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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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It was an all-dogs-all-the-time weekend. Often our weekends are that way, but this one was packed.

Agility

On Saturday morning, Russ took Carlin to beginning agility class. Apparently, Carlin is doing quite well and really enjoying it. I knew he would, and I’m very happy Russ has found a good instructor for it. Someday I’ll go watch, but I hear that they’re learning stuff in very small pieces.

Going for a walk

While they were gone, Tooey and I went for an hour-long walk while it was still cool. There’s this neighborhood to the south of us that I hadn’t explored yet, so was took the long way through the adjacent park, and then wound our way among the houses and streets. That section was not laid out in a grid, and it was full of dead ends and cul de sacs. I never did exactly get lost (I caught sight of a busy road that I recognized several times), but it wasn’t a straightforward walk. Tooey enjoyed it though, especially that last bit when I let her swim in our neighborhood irrigation canal. She looked for the ducks that often live in the reeds that line the bank, but none were to be found.

Bathe and trim (part one)

When we got home, Tooey got a bath and trim. She was filthy. As in, the-water-turned-brown filthy. As in, why-have-I-been-letting-this-filthy-beast-sleep-on-the-bed filthy. By that time of the morning, the temperature had already reached the high 90s F, so blowing her dry was mostly a formality. Although it does get the loose hairs out of her coat, which means I don’t have to do quite as much brushing and combing. With a light trim, Tooey was looking and smelling beautiful again.

Bathe and trim (part two)

When Russ got home, Carlin got a bath and a clip-down. He was dirty, but not nearly as dirty as Tooey. (Perhaps that’s because of her swim in the irrigation canal?) I haven’t been clipping Carlin down because I had still been harboring this fantasy that I might show him in October, but I finally realized that that’s not going to happen. He doesn’t like judges touching him, he’s worried about being so close to other dogs, and I don’t handle all that very well. And plus, there’s unlikely to be any IWS in the Boise shows in October, so there’d be no point in showing him. (You conformation folks will get the pun, eh?)

So he got clipped. His topknot and ears went down to about ¾”, and the rest of him to 3/8”. He looks very handsome to me. Plus he and I are training for hunting now, and a short coat makes it easier to get out the burrs, seeds, and grass awns.

The First End

After about 3-1/2 hours, both Carlin and I were done grooming. I had Russ’s delicious soup for dinner, did a load of laundry, watched TV for a bit, and went to bed.

It all started again on Sunday morning.

Scent work

My scentwork group all came over to my house early in the morning to practice. We did several Interior Advanced hides, a couple of Exterior Advanced hides, one vehicle search (which is not part of AKC Scent Work, but is done in some other organizations’ searches), a Handler Discrimination Novice search, and an Advanced Container search with extra containers. Carlin did well on all of them except Containers.

In Containers, he could not concentrate. The containers were on his lawn, he ran last after all the other dogs, and all he could think about was sniffing the grass to learn more about all the other dogs. Finding odor was just not of any interest at all. OK, so I guess we go back to basics in Containers on grass. Normally, I practice Containers on concrete, but I’m going to have to change my ways. Somehow.

Spaniel training

After lunch, Carlin and I then trucked off to a friend’s property to practice water blinds and hunt deads. Since by that time it had gotten really hot, we decided to do water work first. My friend is an accomplished retriever person, and she set up some fun land-water-land-water-land blinds for Carlin. They weren’t long blinds, but it did mean that he had to resist stopping to hunt around on the island. He’s been through this scenario before, and I didn’t have to handle him very much. If this had been a retriever hunt test, it would not have met the standard—I let him get way off the straight line from me to the bumper, but my goal was to get him down wind from the bumper so he could find it on his own. Which he did just fine, several times in multiple locations.

Then came the hunt dead. Carlin has never failed a hunt dead in a spaniel test, but he’s gotten himself way off course many times. Enough to push time limit to the very nubbins. Enough to raise my stress level considerably, and enough to lower his score by quite a bit.

In a hunt dead, the handler knows only vaguely where the bird is. The judge will say, for example, that the bird is somewhere in the arc formed by that distant that tree out there to the left and that fence post out to the right, and about 65 yards out from the line. So basically, you try to make some kind of educated guess as to where the bird might be, and then send your dog straight out in a line to a spot downwind from that spot. Of course, you have to guess where downwind is out 65 yards away—sometimes that’s obvious, but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes the wind is moving differently out there. Or there may not be any breath of wind at all.

And in yesterday’s practice, Carlin did exactly right. We set it up so that Carlin would out into a cross breeze. I sent him in a line that would put him downwind of where I thought the bird was, he actually took that line, and then hooked a right when he winded the bird. Actually taking the line is what I was looking for. So, good boy!

