True or April Fools!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

High and Deep **video**

What a happy find!

The past two weeks we’ve focused on hides that stymied my dogs in a training I did at home with them. I realised that we had challenges with hides that were elevated AND deep. It started with me setting a hide in Craig’s office, an area I rarely use, and I decided to just put one hide out in a place I don’t normally use – his desk. I chose a little drawer on the desk, that sits back off the edge of the desk. And this was soooo challenging for them! I ended up pairing it after Quattro searched for 5-6 minutes. I was expecting he would put his front paws on the desk and reach w/ his nose toward the drawer, although I underestimated both All Wheel Drive “Quattro“ and Let Me Show You How It’s Done “Coach” – both ended up ON the desk to source odor!

I decided since this was such a challenge, I should set up some more similar style hides and see if it was the particular hide that was challenging, or if it was the type of hide that was the challenge. High and deep was my theme, and I set up 3 hides in the basement that would meet that criteria.

One hide was on a shelf that had Klimbs (basically Klimbs are tables the dogs climb on) stacked below. They could jump up a couple levels to access the hide, but, from the floor, the tables in front of the hide made the hide deep, **note: I end up rewarding him just below source, one, because I could barely reach, and two, because he’d been searching for a looooong time and I wanted to reward all his efforts, and three, I was sure the odor was dropping into the wrapping paper just below source. He does end up putting his nose up a bit to source

All Wheel Drive Quattro

The second hide was on a shelf that they could just barely touch if they were on their hind legs. The tricky part was, it was on the side of a shelf, that was next to another shelf, that had a small entrance / gap in between. The dogs could easily fit in there, but, because the hide was deep, they had to work a bit to figure that out.

The third hide was supposed to be the recovery, easy hide. Ha! Famous last thoughts. This was nose-touchable, but was behind some plastic cones. Not a problem, my dogs would lean over the cones to get to source… or so I thought. Well, I didn’t take into account that the furnace and hot water heater were right there, producing warm air, which caused the odor to rise. This was way harder than I’d meant it to be! The odor was rising away from source and dropping and collecting elsewhere. The dogs had a very hard time following it back down to source.

The other thing I noticed about the hide placements, was that they were in complicated spaces. In other words, LOTS of STUFF for the odor to cling to, drop into, drift and land on. How to mimic that in class? Time to take a field trip out of the classroom!

My 9:30a class had the “cat kitchen” available to use, and we got one run in the 11a class before Ann came in to work in there. The “cat kitchen” has a counter w/ cupboards under it on one side of a narrow room, and on the other side, is a shelf similar to the one in my basement, plus a vacuum / Zamboni thing, along with some other “stuff”. Not to mention the empty bags of cat food on the floor, the cat beds, cat food prep area… in other words, LOTS of interesting smells that are not birch, anise or clove.

My hope was that the previous weeks searches would provide a good foundation for the dogs to build off of. We’d done “simple” container hides, but added food and toy distractions. We’d done the ‘chair serpentine’, that had the dogs problem solving and working hard to get to source. That background helped carry thru to this complicated area, with challenging hides. Note I only did one hide at a time, I did not need to add to the complexity by adding multiple hides.

For the 11a class, once we got booted from the cat kitchen, I used the utility closets. Densely packed, small areas that basically only the dog could fit in. For the 12:15p class, this whole concept was something very different for them to work thru, so we used the slightly bigger, but still small, agility equipment closet.

I realized I had forgotten my treats in the car, and I also realized that I should have paired the hides in these complex environments. I did borrow some for the 12:15p class, which helped, but there were some long, challenging searches for all classes!

Because these sessions showed that we still needed work in this area, and because some people were absent this week, we repeated the basic exercises the following week. This time, I started w/ some basic chairs folded leaning agains the wall, and we worked on pinpointing a hide that was unseen by the dogs, but was slightly over their natural reach. I also put some chairs in front of the folded chairs, making a slight obstruction to get to source. The dogs were very persistent here! They worked hard to get under, behind, around chairs to get their noses on source, which is something that is needed in complex areas.

After that warm up, we moved into the cat kitchen or utility / agility closets, where I paired the hides. The dogs seemed much more confident in these areas, and much more focused on their work than the previous week. While there was still some distracted sniffing, my hope is that the handlers can recognize when their dogs are sniffing distractions, sniffing because they are curious, or actually sniffing to hunt for target odor. Hopefully the containers with distractions helped in that area.

One thing I noticed, is many people only giving one or two treats after their dogs ignored (or worked thru) all those distractions and worked their way to source. When you watch me reward my dogs, I give LOTS of treats at each hide, and make a big deal verbally when they’ve found the hide. Studies have shown that dogs respond and retain information that is learned better when they are given treat after treat in quick succession, rather than a big treat, or a handful all at once. I couldn’t find the link to that study, but this link on dopamine, motivation and being happily surprised at an outcome is interesting and pertains to dog training: Basically, dogs will have more motivation to work harder, when they’ve experienced increased levels of dopamine. Every time they eat, their dopamine increases (like us). Therefore, the more treats they are getting, the higher their dopamine, the more motivated they will be to work longer at a harder problem. So when you present a dog with a challenging problem, having motivation to work hard to get to the end result is important to their success.

