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Archive for March, 2019

“Search machine” sounds kind of mechanistic, but actually, it was a compliment. That’s what one of the judges at this weekend’s scent work trial called Carlin. Even when he doesn’t succeed in finding the hidden scent, he still works hard and methodically to find it.

Now that we’ve moved up to the Excellent level in AKC Scent Work, the searches are, of course, harder. So, while I was a little disappointed, I wasn’t surprised when Carlin didn’t pass every search at this weekend’s trials.

Least surprising of the failures were the Excellent Buried searches. The three hidden odors (cotton with 2 drops of essential oil, placed inside of a vessel of some sort) are buried 6″ underground, along with five blank (empty) vessels. In these trials, the eight vessels were buried in heavy clay soil.

None of the dogs found more than two of the buried odors. Carlin, along with many of the other dogs, alerted on the blank vessels. He searched hard, but I’m not sure he knows exactly what he’s supposed to be searching for. Maybe the soil changes the scent somehow so he doesn’t recognize it. Maybe he’s alerting on the scent of disturbed earth rather than on the target odor.

So, more training. More practice.

He did much better at Interior and Exterior searches. This weekend he passed (each with first places) two Interior Excellent searches. With those passes, he earned his Scent Work Interior Excellent title. He also passed (with a 1st and a Q) two Exterior Excellent searches. He also had one each NQ.

Irish Water Spaniel IWS with AKC Scent Work ribbons

I’d like to say more about each search, but honestly, almost as soon as I get out of a search in a trial, I almost instantly forget it. I remember hides 3.5 feet up on the back of a drainpipe, under a picnic table, and hanging from a downspout chain. Another one was hidden in a piece of PVC pipe, under the lip of a planter, underneath another planter, and another under a layer of landscaping fabric (we missed that one). Others were under chairs seats.

For Interiors, one was in a fire extinguisher cabinet with next to the start line. Two more were under chairs, and one was set into the frame around a fireplace. Another was under a cushion of a rocking chair, under a desk, and on the inside of a toilet stall door. There were more, but I don’t remember them.

So now Carlin qualifies to run Master searches in Containers and Interiors. I don’t think we’re ready. But we’re going to try it anyway in a couple of weeks. If nothing else, running these Master searches will reveal more about what we don’t know.

Humbling and enlightening. And a touch scary.

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I’ve been working with Carlin to do Excellent searches in preparation for the upcoming local AKC Scent Work trials. He’s doing well in Interiors, Exteriors, and Containers, but Buried…? It depends.

When we practice Buried alone in my front yard, he’s quick and accurate about 80% of the time. That means, he usually identifies where odor has been buried in the dirt. We’ve done it on grass and on the neighbor’s patches of dirt.

But in practices not in our front yard or where other dogs have been before him, he can get very distracted. He’ll search, but only after giving the search area a thorough once or twice over, identifying which dogs have been there before him and when (and possibly other information as well).

Of course, that behavior is not useful when a team only has a couple of minutes to identify 3 hides buried 6″ underground. So, I’ve been trying to think of ways to get him on task right away.

I can’t tell him not sniff—that’s the whole point of this game. He’s supposed to sniff.

It seems to me that doing all his initial doggy intelligence must be highly self-rewarding, so I decided to try finding some reward that would be more valuable to Carlin than dog-scent sniffing. Some folks have recommended mackerel brownies, smoked tripe pieces, and other really stinky treats. And I bet all of those would be great. But I didn’t yet have any of them on hand in time for this afternoon’s group practice.

So I got out some beef heart, cut it into 1/2″ pieces, dusted it with garlic powder, cooked it all quickly in the microwave, put the pieces into a small plastic bag, and headed out to practice.

cooked beef heart pieces

When it was Carlin’s turn to try Buried, I let him smell the treats again (although I’m sure he already knew they were there). But I didn’t want to put them in my jeans pocket. They were still too juicy. So, I put the plastic bag in my pocket, figuring it would be just as easy to grab a few treats out of the bag in my pocket as it would to just get them out of the pocket.

Once on the course, Carlin did a little intelligence gathering. But then he happened (I think by accident) upon one of the hides. He pawed it very gently, then looked at me and sat. I said “Alert” and reached into the bag for several pieces of beef heart. I had intended to give him about 10 small pieces as an extra-special reward for doing his job. But as I pulled my hand out, the whole bag came along with it and spilled half its bounty of beef heart treats on the ground right on top of the hide. When I leaned over to pick some of them up, even more fell out.

Beef heart raining from heaven! Jackpot! Carlin could hardly believe his luck. And he didn’t want to leave that spot. Several times, he stood up, pawed the spot, and looked at me. I’m supposed to get a shower of beef heart for this, right?

Finally, I got him to move so he could “find another one”. A light bulb glowed over Carlin’s head—it seemed that the nearby bush wasn’t that interesting after all. He searched every inch of that space pretty thoroughly, and found the other hide (we did only 2 for the practice search). I gave him what was left in the bag, told him he was a very, very good boy, and the two of us ran whooping and jumping back to the car.

Dropping treats in a search area is a Not a Good Thing to do. I’m sure the dogs that went after us were given a major hint as to the location of that hide. But fortunately, my training group thought my fumbling and Carlin’s delight was funny. No more plastic bags for me. But hopefully, lots of beef heart for Carlin.

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