Building Speed thru Clarity

I hope everyone has enjoyed their time off!  I know I have… I had a fun week visiting with my brother from Montana and my niece and nephew, eating a lot of good food (elk from Montana, the Feast of 7 Fishes at my sister & brother-in-laws house), watching old Wonderful World of Disney movies with my nephew, lots of walks in the woods w/ the dogs, and even a little nose work w/ my nephew.

I heard from a few of you over the break, mostly regarding nose work, but one agility / nose work student, and there seemed to be a common theme:    How do I keep my dog motivated, and How do I get them to pick up their pace?

Here are some thoughts on this.

Speed, in tricks, agility, nose work, rally, really, anything you are doing with your dog, comes with confidence.  If you are clear in what you are asking, and your dog understands what is expected of them, and has practiced to become fluent and smooth, you will see their speed pick up.

Well, but, I thought it was pretty clear when my dog has the harness on that we are doing NW?  I thought I was being clear when I gave directions to my dog to follow on an agility course?  My dog did have confidence, but the more they slow down, the less confident they seem… what’s happened, and how can I fix it?

So,  if I’m looking for my dog to have speed… they need to have  confidence… behind confidence is clarity.  So if I work backwards, and start with clarity, I’m going to keep things short and simple.  I’m not going to look for anything fancy from my dog, and I’m not going to set up anything tricky.  So no “I want him to look at me / paw / freeze / sit / lick his lips while he looks at me and wags his tail” – nothing fancy is expected of the dog!  And don’t set up an agility course with blind / rear / front crosses every other obstacle – nothing tricky in your set up!

I’m going to keep my exercise – either nose work or agility – straightforward.  That means the hide might be paired w/ a good treat in 1 box out of 5 in my basement or living room, and if it’s agility, it might mean 2 jumps and a tunnel. Short, sweet, simple. Then, I try to let them know we are about to work – which means we’re about to do something FUN.  I don’t have to rev them up and get them crazed, I don’t have to get crazy and look like a lunatic, but I do have to have a slightly different demeanor on the start line than I do when I stand in the middle of the living room or training room.  It’s a slight vibration, I bring some excitement with tension in my body and engagement with my dog, making eye contact and saying, “Re-e-e-e-a-d-e-e?”  I sometimes hold them back by the collar (you could use a harness), and I release them when I feel them pulling forward.  If I’m doing nose work, I restrain them and wait for them to be looking and pulling slightly forward, I watch their nose, and when I see it twitching and see that they are focused forward, I release them… “Search!” (Although the word command is somewhat redundant, because they are already focused on hunting)  If I’m doing agility, I might restrain them every so often before a jump, tunnel or the weave poles, give them the same “Re-e-e-e-a-d-e-e?” Cue, and release them when they are pulling slightly forward.  I am NOT releasing them when they look up at me, I am not setting them up like we are doing Rally or obedience. I’m not doing a lead out – having them sit/stay while I walk to the first agility obstacle, and I’m not releasing them once they sit and look at me to go hunt. I want a calm focus – although, with Coach, it’s not exactly calm, but it is an intense focus forward.

When doing nose work, and the dog has started off hunting the boxes I’ve set out, I don’t worry too much if they stray from the boxes.  I try to look at the environment, and read why my dogs might be ranging… is the heat on? Is there a draft in the basement? As soon as my dog does a head snap, double back, spends some time sniffing the hot box, I move in and reward.  Again, I’m going for clarity, I want the dog to be clear about the object of what we are doing, and what they are getting the reward for.  I want to be sure the dog does not think it’s a sit, or a look, or a down or a paw that brings the reward.  It’s the ODOR that brings the reward.  If I rush in too soon (oops, I don’t think the dog even realized there was odor there, and here I am treating him) that’s ok once or twice.  I’d rather be too quick than too late, if I am building drive and speed. Being late with your reward, whether in agility or nose work, creates a gray area for your dog – which is not the clarity we are looking for.

When doing agility, I’m not going to mind if the bar(s) get dropped the first couple runs, I don’t want to do anything to flatten the dogs enthusiasm. I may try to think about WHY the bar dropped – was he set up too close to the bar? Does he not have the experience of jumping? Do I need to lower the bar? Do I even NEED a bar up higher than 2”? If I am doing obstacles that are fairly simple, jumps and tunnels, not poles or teeters, I will toss a treat or toy AS MY DOG is DOING the obstacle.  So the toy / treat is NOT a lure – ie, tossed before the dog does the jump – it comes AS HE’s IN THE AIR. I’ll toss it / bowl it – practice without your dog or without the obstacle to start.  You want the treat to be visible against the black mats, and you want the toy or treat to continue moving ahead of your dog when they are in the air. If it drops too close to the jump, they will stop short / land hard to get it. I want them striding over the jump, focused forward on the moving object, so they are gliding thru the air and not pausing or stopping hard when they land.

