Tuesday, October 13, 2015
Class was all about containers tonight and outdoors. Containers in element trials are frequently outdoors. Each row had a container with a distraction. After each search they added another row of containers. The hide from the prior search was removed (leaving a blank spot in its row) and there was a new hide in the row just added. Our instructions were to essentially follow the dog and if you got to the end of the row, do a front cross to come back down the row. As more rows were added, we were to make an effort to ensure the dog checked all the containers. The "X" on a container indicates a distraction.
Our first search was a row of 6 white boxes. The hide was in the third box, the distraction was cheese. All the other dogs went past the hide and then caught it on the way back. Gimme was the only one to stop immediately, without passing the hide.
For the second search they added a row of orange plastic containers. So it was two rows, two distractions and one hide. I didn't know it, but the orange plastic container closest to the startline held a mouse-toy with squeaker, made of rabbit fur. Gimme ignored it for several searches, until... She did well on this search, heading right for the plastic container with the hide
The third row added was all metal containers. Still one hide, but now three distractions. The distraction was chicken. The hide was in a child's metal lunch box. For some reason all the other dogs were disconcerted by this hide and tended to avoid the lunch box, as if they were sneaking up on it. Gimme started up the row of white boxes, but then switched over at the gap to the metal container row and stopped right at the lunch box. She couldn't have done it more perfectly - of course.
For the fourth search they added a row of plastic shoe boxes. So now we have four rows, one hide and four distractions. This should have been a piece of cake, but August ran right before Gimme and he discovered the mouse toy distraction in the orange container. He opened the container (lid popped off readily) and proceeded to play with it. One thing you will see at trials is more than half the class will ignore the distraction until one dog falls for it. Because a dog who is really excited releases certain pheromones which attract other dogs, almost every dog after them will fall for the same distraction. [in this case it was only Gimme]
Sure enough, when Gimme started her search, she went right to the orange container and popped it open and was all over the mouse toy. She isn't usually CRAZEEE about toys, though she does like them. Still this one was made of rabbit fur and as every gardener and every respectable barn hunt dog knows - rabbits are vermin. It didn't help when she made it squeak! I had to drag her away from it and it took a lot to get her to go back to nosework. Dorothy thought I should take her away from the search, but I didn't think it was fair to punish her for doing something I would be rewarding in another situation. She did find the hide (which was HARD because it was so close to the toy), so she got really well rewarded. I made sure to move directly away, not going close to the distraction.
Dorothy noticed I was moving her around really fast. Once I slowed us both down (and took a few deep breaths), then she was able to find the other three hides neatly. Naturally the other instructor said I "always" move too fast, to which she added I should use a really short line with her. I do let Gimme enter search areas at the pace she wants and then I normally slow her down, gradually if necessary. I certainly don't always move too fast. I think I'm usually really good at adjusting her pace in a way she accepts without frustration. I think this time I was unconsciously moving fast to keep her from going back to the orange distraction container and then we were both feeding off each others' speed. And, as I've said before and no longer bother to explain in class, I'm not going to work her on a short line - its not appropriate for her.
What it all comes down to is, my dog. I know Gimme is easily frustrated, though she has improved tons since she was a youngster. I am always going to be careful to protect her attitude and enthusiasm. She likes anything where she can use her nose, she loves to work and really enjoys a good challenge. I see no upside to messing with something which works so well for us. Once you mess up a dog's attitude, it can be really hard to get it back, if not impossible. This isn't a risk I'm willing to take.
Something I noticed in class was how whiny Gimme was. After each search, she'd sit in the car and softly whine until her next turn. My sense was she was frustrated by only having one hide all the time. I also noticed this when we were doing the Level 1 Element trials. It was like she was complaining, "Hey, I'm ready for level 3, so why are we doing baby searches?" There wasn't a peep out of her after the last search with five hides. She is contented now and peacefully snoozing away...