We went to a barn hunt trial in St. Helens, Oregon, on October 11th and 12th. We didn't come home with any legs, but did learn some things and had interesting experiences.
Janet always promotes a pot luck for lunch the first day and often there is rat-themed food available. This time I was the only person to make rat-themed food - my now-famous rat-cheese ball. Despite being delicious, it took a long time before anyone tried any of the cheese because they thought he was too cute. Finally someone started picking away at the hind end. When the rest of the food ran out and the after-lunch munchies hit, suddenly he disappeared and the plate was scraped clean.
Trial 1 Search - Gimme did a great job. She found the only rat in the first minute. Sadly I didn't believe her and made her keep checking and checking and checking until we ran out of time. She tried her best to tell me there were no more, but I didn't believe her. I've studied this video and the others to see what clues there are to say she is done and can't find anything. So, if you see something, do tell. At different times after she found the only rat, Gimme tried to show me the rat decorations on the scribe table, the rat decoration on the support beam and finally, the rat stickers on the wall.
Trial 2 Search - Gimme was really concerned about this search and right away was very clingy. She even tried to leave the ring. She did check the ring at my insistence and found one rat, but couldn't find another. Since she was so determined to be out of there, I thought maybe there were no more. I called it, but we still had one more to go. I called Tonya and asked her to communicate with Gimme and find out what was going on. Gimme started out saying the ring was spooky and then tried saying it was because people laughed at her earlier in the first hunt. Tonya persisted to find out what she thought was spooky about people laughing and finally Gimme reluctantly told her she was really scared of the two spirit-dogs in the ring and just wanted to leave.
When you watch the very beginning of this video, you'll see she looks in and immediately turns and tries to leave - so unlike her. Hugging me she does at different times, but when she is really worried or upset, it gets very clingy, as it was here. It takes me 30 seconds to get her facing into the ring and as I'm undressing her she is still trying to turn away - another thing she never does. She goes to the gate six times after she starts hunting. On the video you can see she found the second rat two times, but leaves it without indicating. She told Tonya the spirit-dogs kept coming over there and so she left it alone.
Gimme had a very long conversation about them. Gimme asked if there were any bad ones and Tonya said yes, but none of them could hurt her. She told Gimme if the good ones are in her way, she can just move in and they will have to move out of her way because she is physical and they are not. Tonya also told her the evil ones can only hurt her if she gives them some of her power by paying attention to them. If she ignores them (she'll recognize an evil one if she ever sees one), they are powerless and can't touch her. While I don't know what I think about spirit-dogs, I do recognize there is a Biblical basis for not interacting with evil spirits, so I suppose there could be spirit-dogs. The next day when she asked about what was going on with Gimme, I gingerly told Amy (the judge) about the spirit-dogs. She told me an animal communicator who had come to watch her trial in Salem a few months earlier told her she'd seen spirit dogs near the rings. I don't know what to think about this, but you know I share everything.
Trial 3 Search - There was only one rat tube, which Gimme found quickly. Then I kept taking her around and basically "sold" her on alerting for a litter tube, which I then called getting us a false alert. She's a good girl - me not so much. I don't have video for this.
Trial 4 Search - Gimme found the first two well enough. After the second one she seemed lackadaisical about more searching and went to the gate a couple times, as if suggesting there were no more, so I called finished. We had another. She had shown interest in the spot, but didn't stick to it.
Her hunting for the second day was not as strong as it usually is. I was talking to Dennis Bell afterward - he's the gold medalist in the Barn Hunt Nationals, with Loki, a Norwegian Elkhound. He saw the same thing, saying Gimme now seemed to be more interested in what comes after the hunting. He said he sees this as a common problem because most of us take the rat tube away so quickly, so all the real reward happens outside the ring. So the dogs start to think, find a rat and then leave to get the good stuff. Of course, this is what I do. I tumbled to this epiphany once before (according to my blog it was at the Salem trial back in June)...
So for the upcoming trial, I'm changing our reward cycle. When Gimme finds a rat, I'll let her continue to sniff and paw at it, while I praise her excitedly - aiming for 5-10 seconds of real play. I know the clock is ticking, but we won't Q anyway if she isn't committed to and excited about finding the ratties. I'm also reducing the rewards out of the ring. I think I've gotten in the habit of rewarding for just participating. So I've decided on a system. She'll get a piece of peanut butter cookie in her special bowl for each rat she finds. If she finds them all and successfully communicates to me when there are no more so we Q, then and only then, she'll get a peanut butter Kong back at the car. I also plan to do a lot less food-play with her before our run, if I can. I'm hoping some of the relaxation-is-its-own-reward we've been doing elsewhere will work here as well (of course, much will depend on how the blind is set up, i.e. how much room there is).
We've never had more than 3 rat tubes since we've been in Masters. I hope at the trial this weekend we get some with 4 or 5, preferrably for the first run. It would be great if Gimme got to repeat the in-the-ring-reward several times in the first run. I don't know how we'll do or if we'll get legs toward our Masters title, but its most important we get back on track and restore the fun in this game. We still need four more legs, so its unlikely we'd get the title.
For me and my girl, this weekend its about having fun finding ratties. Cross your fingers for us.