As your dogs start to flow and have fun with the games (NW or agility) you can add little challenges. Instead of 6 boxes scattered in the middle of the floor, place them on the edges of the room.  Instead of a simple jump – tunnel – jump line, put a curve in the tunnel and add a jump, so the dogs are doing a speed circle. Do it in both directions, so you work the dog on your right side and your left side.  Decide where your dog is slow – is it the tunnel? The jump after the tunnel? Time your reward so your dog is racing to get to it. You don’t need to reward after every obstacle, but decide strategically where the best use of your reward should be.  In nose work, you can race your dog to the hide – if they are about to dip their head into the hot box that is paired with food, race over and deliver treats one by one by one while your dogs head is in the box.  If the box is big enough, wait until their nose is on the tin before dropping / tossing your treat.  The object is that the odor brings reward – nose on source makes one treat at a time rain down.  Vary your reward from 5 to 3 to 7 treats delivered at source.

A lot of dog training (at least for me) is rewarding a good decision by the dog. So if my dog LOVES tunnels, but I want him to do 3 jumps first, and I see him look at the tunnel, pause, but continue on to a jump, I will stop and reward w/ 3-4 treats delivered one at a time, and not worry about the rest of the course. I’m rewarding a good decision, not trying to get him to do 4 obstacles before the reward comes.

If I’m doing nose work, and my dog has taken longer than usual to find a hide, that tells me that something about it was difficult for him. So AS SOON AS he gets to source, I’m praising him and rewarding him one treat at a time.  In the videos below, my poor dogs did not get paid / compensated for the extreme conditions they were working through at the time, as you’ll see  below.

Ok, here are two videos from Christmas night. Dinner was being made, and my 6 yr old nephew Marco wanted to do some nose work.  I had given him a treat pouch / bait bag filled w/ treats for Christmas, as well as 2 tins preloaded w/ Clove Qtips.  He has helped me do some nose work training in the past, but it’s been spread out over months, the last session being in July.  I **should** have given him some refresher instructions, and I **should** have had treats on me myself, to jump in.  Marco needs some coaching on treat delivery at source – he was a little afraid of my dogs being land sharks and grabbing at the treats, so that was a challenge, too.

This was before dinner after a long day.  My husband, the dogs and I spent Christmas morning w/ my in-laws in Gloucester, MA before driving up to my parents house in NH for Christmas w/ my parents, my brother, and my sister, her husband, their two kids, and my sisters mother-in-law.  Gifts were opened, toys were being played with, wrapping paper tossed around, dinner was being prepared… there was a lot going on all day for my dogs, and this was a particularly busy time of day!  This is what I meant by extreme conditions.  On the bright side, they were super hungry (motivated) and they are experienced searchers, so the flubs and mistakes you’ll see did not break my dogs.

But, these searches are extreme examples of how with a greener dog, late timing, not rewarding at source, only rewarding with one treat after a long delay, asking / expecting too many behaviors, moving around while the dog is trying to search and having 2 dogs in the search area could really confuse and demotivate a dog! Again, these are obvious examples of, uh, areas for improvement, but I think they give a good picture of what the dog may be experiencing!  Is there anything here that you may be doing on a much smaller scale? For some reason, Marco would pick up the tin while only rewarding one of the dogs, so there are times one dog got short changed.  Again, luckily they are experienced dogs, and we only do nose work with Marco about once every 4-6 months, so this session did not ruin them.  Plus, they got some good elk scraps for dinner that my brother brought home just for them – muscle meat and sinew.

Note how the Search cue comes while the dogs have already charged into the search area hunting. An example of dogs who know the task at hand and the only thing they are relying on the handler for is to open the door.  Poor Marco, I stepped on his heel coming thru the door w/ my wood soled clogs, which is why he screeches.  It doesn’t seem to phase the dogs. Can you tell someone’s had a few too many Christmas cookies and chocolates?

As you watch, think about the environment and what the odor must be doing, based on what the dogs are doing. Note where the odor is pooling and collecting, based on where the dogs are sniffing, and think about where / when you would have gone in to reward them.  Note how they respond when Marco points – I do not do directed searching, so they really thought he was assisting them when he pointed up at the patio umbrella.  Which, is not a bad thing – they learned from that exercise that a point does NOT mean there is a hide there… they are still responsible for finding odor on their own!  I think they all had fun burning off some energy, and I know my parents and brother were happy to have us out of the kitchen while they were preparing dinner.  I learned that Marco needs some work rewarding at source, and we can practice without the dogs with him just tossing treats at the tin.  And, one dog at a time!

Elk, it’s what’s for dinner

As you can imagine, the dogs were exhausted at the end of the day. We were watching Disney’s Shaggy Dog, the original black and white version








Unfortunately, there was no videographer at Quattro’s NW2 trial, and I so wish I had video from it.  He had earned his NW1 in June, and his NW2 was in October, so he was just under 2 yrs old, pretty wild and crazy from car to start line and into the search.  I remember there was an inaccessible hide in the Exterior search area, in / under a big barrel.  He worked all around it, and I waited and waited for him to “make a decision” and “tell me” about it, but he just kept circling, jumping up on, and moving around the barrel, before finally moving off.  I did bring him back to the area, and he did make his decision by picking an area to freeze on (his alert behavior) and I called Alert.  That indecision on my part  –  afraid to call Alert and hear    “Where? “ – cost us a pronounced designation, and since we had received  ‘P’s in the other 3 elements, we would have earned a  Pronounced designation and ribbon.  So, I learned I needed to work some more inaccessible hides to help  Quattro make a faster decision, and to train my eye to feel confident to call Alert, to understand when he was working inaccessible vs sourceable.

