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Posts Tagged ‘IWS’

As Tooey has gotten older, her coat has become more woolly and difficult to comb through. So, I keep her coat mostly short. I pay for it if I don’t, and so does she.

And at the beginning of each summer, I clip her topknot and ears quite short–just a little longer than the rest of her coat. I know many IWS aficionados disapprove, but this is easier for me and for her.

And no matter how I groom her, Tooey is beautiful.

This time, I wondered if I should put her through the rigors of being clipped down. Every month since her cancer diagnosis in February, I have wondered if this month will be her last grooming, and maybe I should just comb her out and let her be in her long IWS coat.

But Tooey is still with us, it’s almost summer, and this weekend it’s going to be 100 degrees F. Not a time for a long coat. And who knows, Tooey could be with us for several more months.

So, I improvised. She can’t stand for very long. But as long as there were plenty of treats coming, she was happy to lie on her sides and be clipped. I scissored her front legs while she was lying down. I clipped the undersides and tops of her ear flaps while she was lying down. It was only when I needed to finish her head and ears that I needed her to sit up.

Which she did. I worked as quickly as I could and let her lie down for a rest when she needed to.

Finally we finished and she could lie down and recuperate, looking out at the sheep and the squirrels.

I think she’s beautiful in this short coat–it shows off her beautiful eyes. But to me, she has always been beautiful, no matter how she’s groomed, whether in full show coat or in ratty, thin post-puppy coat.

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Before, I worked away at the office, and the dogs spent their weekdays without a regular audience.

But now, in these days of COVID-19 stay-at-home, work-from-home, I am trying to do my job, writing consumer healthcare information, from a desk in an outbuilding that faces the street and the little business next door. Accompanied by two Irish Water Spaniel co-workers.

Life is way more exciting for two of us…

Irish Water Spaniels looking out a window at the UPS truck

Tooey: Bark! The UPS guy is here!

Me: Thank you. Now quiet.

Tooey: Bark! The UPS guy is still here!

Me: Quiet!

Tooey: Bark! The UPS guy!!! He’s still here!!!

Carlin (running back and forth from the window to my desk): You better come see.

Me (getting up and looking out the window): Oh look, it’s the UPS guy.

Dogs (staring at me): Well,… yeah.

Dogs (looking at each other as I walk back to my desk): We have to tell her this every time, don’t we.

Tooey: Bark! The FedEx guy is here…

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Drawing not completely to scale, but close-ish

This social distancing thing is hard to take, for me anyway. I like to be around people. And one of the reasons I do dog sports, besides the joy of working with my dog, is to be around other people who also like to work with their dogs.

But now in this age of the COVID-19 virus, all the Scent Work trials I was entered in have been cancelled, and no one really wants (understandably) to get together to practice. I get that. But both Carlin and I can get a bit stir crazy if we don’t work on something. So today, I designed my second Detective search for us to try out.

The total area was just under 4000 square feet. Half of the search area was inside our “barn” (It used to be a barn 35 years ago), and the other half, outside in a carport, plus the lawn area just east of the building. I set out 9 hides (I didn’t write down which odors went where, but I used all 4 odors):

  1. (Main room) Under the top in the corner of one of three big folding tables shoved together. The tables had about 6 chairs around them, none of which obstructed the hide.
  2. (Main room) On the metal leg of an etching press, about 30″ above the ground. The space between the press and the wall was just wide enough for the dog to get into.
  3. (Bathroom) Behind the latch of a glass shower door, about 36″ high.
  4. (Garage) Under the foot pedal of the snow plow.
  5. (Garage) Above the top hinge of a door.
  6. (Carport) Under the pedestal of a column that holds up the carport roof.
  7. (Side yard) Under and behind a metal power box, maybe 40″ high.
  8. (Side yard) In a sand-filled Buried tub, next to a blank sand-filled tub.
  9. (Side yard) Pushed into the grass, so the top of the scent vessel was just under the level of the dirt.

The doors between the kitchen and garage, the hallway and bathroom, and the hallway and carport were left open during the search, as was that chain link gate. The front door and garage door were closed. All the windows were closed. The furnace was not turned on inside. Outside it was sunny, with no discernible breeze, and about 60 degrees F. I did not set out any distractions.

