wash there hands, pull out paper towel from the machine, and come back out.  I don’t think THIS caused any of the dogs any issues, either!  They all stayed on task – I think one dog followed Andy in to the bathroom, but then came right back out.  Sometimes we left the door open, sometimes closed it.  This should be helpful when you get those unexpected visits in a trial… an employee of the trial site, or a worker.  There have been trials where guys showed up to replace a porch on a cabin, right next to a vehicle search, a guy showed up to clean an indoor pool, and walked through the Exterior search w/ a hose dragging behind him, a teacher showed up to go in his classroom, a whole gaggle of girls in tap shoes entered a gym right behind the start line of an Exterior search, and on and on.  You just never know who or what will show up in or near your search, despite NACSW’s and the hosts best efforts.

Search 6 – the big room.  By this time, the dogs had done a LOT of searches, and when we got to this room, there were 3 fans blowing, puddles on the floor, and the door was open to the outside daycare pen.  I thought THAT was distracting enough, without adding anything manufactured.  This was a tough one to end on, due to the crazy oscillating fans, but the dogs persevered, chasing odor all over the room, before finding a tendril they could follow to source.

While I don’t want to do this type of training every session, it is good to throw out every so often and see what / if there is a reaction from the dogs, and figure out how to work through it.

June 27 – Near and Far

I had plans to work outside in the large fenced in grass area past the boat and dumpster, but it had been raining and rumbling on and off all day.  So, we worked inside.  We started in the storage room, where I had set up the tall step ladder across the middle of the room, and had everyone join us in the room.  There were 4 hides – one on each side of the threshold, one in the plastic balls under the table by the window, and one on the ladder.  The ladder hide was the most challenging, because it was converging w/ the hide on the broom.  The dogs had no problems pushing past the spectators, or moving on to the next hide.  Once or twice a handler had to move into the room to move the dog, but for the most part, the dogs worked independently and with purpose.

We searched the break room next, and again, the converging odor was the trick.  Two hides were easily found, but the one in the plastic drawers w/ dog toys was the challenge.  Was it because the slightly open drawer shot the odor straight up, causing it to drop elsewhere in the room, not leaving a trail to follow back to source?  Was it the buckets of toys in front of the drawers, that prevented the dogs from getting close to the drawer?  Most dogs missed this, after searching for up to 7 minutes!!  I tried to isolate the hide, by pulling the other hides out, and moving the buckets.  This helped, and the taller shepherds had an easier time of it.

Lastly, we did the large room.  The hides were on the edges of the room, and the handlers had to stay in the middle aisle… unless they were rewarding their dogs.  Again, the dogs worked nicely – independent and didn’t need their handlers there pushing them into corners or tight spaces.  And again, the challenge was the converging odor.  There were 2 hides under the workbench, and most dogs found one, then ran off.  Some got their reward, and as the handler was going back to the center aisle, the dog picked up the 2nd hide.  It was REALLY neat to watch them work the tin on the wall between the couch and dog crates… Panda especially stands out as bracketing right, then left, then not as far right, then not as far left, then out in the room, then turning and pointing directly up to the hide.  It was beautiful!

So, we got practice with people in close proximity in the search area, a tight search area, multiple hides, converging odor, and working at a distance from your dog, allowing them to work independently.  I think they handled everything we threw at them beautifully!

Trial Take Aways – More than ribbons

First off, a big THANK YOU to Beth Dutton for hosting 2 days of trials at a great site!  Beth had been frustrated by the wait lists for NW3 trials, and said, well, I guess I have to be part of the solution in order to fix the problem.  When she decided to step up and host a trial, she asked me what level I thought she should offer.  She had some friends who needed an NW2, but she also knew that NW3 would be guaranteed to fill and have a healthy waitlist.  I suggested a NW1 and NW2, since we had not had those levels offered in New England since… last year?  So, that is what she went with.  In some respects, NW1 is an easier trial – there only needs to be one room, less vehicles, a smaller Exterior, plain boxes for the Container search… on the other hand, there are more competitors (45! vs 27 for Elite) and more green competitors to manage in the parking lot, lead from search to search, field questions, keep positive, and give them a good experience.

I think the goals were achieved!  Thanks to my awesome volunteer crew on Saturday (and Mike had a great crew on Sunday), we had some very experienced NW competitors who came out on their day off just to help out.  Their knowledge of a trial and competitor experience, really helped set a good flow, good pace, and kept everything running smoothly.  As a Volunteer Coordinator, it was so helpful to say, I need you guys to block the vehicle search – here are the tarps, bungees, and some vehicles, go to it!  I was able to walk away and focus on the other 3 directions I was being pulled in!

I was able to float around once the trial got started, and see some searches.  Here is what stands out to me from the day:

Travis & Eliot – looked happy & confident, quick and definitive at the vehicle hide, and did a beautiful job in the Exterior search.  The wind was gusting during the first few dogs runs (Travis was #2) pushing the odor from the step stool into the picnic table and out of the search area.  The search area was under a pavilion, as rain was in the forecast.  Travis did a great job letting Eliot work the outskirts of the boundary, the post of the pavilion, the bench, table legs, table top… I think any less seasoned handler may have been convinced the hide was ON the table, but Eliot kept working and trying to figure out how to follow odor through the table.  He finally came down off the bench and around the front of the table to the stool.  Very nice job handling, and fun to watch him really work to source!

Cathy & Phil – so judge Neil is the one I always quote, who says, Don’t be “mother hover!”  I used to have to remind Cathy to give Phil space… early early on in training, when we have to be quick to reward, you sort of have to be close to your dog.  Now that Phil is more independent and will stay at source longer, Cathy has not been on top of Phil, and will let him work across a room.  I was hopeful that nerves wouldn’t get the better of Cathy at the trial, and old habits wouldn’t resurface.  Well, not to worry!  Phil looked a little tentative approaching the Vehicle search – the wind, the people, the stuff falling out of the trees?  But then I saw a shift, and he was in his “locked and loaded position” at the start.  Cathy released him to search, and he made a beeline for one of the cabins – definitely crittering!  But Cathy held her cool, gently redirected him to the vehicles, reminded him once or twice to “find it”, and he rocked up on his haunches in front of the license plate.  He didn’t stay with it – here is where a trial does not always look like class or practice at home – and walked on.  After another pass, Cathy brought him back – I’m sure she knew that was it – and this time, he got up on his hind legs, and gently waved a paw.  Alert! Yes!  Yeah!  Exteriors was even better – Phil really went right to work, and was similar to Eliot – worked outside the boundary just a bit, since that is where the wind was blowing the odor, then worked the picnic tables.  Phil, being little, instead of working the bench and table top like Eliot did, walked under the front of the table, and Cathy had to squeeze between the table and post to follow – actually, I think at one point, Phil was on the far side of the table and Cathy guided the leash up and over the table from the opposite side.  Phil did a nice air paw motion at the stool, Alert- Yes – yeah!

Shonda and Rankin – Rankin was the only dog I saw who worked odor up the giant pine tree that was near the hot car.  He had been a little distracted – by the wind, the lake, who knows – and when Shona turned him away from the lake, he ran to the pine tree, scanned up it, turned, and pretty much went straight to the license plate.  He was also one of the quickest off the start line of Exteriors, going right to the hide, and garnered a “that was a nice search” from the judge as they walked away.

Kathy & Gemma – While I have not seen Gemma work odor before, I had seen her at the Sippery Surfaces workshop I did last weekend.  She looked a little tentative / hesitant starting each search, but was clearly and quickly in odor.  Kathy did a great job of staying at the end of the leash, and letting Gemma work it out.  She chased odor around the front bumper, and then to source.   In the Exterior, she approached a little tentatively, then saw her flyball friend and Exterior timer, Sarah, and crossed the line and came for a quick visit.  That got her juices flowing, and she took off from there… nice handling, nice leash work, nice alert (on the second pass 🙂 )

Christina & Molly – I know Christina was nervous as the trial approached, worried that Molly would just stress out and not work.  Well, be careful what your mind focuses on… they approached vehicles, and Molly was very tentative, timid, gave Neil a little tail wag before deciding she was afraid of him, and really was too focused on the lake, the leaves and pine needles falling, the dogs barking in the parking lot… she did seem to want to go to the second car (a lot of dogs did), but once she got there, there was no change in behavior, and she was very flat.  The way the wind was blowing off the lake, if your dog didn’t pick up odor at the start line, and you moved to the back of the hot car, you were upwind of the hide, and your dog was not going to pick it up.  The second car and ground around it had interesting smells, but not target odor, so a lot of people spent time over there with nothing to show for it.  Molly was just about working in front of the license plate with the hide, when the 30 second mark was called.  She looked around like, who said that? and walked off.  No fault of the timer, it was just the way it worked out.  After timing out, I thought, ok, Containers are next, that will be good for them.  Not so much 😦  Molly was still too nervous to work.  So, after lunch and on to the Exteriors.  I heard Christina coming before I saw her – she was championing Molly, cheerleeding her along, buoying her up – “are you ready? are you ready to have some fun?  We’re going to do this!  Are you ready to do this?  Let’s do it!”  All the way to the start line, and you could see Molly all loose and wiggly, wagging her tail and body.  Neil said, Now that’s a different dog!  More cheerleading before crossing the start line, and lo and behold, Molly found the hide and came in 18th on that search out of 45 teams!  The same thing happened in Interiors.  What a nice way to end the day.  No ribbon, but a huge learning experience.  Christina now knows what to do with Molly at a trial (keep it light, fun and happy!) and has a training plan – not only get Molly doing NW in locations other than home and class, but bring her out to new locations on a more regular basis, not even doing NW, just exposure.  I have no doubt that their next trial will go really, really well.

