First, about agility class last night. Gimme was not at all focused, even worse than the day before. I basically did the courses treating after each obstacle. I said I thought the lights weren't even on, but Blynn said they were - just at a substantially lower wattage than I'm accustomed to. We did the math and Blynn thinks its too early for her to be affected by a false pregnancy. However this season was weird - coming early and lasting longer than usual, so everything could be off. In any case, I'm going to get an appointment with Tonya (we're about due anyway).
Tonight at nosework Gimme did pretty good, but there were only two searches. Joyce had set up a container exercises with food distractions. There were 19 boxes, one odor and the rest all food. Our instructions were to let them do whatever they wanted with the boxes and reward even a casual sniff at the odor box. She had her own dog run first as a demo and she did such vigorous pawing that we had to re-tape three boxes (imagine my eyebrows practically arching off my face).
Two of the dogs (both NW1 level and very mild mannered) did well enough with the exercises set up this way. For Gimme, I did not reward a casual sniff of the odor box and treated it just like I would have for a trial - waiting for all 4 parts of her indicator for containers. Of course, Joyce talked to me the whole time, so needless to say Gimme stomped on several boxes, but only trashed the odor box and even that wasn't as vigorous as I'm used to seeing. And then she just had to tell me that when the day comes that we are faulted-out-of-a-title, she's going to remind me that she's warned me. I just said, "don't you mean IF we are faulted out?"
They had taped our searches so we got to watch them afterward. On the second video I heard Joyce say to the class "I don't know why Carla pays me for classes and doesn't do what I suggest?" I almost got a hernia not replying "I've wondered about that myself" OR "I only follow your good suggestions" OR "I know my dog and I only do what I know works for her" OR... <sigh> If only there were better instruction available within a reasonable drive.
Tucker did really well the first time and found the odor box very quickly. Clearly what we've been doing in practice has really paid off. But then Susan let him get to one of the food boxes as she was leaving the search area and Joyce had her let him continue sniffing it until he decided to leave - except Susan finally had to drag him away. So his next search was awful and he was in total food search mode and could care less about odor. He was picking up the boxes with his teeth biting into a corner and trying to carry them away. For him, sniffing food is self-rewarding, so letting him do it only increases the strength and frequency of the behavior.
Susan and I hung out and talked after class. We talked a LOT about different ways to reward him so that we can increase the value of finding odor. He's a "strange" dog and not easily motivated. So we'll be trying some new things. I also spent a bunch of time trying to impress on her that letting him sniff boxes until "he decides to leave them" is not going to work for him.
I further explained to her the immutable characteristics of behavior strength and frequency, that it can only do one of three things: increase, stay the same, or decrease. If its increasing - then its being rewarded. If it stays the same - its getting enough reward to be maintained. If it decreases - then its not being rewarded and/or is being punished. What we've been doing in three weeks of practices, by not letting him linger to sniff the distraction boxes and heavily rewarding finding odor is decreasing the distraction sniffing and increasing odor finding. Yet one instance of being allowed to sniff distraction and he's suddenly (but not surprisingly) aggressively sniffing again.
Unfortunately Susan would never just ignore Joyce's way of doing things, so I'm going to talk to her at our next practice this Friday. I'm going to suggest that she not come to class when Joyce lets us know she's going to be doing food distraction exercises (we have to bring the food distractions) - at least between now and her trial the end of this month. Probably will only come up once at the most. That way there is a chance we can get him through this enough for her to do well at the trial - since it clearly only takes one instance of self-rewarding to re-strengthen the unwanted food searching behavior.