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In my dog support career, I’ve built a lot of tools that either didn’t exist to my specifications, or just didn’t exist at all. Some examples are making a holding blind out of camo cloth and fence posts (for retriever work), building jumps out of PVC pipe and long jumps out of white gutters (for obedience and rally), and gutting, drying, and filling dead birds with expandable foam so I could re-use them longer (for retriever and spaniel work).

Now I’m doing scent work, and it comes with a whole new set of stuff I need but can’t find.

It started out with needing protective screens to cover the containers used to hold dirt in Novice and Advanced Buried. They allow the dog to sniff the odor, but not disturb the dirt or topple the containers. My instructor had a set, so my husband mostly copied hers. They’re made of 2 x 6″ fir, metal screen, staples, and gorilla tape.

But now Carlin and I have graduated to Excellent Buried. I’ve been practicing Excellent searches using plastic scent vessels. I wrote about various troubles and eventual success of the plastic vessels I built and the brace-and-bit I use to drill holes before.

But judges can use metal scent vessels, too, so I wanted something metal to practice with. I saw a video on Youtube of a group’s using pill fobs and chain for their metal scent vessels, but they had to use a soil probe tool to dig the holes — that’s fine in nice moist soil, but if you’re dealing with frozen, very dry, or hard packed clay soil, those look like way too much work. A drill should much easier.

The problem is that my bit is too small for those pill fobs (the ones I can find are .63″ to .70″ in diameter), so I wanted to find something skinnier to use as vessels.

Here’s what I ended up with:

They are made of aluminum whistles, which came with the keyring and already have a whistle hole in them (from Amazon) and 30 lb. leader rig (from the local fishing store).

The four that I am using to hold the scented Q-tips also have a plug that I can screw in and out (threaded pipe plugs). The scent vessels also have two additional small holes drilled into them, and an initial scribed in so I know which odor goes into which vessel.

scent vessel on top, blank vessel on the bottom

It’s been raining really hard for the last 24 hours, so I haven’t tried these out yet. If they fail, I am guessing it will be the fishing leader that goes. But 30 lb. is reasonably heavy duty, and the drill bit creates a nice clean hole, so I’m not worried. And if I have to, it’ll be easy to change out the leader with a heavier one.

Finally, health checks

I’m not sure what took me so long to finish getting Carlin’s health checks. He is almost 5 years old. The recommendation is that checks be done just after 2.

But, oh well. They’re done now. He had his thyroid checked three years ago while we were trying to diagnose Carlin’s inexplicable hair loss. (Most likely allergy to chicken–we tried lots of things, including an elimination diet. Once we removed the chicken, his coat came back.)

And today, finally, I had his eyes checked and x-rays done of his hips and elbows to check for dysplasia.

Carlin doesn’t like going to the vet. But the staff at the Idaho Veterinary Hospital in Nampa were wonderful–gentle with Carlin and kind to me. They got us in and out with with very little stress.

The eye vet said “looks good” after the eye exam. And after the hip and elbow x-rays, the radiology vet showed me the x-rays and explained why he thought Carlin’s hips and elbows looked healthy as well.

So now we’ll wait to see what the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) says. If they agree, then Carlin will have his CHIC certification. That lets owners of other IWS know his health status. That way, they can decide if they want to use him at stud.

I’m sure he’d love that.

Carlin has done some good spaniel work in hunt tests over the years. And we are fortunate that he’s been recognized for his talents:

I particularly enjoyed his winning the Trucker trophy because Carlin won it from a club originally founded to promote the traditional spaniel breeds: English Springer, English Cocker, American Cocker, Sussex, Field, Clumber, and the like.

Irish Water Spaniels in the United States have not really been seen as a traditional spaniel breed; they’ve occupied a weird space: being named spaniels but being classified by the AKC as retrievers. Carlin, and the other IWS that have competed in spaniel hunt tests or hunted upland birds afield, have reminded anyone who has forgotten that IWS can and do excel as flushing spaniels.

But now it’s time to pass the Trucker trophy on to another spaniel, an English Springer this time. We took one last photo and then sent the trophy on to Lynn and her Sky to enjoy.

A couple of weekends ago, my friend and I tried burying scent vessels in the dirt so that we could practice Scent Work Buried Excellent with our dogs. (The scent vessels contain the swabs that have the odor on them — the vessels prevent the odor from coming into direct contact with the dirt.)

It mostly went OK until we tried to pull the scent vessels (1″x2″ test tubes) out of the ground. I had tied fishing line onto the vessels and thought I could use that to pull the vessels out of their holes. I figured, if the fishing line could withstand a fighting fish, it ought to withstand my pulling a small test tube out of the ground.

