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Archive for the ‘nosework’ Category

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!

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Buried is hard. Or at least, it seems to me that most dogs that try AKC Scent Work have a harder time with Buried than with Containers, Exteriors, or Interiors.

That has been true for Carlin, too. And now it gets harder.

Buried Novice and Buried Advanced has dogs searching for odor in boxes of dirt. Buried Excellent has three hides buried 6 inches deep in the actual ground. It’s a big leap — the dog has no familiar objects that he knows to search. I imagine that it just looks like nothing, or maybe it looks like Exteriors, where the dog searches above ground for hidden odor.

For Buried Excellent, the dog has to learn to search for odor underground. I’m hoping Carlin will be ready for Buried Excellent at my local Boise trials in March, so it’s time to get going with training. And today I finally got it together to bury some hides in the ground for Carlin.

Today, the three swabs are scented with Birch, Anise, or Clove — all odors Carlin is familiar with. I’ve placed each swab inside a plastic tube that has a lid with a hole in them. I’ve buried the tubes about 1/2 inch below the surface of the ground in the grass.

As you can see by the video, Carlin is indeed confused about what kind of search this is. I am using a different cue (“search dirt”) rather than my usual one (“find it”). But seeing no containers of dirt, I think he’s assuming this must be an Exterior search. But finally, he catches a whiff of odor at ground level.

He eventually found all three hides, but I helped him quite a lot: by restraining him so he wouldn’t leave the search area, by calling him over to where the hides were located, and by standing next to them.

Eventually, I won’t help him at all, and then that’s the case, then I’ll bury the hides deeper.

 

 

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Sunday December 2nd found Carlin and me at the second day of the Upper Snake River Valley Dog Training Club‘s (USRVDTC) December scent work trials. Because Carlin had passed his third Interiors Advanced search the day before, we moved up to Interiors Excellent.

Our first attempt at Interiors Excellent was an NQ, but that was almost totally on me. Excellent Interiors has two search areas. In this trial, the first search area was the same room as the previous day’s Interiors Advanced search. The second area was an adjacent space, with no physical dividers between them.

In the first search area, Carlin found his first hide, on the underside of a table, right away. He searched the room a bit, but then he ran over to a pile of lunch boxes, and insisted, pawing and pushing one of the lunch boxes, that this was a hide. So I called it. But what I didn’t pay enough attention to was the fact that these lunch boxes had a tennis ball perched on top of them. This tennis ball was one of the three distractions placed around the search areas, and at this level, hides aren’t placed in the same place as a distraction. I should have seen the tennis ball for what it was, and had him search elsewhere. But with my incorrect call, we NQd our first Interiors Excellent search. This is what we call a “learning experience”.

Fortunately, the judge kindly allowed us to complete the search in the first search area even though we’d NQd. Carlin searched hard for the entire three-minute time limit. Since he didn’t find anything else, I could have concluded that there simply wasn’t a second hide in the first search area, but it turned out that there was. Finally the judge showed me where it was. It was on a door in a corner adjacent to the second search area. At one point, Carlin had gone into that corner, but then quickly left it, trying to go into the second search area. I pulled him out of the second search area, but then inadvertently blocked him from searching that corner again. So that was on me.

The judge kindly let us search the second area, too. Since there had been two hides in the first search area, I knew there was only one hide in the second. And it took Carlin about 10 seconds to find it, in a metal cookie tin under one of the tables.

So, on to the first Handler Discrimination Novice search of the day. If Carlin qualified (Qd) in this search, he’d have the Scent Work Handler Discrimination Novice (SHDN) title. And boy, did he! He nailed the box with my sock in 6:72 seconds. But he also nailed the box, and scattered other boxes everywhere, which got him a fault. His time improved from the previous afternoon. In fact, his time was the fastest of all the dogs, but that fault knocked him down to a 2nd place. But still, it’s a Q and a new title, so I was very happy.

By the time the afternoon trial came around, Carlin and I were both pretty amped. Sunday’s Trial 2 was my last chance to pass an Interiors Excellent search this weekend. I really wanted that pass. So I thought I might watch the Interiors Advanced dogs and see where they had trouble. Maybe I’d learn something. And boy, did I.