Ok, on to your videos!

9:30a Class 2/3/21

High and Deep – week 1

11a Class 2/3/21 – one run in the cat kitchen, 1 run in each closet

High and Deep – week 1

12:15p Class 2/3/21

High and Deep – week 1

2/10 11a Class Week 2

You’ll notice some dogs seem to have no problem with this set up, while others really struggle. My bad, for those who struggled, I should have realized the actual hide placement needn’t be that complicated, it was more that about getting those dogs comfortable in this new area and finding odor quickly and easily. I should have abandoned my “high and deep” goal when I saw the dogs struggling. For those of you who made this look easy, congratulations! Feel good about your success, as you can see it really WASN’T that easy. Some dogs missed week one, and that makes a difference, too. The more the dogs realize they can find and get rewarded for finding odor anywhere, even in a utility closet, they will become more efficient hunters. The successful dogs mostly have a lot more experience in various locations, and you can see how that helps. And lastly, don’t forget to be generous in your rewards!! I want the reward to be a punctuation on a job well done, not a snatch and chomp afterthought.

Happy sniffing, in new places with lots of stuff around!!

Chair Serpentine Challenge

I figured we’d done several weeks of general container-type searches, from our pre-holiday boxes, tins and containers, to last weeks open post-Christmas / post-shopping boxes, and it was time to work on a different skill: working around an obstacle to get to source.

While the boxes/containers prove good at getting the dogs to follow odor to its strongest source (‘never mind the odor pooling on the box lid, never mind the odor pooling on that other box, never mind the food and / or toy distractions, only odor pays’), there are times when actually getting to source is a challenge. By setting up what looks like a simple serpentine of chairs, we can really watch the dogs problem solve.

For some of the vertiacally challenged dogs, they could take the direct path, by going under the chairs. For the larger dogs, they may have been able to get a read on where source was, but to actually get around to it proved a bit more of a challenge. And for those vertically challenged dogs, sometimes just understanding to check the tops of the seats of the chairs was needed.

I did not do any under the seat hides, these were all hides fairly easily seen by the handlers from the start line, either on the edge of chair seats, or on the chair backs (seen in the mirror). Some dogs needed the handlers to take a step or two left or right, to sort of give them permission to “go around back” , while others got stuck in the corner of the column, trapped in pooling / trapping odor (that was on the chair back, not on the column). Knowing when your dog is “stuck” in an eddy of odor and understanding what works to “un-stick” them are good skills to have. Sometimes all it takes is a step or two, other times, a more dramatic move is needed to “pull” them out of the area, and regroup. Many times, dogs will work to a blank area and unstick themselves… let them go out of the search area briefly, so they can determine that, it is DEFINITELY not out here, I’d better get back to the area with all the scent. Many times that clearing their heads / noses will help them walk back in refreshed, and with a different approach.

Lastly, I placed some tins off the chairs, just to be sure the dogs were following their noses and not using their heads to search an area where they had been successful over and over. I placed the plastic screen out to collect some odor from the hide I set on the fence – this didn’t trip them up! They were drawn to the screen to pick up odor, but then worked into the corner to source.

Here are videos from the 12:15p class. We had done at least one search before I started recording, and then I mis-labeled a few towards the end, but here is what I recorded, in the order I recorded them.

Happy sniffing!

A Box is More Than Just a Box

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holiday Kick Off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Containers! Old-School NW2 & NW3 style

Cleaning out my basement on a rainy Monday, I was staring at a wall of shelves filled with bags, back packs, duffles, and carrying cases of all types. Back when I was first doing NW2 and NW3 trials with my first nose work dogs, those were the types of containers you could see in a trial, along with wheeled suitcases, flat computer bags, boxes and Tupperware style containers. It was a lot to practice, never mind find room to store! The thrift store that was near my house pre-COVID was a place I frequented regularly, as was Goodwill.

The NACSW found that since most trial hosts (who were responsible for providing the containers for trials) were doing the same (collecting bags from thrift stores and the like), they came with ALL SORTS of distracting smells. Who knew if that bag was used every day for a year, carrying someones lunch to work with them? Who knew if that suitcase was left in a closet, where cat decided to sleep on it? THEN the Certifying Official (CO) would add a food or toy distraction, AND the bags all had various levels of permeability AND the bags might collapse / fold in on itself, either creating a crater for odor to collect on a blank bag, or making it more difficult for the odor to escape… SO, the NACSW changed the containers used for NW2 and NW3. They now use white ORT boxes, black tool boxes, paint cans, cookie tins or tupperware containers. The metal cans have small holes in the lids, the others have enough room for odor to escape. There can still be food and toy distractions, but at least the odor escapes in a consistent manner.