I use the barn pretty often to practice various things, so I really tried to find locations I haven’t used before. For example, there is a row of drawers and cabinets that line the hallway, but I left that area blank this time, as well as the kitchen, which has lots of shelves and cabinets that we’ve used a lot. I’m not sure why I got the idea to use Buried tubs, but we’ve been practicing Buried searches with sand, so I thought mixing it up this way would be interesting.

One thing that I’m noticing now that I didn’t do–I didn’t really create areas of converging odor, except for maybe kind of the two hides in the main room, which were almost the same height. I need to make sure to do that next time. I also didn’t do any threshold hides, which I should do, as Carlin often blasts right past those.

So, we started by coming into the front door (top of the diagram). Carlin took a pretty decisive right into the kitchen (we’ve done a lot of hides in there). He didn’t find anything right off the bat, so he took me into the garage. Hide #4 was tricky–he kept sniffing the opposite corner (to the right of the closed garage door). It looked like he was going to get stuck there, so I called him toward the center of the room, around the back of the snowplow, and he caught the odor. It took him a bit to decide that the odor was inside the snowplow and not underneath, but finally he called it.

Next he found #5. Back in that corner, there is a small furnace and a hot water heater. He spent quite a bit of time searching behind and around those, and then went to the opposite corner to sniff the shelves there. Then he came back along the wall toward the hide, lifted his head, and bam, there it was. He indicated, and when I asked him “Where?”, he lifted his whole body up toward the hinge. Good boy.

We went back out to the kitchen, where he took himself first on a clockwise, then a counter-clockwise circuit of the room. Deciding that nothing was there, he trotted down the hallway toward the bathroom, where he quickly found #3. Being near the back door, he wanted to go out that way, but I called him back in to search the main room. He searched the chairs and the table, and found #1 pretty quickly. (Those tables and chairs aren’t usually in that room, so that changed the picture quite a bit from usual.) #2 on the press was easy–in the past, we’ve hidden lots of hides on the press.

Then I had him search the cabinets in the hallway, which I think he did just to humor me. They were blank, and I think he knew that already.

So it was out the door to the carport, which had a big pickup truck parked in it. He did a wide sweep around the outside of the carport, sniffing the out-of-bounds grass and concrete. While out there, he did a head-snap, turned his body, and then found #6. He then took himself on a circle around the truck, decided nothing else was in the carport, and headed out and through the chain link gate.

We’ve used that yard many times before–there are a number of places I’ve hidden odor, and he checked all of those. But all those spots were blank. At that point, he notice the Buried boxes. That stopped him in his tracks for just a microsecond–we don’t normally have Buried boxes out while practicing Exterior hides. I think he was curious, so he went to check them out, and dang, if there wasn’t odor in #8.

#9 was just about 6 feet from #8, and also in a spot we haven’t used before. But he found that one almost immediately after finding #8.

The last one, #7, took him quite a while. I’m not sure why. He was sort of avoiding sniffing along that wall for some reason, so after a minute or so, I directed him down the wall. Once he went down the wall, passing #7, he turned himself around and searched back along the wall in the opposite direction. He caught something underneath the various power boxes (there are a several on that wall), so he took a moment to search each box. Finally he found it and sat.

I was ready to quit myself, but if this had been a real Detective search, we would have no guarantee that we had found all the hides. A judge can set ten hides, so there could have been one more. So, I told him to “find another one”. He casted around a bit, and then went back inside to #3 again and sat. Returning to a known hide is often his signal that he’s done. And he was right!

Carlin did some things today that I haven’t noticed him doing on his own consistently before.

  • In two cases, in the kitchen and along the outside wall with #7, he took himself in one direction and then in the other, without my asking him to.
  • He didn’t give up after four or five hides and tell me he was done. He kept going until he was satisfied he’d found everything.
  • He didn’t try to pick up nearly as many hides. If he had his way, he’d retrieve the hides and bring them to me (being a gun dog and having had so training in retrieving). He still tried to pick up a couple, but happily sat when I asked him to, before he got that far. I do try to place my hides and use vessels that make it hard to retrieve them. I keep hoping that this will interrupt that self-rewarding behavior and break the habit. Maybe it’s working.