Coach’s NW2 was a lot of fun, too.  Sort of a blur! He is really fast, and I called Alert pretty quickly on every hide, not waiting for anything fancy. It was fun to be so free to trust him and just call it.  This was when they were still not videoing the Interiors, so no video of those 2 rooms, but I do remember I kept him in the front half of a room for too long… I was assuming he would move on if he cleared the area, but finally realized I needed to step into the room more, to draw him to the back side of the room.  And of course, that was where a hide was.  This was the first NW2 trial where I had to call Finish.  Prior to this, you said Alert, heard yes (hopefully!) and would walk out.  Now, you need to call Alert, hear Yes, and then call Finish.  This was also the first NW2 trial I did where there could be 3 hides in a search area.  Prior to that, you had one or two hides per search area, so I had to remember to keep searching after finding 2! Another first, was having the off leash option in the Exterior search at NW2.  I had that option once in NW3, so it was fun cutting him loose.  I was mildly worried about him peeing, since he is not neutered and is pretty young here, but his focus is so strong, I tried to put that out of my mind. You can see, he is working the whole time and doesn’t even think about dog odors in the search area.  Overall, it was a fun day running around with my little blue dog!


What to Expect at Your NW1 Trial – plus NW1 Trial videos

Since several of you are either entered in an ORT or getting ready for your first NACSW trial, I thought I’d post some trial videos of Quattro and Coach.  One is at a school, the other at a camp, which are  both typical trial location atmospheres.  One is in hot, humid weather, the other is in cold and windy weather – also good examples of what you’ll find come trial day!

In an NACSW trial, there are 4 elements: Vehicles, Exteriors, Containers and Interiors.  Back when these videos were taken, Interiors were not allowed to be filmed.  When I ran my first NW dogs, NO videos were available for purchase, so I was very happy to be able to purchase trial videos at all.  Not all trials have a videographer available, so I was lucky on these two.

You arrive to the trial, and a volunteer will tell you where to park.  If you have a reactive dog, one that needs more space, they will ask if you’d like to park with the other reactive dogs.  The thought there, being that the owners of reactive dogs are EXTRA careful when walking by other dogs, and managing the ins and outs of their cars.   You check in, sign a waiver and get your run order #. I typically take a picture of the run order, so I know what dogs are a couple ahead of me.  Even if I don’t know the people, I’ll see the dog breed, and know to look for them crossing the parking lot ahead of me, to know when I should get ready.  They will have a set of flip numbers that you’ll need to keep an eye on.  Do not bring your dog out of the car 8 million times, that will only tire them out.  Yes, you want your dog to potty, but try not to continually bring them in and out of the car, past other people and dogs.  I will bring my dogs to the potty area after I check in, and then a few dogs before my turn, depending on how quickly the searches are moving.  It’s a little trickier at Elite, because there are speed searches and LONG searches, so I usually watch the dogs ahead of us move, to get an idea of how long it’s taking between dogs.

There will be a walk thru, where you get to see the flow / path from parking lot to each element, and you get to look at, video or take pictures of, each element. While we always had a walk thru, we only recently got the chance to photograph and/or video the walk thru. This started when I was at NW3 w/ Quattro, and I would review the video of the element I was about to do before we went in, and then once I returned to my car, I would look at my video again, to remember where we’d found a hide.  As you move up in levels and have multiple hides, it is very common to get back to your car after a search, and say, wait, how many did I find in Room 2? Was that chair hide in Room 1 or Room 3?  It’s a little easier in NW1, but it’s still fun to look back at the search areas and remember what you and your dog did.

After the walk thru, there will be a Judge’s Briefing.  The Certifying Official, who is the one who places all the hides, decides on the vehicle placement, Interior room to use, etc, will go over some reminders and answer questions, and then introduce the judges (2) for the day.  They will ask who dog #1 and #21 are, and ask how much time they need to get ready, and things will get started!

There are warm up boxes available to use right before your run.  Remember, they are WARM UP boxes, not PRACTICE boxes. You’ve done all the practice, your dog knows what odor is and what a white box means, this is just to let them know that Hey, we’re here to do that sniffy thing you like to do!  Please don’t move the boxes around, when people do that, you get lingering odor in the grass or gravel, depending on where they are set up. You can do an approach from a different direction, to make it a different set up.  I typically do 2 passes, and then step away from the boxes! I also reward a quick sniff on the hot box (usually marked w/ a smiley face) – I don’t wait for anything fancy.  The boxes are pretty out in the open on the edge of the parking lot, so there can be a lot of distractions. I don’t worry too much about my dogs performance here, since it’s so different than the Container search they’ll be doing inside.