Since I hate to waste anything, I couldn’t part with all those bags just yet. Plus, you could still run into that style container at Elite trials, Performance Scent Dog (PSD) or other venues. I think it is still good practice for dogs to understand how to search a floppy, lumpy bag. Of course, in a Container search, the whole bag is ‘hot’, the dog does not have to pinpoint. But since it’s training, I do like to wait them out a bit to see if they will pinpoint where the source is, if I clearly know where the tin/source is.

We started with the tin in an outside mesh pocket of a duffle bag. It was interesting to see the dogs do a quick sniff of each container and move on. They didn’t really SERACH each container. Now, this could be because they knew they were blank, but it could also show that they didn’t really expect that odor COULD be anywhere in the bag. Many times, the odor is only escaping from a zipper or bottom or end of the bag, and the dog really needs to cover the entire thing to realize there is odor there. By changing the placement of the hot duffle bag, so that the outside pocket w/ the tin was facing away from the start, facing the corner of the room, facing another bag, facing out to the edge away from the other bags – they really had to SEARCH each bag to find source. They figured this out after their first run, and it was interesting to see them check each bag. None of them said, after 2 runs, Oh! It’s in the blue duffle bag! They checked each bag.

Of course, for my more experienced dogs, this was pretty simple, and I couldn’t do run after run of quick easy searches, there had to be SOME challenge added in there. I had a black cotton duffle bag that I tossed some dehydrated Instinct treats into, and man, that sure upped the challenge! The mildest reaction, were the dogs who paused and gave it a good sniff before moving on, the most extreme were the dogs who sniffed, chewed, dug at it, picked it up, dug and bit it some more… Now, some trainers don’t like the dog exhibiting that behavior, and would have you call them off, or even say Leave it! Me, I like dogs who make the decision on their own, and when the decision matches what I want for an outcome, I am quick to reward. That means, waiting them out, letting them realize I am not going to unzip the bag for them, they are not going to be able to get into the bag (make sure of that before you try this!), and AS SOON AS they start to move away, I go with them, and AS SOON AS they dip their heads to the ‘hot’ bag, I REWARD GENEROUSLY along with lots of praise. The dog learns that a food reward does not come from them biting their way thru a bag, it comes from me, and I only give the food reward when they are at source / the hot bag. At first, I am not looking for any fancy behavior, like a freeze, look back, nudge, whatever they normally display at source. I want to quickly reward the sniff at odor. It reinforces the fact that odor pays, and that it pays to leave a food distraction to get to odor.

Well, after my first class, I saw Tracy throwing out some garlic chicken she had used for her Beginner class. I went dumpster diving, and we used a REALLY high value treat for the 6:30p class. This I put in a little lunch box from Target that had a graphic of Barbie and a chihuahua on it. This was zippered shut, but obviously leaks a lot of odor! Several dogs tried to take Barbie home with them and forget about class! Again, as painful as it is to watch your dog try to chew thru a container, by waiting them out, they eventually realize they are not going to get into the bag, they might just pause and look up, and that is the perfect time to re-cue them (‘Search!’, ‘Find it!’ Etc) They got better at this as we moved the odor and distraction containers around and they did several reps. The intensity of trying to break into the bag lessened, and they moved to odor quicker.

For this past week, I used the same containers (plus a few new ones – suede flasks) and the same hot blue duffle bag. Except this time, instead of being in the outside mesh pocket, the tin (I used both Clove and Anise, double the odor) was inside the empty duffle bag. This presented a different scent picture to most of the dogs. Here we had been working on pinpointing the last few weeks in classes, and now, the tin was inaccessible… meaning, odor was available, but they could not nose-touch the source. Another situation where I want to reward quickly and not wait for anything fancy, at least to start. The more experienced dogs had little issue with this, but for the greener dogs, used to being able to pinpoint, this was more of a challenge. It was so fascinating to see them check the hot bag, leave it for a nearby bag, go back to the hot bag, leave it for a different nearby bag, go back to the hot bag, try ANOTHER nearby bag – basically trying to determine that yes, this bag has the strongest scent, and ruling out nearby bags that have no odor or really weak pooling odor.

Once everyone had a few runs with this new odor puzzle (weaker odor, source not available), I brought back in the food distractions. This week, the black duffle bag had Smartfood popcorn in it (no real interest from the dogs) and Barbie had bacon grease w/ some scallop drippings wrapped in tin foil in it. Now THAT was a winner! Lots of interest from many dogs in the bacon grease.