Oh, and I should have started with Dave and Reo, the Dog in White team.  Due to the compact set up of the site, they were able to run all 4 elements back to back to back.  It sounded like they had fun – there was no pressure to say Alert, and at one point, when Reo was trying to pinpoint the hide, the Certifying Official asked, I would probably call alert there… and Dave was able to defend his position, saying Reo was still working.  There was a fringe alert – but Reo left it as soon as the Alert was out of his mouth and went to the hot box.  Dave also mentioned his leash handling during Vehicles… prompting leash handling practice in class!  I’m glad they got to play and go through the trial, and have the same experience but without the pressure of yes/no.  You still have pressure as dog in white, since you are with both judges and the certifying official(s)!  But it’s more fun to be free to say alert with no consequences.

Sunday’s NW2 – This was my trial day, so it was nice to show up over an hour later than I had on Saturday, and just be able to relax in the parking lot (while Mike ran around getting things done)  It was a beautiful but windy day.  My parents were kind and generous enough to donate their Blazer to the vehicle search, and we got to hang out all day.  It was good to catch up with them, but they also spent a lot of time observing some of the searches.  I got to hang out with students Kendal and Calvin, Donna and Teddy and Sarah and Rita.  Poor Barbara had to back out at the last minute – we missed you and Midnight!  This was Kendal and Donna’s first NW2 trial, while Sarah and I have been through several with prior dogs.  I think that makes a BIG difference, in the training, preparation, and mental sharpness during the search.  I can’t speak too much to the searches, since I couldn’t watch any, but I had a LOT of fun with Quattro!  He was super fast, confident, clear, and we had a blast.  I was SO much more relaxed than I was with Jinxx, I hope that carries through to NW3.

I’m really happy for Sarah and Rita – their first NW1 trial did not end well, and Sarah was really frustrated w/ her.  Fast forward a few years and lots and lots of practice and trial experience w/ Roxie, and Rita was a star!  Didn’t matter that she was dead last in the run order, she did not focus on dog footprints at all!  They came in 3rd place overall, and 2nd place in Exteriors!  Super job!

Teddy had to take care of business during the Exterior, but came back into focus in the Vehicle search – coming in 2nd place!  Very exciting!  And Donna learned a key take away from NW2 (and NW3) – there could very well be a hide on 2 of the same objects, from one search area to the next.  There was one NW3 trial where every Interior hide was on a chair.  The handlers start thinking, “oh come on, my dog is just alerting to a chair because the last hide was on a chair”. Trust your dog, and don’t think!

Calvin had a good Interior search and Exterior search, but lost focus on Vehicles and falsed on Containers.  We can work on a training plan to get back on track there.  Lots of container practice where the reward comes quickly, and the reward comes for instinctual behavior, not trained or operant behavior.  Vehicles seemed to be most peoples weakest area… it was definitely a very distracting environment, with the wind coming in off the lake and lots of acorns and interesting smells on the ground.  We lucked out that there were only 2 cars for NW1 and 3 cars for NW2 (due to the challenging environmental conditions)  However, we have to think about how to get our dogs hunting right off the bat, and figure out ways to keep the dog moving around all the vehicles.   In NW2, there can be up to 4 vehicles, so we (not just Calvin) also need to work on a pace to make it around them all, and stay motivated when there is a lot of blank area and only one hide.

I’m very proud of my 2nd place finish, first place Container placement and 3rd place Interiors placement.  Jinxx and Izzie sure taught me a lot; I have them to thank for most of Quattro’s success.  Plus of course, trainers Holly, Gail, and Michelle – for setting up training challenges appropriate for Quattros level at the time, for giving feedback and noticing things I may not have picked up, and questioning approaches I was taking at times.  And the judges.  From my very first NW1 trial with Jinxx (where we missed 2 out of 4 elements), Neil gave some great insight that made me think, and adjust my training.  Doc may give the same comments over and over, but when you think about your search, and match up the comments to what your dog did (or didn’t do) you can see why he writes what he writes on the score sheets.  And Sergio’s insistence on independent hunting has really shaped how I train Quattro (vs what I did w/ Jinxx and Izzie early on).  There are a LOT of “no”s behind the ribbons I brought home on Sunday… No’s for false alerting on Containers with Jinxx and Izzie, No’s for talking Jinxx or Izzie into a false alert in Interiors, No’s for fringe alerting on a vehicle search with Jinxx, No’s for blurt-alerting when Izzie paused to sniff something of interest… so many no’s, but they all taught me a lot.  About myself, my dogs, my training, my goals.

I’m so happy to have received Pronounced designations in 3 out of 4 elements with Quattro on Sunday… and the one element that I did not get a P in, was Exteriors, where I didn’t believe Quattro, we had a stand off, and he moved off source (insert Doc’s words here: Dog willing to leave source)  So, even though I did not receive a no, I still learned from that search.  TRUST your training, TRUST your dog.

All the training, knowledge I’ve gained watching competitors at trials I’ve volunteered at, and comments I’ve received from the judges all came together to give me the quickest NW2 title yet.  I’m a little sad leaving NW2 behind, knowing how some of the excitement leaving a search area knowing you passed is gone.  But I’m confident that this confident, independent, solid little dog will do well.  Ribbons or no ribbons, I will always take something away from a trial… The best search dog ever!

Saco 9/26/16 & 9/27/16 Customized Training **VIDEO**

So, the countdown to your trial is here.  You’re excited, a bit nervous (ok, a LOT nervous) and you want to showcase your dog, your training, and make your trainer and friends proud.  No pressure!  Other than cramming between now and then, what should you do?

In last nights classes, I had everyone list what they were concerned about going into the trial (or if you are not trialing, what you struggle with when going into a blind search)  Here are the lists from each class:

For the first class, environmental concerns were pretty high on the list.  This could be pee, general dog smells, some THING in the environment or the environment in general.  While this had been an issue for a couple of the dogs in the NW3 class, it really no longer poses much of a challenge to them. If Logan is worried by something, he easily and quickly rebounds and works through it.  If Ella starts to notice dog footprints, she can get back to work with a gentle re-cueing “Find it, Ella”.  For the dogs in the NW1 class, I think you’ll find as your dogs gain more exposure, time under the collar and positive experiences, those worries and distractions will fade – for  both your dog and you!

So what does your dog look like when he is sniffing, not hunting?  Usually, it’s nose to the ground, and the dog looks like he is tracking invisible footprints across the floor.  For Phil, he works the edges and nooks and crannies, sniffing for rodents.  For Dugan, he is cataloging every footprint that came through, pausing to lick (eew!) the floor on occasion.  For some dogs, they might tilt their head, and slowly sniff a vertical surface or post… then do the dreaded sideways slide… cozy up to the post and start to lift their leg.

So when you are practicing at home, address those fears.  Better to do it in training, than at a trial, as Mike said.  Evaluate your environment, and decide where to set a hide to help your dog work through this.  We decided the posts would be a good place to put a hide (high probability of pee smells) and to make sure the dogs were successful, we paired the hide.  This kept them focused on HUNTING and not CATALOGING or thinking of peeing.

Also, think about accepting less to gain more.  For example, Phil did a slow circuit of the room, nose to the baseboard, hunting for rodents… he almost completed his circle, and walked into odor.  The hide was elevated (for him) on a large black metal object, a little scary for him.  He raised up on his hind legs in front of the hide, paused, then dropped back to the floor and completed his circuit of the room, and continued sniffing for rodents.  We SHOULD have rushed in to reward, and not worried so much about staying at source, going back to source, etc.  Just a fast reward with praise, and we would have avoided a lot of excess unproductive sniffing.

When your dog IS struggling in the middle of a search, another tactic you can try is refocusing them by reminding them what they are working for.  Get their attention up off the footprints, let them sniff your closed hand with a fistful of treats, and re-cue them to work.  OR, you could try leashing them… sometimes just that connection makes them “get serious” and get back on task.

Some “help” is less than helpful.  Sometimes, you are fighting your dogs instinct, and that creates conflict, causing your dog to push back harder (i.e., work harder at sniffing for rodents or footprints)  That conflict can arise when you try to pressure them to work too soon – some dogs need a moment to feel safe, before they can get to work, such as Cecil.  If you move in on them while they are trying to get their bearings, or busy working their own agenda, they work harder at it.  They ignore you and sniff harder – but on their agenda, not yours.  Getting frustrated and annoyed, makes them want to avoid you, and stay on their own agenda – its an ugly spiral.  That is when you either reset them, leash them, take them out briefly while the hide is adjusted, or remind them what they are working for.

Once we got that initial conflict resolved, the dogs did great!  We will repeat some of these hides and challenges, building confidence on both sides of the leash.