Typically, they split the entrants into 2 groups, and run say, numbers 1-20 on one element and then numbers 21-40 will do another element. Once the groups have finished their runs, the numbers continue, so dog 21 will run what dogs 1-20 did, and dog 1 will run what the other group did. The judges and volunteer crews will break for lunch once those two elements have run, and after lunch dogs 1-20 will do one element, and dogs 21-40 will do the other element, and switch until everyone has done all four elements.

Please remember, NW trials are based on the honor system! When you come back from Containers, and your friend / parking lot buddy has just done Exteriors, DO NOT give anything away about your search!  Even, He was so fast, he alerted right away! Or, Oh, that was tough, he took forever to ‘tell me about it’.  Stuff like that can get in people’s heads – Oh, it must the a box right up front! Or, Oh, this is going to be tough!  I want to go in with a clean slate and just focus on my dog, I don’t want other people’s opinions and experience floating around in my head.  And if your parking lot neighbor starts to talk about their Exterior search – “I thought he was going to pee on the… ” – plug your ears and say lalala, I haven’t run yet!  If someone asks me if I’ve run yet, and how I did, I just say, We had a lot of fun! or if they press, I might say, “no No’s, so that’s a good thing!”

After everyone has searched everything, you will gather for a Judge’s De-brief.  This honestly is one of my favorite parts of a trial… even if I’m volunteering, I stay to hear what they have to say.  The CO (Certifying Official) will talk about the hide placements, what she was thinking when she chose those locations, and a little about how the odor worked. He/she will turn it over to the judges, who will talk more specifically about how the odor moved and how the dogs worked it, and give some tips, although they are not allowed to go into in-depth training speeches. It is helpful to know, for example, that a lot of dogs had to work thru trapping odor on the red car, just like yours did, or that several dogs worked odor off the tree before getting the hide, like yours did.

And finally, there is the award ceremony.  There are ribbons for the top 3 placements in each element, there is the Harry Award (given to a rescue dog, who the judges get together and choose), and, if anyone gets a Pronounced designation in all 4 searches, there is a Pronounced award (see the NACSW website for details). And finally, there are 1st, 2nd and 3rd place awards for the teams who have the fastest combined times.  The first place winner also gets to bring home the hides – all the Qtips used that day are given to you in a metal box as a keepsake 🙂

Here are videos from Quattro’s NW1 trial in PA, back in 2016.  We’ve grown a lot as a team since then! But this is a little of what to expect at NW1.  Back then, there was no Interior videoing allowed, so this is Vehicles, Exterior and Containers. As I recall, this was an early June trial, with sudden hot, 80% humidity weather – yuck!  Looking back, wow, lots of improvement needed on vehicles, on both our parts, but I like how you can see him following odor to source, and not false alerting on the pooling / trapping odor. I liked our Containers search, and he was pretty direct in the Exterior search, although took a few seconds to pinpoint it on the table.

Here are Coach’s NW1 videos from November of 2017. This was a “local” trial, at a Boy Scout camp in Manchester, NH. Coach had turned one years old that day, making him just eligible to trial. I was super relaxed, thinking, who cares? He’s young, we have plenty of time to do another NW1 trial if we mess up. A lot of my students were also trialing that day, so I figured let’s just go and have fun, and hang in the parking lot w/ my friends. Since it was a local trial, several other students were there as volunteers, so it made for a fun day.  You may recognize Cynthia Fox’s voice in the Vehicle search 🙂 And Coach did really well! The Exterior search was the last search of the day, we went directly from Vehicles over to the Exterior search, and it was a cold, windy November day. We actually got held up before starting Exteriors, as about 15 score sheets blew deep into the woods and had to be tracked down!  But this was a fun day, and his focus and drive were a predictor of how he continues to search.

(There are 2 Vechicle video views, it’s not uncommon for the videographers to do that to capture the space, and at Elite, many times there are up to 3 videos, that some videographers will splice together for you)

Quattro was young, not quite 18 months, and had been neutered 2 months earlier.  Coach is intact, and as I mentioned, barely 1 yr old here.  This is different from when I did my NW1 with Jinxx, at 10 yrs old, and my adopted Great Pyrenees at 6 yrs old. They all had various experiences and maturity levels that they brought with them, and I’ve learned a LOT since 2010 and Jinxx’s first trial!  What I like about NW, is that it is you and your dog. Yes, there are placements for each element, and an overall 1st, 2nd and 3rd place awarded, but keep in mind that the environment (sun, wind, shade, etc) can all change from dog to dog, some dogs are in their prime, some are seniors, some handlers have trialed multiple dogs in NW, others are brand new to ANY dog sport, so really, in the end, it’s how you and your dog do in each search that matters.

I hope that helps give you a better picture of what NW1 is all about!  Good luck and have fun!