After Tuesday evenings classes, Tracy let me know there was LOTS of left over pizza in the conference room, along with several empty pizza boxes. So, I added 3 pizza boxes to the mix for Wednesdays classes. Come to find out, one box had lots of cheese still in it… mmmm! The papillon was the most aggressive about trying to get into that box!

I also had everyone do some different handling this week. This week, I had you walk past your dog at source (Sacrilege! I know)… I asked you to pretend you were in a trial, and didn’t believe your dog (not that THAT’S ever happened!) If your dog dug in and stayed at source, go back quickly and reward! A little pressure on the leash and still your dog stayed at the hot bag? Go back and reward! Your dog walked off the hot bag to come along with you? Ok, well now we know they are more obedient to you than the odor, which, in the big picture, isn’t a BAD thing, its just good to know. They might move on, but as soon as they went back to the hot bag, quick reward.

Then, when I brought the food distraction bags out, if they spent time investigating the food, you were to walk in closer to them. Yup, that’s right, as if you were coming in to reward them. Because that’s what we do in a trial / blind search. We see our dog display some sort of interest, and we think it could be a hide, so we move in closer, and start to reach for our treats… Sometimes the dog looks up, like, What are you doing? I was just sniffing! Sheesh. (Levi comes to mind) Other times, stepping in provokes a true alert behavior – a firmer look, a paw, or even an excited spin! (I’m talking to you, Ziggy!). That happened to Quattro and I at the Halloween search we did, where there were witches and ghosts hanging from the ceiling… I saw Quattro trying to hunt down source (he’d already found a nearby hanging hide) and I moved in, and started talking to him – Is that it? Really? And that combination of me moving in and talking to him, provoked a full on freeze – and false alert. Something he rarely does, hopefully because I rarely do something like that!

Back to class… Once you moved in while your dog was investigating a distraction bag, and they either looked up at you or did a full on alert, you just stood there and did nothing. This had them realize the gig was up… “Oh, yeah, haha, just kidding, let me go to source”. My goal for both the walk past your dog at source and move in closer to your dog on a distraction, was to have your dogs realize that you are not tipping them off to anything. We want them focused on source and only vaguely aware of what you are doing. My favorite example of this, was the time I was doing practice in the rain. Quattro had found one hide in the backyard, and I knew I had more farther away at the other side of the yard. So once he found the first, I moved towards where I knew the next hide was (bad trainer! I was even ahead of my dog!) I was watching him over my shoulder, and I see him start to sniff the lawn… was he going for an acorn or animal dropping? No, wait, he’s in a freeze, his alert! But there was no hide there? He was so convincing, I walked over to him and looked… and lo and behold, a tin had fallen out of my pocket! That was a great example of odor obedience, and him not being concerned that I was moving off without him.

Enough talking, let’s see some video! I did not video each class, but I have to say, I was really impressed with my greener noontime class and the food distractions. I did not present the food to them last week, I felt the bags were enough of a challenge, but this week, they showed they quickly solved the inaccessible odor problem, so I added a low-ish value food distraction, then another high value distraction. They did awesome! The other thing I did for some of the classes, was that for the last run, I placed the tin back in the outside mesh pocket of the hot bag. This way, the dogs had something to source, and they got excited to source the tin! It was also great to see that they seemed to know the hide was now available to them, and you could see them work from the top of the bag, down the end to the tin. All those sourcing exercises paid off!

*I apologize for some of the naming on these videos… I list Avery as Henry in the first video (oops, sorry Avery) and then Sandy and Winry I list twice as run #5, but they are actually 2 separate videos. I can’t figure out how to rename the videos! Anyway, this was fun class and you can really see the improvement!

5pm Tues evening class
6:30p Tues evening class
9:30a Wed morning class
11:00 Wed morning class
12:15p Wed class

I’m sorry I did not video our second session of Containers in the Tues or Wednesday morning classes, because there was a HUGE improvement over the food distractions. But, here is the video of the 12:15p class on their second week of container searching, which includes food distractions. Really nice work!

12:15p Wed class – week 2 on Containers

Happy viewing!

Pin Pointing = Skill Building

Last weekend, I went to video for one of my former students who is in training to become a Certifying Official for the NACSW (she is also a current CNWI, and an AKC judge). The CO is the person who plants the hides in NACSW, and chooses the search areas at a trial site, figures out the path to the search areas, how long a search should take, basically oversees the whole operation. As part of her CO certification, she must set up a vehicle search, and video dogs running it. So, she offered it up to some students and I was able to watch and video for her.

One of the hides she was required to set up, was a “seam hide”. Now, normally in NACSW, the Vehicle hides are in a trailer hitch, under a license plate, in a wheel, but, she set a search up with those requirements. She placed a tube w/ scented Qtips in a door seam, and dog after dog, struggled with this. The only 2 dogs who got it fairly easily, were 2 Summit (highest level) level dogs, who were just brought along for the ride, and pulled out to see what they would do with it. No problem, they said! They have seen seam hides, or flat surface hides as I call them, before.