The NW2/NW3/Elite class had some different concerns.  Multiple hides, converging odor, and confidence in knowing when to call Alert.  We set up the first hide so it would be clear to read the dog from every angle, the hide was accessible to the dog, and fairly straightforward.  This gave the handles a baseline – THIS is what my dog looks like on a simple hide, and HOW they tell me they’ve found it and need to be paid.  The second round, we did one high threshold hide.  This was tough!  We covered some of the concerns; stamina, inaccessible (for the Corgis) height, and reading the dogs.  Sometimes, when a dog takes longer to get a hide, it gives you more time to watch and learn from them – when are they picking up odor, when are they losing odor, how do they tell us about an inaccessible hide.  So while the video can be a little looong, watch for how your dog works hard to figure out the problem.  No false alerts, no big cues from the handlers, no giving up.  How could we have supported them?  In hindsight, I would have had a way to lower the high hide for the Corgis (with poster putty for example)  By being able to lower a high hide, you can see where their line of demarcation is – where their sweet spot is, and where exactly it is that they struggle.  Also, do we know for sure that it was the height, or was it maybe the flat wall and the way odor travels on it?  Was it the open door, that was sucking odor into the grooming room?  We’ll try an equally high hide later on, but in a corner.  I’ll have a way to lower it, if the height still proves a challenge.  That way we can isolate what the issue might be.  One thing to look for with the bigger dogs, is how they pick it up odor before they cross the threshold.  Most scan the door or door frame before entering.  Watch for that, and don’t rush them.


Tuesday night, I had a plan, I knew what we were going to work on… and got stuck in traffic for half an hour!  Making me 15 minutes late for class! http://www.pressherald.com/2016/09/27/truck-crash-in-ogunquit-disrupts-travel-on-maine-turnpike/ But, Andy to the rescue – he pulled out some hides, and he, Sarah and Kendall worked outside before I arrived.  Thank you!

We listed off each handlers challenge: Calvin – committing / staying with high hides, thresholds.  Rita – working through dog odors, Rita peeing in the search is in the back of Sarah’s mind. Panda – communicating, being animated, knowing when she is done, walking off source.

The high threshold hide from Monday night was the perfect challenge for Calvin and Panda, and a hide on the post was a great way to work Rita through dog smells.  Little did I know, by placing these 2 hides out at the same time, they would create a converging odor problem!  The placement of 3 long boxes really collected odor from both hides.  I LOVE that no one false alerted on them.  Watch the dogs get stuck on the rotary, in the fog of odor, trying to find the right exit.


Oops… your videos are below, but tell me that doesn’t play in your head while you watch your dogs work!

We really pushed the dogs this week, this was training, not something you’d do every time you practice, and not what you’d do in a trial.  But, sometimes it’s good to stand still and let the dogs work out the odor problem, and not have them train you to keep rewarding them at the first hide. It was pretty clear that the dogs knew there were 2 hides, they just couldn’t quite source one of them.  My hope is as we do more converging odor problems, the dogs get quicker and quicker to pick the correct exit, and spend less time passing Big Ben and Parliament.

Camp! PA K9 Nose Work Camp, 2016

img_2658So I finally did it… and am so glad I did!  Nose Work camp has been on my radar/wish list for several years.  But the distance, cost, and fact that it is on a holiday weekend has held me back… and having a dog who can handle crate time, shared cabin time, and lots of working time was also part of the reason for not going.

HOWEVER… four and a half jam packed days working a dog, attending lectures, watching dogs work, discussing training challenges, doing mock trials and blind hides in MULTIPLE novel locations with MULTIPLE dog scents with MULTIPLE trainers, and hanging out with other nose work junkies, was definitely worth the drive, cost, and holiday weekend away!

Quattro LOVED camp, although it was the most leash time he’s had since his neuter surgery, something he is not very used to.  And also lots of crate time.  Because I got off the waitlist and got a last minute working spot, I was put in the Logistics Team Member cabins (the workers, who put up signs, hauled crates, held dogs while we set up our crates and chairs, prepped cabins for campers, and did a quick cleaning after camp).  My 2 roommates did not have dogs with them.  One roommate, Cat Z, came from California.  She is an Associate Nose Work Instructor, and has attended one other camp.  The other, Gerry, is a Search and Rescue handler from PA.  She is an NACSW judge, and was one of the judges at Quattro’s NW1 trial.  Both were great roommates, and gave Quattro lots of love, even letting him out of the crate for a game of tug and cuddle on the bed if I was in a lecture or in the dining hall.img_2659img_2653

We were broken into groups of 8, with dogs of our level.  Our group was all small dogs, Quattro was the biggest!  We had a 4lb Yorkie, a Maltese, a pug / schnauzer X, a beagle, a Jack Russell Terrier, a mini mini Aussie, a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever and Quattro.  The Toller worked VERY much the same way Quattro did, you could almost guarantee that they were going to work the odor problems the same way. It was interesting to hear the small dog challenges.  All the dogs were motivated and could work independently, and all were very responsive to odor, so overall, I felt we were all at the same level.  The challenges I came into camp with that I wanted help working, were:

1) Quattro’s habit of running far and wide chasing odor – how and when do I step in to reign him in?

2) Problem solving 2 or more hides.  Quattro many times finds one hide, begins to work another then gets sucked back to hide #1.

3) a subset of #2, Getting Quattro to leave a hide.  Yes, odor obedience is great, but now you need to move on!

4) Leash management in vehicle searches – see #1

So our first session was Friday afternoon.  We did containers – fairly simple, open boxes.  The room was novel – a gymnastics building!  A very springy blue matted floor, with gymnastics mats and equipment everywhere.  We did a simple line of boxes to see how the dogs responded to odor, we did a big circular scatter pattern of boxes, we did a line of boxes along the mats, we did a line of boxes on and off the mats (so some elevate, some on the floor, up and down like a wave)  We turned on a giant overhead fan to see how that changed things (pushed odor out to the edges of the room, just like at it’s a dog’s world)  And we also did an exercise without dogs – one person clipped a leash on themselves, and the other person walked behind.  The idea was to keep the leash from dragging, and feel when the handler applied pressure to move the other person.  And, for the person playing the dog, to make random movements and change direction, so the one holding the leash could practice feeding it out and reeling it back in. It was fun to watch the dogs chase the odor, and it was an interesting way to practice managing the leash.  After dinner, I went to hear a talk with Ron.  It was kind of an open forum to ask questions, and listen to Ron talk about working dogs.

First thing Saturday, my group did a vehicle session with Ron.  We worked on converging hides, two hides opposite each other on 2 vehicles.  I used my 6ft leash, in the spirit of working a little closer on the cars, and that was a challenge!  I had to run to keep up, and still had a tight lead.  It was tough to keep Quattro from returning to the first hide, although Ron talked about how sometimes the dogs use the first hide found as a sort of anchor point.  A sort of, “yup, ok, I did get that one already, and there is another out here somewhere… “.   So I didn’t leave too comfortable with my short leash experiment, and Ron doesn’t give a lot of detailed, specific moment tips like Amy would.  He more tells you what the dog is doing, and will tell you to move when he feels the dog is stuck, or have you stay, when he feels the dog is working something out.  For me, I left with some questions and things to mull over.img_2661

After lunch we did Containers with Dana Zinn, and instructor from Colorado.  This was in an outdoor covered floor hockey arena, and reminded me of the Container search area in Lake Geoarge, that I did w/ Jinxx and Izzie.  We started with white boxes in rows, and Dana talked about how odor will travel outside the square of boxes, especially at the corners.  So don’t prevent your dog from drifting wide past the corner and end containers – they are probably chasing odor.  She added some food distractions, then made the boxes more of a random scatter.  Her tip to me for moving Quattro along after he got paid on a hot box, was to stand up straight.  That body cue should communicate that that pay off is over, time to move on.  I need more practice on this, but I liked the idea.  These searches I was more comfortable with – my leash handling felt smooth, Quattro did well.  Dana tucked the hot boxes into a black suitcase, and had us work on the other end of the rink.  There was a circle of tall suitcases with 3 low duffle bags in the middle.  She let us work off leash – yeah!  All the dogs checked the outside boxes, then moved to the wall of the rink, skipping the center bags (one was hot)  Quattro did the same, then cruised over to some hockey nets… and alerted on the black suitcase off to the side that held the hot white boxes!  Good dog!  I ran over and paid him, and he cruised back to the bags, and got the center duffle.  Well, I guess he learned that chasing odor pays, and I learned that he IS chasing odor, not goofing off.  One thing Amy Herot said that stuck with me, is Trust your training, trust the dog.  I know from our training that he demonstrates pretty obvious signs that he is in odor, he is VERY clear when at source, and he is a focused hunter 95% of the time.  So, I can trust that when he cruises “out of the search area”, that he is most likely on a mission following odor.