But no. The fishing line broke, and when it broke, we lost visual contact with where exactly the vessel was buried. (Losing visual contact is actually the point, or at least will be. During a scent work trial, neither the dog nor the handler is supposed to be able to see where the vessels are buried.) We’d make a mental map of our search area, so we knew sort of where the vessel should be, but we ended up having to dig around a bit to find it. Definitely not a leave-no-trace situation.

Part of the reason why the fishing line broke was that we hadn’t actually dug holes first and then dropped the vessels in the holes. We dug very short holes, but mostly we had to push the vessels the rest of the way into the ground, and they got stuck in the mud.

Thus, no holes + fishing line = stuck vessels. Not good.

So I redesigned my vessels and got myself an auger to dig holes that are just a bit bigger than the vessels.

augur

I drilled a small hole in the bottom of each test tube. (There was already a hole in the tube’s lid.) I then strung mason’s twine through the tubes, making a big double stopper knot at the bottom to keep the test but on. I also added a bead between two regular stopper knots about 3/4″ above the screw-off lid of the tube. That way, I can add a swab to the tube without losing the lid.

Then I put in a small knot at 6″ to help me be sure the swab inside the tube is 6″ deep. (When we get that far. Carlin isn’t able to detect scent buried that deep yet, but he’ll get there. I hope he gets there soon enough for the March trial, where he’ll be entered in Buried Excellent. The hides at that level are 6″ deep.)

I added another stopper knot at 8″ (that’s how deep the hides are in the Master level). Lastly, I strung a bead and another stopper knot that should help me grip the line so I can pull it out when the tube is at its deepest.

I used blaze orange twine with a little tape flag because I can see it when it’s peeking above the ground. At least for a while, I need to be able to see where the hides are so I can reward Carlin when he’s right. I also used orange because, theoretically anyway, dogs don’t really see orange as orange — they see it more like a gray. (Or at least, that is what I was taught by multiple retriever and spaniel trainers who all use orange dummies when they don’t want their dogs to see the retrieve object.)

Yesterday, I tested it all, putting the tubes out at 4″ deep. I used the augur to create 4 holes in a gravel-dirt mix area, put the vessels with swabs in them in the ground, and lightly filled up the holes with about a couple of inches of twine sticking out. I left them there for about 30 minutes to give the odor a chance to start moving.

Then Carlin and I came back to the area and searched. He had an easy time finding the ones that were not near any objects, and a bit harder time finding the ones that were near above-ground objects (logs, mostly). But eventually he found them all.

And even better, when I went back to pull the vessels out of the ground, they all came right up, with almost no effort. I replace the little bit of displaced dirt, and when I left the area, it looked like nothing had happened there at all.

Thus, augured holes + mason’s twine + good dog = success. Good!

The two dogs took Russ and me pheasant hunting today at the Payette River Wildlife Management Area. It’s the last day of the season, and they thought we might get lucky.

Well, we were lucky. We had a lovely walk along the river on a spectacular winter day. No birds, though. Unless you count the picked-clean pheasant carcass that Tooey retrieved. (Which I was foolish enough to not photograph before returning it to the wild.)

But we all had a good time. Here are some photos.


This last photo was taken at the same spot that the photo of Carlin was taken just a few days ago. (When Russ and Carlin had an equally lovely walk and just as many birds.)

Handsome Carlin

Carlin in the snow along the Payette River, Idaho, December 2018 — photo by Russ Dodd

Carlin is not a natural model like Cooper was. He doesn’t settle himself in front of a camera every time someone pulls one out, like Cooper did.

But Carlin isn’t shy, either. If a camera appears, he doesn’t hide.

He pretty much ignores the camera. And that means that there are quite a few pictures of Carlin, looking like his effortlessly handsome self.

When hiking through the foothills and countryside with our dogs, Tooey has always been vigilant and ready to run down cottontail rabbits or black-tailed jackrabbits. By definition, upland game includes not only a variety of birds, but also includes rabbits and hares. And Tooey has read the manual. She knows what to do when she sees a rabbit. But steady to flush is not in her vocabulary, so a full speed pursuit is in order until she runs it down or it eludes her.

The only thing that separates our property from our neighbor’s sheep farm is a chainlink fence. Tooey is mostly oblivious to the ewes, but is perfectly willing to go head-to-head with a ram if he stands his ground (they often butt heads at the fence).

So when Tooey barks at the fence, we know it’s not at the sheep. Her steady barking this morning got my attention. All the sheep were in the next pasture, and it first looked like her focus was on an empty pen. But then it turned out to be a visiting rabbit taking advantage of the spare hay in the sheep pen.

Such frustration! A rabbit that can’t be chased. It won’t run, and there’s a fence in the way. Darn it! No bunny pie for Christmas.

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