Riding in the car

While Carlin and I were gone, Russ took Tooey for a ride in the car, which is a good thing in and of itself. He was looking for a DMV where he could maneuver the boat and trailer, so both could be licensed and registered in Idaho. Since this was a reconnaissance mission, there were no worries about leaving Tooey in a hot car. Just a nice air-conditioned ride on a hot sunny day.

the now-registered Spainnear Uisce (the boat), Tooey, and Carlin

The Ending End

By the time we all got home, it was time for dinner, a little TV, another load of laundry (to wash the dog bath towels), and bed.

Like I said, all dogs, all the time.

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One of my earliest memories of Carlin is his trying to get Cooper to play with him. He’d grab one of Cooper’s rubber balls, put it on the ground several feet away, and push it toward Cooper with his nose. He did that over and over, but it never worked.

It broke a place in my heart. Carlin so admired Cooper, but Cooper never would have anything pleasant to do with the upstart brat.

So, last night, years later, when Carlin started that game up with me, that little place in my heart started to heal.

For many years, I’ve been asking Carlin to give me his ball so I could throw it for him. I don’t demand it. It’s not the same thing as throwing a bumper. The bumpers are mine, and when I throw or hide them, Carlin must return them to me.

The many rubber and plastic balls, however, belong to Carlin. I never force him to give me his ball, but occasionally, if I find one near my feet, I’ll throw it.

Then about a week ago, I changed something. It used to be that when I came home, Carlin would run off to grab a ball to show me. He’d parade it around, prancing with his head and tail up, for all the world a sign that says “Look at what I have!”

Several days ago, I just started trotting after him, not trying to overtake him, or catch him, or take his ball — just follow him.

Eventually, after leading me around in circles and figure-8s around the furniture, he’d flop down on his dog bed and let the ball fall out of his mouth. Whereapon, I’d grab it up and toss it for him.

Then last night, I was sitting on the living room floor watching a new Netflix series, and Carlin put his ball on the ground, and nudged it toward me with his nose. I tossed it, he ran to get it, and then lay down on his bed again.

Then, a few minutes later, I saw the ball rolling toward me again.

This time, I stood up, asked him for a Twirl (move in a counter-clockwise circle), and then threw the ball.

Same routine again, except this time I asked him for a Spin (clockwise circle). And again with a Sit, again with a Down at a distance, and lastly with a Heel Backwards along the wall.

I have no idea if this game will go on, or whether it was a one-time fluke. But I had a fabulous time, and I think Carlin did, too.

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Let’s start with the good:

  • After this last Sunday’s hunt test was over, I was invited to come later this week to practice retriever work on some private land that actually has ponds on it. This is wonderful for two reasons:
    — I was invited. This means that perhaps I am losing my newcomer status a bit and slowly becoming part of a group.
    — The other reason is that Carlin and I get to practice retrieving in some water. Practice-able water is not easy to find around here – most ponds and rivers are on privately owned land, or they are on park land where dogs must be on leash and/or there are lots of kids and other dogs close by.
  • The judges and gallery were very kind.
  • I learned that somehow I have to accustom Carlin to duck decoys, which I realize now he’s never seen.
  • I brought a couple of dead pheasants home with me, which I gutted and then stuffed with insulating foam so I can use the birds for training.

Now to the not-so-good:

The hunt test went bad right from the start. We were out on the first bird (which for this test was pheasants). The first mark was about 75 yards into a pond just shallow enough for the dogs to run through. The pond was small, planted with five duck decoys at the right edge, and the starting line was about 30 yards back from the pond’s edge. A dog going straight through the pond to the bird would not encounter the decoys at all. A dog running around the pond would run right past them.

You can guess which dog I had. The one running around the pond. And when he got to the decoys, he stopped dead in his tracks. WHOA!!! WHAT IS THAT?!? Each decoy had to be thoroughly investigated.

I don’t know if you’ve seen other Irish Water Spaniels take a certain posture while checking out something potentially evil, but all of mine have done it. The dog stretches his neck w-a-a-a-y out in order to get the nose close-ish to the evil thing, while the body stretches as far away as possible. This is what Carlin did to every single one of those four decoys, one at a time.

And then, OMG!!! A breeze drifted over the water, and one of the decoys moved. Carlin jumped up and ran away several yards. At that point, he’d totally forgotten what he was supposed to be doing out in that field, so he went into default spaniel mode, and started quartering. He got farther and farther away from the bird, and I could hear one of the judged shifting in his chair. So, I blew my whistle to stop Carlin.