None of the Interior Advanced dogs passed. They all failed to find a hide set under the upper rolled edge of a metal folding chair. Partly I think it was airflow–the room had two drafty doors, which were closed during the search, and a big window. But partly it was because handlers got in between their dogs and the chair, and partly it was that handlers didn’t alter their paths around the chairs to help their dogs search from multiple vantage points.

So, I decided I would try to avoid those mistakes in our Excellent search.

Sunday’s Trial 2 Interiors Excellent search used the same two search areas as the Trial 1 search, but the hides were in different places. He found a hide in a cookie tin on top of one of the tables reasonably fast. But then we had to keep searching to see if the first search area had a second hide or not. We searched every table. We searched both doors. We searched all over every chair. And lo and behold, there was a hide tucked into the rolled metal edge of one of the folding chairs.

So that was two hides in the first search area. That meant that there was only one hide in the second search area. It took him about 20 seconds to locate that hide folded into the clothes of a half-size Santa Claus doll seated in a wooden rocking chair. He was a little vague about where exactly in the clothing the hide was, so I had to ask him to “Show me”. So he stuck his nose deep under the butt of the Santa Claus doll and then sat. I called it, and we were right. Carlin’s first Interiors Excellent, completed in 2 minutes, 21:07 seconds. Of the two dogs entered, Carlin was the only one to pass, so we got a 1st place.

The day ended with a bonus Handler Discrimination Novice pass. Of the 4 dogs to pass, Carlin got another second place. Again, he had the best time at 11:40 seconds, but he also once again scattered boxes. So, he got a fault and a 2nd place. I am so glad we don’t have to do a Handler Discrimination search in boxes again. (The next level searches in interior spaces for a cotton ball or swab loaded with the handler’s scent.)

All in all, it was a great weekend. The club ran the trial well, workers and the judge were very efficient in the set up, and the searches themselves were challenging and fun.

2nd in HDN; HDN title; Q and 1st in SIE; Q and 2nd in HDN

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I wrote a post earlier about Carlin’s earning his Scent Work Advanced (SWA) title. Dogs get that title when they have completed Advanced titles in all 4 elements: Containers, Exteriors, Interiors, and Buried. After the Idaho Capital City Kennel Club (ICCKC) scent work trials in early November, I was certain that Carlin had earned the Scent Work Advanced (SWA) title. I thought he had Advanced titles in all four elements, including the Scent Work Interiors Advanced (SIA) title. So I entered him in the Interiors Excellent searches offered at the Upper Snake River Valley Dog Training Club’s (USRVDTC) scent work trials this past weekend. (A dog has to have earned the Advanced title in an element before running an Excellent search in that element.)

But last Thursday, just two days before the USRVDTC trials, I was looking at the AKC website to see if they’d recorded Carlin’s titles from the ICCKC trials yet. They hadn’t (and still haven’t), but I could see that they had Carlin down for only two qualifying Interiors Advanced searches. (A dog needs three qualifying runs (Qs) to get the SIA title.)

I looked at my spreadsheet of Qs again, and saw that I’d marked him down as having three. But before contacting the AKC, I wanted to double check. So I looked at all the results emails sent by the various trial secretaries, and sure enough, he’d earned only two Qs. My spreadsheet was wrong, which meant my entry in the USRVDTC trials was mistaken, which meant I had to hope that the USRVDTC trial secretary would agree to fix it, and move us back down from Excellent to Advanced.

Thankfully, the wonderfully patient secretary said she could indeed fix it.

So on the first trial on Saturday, December 1, Carlin and I ran Interiors Advanced. And failed (NQd)! Heavy sigh. He found one hidden odor on the leg of a metal chair. But then, after he searched and searched, I thought he’d found odor in a tree planter. He kept going back to it. He stretched up on his hind legs as high as he could so he could sniff the leaves and branches. So I called it. But I was wrong. It was on the rung of a chair in that same corner.