So, it made me think… have we done “flat surface hides” in class recently, or, at all? One way to practice is to put a hide in a cupboard and crack the door to start. Once your dog figures that out, you can place a hide in a cupboard / cabinet / desk drawer / filing cabinet and close the door. Odor escapes, and it’s fun to watch the dog work up and down the seam until their nose lands just opposite where the hide is.

Short of brining a cabinet or bureau into the training space, I brought in my scent sticks! I haven’t used them in years. A student (one of the Summit dog handlers) had made them for me years ago. Basically, there are pre-drilled holes you can stick a Qtip into, and you butterfly clip the two pieces of wood together. There is a channel or groove left in between the two pieces, so odor will travel up and down / back and forth the groove, shooting out the ends.

We started class w/ one scent stick w/ one birch Qtip in it, placed across 2 chairs. Piece of cake! What, one hide? Front and Center? How tricky could that be, there isn’t even any hunting involved, really.

Well, the dogs worked the first one ok, but as I moved the stick from the chair seats to the floor (all kinds of air currents down there!) to up against the wall, to leaning on a diagonal against a chair or wall, then added an Anise then added a Clove stick, things got a little trickier! The goal / object was to only reward them when they were AT SOURCE. That one little Qtip, not the end of the stick (where odor was surely shooting out) and not a sweeping wave of the head “hey, there’s odor here!”, but nose on the Qtip.

Well, this little “search” / exercise, really was a challenge for these guys! We were asking them to be so precise, it really used a lot of brain cells. For my greenest class, I paired, placing a treat on top of the Qtip, either on top of the scent stick or in the groove on top of the Qtip itself. I was looking for the dogs to work the channel, then pause / nose punch / stop at the Qtip.

I didn’t video every run, but here is a sampling. I hope that this exercise not only helped the dogs understand how to follow odor to its strongest point of source, but also helped the handlers see what their dog looks like when they hit SOURCE not just odor.


The numbers are not necessarily the placement of your runs, just that I uploaded 1,2, 3 or 4 videos

** Bonus feature **

Quattro and Coach working the scent sticks at home. Note my bad timing / reward placement w/ one of Quattro’s searches – he was ON it, I don’t reward, but reward when he is about 4“ to the right of it!?! I don’t know what I as seeing… most of my timing / placement is pretty good, but this gives you an idea of how we can confuse the dogs – is it SOURCE that pays, or ODOR that pays? It should always be the strongest point of source odor. My bad!

Note he is on it right away, then I reward when he moves off?? Not sure what I was seeing there! But I end up rewarding him at source when he goes back

Quattro working elevated pinpointing

Your First NACSW Trial – COVID Version

Ok, I was going to send something I’d already written out for previous students, but then realized there were several changes thanks to COVID, so I’ve updated it to reflect the changes. Sorry for all the strikethroughs!

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.  I think they are checking folks in here now, at least, that’s what we did at the trials I was in this fall and the ones I volunteered at. Not sure if they will give you a number, but in the past, most hosts will give every competitor their run order # to put on your car. This way, if the volunteer flipping numbers is looking for you, they know where you are parked. 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 do not need to park with the reactive dogs if you have a reactive dog that needs extra space! But, please put a red bandana on them or attach it to your dogs harness or leash, if they haven’t worn one before. Dogs are not allowed to meet and greet anyway, but the red bandana just indicates that your dog would like some extra space.  

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 on the run order, 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, to know when to get ready. But, the volunteers flipping the numbers will try to get an eye on you so you don’t miss your turn. It’s nice if you let them know that you are watching and let them know where you’re parked, as your number gets close.

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 arrive, 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. **Update** there will be a video posted here: of your search areas. The Certifying Official will walk the trial site with the host and Volunteer Coordinator, and decide on the search areas for the weekend. They will video the searches and let you know the boundaries and start lines on Friday evening. This gives you a chance to have a good idea of what you’re walking into with your dog before you get to the start line. I look for ‘things’ like chairs, tables, objects that I might want to make sure my dog has checked… BUT, I let the dog lead the way first. If my dog looks lost, or we’ve been searching for a while, I want to be aware of what we may have missed, and be sure he’s checked it. But I know your dogs – they won’t need assistance! I like to review the video right before and after my search, just so it’s fresh in my mind before we go in, and then I can review and remember where we had been when I come back to the car.

After the walk thru, there will be a Judge’s Briefing.  

You will be told when the “briefing” will be. This is where the trial host will introduce themselves, the Certifying Official, and the judges. 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 dog # xx 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 / RECOVERY 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. If you move the hot box around, you are leaving lingering odor on the blank boxes, and the next dog could false alert, making the handler nervous before their run! You can do an approach from a different direction, to make it a different set up for your dog.  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. The idea is just to give them a reward at source (the hot box) to sort of prime them… it is not a test, again, don’t worry about any look backs, freezes, etc.

