Hard to believe, but our spring session came to a close on June 6th. With only 3 Tuesday nights before the July 4th holiday, I decided to do 3 drop in nights, each with a theme. It seems that this June has been a tough one for folks, with work commitments, sick dogs, travel, etc. So I thought this would be the best way to get some class time in before we break for summer.
June 13th – The Dogs Honest Truth
or, Who Do You Trust, Your Trainer, Your Classmates or Your Dog?
This was a really fun night! Probably because I was setting up the falsehoods (insert evil laugh here) I had several rooms set up, and broke everyone into groups. So some people got to watch, some got to do a blind search. The idea for this weeks theme was from trials and what happens when you inadvertently hear a fellow competitor say something that throws you off your game, or gets stuck in your head. If there is a grassy Exterior search, you’ll hear comments like “lots of opportunities to pee!” Other things I’ve heard in the parking lot or on a walk thru:
-This (fill in the blank – saw horse, garbage barrel, wood) – doesn’t belong here, I bet there’s a hide there
-They wouldn’t put 3 hides in this small room!
-I bet this is a clear room
-Chatter after 2 competitors finished, but the trial was still going on comparing notes… only thing was, they remembered the # of hides in each room incorrectly. Which really bummed out the person who heard it, since he had found a different (turns out, the correct) # of hides
-The air currents are going to be really hard for the dogs to read in here!
While some of this information may be pertinent to the person uttering it, other information can be completely wrong. My dog may not have any problems w/ grass, but now I’m remembering the ONE trial that he peed, and it’s in my head. If seeing is believing, visualizing is reality… if you visualize something, it usually happens, and that is one vision I don’t want! I don’t want to hear someone else’s preconceived notions about a search area during the walk through, I want to have a clear head to focus on MY dog and MY search. So, I thought we’d practice planting some real and fake information into everyones head before their search during practice, to hopefully desensitize everyone to that background chatter and static you get in the parking lot.
The false information everyone was given was:
- There was a blank room
- Think Thresholds (some rooms had a threshold hide, others did not)
- There were no distractions
- The air currents are challenging in here (nothing specific)
The truths were:
- All rooms had a hide
- Think Thresholds (true for some not all of the searches)
- There were distractions everywhere
- Think High Hides (2 rooms had very high hides)
- Think Corners (some rooms had a hide in a corner)
Andy & Panda went first, and searched the Orange room. This was a tough one, because there WAS one hide, high up in the little drawers on the wall. Panda, being vertically challenged, didn’t make any indication that she’d picked up odor, and Andy called it clear. They then did the break room, where there was a hide in the toy bucket (a distraction) and one at the threshold. She did great in the break room, found both no problem, and Andy had a moment’s hesitation over the dog toy bucket hide, but called it.
Shona had seen Panda’s search in the orange room, so when Dugan ran in and started jumping up on the half-walls and door, then ran out of the room, she called Finish with authority (insert evil laugh). Their 2nd room was the supply room, where there were 3 hides. I don’t think we’d ever worked 3 hides in that small room, and Dugan does not have a lot of experience working multiple converging hides. He began working the hide on the mop handles on the right side of the room, then moved into the room and found the other 2 hides. When he ran out, I was thinking he was chasing the threshold hide out of the room, but Shona called Finish pretty decisively.
I had let Kathy in on where the hides were, so when it was her turn, I wanted to give her her own blind area to search. She and Buddy got the old grooming room (aka the lounge) and the tub room. The first room had a hide high up in the cupboard over the sofa/futon. Buddy was picking it up under the wooden table, down under the table, around the sofa corner. I asked the observers what they thought – was there a hide in the room? Shona and Andy both said no… Kathy said, “well, he was showing interest over here (gesturing to the table) but, you’re right, Finish!” I forget which room they did next, I’m thinking it had to have been one that was used already.