But all was not lost in that first trial. We also ran his first Handler Discrimination Novice search, where he has to identify which of the 10 identical cardboard boxes holds my (very dirty, very stinky) cotton sock. We’ve been working on this pretty consistently (and I’ve been wearing those socks everywhere). Carlin found it in 19:56 seconds, for a 1st place. And he did a nice, neat job of it.

In the second trial on Saturday, Carlin Qd in Interiors Advanced. He found one hide on the metal table leg and the second inside a hanging Christmas stocking, both in 31:06 seconds with no faults. That earned us a 1st place. This was his third pass in Interiors Advanced, so with this pass, Carlin really did earn the SIA title, enabling him to move up to the Interiors Excellent search in the next day’s trials. It also, this time for real, earned him the overall Scent Work Advanced title.

His second Handler Discrimination Novice search was not so elegant as his first. He found the box pretty quickly. But he also did a bit of box-scattering. Not exactly the behavior the judge is looking for–a nice quick sit next to the correct box would have been sufficient. So Carlin earned a Q, but he also earned two faults (his very first faults ever in Scent Work) for disrupting the search area. Those faults pushed him to 2nd place, even though he did the search in only 18:38 seconds. (The dog that got first place took longer, but had no faults.)

Even so, it was a great day. We achieved one of my goals, which was to really get the overall Scent Work Advanced title. And we got 2/3 of the Handler Discrimination title. So I was happy that Carlin did so well at something he loves to do.

1st in HDN; 1st in SIA; 2nd in HDN; element title SIA; overall title SWA

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Carlin and I have been practicing for our upcoming Scent Work trials in Idaho Falls. Novice and Advanced level searches have been relatively easy for us (except for Buried—that seems to be the problematic element). But next weekend, we are entered in our first Interiors Excellent searches.

So Carlin and I went to a local training facility, a friend set up an Interiors Excellent practice search for me, and I videoed our search using a GoPro on my head.

Interiors Excellent requires two search areas that total 400-800 square feet. I think the search areas in the video have a too-small total search area. But I didn’t check, so I don’t know for sure.

It also requires that one search area has one hide, and the other has two. The trick with this requirement is that the team doesn’t know which search area has one hide and which has two. The hides can also be set up to 48” tall, and one is inaccessible to the dog. This practice was set up just this way.

This level also requires multiple distractions, which can be toys, lights, sounds, or food. The first search area included a whole basketful of toys, but there were no other distractions purposely set. Of course, the falling plastic cups could be considered a kind of distraction—I was pleased that Carlin wasn’t fazed by them at all.

I learned some things in the first search area:

  • When Carlin purposefully goes back to his first find multiple times, it’s likely that there’s only that one hide in that search area. In this video, you can see that he went back to his find at least 4 times. He searched where I asked him to search, but then kept going back that first find. That’s a hint I need to pay attention to.
  • By looking at the video, I notice that Carlin searched the area to the right of the refrigerator early on, and then later I asked him to search that area. I had completely forgotten he’d already searched it. I need to get better at that—remembering where my dog has been already and not wasting time going back to those places.

The second search area was much more straightforward.

  • I had to laugh when he indicated his first hide in the 2nd area – he’d found that hide already while searching the first area, since it was right around the corner. I haven’t been in an Interiors Excellent search yet, but I’m guessing that in a trial, the areas may have a bit more separation than we set up in this practice search. I guess we’ll just have to see.
  • And I’ll have to remember to get a clear picture in my head of where the search area boundaries are before we start searching.

Carlin is a good teammate with a good nose. It’s a joy watching him work. As you watch the video, I hope you think so, too. And more, if you’re not doing scent work with your dog, I hope you think about doing it. It’s a lot of fun for both members of the team.

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Update 11/29/2018 — I just discovered that Carlin needs one more Interiors Advanced pass to get his Interiors Advanced title and the overall Scent Work Advanced title. I thought we had three passes in Interiors Advanced, but I was wrong. Fortunately, the lovely trial secretary at the upcoming trials in Idaho Falls has agreed to move us down so we can do Interior Advanced searches there. (We had been entered in Excellent, but we don’t qualify for that class yet.)