Typically, they split the entrants into 2 groups, and run say, numbers 1-15 on one element and then numbers 16-30 will do another element. Once the groups have finished their runs, the numbers continue, so dog 16 will run what dogs 1-15 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 1-15 will do a new element, and dogs 16-30 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 be the 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 can hang around and wait for the score room to finish up. The CO will do a brief re-cap / summary, and will read off who came in first – third place for each element, as well as overall for the day. 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, 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 🙂 Due to COVID, the CO will make an announcement as to who placed 1st, 2nd and 3rd in each element, and then the overall placements. The ribbons are now self-serve, and they will line up your scoresheets alphabetically on a table. So, even if you did not get a ribbon, make sure you get your scoresheets! Many times, the judges will jot down brief notes on your search, and you can look for the illustrious P. The Pronounced designation is when the judge feels the teamwork, the dog’s motivation and focus for the search, the leash handling, the whole package, stand out. Definitely something I look for on my scoresheets!

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.

Quattro NW1 Containers
Quattro NW1 Exterior
Quattro. NW1 Vehicles

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.

Coach NW1 Containers
Coach NW1 Vehicles (one shot)
Coach NW1 Vehicles (2nd shot)
Coach NW1 Exteriors

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.

Ok, and lastly, here are some old videos of my first NW dogs, just so you know I didn’t always have fast dogs! Jinxx was about 9 or 10 here, in the first NW trial on the east coast. The judge didn’t want to say ‘No’ when we fringed on the vehicle! He is a really nice guy and I always enjoy trialing under him when he judges. Isabelle / Izzie, the Great Pyrenees, we adopted when she was 5 and her owner (our neighbor) passed away. She was totally shell shocked here – she hated electronic beeps from the timers, cameras, the coffee machine at home, etc. But, we got it done! Seeing my hand behind my back drives me nuts – please use both hands on your leash, you do NOT have to ‘hide’ the treat behind your back!

Izzie NW1 Containers

Here is my very first NW1 Vehicle search. We fringe alerted on the wheel well, about a foot+ away from source. Which was a seam hide!! Note you don’t see those very often anymore in NW1.

Jinxx NW1 Vehicles

Here are some general trial guidelines, no matter what level you are at.