It seems like it’s taken me much longer to describe all this than it took Carlin to find the hides. I really tried to pay attention to what he was doing, and less to whether he’d found hides or not. That’s a tough one for me. Hopefully writing this out will teach me something, even if I don’t quite know what it is just yet.

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We forget, and get a puppy again. This one is brown and curly, sweet, a bit older at 8 months, and way too smart. And named Two-E (which we almost immediately change to “Tooey”. I mean, what blogger wants to be constantly spelling a name with two capital letters and a hyphen).

Tooey grows up, and with the help of a lot of friends and some stiff competition, she gets her show championship.

She grows up some more, and we do lots of stuff together. Fun stuff, like hunting in 8 states and 1 province, spaniel hunt tests, barn hunt, and scent work; the not-quite-but-almost-as-fun stuff, like retriever hunt tests and Rally, and the stuff, Tooey says, I’m doing because Trice wants me to, like Obedience and the CGC. Titles in all of it (except the real-world hunting), enough to earn the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America’s All-Around IWS and the Quintessential IWS awards.

She has puppies. Two litters of them. Some of them are hunters. Most of them are pets. Five of them win show championships (making Tooey a Dam of Merit), and one of those wins a Best in Show Specialty. All are loved, and well worth loving.

Tooey was the love of Cooper’s life. She is Carlin’s mentor and friend. She has been Russ’s reliable hunting partner. And she is my best girl, my Tooey Honey, my comfort in sickness and companion in health.

And somehow I must have thought that Tooey would live forever.

But she won’t. Of course she won’t. None of us will.

On February 19, Tooey went in to have a tumor removed from the left cheek at back of her mouth. The biopsy report came back 6 agonizing days later: Canine oral malignant melanoma. And it is an aggressive one.

…The mitotic count is 32… Approximately 80% of the cells exhibit nuclear atypic…

A mitotic count of greater than 4 and a nuclear atypic score greater than 30% correlate with survival times of less than 1 year. Tumors located behind the carnassial tooth… are considered more aggressive.

So. Terror in the heart. Love, lots of love. And a memento mori, a reminder that time is always shorter than we think it is.

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… to strike terror in one’s heart. I’ve had cancer; I have close family relatives who have had cancer and who have died of cancer; my first Irish Water Spaniel, Cooper, died of lymphoma, a type of cancer.

And today I found out that Carlin’s sire died just last month of cancer. Harry was just short of 9 years old. Carlin’s dam died of cancer several years ago.

And on top of that, Tooey is going into the vet tomorrow to have tumor removed from the inside of her mouth. The vet took a sample and looked at it under a microscope. Not diagnostic, not definitive, but the cells in the center of the sample don’t look good. But, you know, maybe all those weird-looking cells aren’t really that bad. Or if they are, maybe they are encapsulated in the tumor and haven’t spread.

I try not to worry.

We did have a cancer scare with Tooey before. But those masses turned out to be benign. And she has several of these fatty tumors on her trunk, and they’re benign. So, let us hope, or pray if you do that. That Tooey is fine this time, like she was last time. And that both she and Carlin live long and happy lives for many years more.

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Unlike Cooper and Carlin, Tooey has always had the perfect duck-hunter coat. So thick that when she leaps into the water to retrieve a bird, her skin barely gets wet, if it gets wet at all.

But as she has gotten older, Tooey’s coat, thick and fast-growing, has gotten wooly. It mats much more easily. It’s increasingly hard to comb through. And she’s able to stand on the grooming table for much shorter periods of time. All of this means it takes longer and requires more work to keep her coat clean, combed, and free of mats.

I asked a bunch of people who also have older IWS, and got a lot of suggestions that have helped. Things like: use a spray-on detangler spray to help the brush and comb slide through her coat more easily; lie Tooey on her side with a pillow under her head so she doesn’t have to stand; keep her coat shorter than the typical show coat. I got others I haven’t tried yet, like using a sling under her hips to help her stand.

But even after implementing these ideas, I realize that a big part of the problem is that, as Tooey has gotten older, so have I.

My hands can’t hold the comb as long as they used to. My arms and back get tired. And these days, I have a few extra responsibilities and a few less of the pleasures than I hoped for. Sometimes, by the time I’ve combed out all Tooey’s mats, I find myself in tears of exhaustion.