After a 45 minute break, we did Exteriors with Leah.  She was the CO at the Ashby, MA trials where Holly and Mike were Volunteer Coordinators, the trial where I blurt Alerted in our very first search of the day and blew a NW3 title for Izzie.   Anyway, we worked in open lawn in breezy weather.  She did a really high hide on a post to a deck.  Quattro has had some experience with hides on trees, so he did well with that one.  She did some hides tossed in the grass – again, something Quattro has experience with, but this time we were down in the running order.  He was really hung up on lingering odor and dog smells, which is unusual for him (note I said he as focused 95% of the time, not 100%!)  After some tips from Leah, he seemed to pick up odor… but he chased it in a direction we didn’t expect.  He started to go up the stairs to the deck, and I thought, maybe he’s following human scent? But Leah had been holding a piece of surveyors tape, and pointed out that the wind had shifted, and was blowing right to the building.  So, there he was again, chasing odor pretty far from source, but still working.  We were glad she had the surveyors tape so we could trust the dog on that one.

Dinner, then a lecture / video presentation from Teresa, who was our first Container presenter.  She has the first dog trained to detect C-Diff, a bacteria found in hospitals and nursing homes, that can make people, especially those with already weak immune systems, very sick.  She outlined the training she did w/ her English Springer puppy, and it was very much like what I did w/ Quattro.  Lots of exposure to places and things, lots of encouraging, rewarding and fostering independence, confidence and curiosity to new things, spaces and places.  She was a great presenter, and the videos she showed were great.  She stressed the importance of independence and motivation when searching – something I’ve been conscious of building in Quattro and all the dogs in classes.

The following day we worked w/ Jeff McMahon.  He has been the CO at a couple trials I’ve done and writes the K9NW blog.  We started off w/ a Q&A on Interiors and converging odor, then got to work.  There were 2 hides, blind to us.  2 decent sized rooms, with a hall separating them.  Jeff hinted that there might be a threshold hide… and Quattro blew right by it.  He’s quick and confident, picked up a hide on a chair, then went back to the entrance and got the threshold hide.  Shoot!  I feel like I work those, but it sure didn’t look like it here.  Our next pass was 4 hides in a small-ish room, all around the edges.  Our job was to stand still like we were a volunteer, and let the dogs do the work.  Shouldn’t be a problem… but we missed the threshold, and then he got stuck on 2 hides, and bounced back and forth between them, frozen at each one for long periods of time.  Jeff ended up pulling out one hide, and talked to me about being sure not to treat (reward) the freeze behavior – just the instinct of freezing.  So, still had challenges #2 & 3 to work on (leaving a hide/getting stuck on a hide and not moving on to find the second/third hide) and now I had to add blowing by thresholds to my challenge list 😦  But perhaps changing my treat delivery slightly will take away that repeat freezing at source.

Next up was a lecture by Teah Anders on Mental Management.  She was great!  I want to re-read some of my notes, and will talk more about her message in a later post.

Lunch, then an Elite Practice Sniffer!  There were 3 Elite practices set up, so the more experienced dogs got more challenging areas and set ups.  We had an outside container search with 2 hides… nailed it 😉   Then an interior, sort of a game room, unknown # of hides.  We missed a threshold hide (argh!) and he was working another hide when time was called.  I think we found 3 within the time period, and got coaching on the threshold hide, but didn’t have time to work it.  Search area #3 was another interior, smaller, and this time we DID get the threshold hide – yay!  He worked a hide up under a table, and looked like he was reworking that hide.  I was about to call finish, but the judge said to let him work – and he alerted to a hide on a chair, next to the table.  Right!  This was a mock-elite – hides can be very close together.  This one was on me – he was working a hide, and I assumed he was still working the table hide.  Something I need to train my eye for.  Search area #4 was the covered hockey area.  We got another threshold hide – yay!  Found another hide, but the last hide was an inaccessible deep behind 3 rows of adirondack chairs that were piled up.  No way for him to access it, and he didn’t quite make a decision.  He has not worked something that inaccessible, and was trying to figure it out when timed out.  Had a brief discussion w/ the judge – she was curious how he would alert to something inaccessible if he has a “lock on source” final response.  I told her I think he would try like heck to get to source, then pick an area w/ the strongest odor and freeze… BUT, he hasn’t worked a problem that inaccessible yet in his NW career!  Overall, that was a lot of fun, and it was fun to do it blind with assistance and some coaching.  He really didn’t have too much trouble moving on from hide to hide, and we got 2 threshold hides.  We had to do the hockey rink on leash, and that felt pretty smooth.  So I was starting to see improvements in my challenge areas.

After dinner was an open forum on Elite trialing.

The next day, more Vehicles with Laurel Scarioni .  Laurel feels very strongly about PAIRING – for every level, on every element.  We did multiple hides on one vehicle, paired, and she gave leash and handling tips.  I got some good information and things to practice that we will work into classes.  Another tip I got was from someone in my group.  She commented that she felt I didn’t seem to have much control with Quattro due to… my shoes!  I was wearing my Dansko clogs, and she felt that they were putting me off balance, and it was harder to control him.  He pulled like crazy all weekend, and he really hates his NW harness.  I ended up using the harness as a no-pull harness when we walked from our cabin across the camp to the search area.  So, I said I’d change to my sneakers at lunch, and see what it felt like in the afternoon searches.  I’m used to wearing the clogs, but I’m also open to suggestions.

We had a lecture next, more of a demonstration – “Flying by the Seat of Your Pants” – which is something I’ll use for our next Sniffin’ Social (good idea, Andy!)

Exteriors w/ Jill was the afternoon session, in the skate park.  And, I have to say, I DID feel better in sneakers.  Quattro did some more ranging, following odor, and I got some more ideas from Jill on leash handling and opposition reflex.  Another high hide, and then a couple blind hides.  We did well with the blind hides – he was quick and didn’t have to travel far to nail the hides.  Jill’s style is less talking at the beginning of the session, and more working dogs.  She gave each person individual feedback, but would bring everyone into the discussion if she saw it was an overall issue with the group.

Last session of camp, was Interiors with Michele Garlick.  Michele had been the judge during the Elite Sniffer, in the hockey rink, where Quattro timed out working that deep inaccessible hide.  She broke us into 3 groups, and we all chose a place for a hide.  The room was a little theater, with slopped floors and movie theater seats.  Quattro paused at the threshold hide, went to the far corner of the room, alerted, moved on after being fed, alerted to hide # 2, moved on after being fed, and worked his way back to the threshold.  He got a little hung up on some putty Michele had left on a podium near the hide, as soon as she picked it up, he got the hide.  So our challenge of sticking to a hide and not moving on, and the challenge of bouncing between two hides, were not challenges!  That felt like one of our best searches of the weekend to that point.  But we weren’t done yet!

Tuesday was the optional Symposium Day.  Quattro and I were chosen as a demo team (along with 4 others) for Ron’s Hide Placement segment.  We worked back in that Gymnastics building, which had a hide on parallel bars at the door, a hide on the highest of the 2 uneven bars, and a hide across the room on the top of a door jam.  There were about 35 people watching (yikes!)  Ron had had one of the teams before us do it on leash, so I had Quattro on leash when we came in… he started working odor, so I let him start.  Ron said, “you can do it off leash – oops, too late”.  So I did the whole thing on leash 😦  It was good practice, since there were Adirondack chairs, a balance beam, all the poles from the uneven bars, mats, a trampoline, and then all the people in the middle.  Quattro did great.  He worked the bar hides, didn’t figure out the problem, so ran to the back of the room with the door jam hide.  He worked that beautifully, and when we went back to the bars, he got the highest one first, then the parallel bars.  He tried to stay at source, and ended up hugging the pole the hide was on.  It was very cute!

After Jills afternoon session (planting hides and watching dogs work them) we had dinner, and then a Sniff Thru.  This was 2 rooms in one cabin, and one big room/area in a 2nd cabin.  We didn’t run until almost 8:30p, but he was SO fast!  He did REALLY well, and had the volunteers and people watching cracking up w/ his contortions to get to source and his freeze.  It was a great ending to a great weekend.

So overall, I feel like I left with several ideas from different instructors to address my challenges.  I definitely want to play around with some of the leash handling, and I also have a better understanding of when Quattro is working pooling odor vs working a second hide.  Lots of good tips and talking points that I’ll bring to class, along with some set ups and exercises.  I am definitely ready to sign up for next year!





NW2 & Element Trials, Kintnersville, PA **VIDEO**

Quattro’s first Nose Work trial experience!  Why drive to PA for an Element Specialty trial?  Well, there has been nothing on the calendar so far this year, Element trials seemed like a good first step into a trial experience, and 2 Element trials equate to 8 quick searches, with all the complexities of a real trial: parking lot etiquette, waiting in the car, waiting at the staging areas, searching with a judge, timer, videographer, photographer.  Oh, and the hotel and travel time – all things to get used to.

I felt ready – we had done a lot of box work in the house when Quattro was neutered and on “house arrest” (i.e., no off leash play for 2 weeks!) and he had been looking really good at our monthly practices with Gail and Nancy.  And then… one week after he was neutered, he came down hard with Lyme.  He slept and did not eat for 4 days, had intravenous antibiotics and pain meds, plus needed about 12 pills a day.  I almost pulled out of going, but thought, he HAS to be feeling better by Sunday!  And he would have 2 days of rest: the drive down and then when I volunteered on Saturday.  So I was hopeful he would make a turnaround, perk up and feel good enough to eat and be willing to play.