From Zero to Hero – No hides to LOTS of hides

Wow, I have been off my site for an embarrassing amount of time!  Between summer gardens to keep up with, 5 new classes a week in Manchester, trials, volunteering, ORT COing, Off Site trainings… I have not made time for the computer!

Well, I had some comments on last nights classes that I wanted to share, especially because, for various reasons (health – dog and human, weather, planned events, etc) they were VERY small classes, and I felt like these were too good to keep to ourselves.  It gave us the opportunity to do something different, that we probably wouldn’t have had time for if everyone was present, and was one of those exercises that made me think, man, I should do this with my OWN dogs!  I had this morning off, so that is exactly what I did!  I wanted to share some of the benefits, challenges and learning that occurred.

For the first class, (Mary & Gemma, Barbara & Macy and Christine & Reo), we did a blank room search.  Yup, the whole room, searched on leash, with no birch, anise or clove.  I had left 6 chair set ups up from my tricks class: 3 double chairs had their backs to the mirrors, and three double chairs had their backs to the agility equipment.  The grooming table that had all sorts of treats and my Tricks notes on it, was right inside the ring gates by the green rugs, and there was one of those blue Klimb tables w/ a shallow box of stuffed toys on it in the middle, and an agility table out past that, in front of the garage door.
The handlers knew it was blank (ie, no birch anise clove), and were instructed to have their dogs search / cover the 3 tables, and the 6 sets of chairs, as well as the edges – mirrored wall, back wall – but the agility equipment was out of play.  The dogs came in and all immediately started hunting… they went from chair set to chair set, the tables, on the agility table, checked out the stuffed toys but left them, and overall looked pretty bored and unenthusiastic, but going thru the motions of hunting target odor.  There was very little looking for food or crumbs, and no one decided to play with the toys.  There was one chair that all 3 dogs paused to sniff the corner of – like there had been dog slobber there – and there was a little interest in box of toys, but all moved on.  I think on the chair investigation, it was pretty clear that it was not target odor – the dogs were stock-still, no bracketing, going under, around or side to side on the chair, just standing still sniffing the corner of a chair.  Pretty clear that there was no target odor anywhere.
Run #2:
I put out “a whole bunch of hides” – at first I said 9, then realized I’d lost count and it was actually 12. Barbara and Macy came in first, and Macy was off and running.  WAY faster than her first run, more excited, happy to work, she pretty naturally went to the chairs, tables, and then the mirrors.  I believe they found 7 hides in like 4 mins.  When I realized there were more than 9 – oops, there are 12! – I figured we’d save the hides not found for the next run. Barbara came back in to watch Gem and Reo.  They mostly found the same hides Macy had – it also helped that I gave them a more specific start line, so Reo and Gem worked the grooming table hide, whereas Barbara and Macy were in a rush to get into the main body of the room / search area, and had missed it (remember to take your time at the start, and let your dog lead out – don’t rush in behind them). I think the most found was 7 or 8.
Run #3:
Man, the dogs were even faster this time!  I left all 12 hides where they were, and the dogs came in and quickly re-sourced the hides they’d already found. Now that the handlers knew where they were – I either pointed the previously missed hides out, or coached them before they left an area / hide, it was clear what the dogs were working.  A hide in the “corner” could have been easy to miss – once the handlers thought to go there, the dogs found it easily.  Most often, the dogs wanted to go from the grooming table to a polka dot chair, and skip the corner by the entrance door (there was a hide on the wall there). Then there was a hide on the wall of shelves, toys, junk at the back of the room.  It was in a little metal bucket, on a shelf nose-height to a German Shepherd.  Then there was one on the back garage door.  These were also missed in Run 2 – these missed hides were a good lesson in covering the search area.  Most times, we assume our dog will find odor if it’s there, but sometimes, they have to be guided / brought to an area before they pick up odor.  In the case last night, there was so much converging odor, that it was easy for the dogs to skip that corner hide in favor of either the polka dot chair or grooming tables hides, and in the case at the back of the room, there was a hide under the agility table that kept sucking the dogs in.  I think the hide under the agility table, although mostly inaccessible, unless they pulled a Quattro and snaked under, was SO open – SO much odor was available from every side of the table, that for dogs not as used to working out converging hides, they didn’t think there was a reason to check anywhere else.  Don’t forget, these hides are all fresh-from-the-ORT Qtips, so they are super strong, lots of odor.
I think it was good practice in leash management – how do I gently hold my dog back from re-alerting over and over to the hide under the agility table, and get them to move on? It was good learning for the dogs, that, hey, don’t give up on that more difficult hide in favor of an obvious hide, and it was a good example – over and over – for the dogs to work pooling odor and work it back to source.  There were chairs that had no hides on them, but behind them, there was a hide on the edge of the mirrors, and then a hide up on the leash hitch at the end of the mirrors.  The odor collected on the chairs perfectly, causing the dogs to circle the chairs, then figure out that the odor was coming from BEHIND the chairs.  It was really pretty to watch them go from chair to wall to chair to wall… oh! Pinpiont!  And none of the dogs pooped out – they were happy searching and finding, searching and finding, searching and finding… lots of success and lots of rewards!