So I’ve been thinking about what I can do. One idea, an expensive one, is to hire it out. But I actually like the bathing and the trimming. It’s just the weekly, heavy-going combing out that’s so exhausting. I could do it less often, but honestly, I think that more than doubles the difficulty when I eventually do the combing. That makes it harder on both Tooey and me.

So I think now the thing to do is just keep Tooey’s coat really, really short all the time. Instead of clipping her once every three or four months like I’ve been doing, do it every month. Never let it get long so it has less chance of getting too thick for me to handle.

It’s a pity because Tooey is such a beautiful dog. She’s beautiful in a short coat, but she’s stunning when she is in a carefully trimmed full coat.

But I think those days may be gone now. We don’t do duck hunting anymore. And I’m not as much a stunner as I was back in the day, either. So now us old ladies will just have to rely on knowing our inner beauty shines through, with a shorter coat for Tooey and not quite so much exhaustion for both of us.

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I was thrilled to learn that one of Tooey’s puppies, Pax, was selected as the Best of Breed dog at the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America’s 2019 National Specialty.

I wasn’t there to see it, but I got lots of texts giving me the good news. And now here he is on the cover of the club’s May/June 2019 newsletter.

photo by Jeremy Kezer

Pax is owned and loved by Brenda. I think Pax heard her say that this show was going to be his swan song in the dog show world (he’s over 7 years old now). So he decided to show her that he still had it.

And boy does he. He was also selected for Best in Veteran Sweeps and Best Veteran Dog. I am so pleased for Brenda, and glad that Colleen and I (mostly Colleen) could breed such a fine puppy.

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Carlin has always been happy to jump into ponds, lakes, and rivers, but he’s never had the opportunity to jump into a pool. And it’s been many a long year since I’ve taken a dog dock diving in a pool, or anywhere, for that matter.

Cooper, of course, jumped into water of all kind for fun and for hunting, hunt tests, and hunt training. And a five or six times, we got to take him dock diving, mostly into ponds, and once, into a pool. He loved it. And therefore, I loved it.

But since moving to Boise, I had been unable to find a pool Carlin could jump into. A wonderfully generous friend let us use her irrigation canals for Carlin to train in and jump into, and a couple of other folks had ponds that we had access to for a couple of summers. But no pools.

Then Vicki moved in about 45 minutes away, and she brought her pool and dock with her. So last Sunday, we went to try out Vicki’s pool. Oh, lucky us and happy Carlin!

The pool has a ramp from the dock into the pool. Ordinarily a dog comes back out of the water and onto the dock using the ramp. But for a first-timer dog, one who may not be certain that that clear stuff is actually something one can dive into, the dog uses the ramp at first to go into the water, and then come back out.

Once Carlin realized that there was water in the pool, there was no stopping him from jumping in, except temporarily while his handler got into position. Like the very good boy he is, Carlin waited at the back end of the dock. I stood at the front of the dock and dangled a very special toy. When I said “OK”, Carlin bolted to the front of the dock and jumped off just as I threw the toy. Ideally, I would throw the toy so that it would stay just a foot or so in front of Carlin’s mouth as they both flew through the air and into the water.

That happened once.

Irish Water Spaniel dock diving

All the rest of the 45 minutes we had in the pool, I threw the toy inexpertly (too short, too long, too high, wrong direction…) and Carlin got to sail through the air and splash, over and over and over.

Tooey got in several leaps as well, though mostly she just liked the opportunity to swim.

It was glorious.

We finally drove home, dogs zonked out in their crates in the car, all of us tired and happy and feeling blessed.

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I admit it. I’m like my dogs. I work for rewards.

Now, my rewards are different than my dogs’. Salmon jerky is all right, but it’s not enough to get me to go out and do one more practice, to set up another blind retrieve, to study Rally signs, or to travel to the spaniel club practice or scent work class.

I admit it’s shallow, but I like recognition. And I’ll work for it. Fortunately, my dogs will work for salmon jerky and dried liver, and they’ll mostly go along with whatever I need them to do to earn it. At some point, though, I usually forget the recognition thing, and mostly just do the work because it has become fun in and of itself.