The trial site was really pretty – a camp on a hill, with 2 ponds, many outbuildings and lots of pretty landscaping.  For the NW2 trial, I video’d interiors and worked with a new judge.  Lisa is a bed bug and drug detection dog handler (for the private sector).  I found her to be very fun, engaging, knowledgeable and supportive.  She felt SO bad saying “no”.  Here are the things that stuck out to me from the searches, in no particular order:

-Odor obedience will overcome environmental challenges and handler nerves.  The dogs who had a strong response to odor could work through any worries about the slippery floors, the people in the room, the handler being too close or crowding them. The handlers who recognized their dogs change in behavior and paused to observe their dogs were able to overcome any  nerves.  Once the dogs showed odor recognition (change in direction, slowing down to sniff an area, focused sniffing) the handlers relaxed and felt confident in calling the Alert.

-Some dogs came in with one thing on their mind: finding the hides.  These dogs were very motivated to search; they were unafraid of the slippery floors, not phased or interested in the volunteers and not bothered by where the handler was or what the handler was doing. These dogs made it look easy, because they were so single-minded in their task, and clear and easy to read when at source.  However, it would be interesting to see them really be challenged by a hide – would their handlers have the skill to step in and take control of the search, or would they be used to the dog doing all the work?  For those of us who have worked dogs who are NOT that immune to environmental distractions, we know how to “pick up the slack” for the dog to get them over their nerves, so the odor obedience kicks in and the dog does the rest of the work. To me, this is what it is to really be a team.  Some dogs make it easy to be a team of one – the dog is so clear and motivated that the handler does very little.  Yes, they finish in the top ten and they title, but when things get tough, how will they do?  There is a lot of learning that happens when things don’t come so easy.

-Some dogs came in with nerves over the highly varnished floors, the judge, the timer in the corner, and me the videographer positioned between the two hides.  The handlers who allowed their dogs time to settle in – do a lap around the room, give me a sniff, look at the timer – gave their dogs comfort just by allowing them a few moments to do a “safety check” on the environment.  Once the dogs had that out of the way, they got down to business and found the 2 hides.  When they got to the second room, they wasted no time in going to source.  These were nice teams to watch – the handler assisting and supporting the dog, and the dog doing the work to communicate the find.

-The struggles some of the teams had were when the dogs were a bit apprehensive, and the handler was nervous, feeling the pressure of the clock.  They transmitted that time pressure to their dog, who needed more time to feel comfortable before they could search.  The more pressure the handlers put on these dogs, the more the dog shut down.  Some examples were constantly telling the dog to “search” or “find it!”, moving the dogs along – sometimes pulling them away from odor (these rooms had to be done on leash, since they were fairly open to each other with no doors separating the 2 search areas) and general tight leash and directed searching, when the dog was not ready to search.  The dogs responded by sniffing the floor, looking out the windows, and generally walking around not searching. Which of course only made the handlers sweat some more… it was a bad downward cycle.

Sergio was the Exterior and Vehicle judge.  His comments were that everyone worked the Exterior well, but the Vehicle search had some trouble.  It was on a hill, so odor was falling downhill and pooling against some cinder blocks on a pallet.  Some handlers pulled their dogs off and were concerned that their dogs were not searching where they should be (on a vehicle).  Odor knows no bounds, so let your dog work out the scent problem.  The other issue was when dogs saw a golf cart for the first time – some climbed into it, making the leash work tricky.  Some handlers got close as they worked the leash in the cart, and some called Alert when their dogs looked up at them.  On the trial overall, the pass rate was pretty good – 16 out of 38 titled.

On to Sunday.  Quattro was pretty perky that morning – he stole a wrapper out of the wastepaper basket in the hotel room, and jumped from bed to bed playing keep away, so that was promising.  The morning trial was Containers.  We had 4 search areas that consisted of containers only, one hide each, no distractions.  In an element trial, the containers can be any shape box or tupperware type container, no luggage or bags at level 1.  One judge was Lisa (I didn’t get her last name), the other was also the CO, Rosana Dropkin, Lonnie was the photographer and they had a videographer where you could purchase videos afterwards, so that was a first for me.

The first search was in the lobby where registration had been the previous day.  There were ex-pens blocking off the large room beyond where Saturdays NW2 Container search was held.  Quattro was still not his normal speedy self, but he looked alert and willing.  The search was eight brown cardboard boxes and we had an off leash option, which of course meant we did it off leash.  He went in, did a fairly slow search, but did a double take on a box and froze.  Alert – yes.  I treated him, and was about to leash him up when he took off… I thought he was going to keep searching the boxes, but he pushed past the CO/judge and videographer, and took off down a hall, took a left, took a right, and went into the mens room!  That was odd – but more on that later.  Here is the video:

The next search was flower shaped boxes, in a small area/room, off leash.  He was pretty quick on that one.  We took a break while the judges and crew moved to 2 more search areas.  There was another room with white boxes, on leash, and then one last container search on a basketball court, something we practice often in Eliot.  These containers were rubbermaid shoe box sized boxes.  He started off methodically, then turned and went straight into the wind and stopped at a box.  I called alert quickly based on his change in direction – and when I watched it back, I was surprised how quickly I called alert!  But we were right and got our L1C title.

We all had a lunch break, some people left as they had only signed up for or only got into the one trial, and more people arrived.  Interiors consisted of a small room with big plastic Coke bottles, the Ladies room, and 2 camp rooms.  Quattro spent some time along the baseboard before going to a Coke bottle and alerting.  We had to wait before going into the Ladies room, and I asked the CO if the hides had been out that morning.  I was thinking maybe Quattro ran into the mens room chasing odor, but she said no… although the spare hot boxes were kept in the Men’s room! So THAT was why he ran in there!  The Ladies room hide was a classic NW1 style hide, under the rim of a wastepaper basket.  He gave a solid Alert, and did not want to leave source.  I pulled out some more treats and lured him off, and one dropped on the floor 😦  That fault caused us to come in last place, although we were still able to title.  The 2 camp  rooms he worked well, nice solid alerts, and in every search area he was focused and on task.  So despite not feeling 100% and not being the crazy quick, tail held over his back searcher he normally is, he got his L1I title.  We came in 9th in Containers, and would have been 4th in Interiors, but that fault from the dropped treat put us dead last.  Oh well.

Overall, it was a good weekend.  I stayed in the same hotel, about 2 rooms down, from where I stayed w/ Jinxx 2 years ago.  It was Quattro’s first elevator experience, and his first hotel stay without Izzie.  He did awesome on the drive and at the trial site, it was fun watching new dogs and handlers, and it was fun meeting some new people in the parking lot during our trial.  I was not nervous AT ALL, which is totally different than how I was with Jinxx and Izzie.  I’m not sure if it was because I was confident in our training, or if I was just happy he was feeling better and wasn’t expecting much, or if it was “just an Element trial” or what, but it was a nice feeling!  It was a nice warm up to our NW1 trial in June, also in PA. And it was nice to be at a Nose Work trial again!  October with Izzie seems so long ago.  I’m looking forward to seeing him work at his best!

Step Away From the Tin

Classes the weeks of 4/11 and 4/18 have been in response to Quattro’s struggles with smooth/flat surface hides, as well as something I noticed in the weeks I had students place hides.  When I was watching the dogs work someone else’s hides, it was blind to me.  As I watched the dogs move in closer to source, I was pretty sure they were almost on source, and then I heard that magic clunk / rattle / ring of the dog’s nose hitting the metal tin.  A dead ringer that the dog was AT SOURCE.

I thought, If I am making that connection, surely the DOGS are making that connection.  Not only do they get the sound effect of hitting source, they must also FEEL the tin move when they hit it.

With Quattro’s struggles with a hide being in a flat surface, where he can’t put his nose on a tin or a box or a sponge or any other THING, I started thinking that might  be part of his struggle.  Not so much the way odor moves along a smooth wall, although that’s some of it, but not having the tactile feel of touching source, and not having the auditory sound of being at source.

So, I broke out the plastic tubes I’ve been saving from the middle of poop bag roles, plugged one end with poster putty, and placed 2 Qtips in them.  In Saco, I taped the tubes behind doors, right along the seam, purposely NOT near a hinge.  One was behind a screen door, so they had SOME pooling odor along a cross bar, but one was in the handle of a Rubbermaid tub, and one was taped behind the middle of a door along the seam.  Dogs could get oh-so-close to source, but there was no tin/tube/box/sponge/straw to push, touch or make noise.  The dogs did great!  You could see some confusion with the hide behind the door, the dogs thoroughly checked the grooming table nearby (yes, there was probably some pooling odor on it, and yes, we’ve done a million hides on that table) before making their way along the wall to the door, then working up and down the seam until they settled directly over the middle of the seam, at source.

In York, I used 2 tables turned on their sides, butt ends together, with a hide taped between the butt ends.  Our super sniffer dogs wanted to go BEHIND the tables or OVER the tables to access source.  They struggled with following the seam up and down – they just really wanted to get to source, and they knew they wanted to go around the tables to get there.  We did this on leash as a skill building exercise, so the dogs were not allowed to go where they wanted.  This proved frustrating for both dogs and handlers!   Then there was a hide in the plastic cupboard, an area we’ve never used before.  This was tricky, I think there were some competing smells from the dog crates nearby, so I ended up fanning the door open when the dog was not looking.  This really helped them! Lastly, there was a hide between two tables that were leaning side by side against the wall.  Round 2 saw a hide in a desk drawer, between the 2 plastic tables that were now lying flat on the floor, and one in a gap in the mats on the floor.  Each dog was challenged by one or two of these, different dogs seemed to have different challenges.

