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Archive for the ‘nosework’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cooked beef heart pieces

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

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

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

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

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

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In my dog support career, I’ve built a lot of tools that either didn’t exist to my specifications, or just didn’t exist at all. Some examples are making a holding blind out of camo cloth and fence posts (for retriever work), building jumps out of PVC pipe and long jumps out of white gutters (for obedience and rally), and gutting, drying, and filling dead birds with expandable foam so I could re-use them longer (for retriever and spaniel work).

Now I’m doing scent work, and it comes with a whole new set of stuff I need but can’t find.

It started out with needing protective screens to cover the containers used to hold dirt in Novice and Advanced Buried. They allow the dog to sniff the odor, but not disturb the dirt or topple the containers. My instructor had a set, so my husband mostly copied hers. They’re made of 2 x 6″ fir, metal screen, staples, and gorilla tape.

But now Carlin and I have graduated to Excellent Buried. I’ve been practicing Excellent searches using plastic scent vessels. I wrote about various troubles and eventual success of the plastic vessels I built and the brace-and-bit I use to drill holes before.

But judges can use metal scent vessels, too, so I wanted something metal to practice with. I saw a video on Youtube of a group’s using pill fobs and chain for their metal scent vessels, but they had to use a soil probe tool to dig the holes — that’s fine in nice moist soil, but if you’re dealing with frozen, very dry, or hard packed clay soil, those look like way too much work. A drill should much easier.

The problem is that my bit is too small for those pill fobs (the ones I can find are .63″ to .70″ in diameter), so I wanted to find something skinnier to use as vessels.

Here’s what I ended up with:

They are made of aluminum whistles, which came with the keyring and already have a whistle hole in them (from Amazon) and 30 lb. leader rig (from the local fishing store).

The four that I am using to hold the scented Q-tips also have a plug that I can screw in and out (threaded pipe plugs). The scent vessels also have two additional small holes drilled into them, and an initial scribed in so I know which odor goes into which vessel.

scent vessel on top, blank vessel on the bottom

It’s been raining really hard for the last 24 hours, so I haven’t tried these out yet. If they fail, I am guessing it will be the fishing leader that goes. But 30 lb. is reasonably heavy duty, and the drill bit creates a nice clean hole, so I’m not worried. And if I have to, it’ll be easy to change out the leader with a heavier one.

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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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