But, there are those days. You know. Those days when the work just doesn’t sound that fun. When it’s too cold, or too hot, or the drive is too long, or you have to practice alone, or the equipment is just too hard to get out yet again. Those days, it’s the possibility of recognition that will get me out of my chair and working again.

Cooper, Tooey, and Carlin have all given me the opportunity for a lot of work, a lot of fun, and more than my share of rewards.

Like Cooper and Tooey before him, Carlin just earned the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America’s (IWSCA) Quintessential Versatility Award. A beautiful glass medallion is given by the club to all dogs who earn this award.

An IWS is awarded this by earning titles in 5 different AKC sports. For Carlin, these were:

As you can see, we’ve been working on this award for a while now. And I am thrilled that Carlin also has been recognized for his work ethic, talent, and enthusiasm.

And it gets better!

Carlin, to my total shock and surprise, won the club’s Top IWS Scent Work 2018 trophy. The trophy is given to the IWS with the most points earned in AKC Scent Work for the previous calendar year. The IWSCA determines the points, but basically, the dog earns a certain number of points for each Scent Work title earned, with more advanced titles earning more points.

I knew Carlin had done well. I knew he’d be right up there. But I had been convinced that another dog had earned the award. So when I opened the package sent by the IWSCA Awards Committee, I about fell down, huge smile on my face. Totally blown away, was the only way I could describe it. I’d spent some energy trying to just feel good for the winner and not let my disappointment that Carlin hadn’t won get me down.

But then we won! We won!

I still can’t quite believe it. It still makes me smile. But you know, Carlin doesn’t care. He just loves the work. And the fact that he loves it and begs me to do it with him–that’s often all the recognition I need.

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A bunch of us were standing around on Sunday late afternoon, waiting for results to be posted from that day’s Scent Work trials, talking. A couple of the judges were in the group, and some handlers got to talking about the NQs we’d had that weekend. When we got to my NQs, I mentioned that Carlin was my very first scent work dog. One of the judges got a surprised look on her face, and told me that I was doing really well then. My NQs, apparently, are not uncommon newbie handler mistakes.

Well, that made me feel better. Looking back over the NQs, I had been feeling pretty darn bad. After being told about the hides I missed and the too-early calls I’d made, I was thinking, “How COULD I have missed that? If only I’d done X or thought of Y, we’d have passed.”

So, I’ve made those mistakes. Now I need to start learning from them.

Not searching the whole search area

In both Container Master searches, I called an Alert too soon. This despite the fact that, in our second search, the judge had even told us to take our time to be sure before calling Alert.

I’m not sure what I’d have done differently in the first Container search. Carlin stuck his nose down into the center of the 4-flap box. He didn’t paw it and he didn’t sit, which are his usual indications in Containers, but it looked to me like he was indicating. Turns out, that box had food in it. In his second search, he was very interested in a container and pawed it, but didn’t sit. I called it, and I was wrong.

In the last Interiors Master search, Carlin and I missed the second hide in the bathroom. It was such a small room, and I think I must have assumed that there could be only one hide in there. We left the bathroom without going into the corner opposite from the first hide. I noticed the judge staring at me with a very blank face, so I knew there was something I needed to do. I got really flustered. So I blurted out “Finish”. And got the dreaded, “No, I’m sorry.”

Irish Water Spaniel searching a bathroom in AKC Scent Work

So, lessons:

  • As a trial strategy during a search in Containers, consider that it might be better to make sure Carlin gets a sniff at all the containers before I call any. That way I can see what his indication is that day, and take less risk at calling something iffy.
  • In Interiors (and probably Exteriors), make sure he gets into all the corners of the search area before I call “Finish”.
  • As a training issue, I think I need to work on a clearer indication.

Losing my place

None of the dogs passed the first Buried Excellent search. The hides were buried in very dry, clay soil under an inch or so of bark chips. Carlin worked hard, but he just couldn’t find them. So, other than needing to keep practicing, I don’t really see any lesson there.

The next day’s Buried search is an entirely different story. Those hides were placed in wet, soppy grass, and many dogs, including Carlin, found all three. So why did we NQ that one? Because I got lost.