He stopped, which is good. But then, when I tried to call him in just enough to get him away from the decoys, he ran the other way instead. Finally, the judge said, “Pick your dog up, and we’ll give him the live flyer.”

That mark went great. Carlin lined the bird, picked it up, and brought it back to hand.

I should have stopped right there.

Ordinarily, I’d have had to stop for the day because dogs that fail the 1st series don’t get called back to test in the 2nd series. But since there were so few entrants in the Junior test, the judge invited the dogs who had failed the 1st series to do the 2nd series anyway. I thought, well, I paid good money for this, I should take advantage of the opportunity.

Actually, I should have declined and let Carlin end on the success. The next two marks looked straightforward, and they were. Carlin lined each of them, ran straight to each bird (one through rather than around some swimming water), brought it back, and dropped it 6 feet away from me. He would not pick up either bird, just nosing and poking them on the ground. Aghhh! So embarrassing.

We’ve had this bird-dropping problem before at a retriever hunt test. Since he’s successfully picked up and delivered many a pheasant at spaniel hunt tests, we had thought the problem at retriever hunt tests was that the birds were ducks. But Sunday’s test used pheasants. So, now, I’m thinking that there is something about retriever hunt tests that bugs him.

Don’t know what the problem is, though. My retriever club has had several training days that were set up just like retriever hunt tests, with guns, birds, crowds of dogs, holding blinds, a marshall, and judges (but no decoys). And in all of the recent training days, Carlin has picked his birds (both ducks and pheasants) up and delivered them to hand.

So, what to do? For now, the lawn is strewn with Russ’s decoys and I’ll run some short marks past and through them in the yard until the decoys become no issue for him. And Carlin and I will go out to the property with water later this week, and put the decoys in there, too. And maybe when I’ve done that, some other bright idea will occur to me.

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I recently got an email from a woman whose dog has SLO:

Hi! I was so happy to come upon your site!! …I have an English Springer…, [we are] sure she has SLO. …We are having a really hard time getting her to take her supplements- I’ve tried multiple ways to get her to take her Omega – disguised in food, on her food, I bought filtered to decrease the odor- so many things-she just turns her nose up. She will eat cooked Salmon but that is it… She has a jaw that is tight and will not let you open and I really hate to force down her. I have left her food down and walked away and it stays that way…uneaten. …I love reading all you have written and so feel like I finally have another person who understands.

I looked back at this post Training Unawares, and I realized that I hadn’t said anything about how I actually trained Cooper to jump up onto his grooming table and take his many medicines. Here is an edited version of my reply to the woman who wrote me:

I am so sorry this is happening to your dog. It is indeed painful to watch.

I’m trying to remember how I trained Cooper to take supplements. It didn’t take long he was jumping up onto our grooming table without being asked in order to get them.

I’m pretty sure that I started out with the best, most yummiest treat ever. For Cooper, that was Yummy Chummies or Red Barn Beef Roll. Cooked or dried liver chunks worked well, too. I would show him a treat, get him onto the grooming table somehow, and then gave him the treat. He could also see and smell the pile of treats on the counter from up there.

That first treat made his mouth water, so it was easier to slip a pill or capsule down his throat. I soon learned that I had to stuff it way back into the back of his throat, or else he’d spit it out.

The thing I don’t quite remember is how I got him to open his mouth for the big fish oil capsule in the first place. I think I must have had a capsule between my thumb and first finger, while holding a treat against my palm with my other fingers. He’d open his mouth because he’d just gotten his favorite treat ever, and could smell the 2nd treat. Then, as soon as I got the capsule into the back of his throat, I gave him many, many treats – maybe even up to 10, one at a time. (They were cut into small pieces.) He soon realized he’d get a major payout for letting me stuff a pill down.

And I probably did not start out trying to stuff everything I had to give him all in the same session. But as time went on, and he was more willing, I reduced the number of treats, and upped the number of pills per session. But I always started with a treat and I always gave him a treat after every pill or capsule.

If your dog is really reluctant, you could start by giving him a treat for just letting you open his mouth a little bit. Then when he’s happy letting you do that (and that may take several sessions to teach), a treat for letting you open it little wider. Then a treat for letting you open it all the way.

Then after a couple of sessions of that, you could go to giving a treat, stuffing one small pill down, then giving many treats. And after several sessions of that, then do treat-small pill-many treats-larger pill-many treats, and etc. Gradually build up the number and size of pills you give over several sessions.

