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Archive for the ‘nosework’ Category

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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“Carlin Superstar”. It’s one thing to think that in your own head about your own dog. It’s an entirely different thing when someone else says those words aloud. Particularly when they’re said by someone in a position to know. And yesterday, that’s what the judge said as Carlin and I walked out of the area of his third Exteriors Advanced search.

Exteriors Advanced had been a tough search for most of the dogs. Only two qualified, and Carlin was the fastest of the two with a time of 43:08 seconds and no faults. In Russ’s video, you can see from the movement of the spectators’ hair and the movement of the little pink flags that there was a definite breeze. I think the wind must have been swirling around the corners and into the alcove of the building.

It was still morning, so not too hot, and the search area was still in the shade. We were the 5th team to run, so the odor had been in place for at least 1/2 hour if not longer. And the course was set up so that the start line was downwind of both hides, which I think helped.

You can also see from the video how eager he is to go. Carlin is always eager to go. Even on the last run of the last day of a multi-day trial, he pulls me to the start line. He loves this game, just about as much as he loves Spaniel Hunting Tests.

Russ also took a video of Carlin’s second Containers Advanced run. This search took place about an hour and a half after the Exteriors search. The air was warmer, the asphalt was warm but not too hot, and the breeze was still blowing. This start line was set at 90 degrees to the wind direction.

I’d hoped to start Carlin on the most downwind row of containers (the row opposite the judge), but he had his own ideas. And as it turned out, that worked out great. The timer clocked him at 35:07 second, again with no faults, for another 1st place. This run, being the third in which he qualified, also earned him his Scent Work Exteriors Advanced title.

The Great Salt Lake Dog Training Club offered only Exteriors and Containers at the Advanced level in their trials this weekend, so since we were there anyway, I took Carlin out for another Exteriors run. Unfortunately, the battery on Russ’s camera gave out, so I don’t have a video of that one. But Carlin did well again, at 1 minute, 05:19 seconds for a 2nd place.

That one took a little longer, I think, because there was this big round pillar that captured the scent of one hide and gave him the idea that there were actually two hides along the brick wall that formed the boundary of the second search. It took a while for me to decide that he’d found that hide already, and take him to the other side of the course along the downwind edge. He caught that scent as soon as we got downwind, and alerted to it right away.

Our last run of the day was his third Containers Advanced run. Same three-rows-of-five setup, similar location in the parking lot, and what looked to me like the exact same containers. (I think they must have had several copies of the same containers, some “hot” with scent and some not.) This time the start line was set up at the corner of the search area, directly downwind. He finished this search in 34:09 seconds, for a 1st place and his Scent Work Containers Advanced title.

Carlin starting his Containers Advanced search

“Here’s one!”

“Here’s another one!”

Carlin floats off the search area

Today was a good day for Team Carlin

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Now I know where Carlin’s heart is: Scent Work. How do I know this? The evidence occurred at last weekend’s Scent Work trial in Blackfoot, Idaho, put on by the Upper Snake River Valley Dog Training Club.

In the Advanced-level Scent Work classes, the judge can use a non-food distraction: a toy, a light, or a noise. The dog needs to be able to ignore the distraction and keep working to find the hidden scent.

This is harder for some dogs that others. Some dogs just can’t resist a tennis ball or a stuffed toy. And some distractions are more distracting that others. So when I saw a Dokken duck sitting in the very middle of the Advanced Exterior search area, my heart sank a bit.

A Dokken (officially known as a Dokken Dead Fowl Trainer) is a somewhat-lifelike imitation of a bird. Retriever and spaniel trainers use them for training their hunting dogs. A Dokken is about the size, weight, and coloring of a real bird, such as a duck, pheasant, or dove, but they don’t have feathers, and, unless you inject yours a special bird-scent compound, they smell like the plastic they’re made of.

example of Dokken Dead Fowl Trainer — image from Gundog Supply

In training for his hunting career, Carlin has been heavily rewarded for picking up and delivering Dokkens to hand. So I thought there was a distinct possibility that Carlin would pick up that Dokken and try to deliver it to me. It’s not against the rules for him to pick it up, but it is against the rules for me to touch him or the distraction. And if he found it so distracting that he couldn’t find his hides, then, well… Then we fail.

There’s not a lot I could do to deflect Carlin if he was determined to get that Dokken. He moves very fast in search areas, and often I can barely keep up with him.

So, I just took a deep breath, took a hold of his harness, told him to “Find it!”, and let him go.

And what did he do? He jumped right over the Dokken, and ran straight to the scent hidden under the edges of a plastic box set a couple of feet beyond the Dokken. Having found that and gotten his chunk of dried liver, he took off again, looking for the second hide, which he found expeditiously in the corner of a garage door frame.