I had already called Alert on a couple of the hides twice each. That’s a fault, but it’s not an NQ. The third hide was in line with one of the other hides, and I thought it was one of the ones we’d found already. Not wanting to embarrass myself (I think that’s what I was worried about), I just told Carlin, “Yes, you found that one.” and went off to keep looking. We eventually ran out of time, so we NQd.

Irish Water Spaniel doing a Buried Excellent search in AKC Scent Work

So, lessons:

  • As a trial strategy, don’t be afraid to call Alert on a hide more than once. It’s better to get a bunch of faults than to NQ.
  • As a training issue, I need to figure out a way to orient myself in space where there is nothing nearby to orient on. This is a problem for me in life generally. I usually need to use directions multiple times to get to the same place, and I cannot visualize how to set a table without a picture to look at first (Russ has drawn me a picture of a table setting that I keep in the dish cabinet.)

Accepting disruptive indications

Carlin has always been an enthusiastic hunter. Plus, he’s a retriever. Which means that his first inclination is to locate the scent vessel, grab it up, and bring it to me.

I have successfully stepped in and stopped him before he’s had a chance to actually bring me a scent vessel. But I haven’t always been able to stop him from grabbing it or knocking it out its hiding place. He drops it when I ask him to, and he’s never damaged one, but at the levels we’re working, that’s not good enough.

On Saturday’s Exterior Excellent search, he’d have qualified except that he was NQd for pawing one of the hides out its place under a pile of bark chips at the edge of a children’s slide.

Irish Water Spaniel doing an Exteriors Excellent search in AKC Scent Work

And in his second Interiors Master search, in trying to grab the scent vessel from under the lip of a garbage can, he knocked the whole thing over. That’s not good, and under some judges in some circumstances, it could get us NQd. While timing for other searches, I watched several dogs get NQd for knocking scent vessels out of place. I don’t want that to happen to us.

So, lessons:

  • As a trial strategy, remember to call Alert quickly and then “Sit!”. That should at least somewhat disrupt disruption before it can happen (much).
  • As a training issue, somehow or another, I have to teach a point-at or light-touch indication. I’d like to eliminate the pawing and the grabbing. I want to see a recognizable change of behavior that tells me he’s found the hide, tells me where it is, and doesn’t actually touch it with his mouth or paw. But my real problem is that I have no idea how to do this. It means undoing what he’s been doing for a year, and teaching us both to do something else.

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When I was talking to my fellow Scent Work friends about my entering Sherwood Dog Training Club’s April 6-7 scent work trials, my line was, “We are not ready. But we’ll learn a lot.”

I think what I meant at the time was: Carlin is not ready.

But that was mostly not true. This is what is true: Carlin was ready. His handler wasn’t.

But before we get into the weeds of the lot I have to learn, let’s start with our couple of really nice successes.

First master search

Carlin was the only dog to pass Saturday’s Interior Master search. Three rooms, two hides (one room was blank, with no hide). The first two rooms had allowed times of 2.5 minutes each, and the third room had an allowed time of 1.5 minutes. We took a total of 5:50:33 minutes, which means I used up all but 9.67 seconds of our allowed time. Looking at that tiny leeway now makes me breathe out in relief. But at the time, I was just so thrilled.

The two big rooms were crowded with unused school furniture: desks, cabinets, filing cabinets, shelves, chairs, and stacked boxes of books. Basically, there were only these narrow paths that snaked among all the stuff. I had the option to run Carlin off-leash in these rooms, and I took it. There was no way I could handle a leash if he decided to run from one corner of the room to another corner by going underneath the furniture.

Irish Water Spaniel doing an AKC Scent Work Interior Master search

Search site for Interior Master. This photo shows about 1/3 of the space.

The first hide was in one of the large rooms. After very thoroughly going into every corner and sniffing around, under, and on top of every piece of furniture, Carlin found the one hide, in a filing cabinet drawer.

The second room was a big-ish bathroom. I made Carlin search the whole thing thoroughly, and we decided that there was no hide in there, and called Finish. Fortunately, we were right.

The third room was the other large room, which was filled with stuff very much like the first one. I knew there could be one or two hides in there. And honestly, at this point, I don’t remember exactly what happened. But I called it after he found one hide and then searched for more and came up empty. So we were done with our very first try at Master with a 1st place pass.