  • Read the rules!
  • Do NOT bring odor to the trial site!  Your dog knows what odor is, they know they get rewarded for finding it, you do NOT need to practice in the hotel the night before, and you do NOT need to practice at the trial site – big no-nos!  The warm up boxes are just that – to be used once or twice on your way in to your search, and if you want, on the way out.  Quattro won’t let me pass them by coming or going without sprinting to them to get an easy treat!  Please do not pick up or move the odor box.  Leave it in place, and if you want, you can move the blank boxes around the odor box, but really, you are only doing one or 2 passes, so they should not be touched.  You risk spreading odor on the ground, so the next dog may alert to a blank box that is sitting where the odor box had been.
  • Bring a chair, lunch, water for you, water for your dog, a bowl for your dog, extra clothes from rain gear to snow gear, your shade cloth if you have one, fans if you have them, leashes, treat pouch if you use one, really good special treats (more on that later), and a good attitude!
  • Remember to take your dog out only when you really feel like they need to go to the bathroom.  After you’ve used the facilities yourself is a good time to take them out, then one or 2 dogs before your run.  They really don’t need to be in and out of the car a million times.  Just passing other dogs coming and going to the searches can be mildly stressful / stimulating for your dog, and remember, it’s a long day.  You want them sharp, and keen to search and work for you, not burnt out walking laps back and forth, navigating other dogs and people, smelling all those dogs smells, seeing golf carts whiz by, having dogs bark at them as they walk by cars.  My dog sleeping in his crate is just fine by me!
  • Once your dog is comfortable (water in crate, shade cloth on if needed, windows open or closed depending on weather) and you have time before the briefing, you can review the search area videos. After your search, look at them again.   I find they are good to go back to when I forget where the hide was!  Many times the searches are a blur, and I get back to my car, thinking, WHERE did he find that hide?  I take a look at the search area videos, and it all comes back to me.
  • Find some positive, calm people to talk to and hang out with.  I personally do not like drama, or people who are all gloom and doom, so I tend to avoid them.  I don’t want to waste the mental energy dealing with that, or get sucked into their misery.  The more normal of a day I can make it, the better off I am, and I’m sure my dogs are, too.
  • Remember, you’re finding birch, not bombs, and whatever happens, happens.  Yes, you’ll make mistakes you wish you could turn back the clock and fix, and Yes, you will hear ‘No’ at some point in your NW career, but try to think objectively about WHY you heard No, and why you made the handling error.  It’s near impossible to recreate the trial, and you don’t want the ghosts of trials past haunting you in your next trial, but if you can break down what went wrong, you can work on that.  Did you call it too soon, before your dog got all the way to source?  The good news is, you were correctly reading that your dog was in odor.  Now it’s just a matter of watching to see when THEY make the decision that they’ve gotten to source.  Did your DOG make the decision too early?  Maybe in your next practices, be sure to only reward at source, and maybe go back to pairing for a while.  Did your dog have a freak out moment about slippery floors, people, noises, small spaces?  You can work on those things w/out nose work, by bringing your dog to your bank , pet supply store, outside a shopping mall etc.  Bring lots of treats, and work a distance your dog is comfortable with, rewarding forward motion.
  • Trial rewards – I use something different than I do in practice.  I don’t want to leave crumbs, I don’t want a lot of crunching (esp when there are multiple hides) but I want something special that my dog loves.  I’ve settled on roast beef (I have the deli slice it 1/4″ thick, then I cut it into little cubes), sliced string cheese, and gold fish crackers.  I throw the crackers in w/ the roast beef – that way, they absorb some juice, and get a little soft.  I also throw in some Stella and Chewy’s Meal Mixers, which also absorb some roast beef juice.  But – use what your dog likes, preferably something not crumbly, that they can eat quickly.  No one wants a fault for dropping treats, even if your dog drops it, you could get a fault! You can still get your NW1 title, but getting a fault will affect your placement. So be careful handing over treats, and in a trial, I only give one or two treats at source, to be sure we don’t drop any. At home, I am very generous and can be sloppy w/ my treats.
  • Another point on nerves – what is the worst that can happen?  The judges have seen it all, and being professional working K9 handlers, they too, have heard ‘No’ in tests and trials during their careers.  I think I’ve made every mistake, from blurting a false alert to talking my dog into a false alert to forgetting to search one whole side of a vehicle to searching too long and having my dog pee.  It’s not the end of the world!  You don’t have a bad dog, you are not a bad handler.  Even Tom Brady has an off day.  Take a deep breath and regroup.
  • No matter if you come home with a ribbon or it turns out to be your worst showing ever, it is all a learning experience for you and your dog.  Take a few key highlights (or lowlights, as the case may be) and make a plan from there.  Be sure your highlights outnumber your lowlights by 4:1.   It’s easy to have that ratio reversed, and that’s not good. Your dog does not care about any stinking ribbon, anyway! And trust me, the judges are all pulling for you. Neil, the first judge in Jinxx’s Vehicle video, has always remembered our first searches, commented on our improvements, and remembered Izzie’s story. The judges love what they do, and are rooting for you and your dog!

I hope that helps give you a better idea of what to expect!

Birdhouses, Pigs and Leaves

November 10 & 11 classes were a change from the past few weeks. Instead of large search areas, we worked little containers! We first did a couple runs with half a dozen blank birdhouses and one birdhouse that had birch Qtips in it to get them acclimated to the birdhouses. I added a birdhouse with anise, and then for the Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning classes, I added 3 piggy banks, one that had birch in it.

Even though these were all “containers”, the dogs reacted very differently to them. The birdhouses had 3 Qtips stuck just inside the “door” of the birdhouse. Lots of odor was able to escape from the door opening. Not much if any odor came out the top or sides, meaning if the dogs went by it the wrong way, they did not pick up any odor. And since the birdhouses were on the floor, the odor would come out and then run across the smooth floor inside, collecting and pooling on the nearest object, whether that was another birdhouse or the chairs on the side of the room.

In contrast, the piggy banks only had the slit in the top for odor to escape. The 3 Qtips were stuck inside on the bottom of the pigs, not exactly near the slit, so the volume of odor came across differently to the dogs.

Tuesday nights’ classes worked the containers in various patterns – random scatter, a straight line, and a “speed” set up (three groups of 3 containers, with a hide in each grouping)

Wednesdays’ classes had the luxury of being able to work outside! We started inside to warm them up on the containers, then moved outside. When I am working exteriors in training, my initial goal is to keep it simple and straightforward for my dogs. I know it’s fun to go to a new place and decide, Wow! I can put a hide way up here! Or make an inaccessible hide deep in this thing! When really, I want my dogs set up for success. Success to me is:

-Independent searching

-Minimal interference / guidance from me

-Enthusiasm for the job

-Focus on hunting

From me as a handler, success means:

-Good treat delivery – fast and accurate

-Good leash handling – giving them what they need, restricting them when they are clearly going out of bounds

-Not standing by the hide, but if I do need to step in, guide them near the hide, close enough to where I think they will pick up odor and lead me to it