With no tin to push, no “thing” to focus on, being limited by the leash, I think I really frustrated the York dogs!  We will do a modified repeat of this this week, and hope what they learned last week carries forward.  With repetition comes confidence, quickness and ease.  I’m glad I set up this style hide in multiples for that reason… repetition in that they were all flat surfaces, but in slightly different set ups (floor, furniture, wall).

I think this type of hide will help them in vehicle searches, where if the hide is on a bumper or trim work, it is basically a flat surface hide.  Also for hides on the ground – I’ll never forget Jinxx’s NW2 trial, where the hide was in between brick pavers in a giant patio.  She picked up pooling odor on a picnic table (so of course that’s where I thought the hide was) but left the table.  I almost tripped over her when she stopped to work odor on the ground, in the middle of what I thought was no where (I thought she left the table to work the wall of the building, never imagining that the hide could be out in the middle)  We also had an NW3 trial where the hide was up under a windowsill on a cabin in an exterior search.  Flat surface, indeed!

So, we will continue with this type of hide, and start mixing them with hides in, on or near a “thing”.

Accessible vs Inaccessible:  A question / comment came up about these hides being “inaccessible”.  These would actually be considered accessible (except for maybe a super high one)  SOURCE is oh-so-close to the dog, they can slide their nose up and down a seam and settle at the exact placement of the hide.  Inaccessible would be if the hide were deep in a drawer, taped to the middle of the back of a door, deep in the closet.  In those cases, no matter how much sliding along the seams the dogs do, they cannot settle at source – it’s so far in or centered, there is no resting their nose at source.  In inaccessible hides, it is acceptable for the dogs to choose on their own, where they believe the strongest source of odor is.  So if the hide was taped to the middle of the back of a door, ANYWHERE along the door’s seams would be acceptable for the final alert.  If you are watching a trial, you will see how dogs pick different areas to alert on, and still get the Yes from the judge.  At the bottom of the door, along the right door jamb, along the left door jam, at the corner where the door meets the wall – any of those would give you a YES.  If the hide was taped behind the door 10″ up from the threshold right at the door seam, THAT is where the dog would have to choose to alert to get the Yes.  I hope that makes sense!

Happy sniffing!

Instructor’s Night Off

In the last few months, I’ve been working with two other CNWIs at a neutral location (a Holiday Inn)  It’s not a training session per se, we are not giving each other instruction and it is not run like a class.  It is basically an opportunity for us to work in a new place, and give our dogs exposure to new areas and a variety of hides.  We are given rooms / search areas by the contact at the hotel, and we divide them up.  We each plant hides, and run it blind (if wanted) or blind with assistance.   It’s been great to get to a non-dog training facility, with all sorts of people and food smells, and LOTS of tables and chairs (we usually get conference rooms or theater type rooms), which would be typical in a classroom interior search at a trial.

One great thing that has come about from our training, is working someone else’s hides.  It’s not that I’ve noticed any difference as far as odor recognition from working someone else’s Qtips; I feel that Quattro is completely odor obedient regardless of whose hides he’s searching.  I HAVE realized that everyone has a “hide style”.  Gail tends to use tables and chairs, while Nancy tends to do higher hides.  Not sure what I’m known for – maybe threshold? or converging?  I’d have to ask them!  Another hide placement that was popular was in a closet.  One of the rooms we use has a wall of smooth closet doors, and 2 months in a row, Quattro has struggled with that hide.  It made me realize two things.  One, apparently I don’t do “flat surface” hides often, or if I do, I always place the hide near a “thing”, so odor can pool up on it, draw the dog in, and then allow them to follow the odor to source.  When the hide is just on a blank wall, with no door knob, electrical box outlet, chair, etc, to pool on, Quattro just ran along the wall of closet doors, not even pausing to search them.  Secondly, I realized, that since we had the same hide two months in a row, and he had the same struggles two months in a row, that I had not practiced what was obviously a hole in my training.  I figured if I’m not practicing this with my own dog, I’m probably not practicing it with my students dogs!  So, that was our goal for classes the week of 4/11.

The other takeaway for me, was how beneficial it’s been working someone else’s hides.  Everyone has their own way of looking at the world – and search areas.  So for the weeks of  3/28 and 4/4, I took the night off, and had students plant the hides.

In Saco, we could divide up the rooms, so each person had a room to plant their hides.  Half the class would watch dogs search 2 rooms, the other half would do 2 rooms blind.  We’d switch, so that everyone had 2 blind searches and 2 known searches, including their own hide.

In York, I gave general areas, and we did pretty much the same thing… people did some blind and some known searches.

They were all blind to me!  Which was really fun… and gave me to another reason for working flat surface hides the week of 4/11…

But back to working someone else’s hides.  I enjoyed watching the dogs work when I didn’t know where the hide was.  Obviously, at this point I’ve watched your dogs work hundreds of hides, so it was fun to test myself to see how well I knew your dogs.  I enjoyed hearing everyone’s thought process after the dogs had all worked the hides.  For some, it was, I really DIDN’T have a thought process, I just slapped a hide out on something metal!  For others, they wanted to work on something that is a challenge to their dog, such as corners, tight spaces, the tin not front and center to the dog, or height.  I then asked if the dogs worked the hide the way the hide-setter expected.  There were some yes’s, and some surprises.   A couple hides had things that moved nearby, that the hide-setters did not think about when placing their hide.  They only noticed when a dog knocked it on their way to source.  Then there was the hide that was unexpectedly difficult.  On the face of it, it was pretty straight forward, but there were a few environmental factors that upped the difficulty.  The thought here was that the hide itself was unusual – unless you were at the Sniff Thru in March, your dog had probably never found source in between 2 sponges!  So the hide setter decided to make the placement of the unusual odor “container” simple; the sponges were out in the open on the edge of a table in the small break room in Saco.  Well, what appeared to be simple in theory, was actually made challenging by the height of the table, along with some metal poop cans that were grouped underneath the table.  They made getting underneath the hide a bit of a challenge for dogs who don’t like tight spaces, and the height of the hide made it challenging for the shorter dogs.  Welcome to my life!  It usually backfires when I say, “let’s do one more simple hide!”  Those usually turn out to be anything but!

Then, there were some hides that were incredibly difficult, if not impossible.  One was on a fan, on a crate.  The difficulty was that the tin was out in the open, facing up.  The fan was in the middle of a wire crate, and the hide was towards the back of the fan, making it very difficult for the dogs to source.  There were several wire crates next to the hide, so odor was clinging to every wire bar, to the right, to the left, underneath and above the hide.  Dogs had a ton of odor available to them, but couldn’t quite follow it to source.  After watching a few dogs struggle, we accepted WAY less (i.e., farther away from source) than we normally would have, so we could reward the dog when they were close.  Most dogs worked a LONG time at this problem, without false alerting and without giving up.

Another impossible hide, was under a plastic cone.  I am sure SOME odor had to have been escaping from underneath the cone, but obviously not enough to grab the dogs attention.  I fanned the cone when the dog wasn’t looking, and that really worked to get them interested and then alerting to the cone.

And one last hide that was impossible, was in the drawer of a plastic set of drawers, up on a table.  Even with the drawer open, the odor was well over the dogs heads.  They did not pick it up on the bottom or sides of the drawer.

Were these bad hides? I don’t  think any were impossible hides, but each had their own unique challenges that none of the dogs could figure out on their own.  I have certainly set some of these hides up, myself!  Sometimes you don’t know until you see 2, 3 or 4 dogs struggle how difficult the hide placement is.  I think we could do a whole class on repeating the “impossible hides”.  I would start with the hide CLOSE to the impossible placement, and do 2-3 passes working my way closer to how it was set up in class.

I really enjoyed these hides!  What I want everyone to think about when you are placing hides for your dog to practice, is What do you think the odor will do, and, How do you think your dog will work it?  One or the other may surprise you!  Another thing to be cognizant of when placing hides, is, is it near something fragile, breakable, or that may drop, slide or tip?  Will my dog pick up odor near the moveable object, and possibly get hurt or startled by it, on his way to source?  Luckily, the 2 hides where this happened, were not too dramatic, and the dogs are all so focused on source at this point, that they were not bothered.  Sarah had a tableful of fluorescent light bulbs in her search area, that I didn’t notice until the first do ran.  She obviously placed her hides AWAY from that table!  So keep safety in mind when planting your hides.

Trouble shooting:  We tried pairing on some of the impossible hides, but that didn’t seem to make a difference.  Which tells us how challenging those hides really were!  If I could sneak next to the hide while the dog was busy sniffing someplace else, I might fan the odor off the hide (like the cone example) or move the hide so that it’s closer to the edge, make it more accessible, more items blocking the dog, or lower the hide.  If I can’t sneak that by the dog, I’ll remove the dog briefly, make my adjustment, and have him come back in.  That way he is not watching you help him, he just comes back in determined to find that hide, and he does!