Last Exteriors Excellent search

Our other success was Carlin’s third Q in Exteriors Excellent. The scene was the front of a mobile home, and its porch, front garden with shrubs, and lawn with pergola and large toys strewn about. We were allowed 2.5 minutes, but Carlin took only 1:08:54 to find all three hides: one under a porch railing, one inside a little yellow toy truck, and another stuck to a large climbing toy under the pergola.

Irish Water Spaniel doing AKC Scent Work Exteriors Excellent search

Search site for Exteriors Excellent. This photo shows about 1/2 of the search area.

As luck would have it, my neighbor has a mobile home set up very much like the search site, and he allowed Carlin and me to practice hides very much like the ones the judge set up at the trial. And this pass made me particularly happy because it finished his Scent Work Exteriors Excellent title with a very nice 1st place.

The Learning Opportunities (aka Not Qualified)

I’ll cover these in the next blog post. If I go search by search, that post will be much longer than this one.

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“Search machine” sounds kind of mechanistic, but actually, it was a compliment. That’s what one of the judges at this weekend’s scent work trial called Carlin. Even when he doesn’t succeed in finding the hidden scent, he still works hard and methodically to find it.

Now that we’ve moved up to the Excellent level in AKC Scent Work, the searches are, of course, harder. So, while I was a little disappointed, I wasn’t surprised when Carlin didn’t pass every search at this weekend’s trials.

Least surprising of the failures were the Excellent Buried searches. The three hidden odors (cotton with 2 drops of essential oil, placed inside of a vessel of some sort) are buried 6″ underground, along with five blank (empty) vessels. In these trials, the eight vessels were buried in heavy clay soil.

None of the dogs found more than two of the buried odors. Carlin, along with many of the other dogs, alerted on the blank vessels. He searched hard, but I’m not sure he knows exactly what he’s supposed to be searching for. Maybe the soil changes the scent somehow so he doesn’t recognize it. Maybe he’s alerting on the scent of disturbed earth rather than on the target odor.

So, more training. More practice.

He did much better at Interior and Exterior searches. This weekend he passed (each with first places) two Interior Excellent searches. With those passes, he earned his Scent Work Interior Excellent title. He also passed (with a 1st and a Q) two Exterior Excellent searches. He also had one each NQ.

Irish Water Spaniel IWS with AKC Scent Work ribbons

I’d like to say more about each search, but honestly, almost as soon as I get out of a search in a trial, I almost instantly forget it. I remember hides 3.5 feet up on the back of a drainpipe, under a picnic table, and hanging from a downspout chain. Another one was hidden in a piece of PVC pipe, under the lip of a planter, underneath another planter, and another under a layer of landscaping fabric (we missed that one). Others were under chairs seats.

For Interiors, one was in a fire extinguisher cabinet with next to the start line. Two more were under chairs, and one was set into the frame around a fireplace. Another was under a cushion of a rocking chair, under a desk, and on the inside of a toilet stall door. There were more, but I don’t remember them.

So now Carlin qualifies to run Master searches in Containers and Interiors. I don’t think we’re ready. But we’re going to try it anyway in a couple of weeks. If nothing else, running these Master searches will reveal more about what we don’t know.

Humbling and enlightening. And a touch scary.

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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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I’m not sure what took me so long to finish getting Carlin’s health checks. He is almost 5 years old. The recommendation is that checks be done just after 2.

But, oh well. They’re done now. He had his thyroid checked three years ago while we were trying to diagnose Carlin’s inexplicable hair loss. (Most likely allergy to chicken–we tried lots of things, including an elimination diet. Once we removed the chicken, his coat came back.)

And today, finally, I had his eyes checked and x-rays done of his hips and elbows to check for dysplasia.

Carlin doesn’t like going to the vet. But the staff at the Idaho Veterinary Hospital in Nampa were wonderful–gentle with Carlin and kind to me. They got us in and out with with very little stress.

The eye vet said “looks good” after the eye exam. And after the hip and elbow x-rays, the radiology vet showed me the x-rays and explained why he thought Carlin’s hips and elbows looked healthy as well.

So now we’ll wait to see what the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) says. If they agree, then Carlin will have his CHIC certification. That lets owners of other IWS know his health status. That way, they can decide if they want to use him at stud.

I’m sure he’d love that.

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