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.


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Pre Int and Upper Beginner Agility **VIDEO**



Here is what both my Wednesday Pre Intermediate class and my Thursday Upper Beginner classes did this week.  My goal was, to quote animal trainer Bob Bailey, do something “simple but not easy”.  Two jumps and a tire, that’s it?  Two posts and a set of 6 weave poles?  But I think you found that the short sequences did require some thought… on how to position yourself and your dog, and they required you to be on your game as far as timing went.

I tried to put some comments on the videos, things I either didn’t notice live, or were hard to articulate quickly, that stand out when you slow down the video.  I need someone to do this for me and my dogs!  I have to get my tripod set up and video some of my practice sessions with them, because you really see a lot more watching it back.  Things that in the moment have you frustrated with your dog for doing (or not doing), that when you watch it back, you realize, he did exactly what you told him to do!  I know I owe my dogs a lot of apologies… Quattro is famous for taking off sniffing the floor when he senses my frustration (which is usually with myself, not directed at him, but he still feels it)  You’ll hear me comment a couple times when we see the dogs drift off sniffing the floor.  Remember to stay upbeat and interesting, don’t take yourself or the mistakes too seriously.  Our dogs are only doing what they think we want them to do, and sometimes, we are not very clear, or, we inadvertently tell them one thing when we mean another.  Talk about demotivating for a dog!

Agility is so much about timing and direction.  Of course, the dogs (other than Jenny) are still learning how to perform the obstacles, but for the “easier” obstacles, like our opening of 2 jumps and a tire, it’s all about timing and direction.  For an experienced dog like mini Schnauzer Jenny, Carol doesn’t have to be as obvious with her hand signals, Jenny just uses muscle memory and experience to guide her, as much as Carol’s placement in relation to the obstacles and Jenny.  There are still things to learn, however!  That is what makes agility so fun and challenging… a simple sequence (jump jump tire) can use a lot of mental calories for you AND your dog to figure out.  Since both of these classes are relatively small, you get a lot of runs – which is great! But, watch out for mental fatigue – from both your dog and yourself!  I know on Wednesday nights, when I am running Coach in class at 7:30p, I’ve usually done a private lesson, taught the 5:30 class, run Quattro in the 6:30 class and then have to have the mental energy, timing and patience to run Coach – who at this point, has been in the crate in the car since 4p!  Figuring out how to motivate and stay focused is as important as running the course, so you’ll see I left some blooper ready moments in there.

For the Pre Int class, we may do more of the jump posts and weave poles combo… I really like the flow you can get into with your dog, it helps them learn to wrap the post tightly (for when you want them doing a jump and changing direction right after it) and you get to work the poles from both your right and left sides.  I think the dogs enjoy the groove you both get into 🙂

For the Thursday class, we’ll do something that requires a little less thinking on your part next week.  I know when I am really focusing, everything slows down for my dog, and my heavy concentration can sometimes cause him to doubt himself.  Once you are confident in what you’re doing, you will see your dogs become more confident.

I put both classes videos here, since you pretty much did the same program.  Happy viewing!



Getting out

Wow, April is quickly approaching, which leads into trial season. There is an OUTSIDE chance that Quattro and I could get off the waitlist and into the Summit trial in Kennebunk on April 13 & 14th, Coach and I are entered in a NW3 trial in Foxborough MA on April 20th, Coach and I are also entered in a NW3 trial in Connecticut on May 11, and then there are the 3 Element trials the dogs are in in Fryeburg ME on Memorial Day weekend. I have to enter Quattro in Beth’s Kittery trial in June… there is just a LOT coming up!

And I have been a bit of a slacker on my training, taking NW off between our NJ trial in mid-December, until about mid-January. I did a lot of house / basement hides in Jan / Feb, during bad weather, but realize I HAVE to get out to new places. The dogs know most of my at-home hiding places, and in their home territory, birch, ansie or clove really stand out as something different in the environment. When you work in a new environment, the nose work odors are competing with all sorts of novel smells for your dog, whether that is food crumbs, industrial cleaning smells, wall-to-wall carpet smells, kid smells, the dogs who ran ahead of you in the trial, wildlife, people, the list can go on and on.

