Well, I finally have our RallyFrEe practice group up and going. I should have done this a couple months ago, but it has just taken me a long time to get back in the swing of things. We have practices scheduled about every two weeks through March.
As it turned out, we didn't get the main floor and had to use the puppy room. Its too small to set up a full course, so I quickly modified the course to make it fit. It was still a nice practice. This week it was only Gimme and me, with Diane and Valor. Diane hasn't taken any classes or seminars, so she was very amenable to suggestions for how to improve her training and their performance. You know how much I love coaching people. ☺ As we get going, there will three of us. I'd like to have each of us watching the others practice. One focusing on dog's performance and one on handling - noting the good as well as needs-improvement.
Because we haven't been there for three months and never in this room, it took Gimme a long time to acclimate and even then her focus wasn't what I know it can be. I'm not worried - I know it'll come back. Gimme was happy throughout. I realized I was forgetting to do the lure-once-first which I've needed to do this ever since she went on seizure medication. Once I remembered and lured each behavior the first time, then she immediately got a LOT better. The cool thing was noticing she still remembered some of the things on Wednesday. This may be because we started the process of reducing her medication in August (from 3x500mg to 2x500mg). In November we'll reduce it again and I'll be eager to see her retention improve again - I believe it will.
In any case, Gimme did nicely and I'm looking forward to entering the World Wide Video Event 2015. Gimme has two legs toward her novice title and if we qualify again, it'll be her 14th title. Naturally Diane was enamored with Gimme. She took a bunch of pictures and promised to email them to me. I'm looking forward to practice in 12 days - meanwhile Gimme looks forward to more frequent training.
Nosework class the same day (7 hours later) was not our best. Gimme was unfocused and "goofing off" through most of the searches. Of course the instructor's answer was all about shortening the leash, which I've given up explaining why I'm not going to do it, so am left ignoring the comments. Besides, I don't think it would have made a whit of difference, since she was often walking right by the hide and appearing to ignore it.
I first wondered if she was simply brain-tired from RFE practice. I think working at something which isn't natural (unlike scenting sports like tracking, barn hunt and nosework) can use the brain more, or in a different way, causing more mental fatigue. I'm not suggesting Gimme doesn't enjoy RFE or OB, but they do require a different kind of focus and brain work, whereas dogs come hardwired to focus for scenting challenges. For instance, tracking on the morning of nosework class hasn't been an issue. Anyway, if brain-tiredness is the issue, then we should see the same thing happen after the next RallyFrEe practice. Most of our RallyFrEe practices will be on Thursdays, but the next is on a Tuesday.
After watching Gimme's second and third searches, I was more inclined to think Gimme was bored with the exercise. It was set up very much the same as last week. The only difference was, when a new row of novel containers was added, the hide was set in one of the prior rows. Dorothy had wondered if the dogs were attracted to the novel containers more than drifting scent, so they did a very similar exercise to check the theory. As it turned out, the less experienced dogs were attracted to novel containers. Gimme and August (the most experienced dogs) were only attracted to the truly novel egg-carton-material burger container row (unused so no distractions there).
I now believe Gimme came in, saw the layout and remembered last week and the five repeat searches of one hide each. And this week the searches didn't even have any distractions to make them more challenging. As I mentioned last week, I've noticed she finds these one-hide searches less than satisfying. I saw Gimme returning to "shopping" (called "cataloging" by scent dog professionals), she checks out the whole area and when she runs out of interesting stuff, then she indicates. I even saw her seem to veer away from hides in the third and fourth searches. We noticed early in her training how much she prefers the hunt to the find, which is why I started rewarding with peanut butter in the first place - to increase the value of the find.
For the fifth search, there were four odors out. Gimme started into the search area looking like she was going to do the same haphazard and unfocused searching I'd been seeing. We got to the far end and started up one side when all the sudden she just turned on and got serious. I think this is when she realized it wasn't a one-hide search. She found the four hides very quickly, one right after the other. The change was dramatic (and unnoticed by the instructor).
Afterward we had a vehicle search. It was set up as a novice search, two vehicles and one hide. We got to the far side from where the odor was and Gimme was intent all over the tire and back bumper nearby, then suddenly dragged me around the vehicle to pinpoint the hide on the other rear tire. Gimme maintained her enthusiasm and enjoyed this little puzzle.
I don't think she is generally opposed to one-hide searches, rather I suspect she finds them frustrating when they happen repeatedly with a return to the car after each one. It took us longer to walk from the car to the building than would be needed for the searches and then she gets immediately turned around to go back to the car. What is fun about this? Whereas, when we did all the level one element trials, also all one-hide searches, she seemed okay with it (though even then I noticed a bit of 'tude). At trials there is all the time out of the car in the various stations, where she and I are playing games while we wait, then she gets a novel search, followed by another novel search, followed by a long walk back to our car. So even though the searches at the level one element trials were simple, there was more for her to "do" related to them.
I'll be watching to see how this plays out in the next few weeks. I know the intention is to really focus on container searches in the next few months, so there could be a lot of very basic stuff. If I see the same attitude from her, I'll have to find my own way to punch up the interest. It occurs to me as I wrote the description above about the difference between class and trials - there are two ways I can increase the interest for Gimme. I can make sure I take her for a short walk before and/or after each search. I could also set up a hide nearby so we leave the building and go to another search. We could also run through some of her tricks in the parking lot. I may think of other options as well.
I don't want her to develop a bored attitude about nosework just because they have to serve the needs of the novice dogs. Most more experienced dogs wouldn't be bothered about this - it certainly didn't affect August. But then we all know, Gimme isn't "most dogs". Of course its entirely possible I'm off in left field all by myself. Time will tell.