For my 6:30 class, it was only Pam & Aspen and Barbara & Midnight.  Now that the room was a complete odor bomb, they did not have the luxury of working a blank area, unfortunately.  Barbara had Pam go first, since most of the hides would be blind for her (she may have seen Gem work a couple).  We told her there were *12* hides, have fun!  Aspen was zippy, drivey, motivated and clear – I think she had a ton of fun, and it’s clear she is feeling MUCH better after her arthritis medication.  One thing I happened to notice, is when the leash lightly tangled in front of her shoulder, she would alert farther from the hide, and not work around to get to source. I think the slight leash pressure was a restriction for her pain-wise, because on hides where the leash was behind her / alongside her, she was eager to move and circle around the object to get to source.  So, something Pam will be extra aware of… the leash will get tangled despite our best efforts, but now we can see it’ll be important to straighten it out quickly.
For Barbara and Midnight, now that Barbara knew where the start line was and where the hides were, they flowed smoothly thru the search area, and Midnight made short work of deciphering pooling odor on the chairs meant the hide was nearby… she was very quick to move from pooling odor directly to source time and time again.  Both Pam and Barbara sourced the 12 hides in about 5 minutes.
Round  #2
Ok, so what was I going to do to up the challenge?  Add more hides, of course!  I added *6* more hides – I had a difficult time coming up with new places to put them without adding more chairs, buckets, things to the search area.  I wanted the only change to be the additional hides, not objects.   THIS was a lot of fun.  The dogs ran in, psyched that they knew where a lot of hides were, but, now they worked the hides a little differently.  The additional hides made a new scent picture / puzzle… Midnight cataloged – she scoped out the joint before going back to get the work done, picking off hide after hide.  It was like once she double checked the existing hides, and made mental note of the new hides, she could get down to business. The additional 6 were blind to Pam (Barbara got to watch, them run it), and it was fun to see Aspen surprise her.  Me:  “That’s a Yes.“  Pam:  “Oh!  I didn’t even see that!  Aspen, you’re so sneaky!”   (It was a hide under the mat at the back of the room)  Me:  “Watch her… “  Pam:   “Oh! I see what she’s working.” (It was a high hide by the back door).  The dogs slowed down slightly between the hides, because in many cases,  there was a new hide between the already-found hides.  The handlers were ready to move on to the next known hide, but the dogs did an awesome job of over-riding their handlers, and staying in the area to work out the new problem.
One thing that stuck out here, was the importance of covering your search area… and the balance of honoring the dog who is driving to source.  Midnight was driving to the polka dotted chair, but Barbara, not wanting to be burned by missing the corner hide again, tried to put a hard stop on the leash and get Midnight to the corner.  Midnight overruled her, and continued to drive to the chair.   THEN Barbara was able to get to the corner.  Midnight is pretty strong and doesn’t mind the leash pressure, and Barbara realized Midnight was going to the polka dot chair hide no matter what, and honored her.  However, if you have a more sensitive dog, you would really kill their drive to source if you tried to change direction suddenly on them.  Honor the dog first, and THEN bring them on your path / pattern (which is what Barbara did).  Don’t make assumptions – on some of the chairs, the dogs would skim the fronts of the chairs, and find a hide on the front, but if you brought them down the line BEHIND the chairs, they would find a hide on a chair back that they’d missed previously.   Converging hides are challenging!  In one area, we had a chair hide (on the front corner of the chair they’d all shown dog interest in), a hide in the toy box on the blue table, a hide on the back of a chair, and a hide on the support bracket of the grooming table.  That’s four hides roughly the same elevations – with a hide flat on the floor at the base of the end of the ring gate.  Since Midnight and  Aspen are just at or over the elevated hides, it was really challenging for them to break the plane and get down to the floor on that one.   Overall, they found 18 hides in about 7-9 minutes.  Phew!
 My turn! Quattro and Coach – I did what the classes did, start to finish.  The first pass was blank, no target odor. They were racing around the room, flowing from chair set to chair set, checked out the toys first, and moved along at a good clip.  The only place they stopped, was the front underneath of the polka dot chair!  Quattro even tipped his head under there. Lingering from last night!    Next up, was 12 hides.  Now, the environment was not exactly the same as last night, so my runs were not carbon copies of yours. The 6:30 class had fresh dog and treat smells from my tricks class, and the 7:30 class had fresh dog and slobber smells from the 6:30 class.  The heat was not on this morning, and the sun was coming in the windows by the agility equipment.  I think the sun caused my dogs to work into the agility equipment more than I saw last night, which is interesting, and they didn’t seem to have as much of a challenge of “chairs to hide on wall” back and forth as last night, probably because the heat wasn’t pushing odor around.  The third pass, with 18 hides, was exhausting!  For me!  I was trying to remember what this dog had found, what we’d missed, or was that Quattro? Did Coach get this one already?  Oh wait, he got that 4 times… what did we miss?  The high hide by the back door was the most challenging… and I think the sun played into that. Both dogs really really worked the agility sand bags, the agility tire – high on the frame – the pole by the water buckets… I think the sun had the odor lofting up and away from source, only to land on the tire frame.  Barbara, you must have been exhausted last night, running 2 dogs!  At least my dogs are tired and have left me alone to type this!
I would not want to do this ALL the time, but it was a fun exercise in just letting the dogs flow thru an area, then come back in and pick off hides.  I most liked how they had to work converging odor, they had some high-low-high hides to sort out, and some areas of pooling odor (the chairs) when the hide was a little ways away (the wall).  What looked like a pretty basic set up, lent itself to loads of learning – and rewarding!  Pam commented that the dogs were ready to go around again… and again – they’d be happy if there were 24 hides out there.  They did not seem burned out, instead, they were a bit crazed!  Quattro and Coach were the same.  It was a nice drive building exercise – they had the excitement of being correct over and over and over… and that is motivating.
Now, if *I* were really motivated, I’d go do some outside hides in this crazy wind… hmm… I think I’ll day dream about summer…