And, when is the last time anyone has done vehicle hides?? I know for Coach, I’ve done one vehicle search at home since December’s trial. Craig’s (new) truck was parked near a snow bank, and my car was next to it. The odor was blowing off the truck and up on the snow bank, then bouncing back to the side of the truck. Even though I had placed the hide relatively low (so the dogs wouldn’t jump and potentially scratch the truck), the way the wind was blowing, caused the dogs to search high on the truck, leaving sandy footprints on the door and bed of the black truck. Oops. I definitely do not practice vehicles much at all, instead, I go to trials knowing my dogs are strong searchers with a clear response to odor, and I, the human part of the team, know the search area is limited to 3-4 vehicles. Not the best preparation, and not surprisingly, I’ve only once earned a Pronounced on a Vehicle search, but we manage.

So what do I do when I go off site with my dogs to practice? I try to place fairly simple hides, nothing too fancy or exotic, and I try to think about what the odor may be doing and where it may be going. Is the wind blowing straight at us, is the wind blowing the odor onto the wall of a building, or across a parking lot? Is it warm and sunny, cool and wet, icy and snowy? How will this effect the odor (it will settle on and cling to the wet areas, rise in the sunny dry areas, and I may have a challenge watching my dog AND my footing on slippery surfaces). I try to vary the hides from ground level, to nose-height, to stand-on-your-hind-legs-to-source-it height. Every so often I’ll throw a REALLY high hide in there, to practice for Elite (Quattro is Elite 3, and Coach needs to pass just one more NW3 trial to become an Elite level dog. Elite can have hides as high as 8-10ft up!). I try to check for safety… am I too close to a busy parking lot? Are there a lot of people coming and going, will someone move the object I’ve put my hide on? Is there any broken glass, dead mice (probably because they were poisoned), rat poison, sharp objects, disgusting food, pricker bushes, etc? I do not want to turn a fun training session into something my dogs and I will regret. The number of hides I set depends on how they do when I bring them out. I normally don’t set more than 6 out, sometimes less. If they are fast to find them, I might do 3 rounds with them, if they are struggling, I might just do one or 2 passes with them, then try to bring them for a walk or do something fun after the searching.

There are situations you can’t always predict or control, which is what NACSW is based on, real life search situations. While the Certifying Officials try to make things as safe as possible, sometimes, life happens.

Here are examples of 3 of my recent off-property searches.

Search 1
Back in October, Quattro and I did a trial at Holman Stadium in Nashua. Two of the search areas were on the 3rd floor, and we had the option of taking the elevator, or walking up the outside stair case. The last time we were in an elevator, at a hotel, he wasn’t too thrilled… he was ready to get out, and hesitant to get in, so rather than stress us both out by going up to a search area in an elevator, I decided we’d take the stairs. Well! Surprise surprise, Quattro, Mr All Wheel Drive, fears nothing, super athletic dog, did NOT like the open stairs! He was slinky and slow, then would rush up a couple, than peer down thru the wire to the parking lot… oy. He did fine once we got to level ground and into the search area, but it was a surprise to me. So, I decided to practice in the new parking garage in Portsmouth. It’s clean, not very busy, and I figured we could do some NW as well as work on the elevator and stairs. Although, its not always a great idea to pair something that is supposed to be FUN (NW) with something your dog finds aversive (the elevator and open stairs). Anyway, I put hides nose-height right as we came off the elevator, on the railing of the outside stairs. Then, since the 5th floor was completely empty of Vehicles, I put about 5 hides down at the far end of the garage. There was a nice breeze coming straight at us, so I thought, good, he’ll pick up the odor from a mile away, and it’ll be fun for him! Well, he gets off the elevator, and is a little slinky and low to the ground (who is this dog?). He gets the nose height hides ok, then we go into the garage… he starts running into the wind, and picks off 4 hides nicely. The 5th hide was on a metal post… I didn’t think of it when I placed the hide, but it was in line w/ the wall that goes around the outside of the garage. Quattro followed the breeze and odor ONTO the wall… I tightened the leash at about the same time he realized we were 5 stories up, and he fell/jumped/got pulled inside the garage and off the wall. He turned around and sourced the hide with his hind legs on the floor. Phew! I am so glad I ran him on leash, I had actually considered running him off leash, since there were no cars there, but figured if someone saw me on video and came up to see what I was doing, it would be better to have my dog on leash. Thank goodness! I can tell you I will be a lot more cautious when placing hides in the future!