Barbara and Midnight arrived, and did the supply room. Midnight worked the threshold hide beautifully, and Shona said “Ohhh, Dugan WAS working that corner. I can’t even see the hide”. Midnight found all 3 hides in that room. This is where my memory gets foggy, I can’t remember what room she worked next, but since it was Barbara’s late night, she hadn’t seen any of the searches, and got to run most blind.
Lastly, after filling everyone in on where the hides were, everyone got a chance to work a room they hadn’t, as well as go back and work the rooms w/ the super high hides. Kathy’s comment when told there WAS a hide in the room she called blank, was “I fell for it! I fell to the peer pressure! I THOUGHT Buddy was showing interest over here but when they said they thought it was clear, I went along!” For some, I added a hide, for some, I added a distraction “Andy, your shoe’s untied”, so they really had to listen to what their dogs were saying. Kathy and Buddy were great in the tub room. Kathy wasn’t sure how Buddy was going to work the hide deep under the tub, but he did a nice job bracketing the supports to the tub, then ducked his head under. On his way to the white cupboard, he passed it to work a 3rd hide I had added, unbeknownst to Kathy. She was still by the tub, and he worked under the grooming table, worked around, heavy sniffing, bracketing, and settled on the hide. He looked up at Kathy over and across the table, and she said Aaaalleeeerrt? Yes! Nice work Buddy, working independently and convincing mom where a hide was, when she thought he was crazy.
Gosh, I wish I had written this right after class, since there were several “ah-ha” moments and “shoot, I fell for it” moments, as well. The idea is to clear your head of the static – what other people innocuously say in the parking lot, what happened at your last class or workshop) and simply go with what your dog is saying. If your dog misses an area, by all means step in get him to cover it, but if he says there’s nothing there, he’s probably right. If you see the classic bracket, hear the classic heavy breathing and see the pause and cessation of breathing, they are probably at source, regardless of what you think! The dogs are honest when working independently, and that’s the truth.
June 20th – Distractions! **VIDEO COMING SOON**
This theme comes from all the trials I’ve seen, where regardless of any planted distractions in a NW2/NW3 Containers search, MANY things can prove distracting to a dog. The dogs who can easily refocus, or who don’t even bat an eye or miss a step are the ones who make the handlers job easy. The dogs who work dog odor, critter, are sound sensitive or worried are the ones whose handlers have a tougher time and stress. The handlers end up doing work to get the dog refocused and relaxed, and stress that they are losing time, will the dog go back to hunting? and am I pushing my dog into an uncomfortable place, turning a fun game into a torture chamber? So let’s work some of that out in class, in a safe environment, where we have more than 3 minutes.
We started outside at the tractor. One vehicle with 2 hides on it, just like my Monday night dop-in class had done the night before. Here the distraction was the grass, w/ plenty of pee from the Monday night class as well as daycare dogs, the horse, mini donkey and mini horse all watching us, Jeanne and Bob buzzing around in their golf cart / atv buggy, and barking dogs. This class was quicker to source than the NW1 level dogs, of course, but we still had some good learning. Avoiding pee, and for Gemma, working through the barking dogs. I like how we were able to give her time to move away from the noise, decompress and sniff if she chose, but she chose engagement w/ Kathy. You can see her perk up, engage, wag her tail and relax before her search. She does pee before hunting, but I think it was as much a stress pee as anything. She got the one hide, came over to me and I gave her what she finds rewarding (engagement / interaction). The one thing I would do differently, is I would have rewarded her on the re-find. When she left me and went back to the hide she’d already found, why not reward again? For her, I think it would be a confidence builder, and boost her on the next search. But she does get right back to work, and I’m glad we had the time to help her work through it, when Kathy wasn’t stressed or under time pressure.
It was SO nice out, I couldn’t resist doing more outside searches. I put one on the whisky barrel and one nearby on the fence, so slightly converging. I didn’t realize until 3 dogs in that there was a pile of poop under the hide on the barrel! When I put the hide there, I thought, well, they’ll have to work through some pee smell on the barrel, but little did I know. We had some super quick focused searches here.
Inside, I kept the hides simple and let the distractions be the only challenge.
