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Archive for April, 2019

A bunch of us were standing around on Sunday late afternoon, waiting for results to be posted from that day’s Scent Work trials, talking. A couple of the judges were in the group, and some handlers got to talking about the NQs we’d had that weekend. When we got to my NQs, I mentioned that Carlin was my very first scent work dog. One of the judges got a surprised look on her face, and told me that I was doing really well then. My NQs, apparently, are not uncommon newbie handler mistakes.

Well, that made me feel better. Looking back over the NQs, I had been feeling pretty darn bad. After being told about the hides I missed and the too-early calls I’d made, I was thinking, “How COULD I have missed that? If only I’d done X or thought of Y, we’d have passed.”

So, I’ve made those mistakes. Now I need to start learning from them.

Not searching the whole search area

In both Container Master searches, I called an Alert too soon. This despite the fact that, in our second search, the judge had even told us to take our time to be sure before calling Alert.

I’m not sure what I’d have done differently in the first Container search. Carlin stuck his nose down into the center of the 4-flap box. He didn’t paw it and he didn’t sit, which are his usual indications in Containers, but it looked to me like he was indicating. Turns out, that box had food in it. In his second search, he was very interested in a container and pawed it, but didn’t sit. I called it, and I was wrong.

In the last Interiors Master search, Carlin and I missed the second hide in the bathroom. It was such a small room, and I think I must have assumed that there could be only one hide in there. We left the bathroom without going into the corner opposite from the first hide. I noticed the judge staring at me with a very blank face, so I knew there was something I needed to do. I got really flustered. So I blurted out “Finish”. And got the dreaded, “No, I’m sorry.”

Irish Water Spaniel searching a bathroom in AKC Scent Work

So, lessons:

  • As a trial strategy during a search in Containers, consider that it might be better to make sure Carlin gets a sniff at all the containers before I call any. That way I can see what his indication is that day, and take less risk at calling something iffy.
  • In Interiors (and probably Exteriors), make sure he gets into all the corners of the search area before I call “Finish”.
  • As a training issue, I think I need to work on a clearer indication.

Losing my place

None of the dogs passed the first Buried Excellent search. The hides were buried in very dry, clay soil under an inch or so of bark chips. Carlin worked hard, but he just couldn’t find them. So, other than needing to keep practicing, I don’t really see any lesson there.

The next day’s Buried search is an entirely different story. Those hides were placed in wet, soppy grass, and many dogs, including Carlin, found all three. So why did we NQ that one? Because I got lost.

I had already called Alert on a couple of the hides twice each. That’s a fault, but it’s not an NQ. The third hide was in line with one of the other hides, and I thought it was one of the ones we’d found already. Not wanting to embarrass myself (I think that’s what I was worried about), I just told Carlin, “Yes, you found that one.” and went off to keep looking. We eventually ran out of time, so we NQd.

Irish Water Spaniel doing a Buried Excellent search in AKC Scent Work

So, lessons:

  • As a trial strategy, don’t be afraid to call Alert on a hide more than once. It’s better to get a bunch of faults than to NQ.
  • As a training issue, I need to figure out a way to orient myself in space where there is nothing nearby to orient on. This is a problem for me in life generally. I usually need to use directions multiple times to get to the same place, and I cannot visualize how to set a table without a picture to look at first (Russ has drawn me a picture of a table setting that I keep in the dish cabinet.)

Accepting disruptive indications

Carlin has always been an enthusiastic hunter. Plus, he’s a retriever. Which means that his first inclination is to locate the scent vessel, grab it up, and bring it to me.

I have successfully stepped in and stopped him before he’s had a chance to actually bring me a scent vessel. But I haven’t always been able to stop him from grabbing it or knocking it out its hiding place. He drops it when I ask him to, and he’s never damaged one, but at the levels we’re working, that’s not good enough.

On Saturday’s Exterior Excellent search, he’d have qualified except that he was NQd for pawing one of the hides out its place under a pile of bark chips at the edge of a children’s slide.

Irish Water Spaniel doing an Exteriors Excellent search in AKC Scent Work

And in his second Interiors Master search, in trying to grab the scent vessel from under the lip of a garbage can, he knocked the whole thing over. That’s not good, and under some judges in some circumstances, it could get us NQd. While timing for other searches, I watched several dogs get NQd for knocking scent vessels out of place. I don’t want that to happen to us.

So, lessons:

  • As a trial strategy, remember to call Alert quickly and then “Sit!”. That should at least somewhat disrupt disruption before it can happen (much).
  • As a training issue, somehow or another, I have to teach a point-at or light-touch indication. I’d like to eliminate the pawing and the grabbing. I want to see a recognizable change of behavior that tells me he’s found the hide, tells me where it is, and doesn’t actually touch it with his mouth or paw. But my real problem is that I have no idea how to do this. It means undoing what he’s been doing for a year, and teaching us both to do something else.

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When I was talking to my fellow Scent Work friends about my entering Sherwood Dog Training Club’s April 6-7 scent work trials, my line was, “We are not ready. But we’ll learn a lot.”

I think what I meant at the time was: Carlin is not ready.

But that was mostly not true. This is what is true: Carlin was ready. His handler wasn’t.

But before we get into the weeds of the lot I have to learn, let’s start with our couple of really nice successes.

First master search

Carlin was the only dog to pass Saturday’s Interior Master search. Three rooms, two hides (one room was blank, with no hide). The first two rooms had allowed times of 2.5 minutes each, and the third room had an allowed time of 1.5 minutes. We took a total of 5:50:33 minutes, which means I used up all but 9.67 seconds of our allowed time. Looking at that tiny leeway now makes me breathe out in relief. But at the time, I was just so thrilled.

The two big rooms were crowded with unused school furniture: desks, cabinets, filing cabinets, shelves, chairs, and stacked boxes of books. Basically, there were only these narrow paths that snaked among all the stuff. I had the option to run Carlin off-leash in these rooms, and I took it. There was no way I could handle a leash if he decided to run from one corner of the room to another corner by going underneath the furniture.

Irish Water Spaniel doing an AKC Scent Work Interior Master search

Search site for Interior Master. This photo shows about 1/3 of the space.

The first hide was in one of the large rooms. After very thoroughly going into every corner and sniffing around, under, and on top of every piece of furniture, Carlin found the one hide, in a filing cabinet drawer.

The second room was a big-ish bathroom. I made Carlin search the whole thing thoroughly, and we decided that there was no hide in there, and called Finish. Fortunately, we were right.

The third room was the other large room, which was filled with stuff very much like the first one. I knew there could be one or two hides in there. And honestly, at this point, I don’t remember exactly what happened. But I called it after he found one hide and then searched for more and came up empty. So we were done with our very first try at Master with a 1st place pass.

Last Exteriors Excellent search

Our other success was Carlin’s third Q in Exteriors Excellent. The scene was the front of a mobile home, and its porch, front garden with shrubs, and lawn with pergola and large toys strewn about. We were allowed 2.5 minutes, but Carlin took only 1:08:54 to find all three hides: one under a porch railing, one inside a little yellow toy truck, and another stuck to a large climbing toy under the pergola.

Irish Water Spaniel doing AKC Scent Work Exteriors Excellent search

Search site for Exteriors Excellent. This photo shows about 1/2 of the search area.

As luck would have it, my neighbor has a mobile home set up very much like the search site, and he allowed Carlin and me to practice hides very much like the ones the judge set up at the trial. And this pass made me particularly happy because it finished his Scent Work Exteriors Excellent title with a very nice 1st place.

The Learning Opportunities (aka Not Qualified)

I’ll cover these in the next blog post. If I go search by search, that post will be much longer than this one.

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