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Archive for the ‘nosework’ Category

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 Novice Exteriors, Containers, and Interiors. 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 several times, and didn’t seem to be able to identify the hide. 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. With the facts that 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, Team Carlin took home the High in Trial ribbon that 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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