Search 2 was at a local park. I set some basic hides, 4 in a row on chain link fence posts, all nose height. I figured we’d build to more complicated stuff once we warmed up with basic hides. Well, we spent 40 minutes working on not barking in the car before I was ready to work one dog at a time (where did this behavior come from??) So right as I’m about to get a dog out, a car pulls up, and a lady with a dog on a flexi lead comes out, with a 3 yr old. Coach is still a little worried about kids under 5, and I hate flexi leads… but focus! Don’t fixate on things you can’t control. They moved away from my hides, and I worked kid loving Quattro first, and he picked off the hides quickly. Coach came out next (this is after the dog on the flexi peed about 18” from one of my hides) and he did great… sniffed the dog pee, but I quickly told him to Keep searching, and there were no problems. I moved my 4 hides to another part of the fence, farthest from the kid and dog, go to take a dog out, and don’t you know, they move to the basketball court 10ft from my hides. Real life searches… we can do this… and sure enough, the dogs did great, didn’t even bother with the mom and kid throwing a basketball around.  In total, we spent 40 minutes working on no barking in the crate in the car, and 12 minutes searching.

Search 3
I discovered that COACH was the trigger Quattro’s barking in the car, so I decided to take Quattro for a solo walk/search after Coach’s NW class. It was raining pretty hard today, but what the heck, gotta be ready for anything (anyone remember Oceanwood 2018?). We went to Short Sands in York… I knew it would be high tide, but figured that would have a small sand beach even at high tide, to let Quattro herd the waves as a reward after searching. The ocean was angry today, but it was a fun session. I set 6 hides, 3 in Jersey barriers, 2 on a chain link enclosure opposite each other, and one high on a handicap parking sign. It was windy, and we happened to work into the wind. I thought he might be distracted by the ocean, but he was right on his game, and picked off the hides quickly, even the super high one. I unclipped his leash after rewarding him on the high hide, since we were right on the edge of the beach, and released him to herd the waves… he stayed with the hide for a few moments, then took off like a shot. He was SO HAPPY! What a reward for him. I had to keep an eye on him, since some of the waves would come up high and deep, and at one point there was a little rip tide that he found himself in. I put him back in the car, re-hid the hides, and we went out to search again. I was impressed that he was focused on the search, and not trying to get back to the ocean. I gave him some more wave herding time after our last find. Super fun, even though it as wet, raw and cold! It felt good to thaw out in front of the wood stove.

Angry, stormy ocean!

Example of how high the tide was, and the little bit of beach there was

Jersey barriers… those little holes at the top had rebar in them, perfect for sticking a tin on. These were fun to run around that curve into the wind, watching him catch odor and pick off the hides… maybe almost like a giant vehicle

The double chain link fence/walls were a nice quiet area w/ no wind, and were perfect to place hides opposite each other

Ahhh… happy dog

I’ll have to do an inaccessible hide here and there, but I feel pretty good about doing hides close together, high, in inclement weather, and in distracting environments. Other than the high hides, most of my tins are nose-touch available, so I’ll also have to work on putting the tins a little deeper or at least not touchable.