The long awaited Adv SW **VIDEO**! From 7/2/19

I am so sorry this has taken so long to publish!  I hope it is useful in helping read your dog, your body language, and your dogs response to you and the odor.  It is about an hour long, and is 2 videos of Seun, Arther and Beans.  Each search is seen in real time, and then again in slo-mo, with captions.  There are areas I speed it up, which is also interesting to watch!

If I remember correctly, my goal for this class was a) to work outside b) to work thru distractions c) work multiple hides, some fairly close together and d) to learn about how the dogs are telling us there is more than one hide.  I think we hit all the check boxes, although you’ll have to let me know if the last goal was accomplished.

Weather: nice and cool – yay!  However, I didn’t realize it was going to rain on and off all evening, so, another check box (“worked in rain”).  The distractions came when the manners class let out, and agility class arrived – lots of comings and goings to start, which I did not video (this was when we worked the rotunda, in effort to stay out of the rain). Lots and lots of dog smells, dogs in line of site, dog and people noise, car doors closing.  I don’t recall the dogs who were working being at all distracted by all this… it was more the dogs waiting their turn who had to be kept occupied during the comings and goings.  The hides were somewhat simple, in that they were mostly on the white fence posts, either nose height or on the ground, yet the wet foliage certainly collected a lot of scent!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy!

Pre Int Agility **VIDEO** June 19, 2019

Last week, on a rainy day, I had some time between private lessons and set up a little course inside to run w/ my dogs.  I video’d our runs, which I don’t normally make the time to do, and it was helpful to see where I was going wrong.

I liked the course so much, I set it up outside (now that the rain had stopped) for my Pre Intermediate class.  I video’d the class, and you will see some bloopers, some areas sped up, and some slowed down.  I also spliced in my videos, as well, the same paths that I had you run.  You will see some of my bloopers and how we reset / redo the course.  I try to keep it fun, not get frustrated (since most likely I’m the one who made the mistake, not the dog), and mix up what we are doing, so none of us get bored.

Janice and Toby and Jennifer and Nala got lots of runs in, and both dogs found some really good stuff on the ground to eat and sniff.  My runs indoors with my dogs look a lot different!  I didn’t have the distractions of the field, and it was a smaller space.  We all started by working on a simple course – just jumps and a tunnel – but it was not easy.  The first run was a simple horse shoe shaped loop, and then we did a diagonal path, and tried some different crosses.

Here it is!




Rusty NW3 Trials **VIDEO**

Back at it, after four months of no trials and basically taking a lot of the winter off from NW.  While it was a nice break, and I got a lot of skiing in, I was definitely shaking the cobwebs off in April and May, with Coach’s two NW3 trials.  Since we have already titled 2 times at the NW3 level, one more title, and we become NW3-Elite… which makes us eligible to enter Elite level trials.  It would be a nice accomplishment, but we’ve had a few roadbumps along the way.  There was the Container search at the camp in Rindge NH where for some reason I thought he was alerting to food, and didn’t call it (he was right), then there was the trial at Franklin Pierce in Rindge, where he fringe alerted in the Exterior in the wind (I’ll blame him / experience / exposure for that).   It would be the December NJ (yes, New Jersey, not New Hampshire) trial for us to get our 2nd NW3 title.  So when people say, enjoy the journey, it can be a pretty literal description of NW!

Ok, so back to this year.  April in Foxboro.  Weather: low 40’s, spitting rain, wet grass from heavy rain earlier in the morning, and crazy wind, coming from every direction, with gusts blasting in every so often.  Note my hair and the  boundary flags in the Exterior search! We were team #30, which means there were times when they split the group in half, that we ran about 15th, and other times when we ran 30th (out of 33).  It was fun to catch up with some NW people, but due to the weather, I spent a lot of time in the car.