The whole search took him 41.8 seconds.

Dokken?

What Dokken?

Now, of course, if the distraction had been a real duck, pheasant, chukar, or dove, the results would likely have been way different. But fortunately, using a real bird wouldn’t be allowed. So we’re safe there.

For the whole 2-day trial, Carlin did really well. On the first day, he got:

  • 2nd Place in Exteriors Advanced at 31.69 seconds.
  • 1st Place in Interiors Advanced at 49.13 seconds.
  • a Q in Buried Novice at 16.13 seconds.

On the second day, he got:

  • 1st Place in Exterior Advanced at 41.80 seconds.
  • 3rd Place in Container Advanced at 47.71 seconds.
  • 4th Place in Interior Advanced at 1 minute, 21.04 seconds.
  • 4th Place in Buried Novice at 17.30 seconds. This third pass in Buried Novice got him that element title. And having gotten his fourth Novice element Novice title means he’s earned the Scent Work Novice title (SWN).

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What a weekend! Exhausting and exhilarating and wonderful. And all done without my talking.

So what happened? Well, the short answer is that this weekend at the Idaho Capital City KC Scent Work trials, Carlin earned three AKC titles: Scent Work Interior Novice (SIN), Scent Work Exterior Novice (SEN), and Scent Work Containers Novice (SCN). He also qualified in one Novice Buried search. And, on top of all that, on Saturday, he won High In Trial for Novice out of the Novice A classes.

Friday was the first day of the trial, and strangely, I wasn’t nervous. I was pretty confident in Carlin’s ability to find the hidden scent of birch essential oil to qualify in the Novice Exteriors, Containers, and Interiors classes. Novice Buried was last. I didn’t feel quite confident in Buried. In practice, he’s successfully found the Buried hide about 70% of the time–which is not where I like to be when I enter an event. But, I was going to be there. I might as well try anyway.

Well, he did great, better than I expected. He found the hidden scent in Exteriors in 20.96 seconds, for a 1st place; Containers in 10.41 seconds for another 1st; and Interior in 16.86 seconds for a 4th place. In both Exterior and Containers, he did very little searching, almost as if he knew where the hide was before he even entered the search area. Interiors was a little harder–the hidden swab with a little bit of birch oil was on the bottom of an easy chair. But that chair was right next to an ottoman, so it took me a bit longer to be convinced that I could identify specifically where the hide was, should the judge ask me to show her.

Buried eluded us, though. He searched all the boxes of sand several times, and didn’t seem to be able to identify which box the odor was buried in. So, I started to do a directed search by pointing to each box. He sat (his indication that he’s found a hide) after I pointed to the first box, so I called it. But he was wrong. I should have waited and pointed at every box, getting him to search each one again.

Saturday. I don’t even remember Saturday except for the end. If the ribbon stickers didn’t say the times, I would not remember them. No 1sts, but overall Saturday was just great. Exteriors in 16.27 seconds for a 3rd place; Containers in 11.12 seconds for 4th place; Interiors in 10.85 seconds for 2nd place; and lo and behold, Buried in 16.99 seconds to qualify. So, we qualified in all the offered Novice classes, I had no handler faults, and Carlin’s times added up to be the quickest of all the dogs (55.23 seconds out of a possible 480, which is 2 minutes per element). With that, Team Carlin took home the High in Trial ribbon for the day.

I was not expecting that at all. I had figured that one of the teams with a 1st would get it. So when our names were called, I think my smile split my face. (Not unlike when Cooper got a Judges Award of Merit in Conformation.)

Sunday poured down rain, but the show went on. I think folks were relieved to have cooler weather, and the dogs didn’t seem to care. And Carlin did pretty well. Exterior in 19.63 for a 4th place; Containers in 8.58 seconds for 4th place; and Interior in 9.28 seconds for 2nd place. Those passes were the third for each of those classes, so that earned Carlin his new titles.

And Buried? Well this time, Carlin searched about three of the boxes and then did an enthusiastic sit at one of them with a huge smile on his face. Must like the enthusiastic sit he does for all the other elements. So I called it. But darn it. He was wrong. Or fooling with me. Or just tired. So we didn’t qualify in Buried on Sunday.

Oh, and about the no talking? That makes our successes particularly sweet. I had surgery on my vocal cords on May 8th, and I was not allowed to use them. No talking. No whispering. No singing. No yelling. So Carlin and I did all three trials without my talking to him. Just gestures and pointing and facial expressions. Not the way I’d normally like to do to it. But Carlin and I are a team, and there are times we don’t need to talk.