So, I hope you had fun watching someone else’s dogs work your hides, and getting to see your dog work your hide.  We’ve used the same search areas over and over, I thought it was interesting to have some fresh hide placements.  I try to be creative, but sometimes run out of inspiration… hopefully, you were inspired by some of your classmates hide placement ideas!

Happy hunting!

Building Blocks To Success

Keep it simple.  Make sure your dog is successful.  Build up gradually.  Great catch phrases, but what does it mean to how you train your dog?

In the last few weeks, I’ve done some “simple” exercises, that I hope are building blocks to more complex problems for the dogs to solve. These back to basics, simpler exercises should ultimately lead them to working complex problems and make it look easy in the process.


Big dog little dog, elevated hides can be tricky.  Odor rarely falls straight down like a waterfall, more often than not, it moves out like a sprinkler, hits a surface, and drops a distance from the actual hide.  The dog has to figure out how to work pooling odor, find a tendril, and work it back to source.

In Saco, we did 3 rooms in a row, that all had floor-level hides.  The dogs did each room one after the other.  For their second pass, the hides were raised to about nose height, or 12″-17″ above the floor, and again, the dogs worked the 3 rooms back to back.  For the last pass of the night, the hides were raised to almost 4 ft.  Handlers knew where the hides were, so they could learn from their dogs.  How the dogs worked pooling odor across the room from an actual hide, when the dogs realized it was elevated (as noted by their air scenting and casting their noses up in the air)  These exercises showed yet again how much space your dogs need to work in order to be successful; if you crowd them, you will be preventing them from finding that pooling odor, and they are not necessarily going to find odor close to the hide.

In York, we did the same exercise, but used the big garage door.  3 hides were run back to back to back, each hide was floor level.  An unforeseen challenge, was the draft coming in the door!  So the floor level hides were almost the most difficult for this group, although they all nailed the threshold floor level hide in seconds 🙂  Their next hides were about 18″ off the floor, one on the side of the door frame, the others on hinges.  And the last run, the hides were on the upper level hinges, about 4ft up.  It was really cool to see the dogs go back and forth between 2 hinges 18″ high, then finally realize the hide was on a higher hinge BETWEEN the 18″ high hinges.  The following week, we used the same area, but gave them more room, and added some metal chairs.  This time, hides were not just on the door/wall, some were on chairs, and some were on the door/wall.  The dogs were MUCH quicker at figuring out the high hides, as well as the low hides that were near the draft.  You could see them work the seams of 2 rugs or the edge of the mats, following that channeling odor to source.  This, to me, exemplified the “building blocks to success”.  The dogs learned week over week in a progressive way, and the handlers also learned what to look for in their dogs, and to stand back and watch them work.  There was one hide deep in the search area, that a few handlers had to walk in a bit to get their dogs to go all the way in.  A good reminder that yes, the dog may be the nose of the team, but the handler is the brains, keeping track of where the dog has been, or may need to get to.  For the upper level dogs in York, we did a low, medium high line, where the hides were zigzagged up and down the wall.  The last pass had only 2 hides, one 8″ off the floor, the other, about 4ft up directly above the first hide.  It was really fun to see the dogs recognize that there were 2 separate hides, and try to figure out which one to alert to first!


In all classes, I wanted to strip down and simplify the container searches.  Let’s bring things back to basics, and clarify the mission for the dogs.  We started with 3 boxes, one had odor, 2 were blank.  3 passes where I moved the boxes in various positions.  For the second pass, I added in a food or toy distraction.  Something mild to start, progressing to more interesting things. I kept it at 3 boxes, one w/ odor, one blank, and one distraction.  I changed out the distractions, sometimes it was an empty dog treat bag, a chunk of cheese, peanut sauce, dog toys, and in Saco, ground beef and pheasant feathers.   Handlers always knew where the hot box was (unless I forgot where I put it – thank you Isaac, for setting me straight!)  I then added more blanks and more distractions, until the dogs had 15 or so boxes to check.  The dogs did awesome ignoring the distractions!  The parmesan cheese was the one that caught the most interest.  Because the handlers knew where the hot box was, simply ignoring any interest in the distractions made it clear to the dogs that they were not going to get paid.  When the dogs showed a nice head snap, double back, or nosed, pushed, pawed or froze at the hot box, those behaviors all got paid.  It gave the dogs lots of chances to be right, lots of opportunities to get paid at source, and moved from very few choices (3 boxes, one with odor) to more complex odor problems and decision making.  Because we started out so simple and gave the dogs multiple chances for reinforcement at source, adding the distractions and multiple boxes didn’t seem like any big challenge.  Both the dogs and handlers gained confidence, it was a beautiful thing!

These are exercises I should be doing with Quattro, but it seems to be much easier to randomly slap out some tins and have him search.  But that does not allow for step by step, progressive learning.  So I’m glad to give your dogs that experience and growth path, it was very rewarding to see them get better week over week.  Thank you for inspiring me to do the same with Quattro!

Happy sniffing!

Saco 2/1 & 2/2

Back from my trip to San Diego and the California Narcotics Canine Association / CNWI Symposium, I have some new ideas for training, as well as the confidence that what we’ve been doing, is working.  While our pet dogs have a very different upbringing and breeding than the professional K9s, dogs noses all process odor the same way, positive training and dog behavior all works the same way, and even the pros have an achilles heel (the video of a German Shepherd who was afraid of stairs, and the video of a Malinois who ran away from water, were both good examples!).  We may have some more work to do, getting and keeping our pets motivated to do something they’d rather not (going into a tight space, being brave enough to ignore the moving box flaps) but we have the luxury of time to work on these challenges.  The professional dogs are under a lot more pressure to overcome any fear issues, but training through fear issues was what we would do.  The dog who was afraid of stairs?  Start with just a few steps, have the dog be successful, and slowly increase the number of steps the dog will do.  Keep the dog motivated and energized, and keep the dog successful.

One way to keep dogs motivated, confident, and keep them wanting more, is to keep trainings short, sweet, simple and successful.  Especially in an environmentally challenging area.  So this week, with the “warm” temperatures and lack of snow and ice (remember last year at this time??  we were trying to prep for a NW3 trial in March, and had to work 10ft snow banks in the dark to get Exterior practice in) I decided to do some Exterior searches in the new run.  So lots of dog smells, along with the normal exterior distractions.

Monday evening was windy, with a steady breeze/wind from the golf course, bringing lots of good scents to the dogs.  Tuesday was cooler, but without the wind.  To keep things short, sweet and simple, there were 3 5-gallon buckets right outside the door, and 2 had odor.  I paired each hide for the Monday night classes (I wish I had done the same for the Tuesday classes).  This really helped clarify what we wanted the dogs to be doing, and kept them focused. We kept the dogs on leash, to control the environment.  I didn’t want the dogs running around to the back of the building, getting lost in dog smells, and running around marking.  The buckets were big visual cues for the dogs to come check out, one “hot” bucket was to the right of the door way (upwind) and the other was to the left (down wind)  The dogs could pick up odor from the doorway, and most went right to it, although Monday night’s NW1 class, the dogs followed the odor downwind to the fence, before coming back into the wind.  This was good practice in pooling odor – no one false alerted, but they showed lots of interest in the back fence/gate, where the odor was blowing into.  And, if you are ever at a trial when it’s windy, you can feel confident that you and your dog have worked in windy conditions and did just fine.

The dogs found the 2 hides fairly quickly, then were put back in the car.  Very short search times, 2 finds, allowing us to meet our “short, sweet, simple and successful” goals for the night.  The first 2 runs had hides on the buckets  – the elevated hide proved the most challenging for some dogs – and the next pass had odor under a little stone cairn (pile of rocks) and one along the building, directly to the dogs right.  They seemed to all really love the cairn hide!  All enjoyed digging a bit to get to source, and were super clear when they were there.  The hide along the building was more challenging, but it didn’t take much for them to get it.  It was fun to watch them pretty quickly rule out the buckets – yes, lingering odor, but not enough to alert on.  They all seemed disappointed when they were told there were only 2 hides, and it was time to head back to the car already!

The other thing we worked on in these searches, was watching the dogs pick up odor well before releasing them.  Handlers stayed about 8 ft back from the threshold to outside,  held the leash so their dogs were ahead of them at the threshold, and released the dog when they felt they had odor.  This might be dipping their head (for most dogs) or picking a direction, right or left.   Even if you couldn’t see their mouths or expressions, that head dip was a pretty consistent behavior.   I need to try to be better at watching my dog BEFORE the line – I tend to look at the judges’ steward as they speak, rather than watch my dog.  Your dog can give you a lot of information before you say “Search”, and your dog can really pick up a lot of information about a search area well before you say “Search”.  I think we found that you didn’t even really have to say anything, as soon as your dog picked up odor, releasing them was the cue.  Early on in training, we had a start line routine, and in some cases, you may still want to do that.  For example, if your dog is hesitant about a search area, you are practicing in a new location, or you think your dog will be distracted by the environment, using a start line routine can really help focus them to the task at hand.  Seeing that your dogs all know what they are supposed to be doing on Monday and Tuesday nights, I didn’t think ditching their start line routine would be an issue!