So it’s time to take your NW game on the road! Don’t be afraid to pair your hides, and relax and have fun. Be aware of your environment (for hazards as well as Joe Q Public and his dog), but be prepared to be flexible and adjust your plan as needed.  Don’t be afraid to do only a few hides that your dog finds quickly, and end your session.  Short and fast is a nice way to keep motivation and confidence high.  Remember to end with some fun for your dog, whether that is a play session with a toy, a walk, or chasing waves.

So get out, be safe, and have fun!

New challenges March 14, 2019

A few things came to mind after Thursday’s class, and I realized that I hadn’t posted in a while. I also realized, again, that I wish I’d video’d! I’ll try to do it this week.


We had a guest appearance from Kara and Phil, Christina’s Intro to NW students. Kara has left to hike the AT w/ Phil for several months, and wanted to make up a class she would miss, as well as a snow date. Phil is a strong worker, and I sort of just threw him in. It wasn’t until I got home and was thinking about the classes, that I realized he had probably only found food in a box in class before that night! He did awesome, and I should have commended them for their good work. So horrible timing for positive reinforcement, but Nice Job, Kara & Phil!

Congrats to Mary & Gemma (Birch, Ansie & Clove ORT), and Barbara & Macy, Christina & Cruz for passing their Clove ORT. It sounds like a good time was had by all, and thank you for Sarah Mackel and Beth Dutton for volunteering. The great part of volunteering, is you get to see a lot of dogs and handlers work the same odor problem. It’s easy to be a backseat driver when you know where the odor is, and once you’ve seen several dogs work it, it seems so obvious what the dog is saying. You get an idea of where the odor is moving or trapping, and it’s easy to see dogs and handlers either get hung up on trapping odor, or work it out. Different styles and relationships between dog and handler are easy to spot, and you can see the handler’s stress and how it effects the dog – or in some cases, you are impressed with how the dog ignores the handlers stress!

We got to work after our ORT discussion. I had 4 chairs around the grooming table, and a couple chairs in each corner of a rectangular enclosure. I wanted to give the dogs a smallish area to work, vs the open areas we’ve been doing the past few weeks. I started out w/ a tin visible, front and center from the start line to warm them up – no problem for your dogs. I then used the same chair, and moved it to the right, then left side of the search area. For their next run, the hot chair was in a corner of the rectangle, near the wall and ex-pens. This offered a little more of a challenge to the dogs, since they had to battle the close quarters of the edge of the chair and wall, as well as figure out exactly where the odor was coming from. I loved watching the dogs work to get to source! It really showed their determination to put their nose on source, none tried to convince you they’d found it on an outside edge of the chair, they were all focused on getting to source. Really nice to see, it is a skill that will carry you thru many levels of trials.
One thing we saw, was that the odor was being sucked away from the mirrors where we were working, towards the entrance door. A couple dogs, Reo and Macy stand out, left the search area (but were clearly still working) to chase odor to the outside corner of the search area, near the easel and whiteboard, then worked it back inside to the chair that was in that corner. It’s so helpful to know when your dog is working vs going to visit, or chasing butterflies… I’d hate to call a dog back into the search area, if I was calling them away from following odor. You and your dog are not faulted for leaving a search area boundary, so if your dog is working odor, by all means, let them leave and come back in.
For their last run, I put the hot chair in between 2 other blank chairs, and it was really fun watching them, again, work to source. I had also by this point flipped the tin to the underside lip of the chair seat. One thing I would / will do differently next time, is pair it for June. She was expecting to find the tin front and center, and be able to walk into it w/ her nose, where when the tin is under the seat edge, the dogs sort of have to do a swan neck move to bend and twist to get their nose on the tin. The more experienced handlers have seen many, many chair hides with their more experienced dogs, so I presume they’ve done hides like this in practice with their younger dogs. So, I will pair to help June figure out that there could be something up under on a flat surface (defying the laws of dog gravity!)

7:30 (or should I call it, the 7:40 class!)