Now, back to the original post…

Carlin and I had a great time at the Idaho Capital City Kennel Club‘s scent work trials this weekend. We got off to a slow-ish start on Saturday, but totally picked up steam today.

Carlin with ribbons

Yesterday (Saturday), Carlin went to extremes. In trial 1, he placed first in Container Excellent, but then NQ’d in Buried Advanced. Then, in trial 2, he NQ’d in Container Excellent but qualified with a 3rd place in Buried Advanced.

The qualifying runs, he earned without doubt. His indications that he’d found the hides were clean and unambiguous. In Containers Excellent, he sniffed and pawed the three correct containers, totally ignoring the food distraction and the toy distraction. In Buried Advanced, he briefly pawed the correct dirt boxes and sat next to them. He did pick up the tennis ball distraction, but quickly dropped it when I told him to leave it (which pleased and amazed me).

Our NQ-ing the other Containers Excellent and Buried Advanced were mostly on me. In Containers, his indication on the third hide looked half-hearted, so I asked him to keep searching. He randomly picked a container that I had stopped and stood next to instead. Well, the one he initially indicated was correct and the random one was not. Buried Advanced was similar. I didn’t quit moving, but he had a hard time finding the second hide, but finally he picked one. I called it, and we were wrong.

But Sunday, the boy was amped. He whined and wanted to start searching NOW! Usually, I take a bit of time at the start line while I switch his long line from his collar to his harness. I think that gives us a moment to breathe and collect our thoughts. But Carlin wanted to GO NOW! And in all four searches, he found his hides quickly and accurately.

The first search was a Containers Excellent, with the containers set in a 4 x 5 grid. I hate grids. Carlin usually just blasts into the center of all the containers and starts searching from the middle of the grid. That makes it very hard for me to remember where he’s searched and where he hasn’t. But in the first trial, Carlin decided to be methodical, searching up one row and back down the next in a zig zag pattern. He ignored the toy and food distractions and found each hide. I called them correctly, and we were done in just under 27 seconds for a 1st place.

Honestly, I don’t remember the day’s first Buried Advanced search. The ribbon sticker says it happened in 28:15 seconds for a 3rd place.

With the 2nd trial of the day, I was feeling nervous. If he passed the Containers Excellent, he’d get an SCE (Scent Work Containers Excellent) title. If he passed Buried Advanced, he’d finish both the SBA (Scent Work Buried Advanced) and the SWA (Scent Work Advanced) titles. I realize having titles isn’t everything, but still, they show how hard we’ve worked and how talented Carlin is, so I wanted them.

And lo and behold, Carlin qualified in both. This time Containers Excellent was set in a circle, the toy distraction was totally hidden inside the container. In previous trials, judges have set the toy so that exhibitors could see at least part of it, and know to not call a find on that container. But not this judge. So I’d have to just trust my dog to find odor, and not the toy or the food. And he did it! It took us two turns around the circle, but he found and indicated all three hides in 37:28 seconds, completely ignoring the toy and the food, for a 1st place.

In Buried Advanced, he found both hides in just under 34 seconds for a 4th place. I didn’t believe his first indication, and I wanted to be very conservative, so asked him to keep searching. He correctly indicated a second box of dirt pretty quickly. And then he bee-lined it back to the box he first indicated, sat down smartly, and lightly pawed the box. This time I believed him, called it, and we got a “Yes” from the judge. I was a bit rattled, because this was the qualifying run I really wanted so Carlin could get both the SBA and SWA titles. So for a few seconds, I forgot to say “Finish”. Then I remembered and said it, the judge said, “THANK you!” with some emphasis. I think she was worried I wouldn’t say that last crucial word.

I am so happy with Carlin’s performance. We’re both a bit tired, him because he worked hard for his Qs, and me because I chaired these trials. But we had a great set of volunteers to help get this weekend’s trials done and done well.

Now we can rest, until we start training for the next trials in early December. I’ve decided to try Handler Discrimination, so we’ll see how that goes.

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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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