There was a hide ON the food drawers. We don’t ever have a hide there, but I thought, why not? The dogs worked it beautifully, bracketing and pinpointing, they were clearly not picking out dinner, but going for the birch.
Next, was the orange room, with 2 hides in buckets, I think there were 3 buckets total. For this search, everyone was completely silent, and then when I raised my hand or gave the signal, the onlookers all started laughing, chatting loudly, and clapping, carrying on a lively conversation! This can happen in a staging area at a trial: You are in your search, and all of a sudden whoever is staging after you gets in a loud conversation w/ a volunteer. I think Panda glanced up, but for the most part, the dogs didn’t care.
Search 5 was the old grooming room / aka lounge. There were 3 hides, and here I had one person go into the bathroom, close the door, wash there hands, pull out paper towel from the machine, and come back out. I don’t think THIS caused any of the dogs any issues, either! They all stayed on task – I think one dog followed Andy in to the bathroom, but then came right back out. Sometimes we left the door open, sometimes closed it. This should be helpful when you get those unexpected visits in a trial… an employee of the trial site, or a worker. There have been trials where guys showed up to replace a porch on a cabin, right next to a vehicle search, a guy showed up to clean an indoor pool, and walked through the Exterior search w/ a hose dragging behind him, a teacher showed up to go in his classroom, a whole gaggle of girls in tap shoes entered a gym right behind the start line of an Exterior search, and on and on. You just never know who or what will show up in or near your search, despite NACSW’s and the hosts best efforts.
Search 6 – the big room. By this time, the dogs had done a LOT of searches, and when we got to this room, there were 3 fans blowing, puddles on the floor, and the door was open to the outside daycare pen. I thought THAT was distracting enough, without adding anything manufactured. This was a tough one to end on, due to the crazy oscillating fans, but the dogs persevered, chasing odor all over the room, before finding a tendril they could follow to source.
While I don’t want to do this type of training every session, it is good to throw out every so often and see what / if there is a reaction from the dogs, and figure out how to work through it.
June 27 – Near and Far
I had plans to work outside in the large fenced in grass area past the boat and dumpster, but it had been raining and rumbling on and off all day. So, we worked inside. We started in the storage room, where I had set up the tall step ladder across the middle of the room, and had everyone join us in the room. There were 4 hides – one on each side of the threshold, one in the plastic balls under the table by the window, and one on the ladder. The ladder hide was the most challenging, because it was converging w/ the hide on the broom. The dogs had no problems pushing past the spectators, or moving on to the next hide. Once or twice a handler had to move into the room to move the dog, but for the most part, the dogs worked independently and with purpose.
We searched the break room next, and again, the converging odor was the trick. Two hides were easily found, but the one in the plastic drawers w/ dog toys was the challenge. Was it because the slightly open drawer shot the odor straight up, causing it to drop elsewhere in the room, not leaving a trail to follow back to source? Was it the buckets of toys in front of the drawers, that prevented the dogs from getting close to the drawer? Most dogs missed this, after searching for up to 7 minutes!! I tried to isolate the hide, by pulling the other hides out, and moving the buckets. This helped, and the taller shepherds had an easier time of it.
Lastly, we did the large room. The hides were on the edges of the room, and the handlers had to stay in the middle aisle… unless they were rewarding their dogs. Again, the dogs worked nicely – independent and didn’t need their handlers there pushing them into corners or tight spaces. And again, the challenge was the converging odor. There were 2 hides under the workbench, and most dogs found one, then ran off. Some got their reward, and as the handler was going back to the center aisle, the dog picked up the 2nd hide. It was REALLY neat to watch them work the tin on the wall between the couch and dog crates… Panda especially stands out as bracketing right, then left, then not as far right, then not as far left, then out in the room, then turning and pointing directly up to the hide. It was beautiful!
So, we got practice with people in close proximity in the search area, a tight search area, multiple hides, converging odor, and working at a distance from your dog, allowing them to work independently. I think they handled everything we threw at them beautifully!