This trial was a mixed bag for us… I definitely felt rusty and not as confident in what I was seeing from him, and he had some moments where he worked differently than I expect.  First up was Vehicles, never our strongest element, but we always pass (knock wood!)  I am happy I read him correctly when he was sniffing dog or some other distraction odor on the back of a white van and not calling Alert on that (a few people false alerted on there).  I like his persistence in our Exterior search, and the fact that he searched hard without false alerting (there were wet wood pallets in grass that *I* was certain there must be a hide on, based on how hard he searched them.  It really distracted me to leave them, since I kept thinking we missed a hide there).   I am happy that he didn’t show any signs of peeing in the search area, which had lots of grass and the pallets looked like a good place to mark.  Inside, again, I am happy that he can search and search pooling odor without false alerting, and when he IS on it, he is clear.  And Containers, he does a nice job moving from Container to Container in a smooth efficient way.

So why wasn’t this our 3rd NW3 title?  I’ll let you watch and be the judge!  Get ready to critique, and list the ways and areas we went wrong, er, could do better.

Foxboro NW3 Trial 

Next up, was the May Connecticut NW3 trial.  Another day in the low 40’s, and instead of spitting rain, it was POURING rain, ALL DAY.  This time, I spent more time outside my car with the Maine contingent, Andy, Pam and Kathy, plus some old NW friends from MA.  I felt a little better this time, it was at a camp, not a school, although the bunk rooms were warm and felt heated.  Again, we started with Vehicles, then came Interiors, Containers and Exteriors.  And again, Vehicles were not our smoothest search (and this was after the Vehicles workshop I did, where I ran my dogs at the end, and of course they looked good working close to the vehicles there).  And again, we spent WAY too much time working pooling odor inside.  He is a really hard worker, which is nice, and he doesn’t false alert, which is even better, but… can be stressful when time is ticking!  At least I felt like we had covered *EVERY* inch of those rooms, and was pretty sure we didn’t miss anything.  Then came Containers… ah, Containers.  Again, he was moving from Container to Container in a smooth efficient way… until I called Alert when he had doubled back to investigate a container.  He had not tried to get a reward or tell me he’d found a hide, he was just interested in whatever dog slobber was on a container, and I called it.  And heard No.  As I was bemoaning the fact that yet again, we’d missed our chance at NW3-Elite, he alerted on a container.  Normally, at NW3, the judge just says Thank you and you walk out, but the judge told me to reward him, that he was on it.  Oh! Frustrating… we false in :09 seconds!  Last came Exteriors.  Luckily it was under a picnic pavilion, so it was not raining on us in the search, although it was coming down pretty good.  This felt more like the way we practice… smooth, fast, good coverage, clear alerts… it was a nice way to end the day.  We ended up coming in 2nd place in this search 🙂

I feel for 2 of my fellow Mainers, having missed one hide in Exteriors (at least they didn’t hear No) but am very happy for Andy and Cinder, who got their first NW3 title together!  Seeing his videos of V, C and E, I can see why they titled AND placed 2nd in Vehicles.  Nice work, team!

Here are my videos from Andover, CT:

Andover CT NW3 Trial

So, my take always from these two trials are many.

-practices in new locations, like mock trials and off sites, are really good practice for a real trial!

-keep your focus: in a search (don’t get hung up on thinking you missed something during a search, like I did with the pallets) and from search to search (don’t let one bad call bring you down or shake your confidence in your dog, yourself or your training for your next element).  I’ll use the Red Sox analogy that some of you heard.  Chris Sale, top pitcher in baseball, was pitching a no-hitter for the Red Sox.  He got to his personal record of strike outs at 15 – and I don’t mean someone hit the ball and an outfielder caught it for an out… he had the opposing team swinging and missing, or just standing in the batters box watching pitches sail by.  So he gets to 15 strike outs and is nearing 100 pitches, usually the time the manager replaces the pitcher.  He needs 2 outs to finish the inning, and possibly break his strike out record.  And, he makes a mistake.  The next batter hits a home run off him.  He is a very competitive player, and was visibly angry with himself.  Many pitchers will lose focus – throw a ball over the catchers head, to the backstop, hit the next batter.  Does Chris Sale do any of that?  No.  He buckles down, narrows his focus, throws 97 mph fast balls, and strikes out the next two batters, for a total of 17 strike outs, his new personal record.  I feel good that I was able to recover from a flubbed Container search and have a killer Exterior search… now I just have to remember to always do that, because that won’t be the last time something like that happens.

-know when to cut bait and trust that my dog will be clear when on source… if he is searching for more than 30 seconds and not coming up with an alert, move along!  There is probably nothing there

-take your time. There is no rush to call Alert… to quote Gail McCarthy, she is waiting until she is SURE her dog is alerting before she calls it.  If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right.  Don’t make something out of nothing.

-Coach is young… what is the rush?  If I was already in Elite with him, and we rush thru Elite, the next level is Summit, which allows for much fewer trials per year.  I don’t want to be looking down at the end of NACSW NW with my dogs, not yet.  I still have learning to do, and he still has teaching to do and many more experiences to gain.  I’m looking forward to enjoying more of the journey with my little blue dog.


Continue reading