The next exercise we did, was to work inside, on leash.  I wanted to keep the searching short and simple again, and feel like we’ve had lots of long (6 minutes!) searches in large spaces the past few weeks.  The leash again was used to control the environment, not control the dog.  I told handlers the hide would be in the picnic table corner of the room, and had the start be the edge of the black mats.  I saw Reo begin to work odor way back on one of the posts, then the edge of the mats, and the wall, well away from the table / bench where the hide was.  Seeing that, I changed the rules for you, so if you felt your dog was working odor, just walk forward with them.  These 3 hides were really fun, because the dogs worked odor from quite a distance, chose a direction (moved to the right when it was under the bench, to the left when it was on the generator) and none were worried about going in the small space between the generator and wall.  For the NW2/3 classes, I had one hide up under an outlet, and THAT was fun to watch, too.  Most dogs drew a rainbow arc on the wall with their nose, as they picked up odor between the hide and the picnic table.  Others worked the post opposite the hide, clearly working up the post or working up on the wall before getting to source.  I loved Koda’s lunge and jump up at source!  Who says short dogs have trouble with high hides?  Again, just one hide then back to the start area.

Short, quick searches.  Confidence building.  Multiple successes.  Keeping them hungry for more, that’s what I call a good class 🙂

NW2 Trial recap

3 NW2 students made the drive to Litchfield, CT, on Memorial Day weekend to attend a NW2 trial.  For one, it was their first attempt, the other two have NW2 trial experience under their collars already.

Although there were no new NW2 titles in Maine after this weekend, by all accounts it was a good experience.  Sandy and Nell felt like they learned the most after this trial, Janis felt the most relaxed and confident in her dog at this trial, and Barbara was able to get Oasis back in focus in the last :30 seconds to overcome distractions in her first element, then move on to do really well in Interiors.

The challenge for some was the Vehicle element.  Held in a large building, the 4 vehicles (including a boat trailer and go cart, 2 vehicles) were fairly far apart.  This caused some confusion for Nell, and in hindsight, Sandy wished she had stepped in and helped her dog here.  There is that balance of letting the dog work, but knowing when they need help, either refocusing, or getting to a productive area.  Maybe they are stalled out because there is no odor where they’ve searched?  Maybe they are stalled out because of some environmental issue, or because they are hot, tired, etc.  That is where knowing your dog comes in, as well as knowing how to move them out of their funk.  Barbara felt Oasis was super distracted and not hunting during this search… she found the first hide, but was still having trouble with focus.  Barbara stepped in and tightened up the leash, and did a more directed search.  At the :30 warning, Oasis snapped into odor and they got the 2nd hide.  Billie Sue, however, really liked this search.  Maybe the spaced out vehicles suited her search style, because she came in 2nd place!  A nice comeback after the last NW2 trial, where it was the vehicles that tripped them up.

I personally like to let the dog work on their own, chose their path in the search, but if I see my dog getting sidetracked by animal odor, or distracted by the volunteers, or stall out, I will step in… either re-cue them to search if I feel like they are on animal odor or people, or if they are just sort of stuck, I’ll step forward and try to bring them to an area we have not covered before.  Once they get back into hunting mode, I hang back and let them lead again.  But sometimes you keep thinking they’ll snap out of it, only to run out of time 😦

The Interior rooms sounded small, a threshold hide and 2nd hide deeper in one room, and the 2nd room super small, hide under a sink.  Nell found something about the area under the 2nd hide aversive… would not search the chair, a chair like we search all the time.  How to get your dog to search an area they find aversive, yet you can tell there is odor there?  Well, Sandy felt like maybe she could have put the leash on Nell and led her over there.  That might have worked.  She thought about directing Nell to the chair, that might have worked, too.  You can also pull out treats mid-search, talk to your dog, do whatever you need to do to make them comfortable, and re-cue them. Obviously, I try to let the dog work it out on their own before I step in, but you CAN talk to, guide, treat, leash, and encourage your dog mid-search.  The good news, Sandy didn’t talk Nell into a false alert, and Nell didn’t false alert to please Sandy.  Oasis really liked this search – she came in second place!  And Billie Sue came in 6th.

I liked the feedback from the Exterior search – 2 hides, one they all seemed to find first, was in the handle of a bucket. The other hide, was up on a deck.  I liked hearing how after the dogs found one hide, the handlers thought, where haven’t we been?  And steered/guided/directed their dogs towards the deck, then let dogs work.  Perfect teamwork!

Lastly, Containers… always tough when you go into Containers last, after passing 3 elements.  You start to worry about your dog false alerting, you start to think you are THIS close to your title if only you don’t false alert, you start to think, so what IS the difference my dog shows between food and odor? And all that thinking about a false alert can steer you right into a false alert.  Oasis slipped on a banana peel (haha) and showed just enough interest in a banana distraction that Barbara called Alert.  Billie Sue prefers baked goods (I’m with her!) and alerted on a blueberry muffin.  Nell had no problem with this one.

The take aways for me as an instructor, are:

-for ME to step in and tell students when it is ok and/or recommended that THEY step in to take control of the search, just for a second, to get their dogs back on track

-HOW to help their dogs overcome a challenge, whether that’s buoying them up, reminding them what the reward is, shortening the leash, bringing them to a more productive area, or leaving the search while I adjust the hide

-set up challenges similar to an exercise we did this winter, where dogs had one hide in the same place for all their searches… I added stuff to partially obscure the hide that the dogs had to work through and around, building their confidence with each search that they would / could get to source, even though they had to work for it

-set up a search area where there is no odor in one part, so the dogs have to work through a large blank area before they get close to the hide (I think we did that once or twice this winter, when we searched 2 contiguous rooms, and the hide was in the 2nd room)  Have the handlers think about when to move their dog on, and when to continue letting the dog figure it out


When I first started NW2 Containers w/ Jinxx, I was trying to learn the difference between a food alert and an alert on birch/anise.  The class 3 days before our first NW2 trial, Jinxx false alerted on every single container.  However, in the 3x we took to pass NW2, we never falsed on Containers.  There were moments I was holding my breath, having a stare-off with her, trying to figure out if she was on odor or distraction, but in the end I made the right call.  It was a gut feeling – if it didn’t feel right, it wasn’t source odor, and I didn’t call it and moved on.

By the time we got to NW3, we had a LOT more Container practice behind us.  At this point, I had exposed her to as many distractions as I could think of: scented candles, coffee, baby powder, potpourri, seaweed, horse manure, all categories of food (meat, dairy, baked goods, combinations of all, fruit, pizza, sandwiches, etc) as well as toys.  We got to the point where she might show passing interest – a head flick – but barely a pause, she would move on and show a LOT of interest in the odor container.  This is not to say I NEVER false alerted in Containers, we did, but it was always after we had broken down elsewhere in the trial (a false alert in Interiors, where I kept her searching too long, and that usually broke my concentration and confidence in her for future elements.  This seemed to cause her to look to me more, probably sensing I wasn’t happy with myself and wondering what was up)

In practice, I always knew what was distraction and what was odor.  I completely ignored anything she did on non-odor containers, and waited for her to move on on her own.  As SOON as she showed interest in the hot bag, I swooped in to reward.  I did this many times, with many different container types, in many configurations, indoors and out, at my house as well as at a basketball court and tennis court nearby.  I didn’t wait for her “final response” – it was the interest I was rewarding.  The head snap, a longer sniff, a nudge.  Eventually she would get to the bag before I could, and her behavior at source developed into a down or play bow and aggressive nudging.  Some of my favorite searches became our container searches, when we just flowed through the search area, she giving each bag a quick sniff, maybe a slight double take, but moving on until one bag would stop her, she’d bow/down, and aggressively nudge it until I called alert and came in to reward her.  At our last NW3 trial, this is pretty much what she did, although after she found the (one and only) hide, she began pushing around every other bag.  But she would push it into the next bag, then push that one, then the next – just playing; she was done so I called Finish.  We got a Pronounced on that search 🙂 and came in 6th out of the 15 who passed that element.

So we will do more with distractions, and allow the dogs to explore a distraction (without partaking in it, of course!) and reward generously at source.  The reason I enjoy seeing teams place in the top 10, isn’t because I want everyone to be super speedy, or that I value fast dogs.  To me, it shows the singleminded purpose and focus of the dog.  The dog is able to forgo all the interesting smells, things, people and sounds in a search and get down to business.  They must have been clear in their final response, so clear that the handler could call Alert right away, with confidence.  As a handler, those are really fun searches.  My other favorite searches, are ones similar to Barbara and Oasis’s Vehicle search, where we had a challenge that we overcame, just within the time limit.  I was proud of myself for recognizing when I needed to step in, and for knowing what to do in that moment, to make us successful.

I’m proud of Janis, Barbara and Sandy for making the long drive, on a holiday weekend no less, venturing someplace new (first trial ever in CT) and coming away with great memories from their best searches, their day hanging out with others who share their passion, and ideas on what to focus on going forward.  And also all the Pronounced badges of honor that were earned!  And most of all, the positive attitudes of each person – it would make my “job” as an instructor a lot harder if everyone was sour about not titling.  At least if you were sour, you kept it to the car ride home, and I appreciate that!

I’ll see you all on Tuesday!