So we started w/ the hot chair in between 2 cold chairs, the way we ended the 6:30 class, but I also added a clove tin to a chair, in the middle of the other 2 cold chairs. So the dogs had mirrored hides. They all did great determining that there were 2 odors, 2 separate hides, and made short work of pin pointing each hide.

I then lifted one hot chair so that it was ON the grooming table, and took out one hot chair. Given the height challenge, I wanted to keep it simple, by not adding converging odor to the mix. I figured our entire enclosure smelled like birch, so that and the height were going to be tricky enough.
I love working high hides like this, and it was so fun to watch the dogs come straight in, and pretty much identify the hot chair up on the table. Midnight gets the award for being the most eager “senior” dog to get up on the table to source it, although Max will take a close second (it’s not his fault he’s short!). It was really interesting watching them work the scent cone. I moved the table so that it was against the mirrors, wondering if it would be more or less challenging for the dogs vs the middle of the space. I think it still provided a challenge, but because they’d already sourced a hide up on the chair on the table, they were quicker to figure it out. Isaac had an advantage with his satellite cone that beamed the odor directly to his nose… we weren’t sure at first how he would be able to work wearing the cone of shame, but it ended up being a great satellite beacon for him – he was SO accurate and right on with the high hides, it was almost an unfair advantage!

If I’d had time, I would have added a second hide along with the high hide, to watch them work out the converging odor problem… fast forward to March 21st!

Overall, when I placed the hides, I was wanting to expose the dogs to:
-a smaller search area
-multiple chairs, where odor would settle on the seats, and cling to the legs
-a hide “up under” – no visible tin, but a tin where the dogs would have to twist under the chair seat to get to source
-a hide that was in tight quarters – against the mirrors, the screen, and between 2 chairs

At NW1, the hides are, for the most part, not going to be difficult for the dogs to access… ie, they won’t be on the wall-side of a chair, or on the seat of a chair tucked under a table. But, they won’t be front and center, the hide will be tucked up under a chair, bucket rim, garbage barrel handle, to name a couple examples. Don’t play CO (Certifying Official) and try to guess where the hide is, but I do want you to know that the hide placements are fair and very doable. They are not out to trick you or your dog. But by practicing hides that are a bit deeper in the search area, or a little mor difficult for the dogs to reach, making them work for it, not only are we preparing them for NW2, but when they DO get an easily accessible hide, they will be excited and more obvious to read, and it will be easier to call alert on.

For the NW2/3/ELTCH class, I was looking to:
-give the dogs a small challenge with the mirrored hides (a hide on a chair, in the middle of 2 blank chairs, mirrored on the other side of the grooming table with a hide of a different odor in the middle). I wanted to see them work out the converging odor, and watch to see when they realized there were 2 separate hide
-give the dogs some spatial challenge, with the blank chairs pretty close to the hot chair (hide was on the side of the hot chair). The dogs really had to work to pinpoint and work out which chair it was on
-give the dogs a high hide problem.
-give the handlers the chance to watch their dog work a high hide, and see how far out from source the dog picks up the odor

Using the same chair(s) for the hides, really allows the odor (and dog slobber) to collect, making the blank chairs that much more obviously blank to the dogs. I wanted to work on how they detailed the hot chair and worked to source, I wasn’t focused on the dogs working thru lingering odor or dog slobber, as they would if I’d kept moving the tin to different chairs. By using the same chair in different locations, the dogs got repetition of how odor moves on a chair and in the enviornment, hopefully giving them confidence on working chairs, both blank and hot. The same idea with the high hide… get some repetition, experience and exposure with working an overhead hide, so the next high hide you have at a trial, you’ll be able to figure out pretty quickly what your dog is doing. Although I will say that even though you CAN have a high hide at NW3, there have not been many that are over 3ft high. Again, don’t play CO, just be aware the when we practice really high hides, that we are working to the future – Elite and Summit!

Happy sniffing!