And you have to use the dog’s very favorite, very best treat. And, while you’re teaching this, I think he should get it only for letting you open his mouth and then later, stuffing pills down. The dog may change his mind about what he thinks the best treat is, and if that happens, you’ll have to change treats until you find the next very favorite.

Here’s another idea. Cooper has passed away, but my current dogs will do anything for green tripe. I can get them to eat almost anything if I have it mixed in green tripe. I buy a brand called Tripett, and it comes in cans. You might buy a can and see how your dog likes it. Then, if he really likes it, try mixing your supplement into some tripe. Start out with a little supplement and then gradually work up to the full amount. I will warn you, green tripe smells disgusting, but it’s good for the dogs. (Cleaned tripe or the tripe you can buy in the grocery stores for people food isn’t nearly so interesting to my dogs.)

Hope this helps. If not, I suggest you find a dog trainer to help you. Find one who is good at teaching dogs to do tricks using positive reinforcement. The process of teaching a dog to take pills is the same as teaching a dog to do tricks. You break the learning down into small easy chunks and reward the dog with whatever the dog thinks is rewarding. (Pardon me if you know this already.)

My best wishes,

I truly do hope it helps. Dealing with SLO is never easy, but sometimes there can be learning that makes life better.

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Usually, I like to sleep in on weekends, but when the day is promising to reach triple-digit temperatures, everyone gets out of bed and out to the training fields early. So that’s what we did.

We have this nifty launcher, operated by remote control, that throws pheasant-sized retrieve objects straight up into the air.

Dogtra Pheasant Launcher

Dogtra Pheasant Launcher

The action is supposed to mimic the action of a bird launching itself from the cover when flushed by a dog. And except for the noise of the latch letting loose and the springs letting go, it does a pretty good job.

So, we loaded the launcher with a partially thawed chukar, hid it in the four foot cover, and tied a small piece of orange ribbon to nearby grass stalks to mark the spot. Then went back to the car to get Carlin. We set ourselves up as much like a hunt test as possible, Russ and Carlin on one side and me on the other. Russ sent Carlin across the course, and then whistled him back and forth, gradually working toward the launcher. It would have been better had we a third person along (any volunteers for next weekend?) to play the second “gunner”, but even so, Carlin did a nice job of quartering the field, looking for birds.

When he got close to the laucher, Russ set it off and whistled a short single blast simultaneously. Carlin’s butt hit the ground (YAY!), and then stayed on the ground when Russ shot the starter pistol (double YAY!). This is exactly what we’re looking for.

Russ went out and petted Carlin (who was busy looking back and forth between the area of the fall and Russ (Dad! The bird is right there! It’s right there! Dad!!!). Carlin doesn’t get to retrieve every bird, though, so back to the car he went, while we set the thing up again in a different spot.

And he did it again! Great place to stop.

I wish I had videoed that — it was great. But I didn’t think to video until Russ set Carlin up for a blind retrieve in the water.

As you can see from the video, Carlin didn’t go straight at the bird. Instead, he veered off toward the right a bit. In a hunt test, this is less than ideal, but it’s not bad, and it would definitely be more than OK while out hunting. He found his bird and brought it back. That’s what we’re looking for. Good boy!

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I’d really hoped to bring Carlin home today. The plan was that we’d have a last visit at the Academy, get a demo of Carlin’s progress, and get a lesson ourselves on how to handle him. We’d walk him around with Tooey, and my hope was that he’d stay in a nice, polite “Right Here” while doing so. And then we’d check out and go home.

I got it about half right.

While we practiced indoors yesterday, Carlin did better than last week. I was able to walk him almost right up to Russ and Tooey, and then turn and walk away, and have Carlin come with me, leash loose. Very good! I was happy.

But we hardly ever walk our dogs on leash in the house, so I asked to try it outdoors, one of us walking Tooey up ahead, and one of us walking Carlin not too far behind. I knew this would be hard because Carlin does not like to be left behind, prefers to be in front with or ahead of Tooey, and generally just finds all of the scents and activity outdoors to be very distracting.

And alas, he still wasn’t ready to do this, no matter which of us had Tooey and which of us had Carlin. He still couldn’t concentrate on staying in position while his beloved Tooey was near and they were both outside.

He has to learn to stay in position, no matter what the distraction, whether it be Tooey, a squirrel dashing across our path, another dog coming toward us, or other dogs running past to retrieve a bird.

So to help solve this problem (we hope), we are now dogless for a week. We left Tooey there so she could help Carlin learn to work around one of his top favorite distractions.

Tooey really didn’t want us to leave her this morning, but it looks like she’s made the best of it.

image

Tooey snoozing on the couch (in a house where dogs are not supposed to snooze on the couch)

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