Our trial this weekend did not bring any Q's, but I did learn some things.
They had nice large blinds, but with Gimme's increased reactivity, it only meant she could barely deal with it. The second trial I took her soft-side crate in. The second day I was informed I wouldn't be allowed to bring it in again. Robin, the sport's owner/founder after suggesting crates could be brought into blinds for reactive dogs, has since reversed herself. I knew she'd done this, I saw the original post saying crates could be used, saw the reversal, saw the original post was still there, and then it disappeared. I was waiting to see the change added to the rules. I guess its to be expected for a young sport to go through a lot of changes, but its still really annoying.
After talking to Candy Saturday night, I decided to try using a mat for Gimme. It worked surprisingly well for both runs on Sunday. I just hope no one mentions the idea of mats in the blinds to Robin or she might ban those too.
Gimme is getting ready to come in season. She hasn't started "showing color" yet, but the puffiness is well on its way. While this is about a month early, its actually good news. It means she won't be in season for the "big three", our three 3-day weekend tracking workshops in late July and early August. Unfortunately, the timing will be all wrong for the River Rat barn hunt trial for Labor day because she'll be in the beginning of a false pregnancy.
For this weekend, Gimme decided barking is her indication. She barked for all the rats and all the false alerts and sometimes just to bark. Fortunately she doesn't bark outside the ring. It still surprises me she's left off with pawing tubes and gone to barking exclusively to tell me where they are. I still think its a response to my verbal excitement and playing with the tube on the way to hand it off - maybe she thinks she's joining in. One odd thing I noticed about it. Gimme shakes her head, flapping her ears between some of the barks. I think her bark is so sharp it hurts her own ears! Her barking in our yard has a lower tone to it.
In the first trial she found 2 rats, then barked at another tube, which was a false alert. She did the same thing in the second trial. This time the false alert tube wasn't even covered up, and she just saw it and started barking at it. She didn't sniff it, but had sniffed at it earlier, so I thought she was just coming back to it. For the third trial (Sunday a.m.) she found 1 rat and then false alerted. I'm not liking this trend at all.
I muddled this around in my head much of the day and spent a LOT of time talking to other Master's handlers. The tendency to false alerting is increasing in many of the Masters dogs the longer they are in the masters class. In some ways I think this is similar to what I saw at the NW3 trial, where Gimme was trying to find more stuff, when there wasn't more there. The dogs in barn hunt are used to leaving the ring after they find the rats, because the owners know how many rats there are. Then you get to masters where you don't know and so often are still in the ring when the rats are all found. I don't think this is the case for Gimme, since all three of these runs this weekend she false alerted while there was still at least one more rat to be found.
I have an idea the dogs can think they are rewarded when there is a false alert. One of the things we learn with clicker training is how a reward marker takes on the value of the reward itself. I.E. a click is nearly as valuable as the food reward it predicts. If you stop rewarding with food after clicking, the click will lose value over time. In barn hunt, calling "rat" becomes a marker for the party to follow. So I think "rat" has a lot of value and serves as a reward by itself. And, its getting recharged every time you call an actual rat tube. Plus, we have the option of being shown a rat tube, so the dogs end on a good note. Thus, the dog is getting a delayed reward for the false call.
I know Gimme responds excitedly to hearing the r-word. She once sprung off the couch ready for action (from a light slumber) after hearing Tommy Lee Jones say, "Rats, cooked rats" in the movie "Volcano". So, I think this muddies the waters for a dog about what is expected in the ring. Are they supposed to find tubes with rats or will any tube do? I could punish Gimme for indicating a litter tube, but I'm not going to go there. Obviously the answer then is to find some distinction about her indication to distinguish between rat tubes and litter tubes.
I was watching other exhibitors and saw one who was moving away when her dog alerted on a tube and calling him by name. She only called it if the dog wouldn't leave the tube. I talked to her later about what she was doing and she said this was the first time she'd tried it and it worked for her, until she called him away using a tone which was a little too sharp. As I thought about this, it seems very similar to what we do in nosework. We are encouraged to keep moving, even when the dog looks to be detailing, so we don't sell them on something which isn't there. And I purposely use moving away to distinguish between distractions and odor hides in containers.
So I decided to try it for our last run. Afterall, even if it didn't work, what did I have to lose. At this point I'd had 22 consecutive NQs since our only Masters leg - one more wouldn't make a bit of difference.
We went in the ring and Gimme went around sniffing and settled on a spot and started barking at it. I moved toward her and then turned and moved away. She started to come with me, then went back and resumed barking. So I went to her, asked her to show me where it was and she did, poked her nose toward it and then backed off a couple feet to bark some more. I called it and it was a rat. So far, so good.
From there she searched around and found another tube in the corner and started barking at it. I started moving away and she came with me. I later learned from the judge this was a litter tube. Hmmmmm.
Then she found another tube and started barking. Again I moved away and she started to come with me, then went back toward it. Unfortunately she squatted to pee on the way and was eliminated. I asked the judge and this was a rat tube. So, since she was moving back toward it, it seems the moving away plan may be working. Can't wait to try it again.
I'm not worried about her peeing. It was hot and I was working to get a lot of water into her and we were 4th in the blind, so it had been at least half an hour since she was given an opportunity to pee. Not to mention, she's coming in season and they always pee more then.
The only drawback with the barking is Gimme likes to bark from about 5 feet away from the tube. So if I'm not right there to see her sniffing at it before backing off to bark, then I may not know what she is barking at. This is why I encouraged her to show me where it was for her first tube. I was very happy to see her respond with a poke toward the tube.
It looks like some pieces are falling into place, just don't know when we'll be able to try it again.