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It was a busy weekend with the dogs. Russ took Carlin out spanieling on Saturday, and on Sunday I took Tooey to Barn Hunt practice and Carlin to Scentwork practice.

Russ said Carlin did everything perfectly spaniel-wise. The grey, snowy weather didn’t trip him up, and he didn’t forget anything, even though he hadn’t been practicing spaniel work since last fall. He found his birds, sat after flushing them, stayed sitting while one flew away and the others were brought down, retrieved the downed ones, and delivered them to hand.

Apparently, Carlin’s work finding birds was better than Russ’s work bringing them down, but as I wasn’t there, so I can’t say.

Anyway, Sonya Holcomb took some photos, for which I am grateful.

Carlin waiting his turn to hunt — photo by Sonya Holcomb

Carlin staying steady in the field watching his flushed bird fly away — photo by Sonya Holcomb

Carlin delivering his bird — photo by Sonya Holcomb

There are no photos of Sunday’s practices, as there were no photographers to hand and I was busy handling my dogs.

On Sunday morning, Tooey was a bit off on her rat hunting. I actually began to wonder if she was feeling well. She was way slower than normal — if the practice runs had been at a trial, she’d have qualified in only one run, which was just two seconds under the time limit (2 minutes 30 seconds for the Open level). And she did something she’s never done before — indicated a tube that didn’t have a rat in it. Very odd. She indicated that same tube (but not any other non-rat tube) in both runs 2 and 3. The woman playing judge said she thought Tooey was treating this non-rat tube differently from the tubes with a rat in them, but agreed that it was a subtle difference.

But in all three runs, she happily went through a longer-than-usual tunnel without being asked, and she was happy to climb the hay bales. So — not a total loss. I do wonder how she and I will perform in a couple weeks at the Valley Barn Hunt trials in Kuna, Idaho. I guess we’ll see, as Sunday’s practice was the last one before the trial.

Carlin did really, really well at his Sunday afternoon scentwork. He stayed mostly calm (except when a pug, dressed in a lumpy yellow coat with a floppy hood, walked by — obviously, this was an alien being that needed warning off). Staying calm around other dogs is his challenge, so I was happy with his demeanor overall.

I am often amazed at that dog’s nose. He found all his hidden odors — small containers of birch essential oil buried in the dirt, lying along the railroad tracks, tucked up high in a door jamb, behind an electric meter, and under a wooden pallet. He even found a container with clove essential oil, stuck up above his head on a fence post. I haven’t trained him to find clove, so he got rewarded big time when he found and indicated that one.

All in all, a very happy weekend. Both dogs ate their dinner and zonked out — Carlin curled up on the grass in the backyard kennel and Tooey inside on her dog bed.

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Every dream turned into a goal involves a journey laden with setbacks, disappointments and milestones. There is joy in that journey. Guard that joy well so that in the end you rightly celebrate the accomplishment as well as the memories of the trip.

That’s from an article “The Joy Stealers” by Connie Cleveland. In the article, she talks about the comments we make that diminish another’s dream or accomplishment, whether out of thoughtlessness, misplaced kindness, or malice. And in one tiny sentence, she mentions that sometimes we can steal our own joy.

I think that’s what I’m doing in the back of my mind.

My first two Irish Water Spaniels were All-Around IWS. That’s an award given to Irish Water Spaniels that get titles in AKC retriever hunt tests, obedience, and conformation.  I worked hard for those titles, and fortunately, I had two dogs who agreed to go along with me (as well as a lot of help from other dog folks).

With Cooper, my first IWS, I wanted to achieve all that because I wanted to make his breeder proud of us, and because I could see that he had all the talent, work ethic, and beauty to achieve it. He loved retriever work, kind of got a kick out of obedience from time to time, and tolerated conformation because he loved me.

With Tooey, I thought I could do it again, and we did. She loved conformation, even though, being English, she didn’t look like the other American IWS girls. So that title took awhile. Retriever hunt tests took even longer — only when Russ decided to make it fun for her in the field, did she finally get that title. Obedience was OK, so long as the judge was a woman with a gentle touch, and not some big guy with a floppy coat.

So both of them got their All-Arounds. And now I have Carlin, who has all the beauty, brains, and work ethic that Cooper had, and he has a retriever title. So, all I need to get is the conformation championship and the obedience title, right?

Well, maybe not.

Carlin has issues. Ever since he was viciously attacked out of nowhere and injured by a dog twice his size, he has been deeply suspicious of other dogs he doesn’t know. Which, in a conformation ring or at an obedience trial, is just about every dog. He lunges and barks at them, and it raises my stress levels every time. I put a lot of effort and thought into keeping him safe, and those efforts are distracting when you’re trying to remember the Obedience rules or struggling to help your dog stay calm in the conformation ring. I’m sure some very intuitive person with excellent handling skills and a lot of dog knowledge could pull it off, but I don’t think I’m that person. And I haven’t found the person who can take him on without my sending Carlin away and spending a lot of money.