So for doing our outside searches, to accomplish those goals, that might mean pairing, limiting the dog away from the grassy area w/ pee, limiting them to just beyond the defined boundaries before gently bringing them back, and making sure they’ve covered the area (ie, by the building), and working on leash management and treat delivery. Start small – a small area with familiar items (hence we started w/ the containers inside before moving outside) and then expand the search area (placing a container or 3 on the grass, setting a hide outside of a container on the building)

I think the dogs did great! It was windy, there were a ton of dead leaves, it was tough for us humans to even see the birdhouses (luckily the dogs see with their noses, so they had no problem picking them out) and there were plenty of distractions – the peanut gallery on the other side of the fence barking at us, planes going overhead, smells from footprints and dogs who had peed in the grass. If you think about the differences in substrate, a smooth rubber floor vs the grainy pavement w/ leaves all over, the odor is going to act very differently. Knowing how your dog looks when they are chasing fast moving odor on a smooth floor following inside air currents, looks very different than your dog picking up odor on all the leaves as a breeze comes and goes.

Ok, without further ado, here are the searches I video’d of the Wed 12:15p class. Keep in mind, these are probably the greenest dogs of the 5 classes I teach, so I paired everything. They are also the most challenging class in that most of the dogs like to stare, but not be stared at, so just walking by other dogs without reacting is a major accomplishment!

November 11, 2020 Wednesday 12:15 class Containers outside

So those are some tips as to how I would / did start my dogs working in distracting areas outside. Small search area, familiar items for them to check, pair, and keep it short and sweet. As they show they can handle it, I’ll increase the size, place the containers in more distracting or challenging locations, and probably continue to pair. I paired every hide in the training session I did with Coach before our Elite trail at Hadlock Field in Portland ME last month, and guess what, we came in first place overall! So pairing is NOT remedial, or a cop out, or whatever. I know sometimes it can be personal pride to do hides unpaired, or “let’s just see how he does… “, but really, many times, that’s not good enough for me. I want to keep my training goals in mind at all times: Independence, Focus, and Enthusiasm. If treats help in that regard, so be it. I mean, I like shopping, and if we went into a store that was giving out Lindt chocolates, Wow, I’m going back to that store!

So my Tuesday classes did not get to work outside, which is shame on me, since it was warm out, and my Wed classes did not work the pigs outside, since I figured the leaves and environment were challenging enough. But hopefully that gives you some ideas for success when you set up hides outside in a new environment.

Happy hunting!

Accessible vs Inaccessible

Once you leave Novice / NW1 in nose work, you could run into inaccessible hides in your search. What is in inaccessible hide? It is a hide the dog cannot put their nose right on. Accessible is a hide the dog can pin point, and put their nose on. Of course, in a trial, you will not see the hides, so there may be a slight distance between the dogs nose and the hide.

For example, you could have a hide in a cupboard, and the hide will be on the inside of the door, right at the seam. You can’t see it, but the dog is able to slide their nose up and down the seam, until they settle on the gap in the door right at the hide.

An inaccessible hide may be taped to the middle of the door or deep on the shelf inside the cupboard. You will see the dog sniff all around the door seams, try to get in the back of the cupboard, try to get in from either side of the cupboard, sniff around the edge of the door, and finally decide on a location to “tell you about it” (or, demand payment from you)

Basically, because we’ve trained the dogs to go to source, that the reward from you comes when they are on / at source, they will work pretty hard to pinpoint the hide, and get all the way to source. Once they determine that they are as close as possible to source, they will ask for payment from you.

The challenge can come when you have 2 hides, one they can pinpoint, and one they cannot. Again, we’ve trained them from the beginning to go to source, so that will most likely be the one they go to first. They may pick up odor on the inaccessible hide, but give up on it, leave it, and find the familiar accessible hide. If you bring them back, and prevent them from going back to the hide they’ve already found, you’ll see them work hard to pinpoint the inaccessible hide. When that is not an option, they will ask for payment.

With practice, the dogs get faster and faster at making a decision, and there are some trials where I can’t tell which was accessible and which was inaccessible. And since there are both types of hides in a search, pinpointing is still important! Because of that, I try not to do too many inaccessible hides, because I don’t want my dog thinking 18” away from source is always going to pay. The other thing I do in training to make sure source is still important to my dogs, is to open up the inaccessible area so the dog can get to source and be paid. That could be opening up a cupboard, moving a screen, giving them access to source, then paying them once they get there.

Here are some examples from class. I accidentally uploaded the videos in reverse order, so keep that in mind as you watch. We had ended w/ 4 accessible hides to really reinforce SOURCE as being important. Then you’ll see the searches had an easy, familiar accessible hide (on a chair) and a deeper, inaccessible hide. I kept the hides fairly far from each other, so the dogs would not continuously try to get to the familiar, accessible hide. And, the maze was pretty fun! We hadn’t done a maze in a while, and some had never done it. I think the dogs enjoy the feeling of success coming out of the maze, like we do when we find our way out of a corn maze!