So. I may have to give up that dream. And the thought of Carlin’s not getting an All-Around like Cooper and Tooey fills me with regret.

And I think my own regret might be stealing at least some of the joy I could be feeling about Carlin’s considerable accomplishments:

  • A Master Hunter Upland Advanced title. It took 18 increasingly difficult spaniel hunt test passes and years of training to get that title.
  • A Rally Novice title. He loves doing the Rally exercises, but not the dog-filled environment. We got that title by concentrating on small shows with relatively few dogs and one ring. And he was on leash the whole time. And I kept him either busy or in the car, so he never had very many moments in a row to worry about other dogs.
  • A Coursing Ability title. That was not work — it was all fun. Just the joy of watching my dog run alone at top speed for 600 yards, and loving every second.
  • A retriever Junior Hunter title. That one was work, and a lot of training, and involved several failures. There were parts he loved (swimming and running), and parts he didn’t like so much (ducks). But we did it. When we passed that last test, I cried and hugged the judges. (They were very nice about it.)
  • A lot of very fast progress in Scentwork in just a few months. He loves the game, is very methodical in his searches for odor, and almost always finds it. If there’s a weak link, it’s me.

Really, when I look at that list, it’s kind of amazing. It’s a lot to rightly celebrate. And my trip with Carlin is not over yet.

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Cooper, keep on keeping on

At the last Obedience match I went to, after watching Cooper and I approximate pieces and parts of an Open-level run, my friend Donna said, “I know you lied to Cooper. I’m sure I heard you promise him that he wouldn’t have to do obedience any more.”

Yeah, well. That’s true. I did make that promise. And if he hadn’t started liking it, I would have kept my promise. He really seems to be liking going out to lessons and to practice, although that doesn’t mean he’s always paying attention or doing what I ask him to do.

Like last night. I wish I had a picture of it. I was out at a lesson, and instead of jumping over the broad jump as I’d asked him to, Cooper ran up to sit next to me, and gazed up at me with an expression of, well, of a boy who is looking at a girl he adores.

I wanted to laugh and smile at him, but of course I couldn’t. He hadn’t done what I asked him to do. So I turned away and composed my face, before turning back, leading him back to the jump, and asking him to jump again.

It seems that it’s not Obedience he likes so much, as (at least for the moment) being out with me doing something. And since “something” these days is Obedience, he’s thrilled to be doing Obedience. And sometimes, he even gets it right.

Tooey, find it

After Tooey got her CD Obedience title, I wanted to find something that she’d enjoy doing. Something that was so wonderful that she’d stop paying attention to the strange people and weird noises, and just enjoy enjoy herself.

She liked conformation because she got to trot around and show herself off, but when it came to being examined by the judge, that was not always wonderful. Some judges, she just didn’t want getting that close to her.

Hunting with Russ and me is apparently fun — usually there are no strange people out in the field and she gets to sniff around open country for birds and critters.  She seems to regard flushing and retrieving a bird as just the price she has to pay for getting to go out with us. Hunt tests are another thing altogether — too many strange people wandering around.

Obedience competition has, I think, worried Tooey. She wants to do well, and some things she does do very well, but with some exercises, she still not totally sure what she’s supposed to do. And then there has also been the matter of working in the ring with a stranger (the judge).

So, I decided to try Nosework.

You can predict how our first class went — strange instructor, strange (human) students, strange place (outside of a big-box hardware store), and weird flapping tarps and doors whooshing loudly open and shut. She was jumpy.

But it got better. She had three tries at searching seven cardboard boxes for bits of liver and hotdog. The first time, she had no idea what she was doing out there in the middle of all those boxes surrounded by people. But I told her to “find it,” and then she got a whiff of the hotdog, went straight to that box, and vacuumed up the bits of food.

The second time, she looked around a bit at the people and flappy things before getting into the search for food, but she quickly got down to work and found the food quite fast.

The third time, I got the leash put on her collar, and she practically dragged me over to the boxes. Who cares about all those strange people? I didn’t hear any flapping tarps, did you? And did you know there’s food in those boxes? Let’s go find it!!!

The second lesson went even better. Food was still hidden in boxes for her to find, but this time the boxes were placed up on ledges and set an angles. Even so, she found the food quickly each time at this lesson, too. Oh, and all those strange people, classmates and store shoppers alike? It was like she didn’t even notice. let’s get to work! There is food to be found!

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