Titles Achieved to date...

Monumental A to Z High On Liberty

Monday, December 28, 2015

Nosework (5/14)

Class Tuesday was very different.  The building was "divided" into three areas, but we had the whole thing as one interior search for our first search.  The entry area is about 10x10.  Then the door opens into the front part of the training room, about 15x20, separated from the back part with expens.  The back part is about 25x40 and includes a tiny bathroom.  The entry and front part of the training area were pretty much just like they always look.  The back part of the training area was just full of stuff.  They'd set up two canopies, with Christmas ornaments and little packages hanging from them, and then there were other boxes, wrapped boxes, containers of ornaments and various other items with a Christmas theme strewn everywhere.  There were an unknown number of hides and we were allotted 7 minutes for our first search.

Gimme was third to search.  She found one hide in the entry on the gumball machine and then left to enter the front of the training room.  There she found the same hide the other dogs found on the back side of the fan and then was able to locate an inaccessible hide under a shelf (4' from the fan hide).  From there she went into the back part of the room and quickly snagged the hide on the thermostat.  She's been wanting a hide to be there for a very long time (high up doncha know).  Then she went to the area next to the little refrigerator they keep odor in and really investigated it at length, but never committed (it was an inaccessible hide).  She left it at one point to get the hide in the bathroom.  Then she dithered around under the leftmost canopy, but never indicated.  I knew where some hides were from watching other dogs, but wanted her to find them on her own.  We finally ran out of time. 

We found out there were 3 hides in the entry room, 3 hides in the front of the training area, 1 hide in the bathroom and 7 hides in the back part of the training area.  So Gimme got 5 out of 14.  This is the first time Gimme wasn't the star of the class.

This search area was set up like an elite search, so there are going to be areas of overwhelming quantities of odor.  I haven't read the rules about elite searches, so I don't really know what the parameters/rules are.  I think 3 hides in a 10x10 room is a LOT.  But then found out, 5 of the 7 hides in the back of the training room were under one canopy!  Basically, there was so much odor Gimme didn't know how to sort it out into all the individual source locations.  She's never seen anything like this before.  The dog who did the best is an older female Jack Russell.  She found 7 of 14 hides on her first search. 

We were then given the choice of searching the front area (6 hides) or the back area (7 hides), with 6 minutes to work it.  We all chose the back area, except the Jack Russell's owner who wanted to work the front area, which was where her dog had been weakest.  She got 5 of 6 her second time around - she's talented, determined and methodical (very un-JR of her).

For her second search Gimme had the back area of 7 hides (bathroom was closed off).  She got the thermostat hide and then went over to solve the inaccessible hide by the odor storage refrigerator.  From there she went to the canopy and got one of those hides.  There were 5 boxes, with odor in each.  The center box was at about 3 feet high.  Two boxes at opposing corners were at 2 feet high (nose level) and the other two opposing corners were at 1 foot.  Gimme got one of the nose level hides and then just kept going back and forth and around and around.  At times she'd put her nose right next to a hide or bump it and just not catch it.  I thought for sure she'd get the other nose level hide and the highest one, but not.  So she only got 3 of 7 hides - which is dismal for her.

So I've been thinking about how to give her more opportunities to do this kind of search.  I need an area where I can let the hides really cook (stay in place for a long time), which leaves out anywhere I would normally practice.  It occurs to me I can use my parents' big garage (for the motorhome) and could even do a similar set up using the basement.  I might even be able to do the same thing in the woodshed - its a 12x12 building which is open on one side.

I can set up a search series where I keep adding hides to a relatively small area.  My usual day to spend time at Mom's is on Thursday and at least once a month, on Sunday too.  So, on weeks where I'm going to be back on Sunday, I can leave my hides so they have a couple of days to cook. This should give us some really good training to help Gimme understand how to deal with this much odor. 

Gimme really tried and while I was a tiny bit disappointed to not be the star of class like we usually are, I was still pleased with her efforts. She never quit working and never showed any frustration.  It'll be interesting to see how the training goes.  And knowing Gimme it will be a lot of fun...

Sunday, December 27, 2015

RFE Practice (5)

I've been holding onto this clip of distraction training since we taped it on December 17th.  There isn't anything really special about the clip, but the realization I had afterward is enlightening.

I set it up by putting a life-sized stuffed Dalmatian in the middle of the room - one she's never interacted with.  I wanted to work it as a distraction from the moment we came in the door.  So I clicked/treated any offered attention.  Some of the clicks are terribly late.  Early into the session, I wanted to treat it sort of BAT-ish, basically setting her up for and then rewarding good choices.  A lot of what I did was good, but then I pushed her a little too far (at 1:10) and she was able to reach the "dog", sniff it and realize it wasn't real.  You'll notice then she is no longer having to work hard to resist the dog, and is totally into the game.   I again pushed her too far at 1:50, so she sniffed his tail and got in another sniff at 2:00.  She did really well for two close circles around him, then got in a sneak-sniff at 2:35.  From there to the end she did fine and couldn't be fooled.

When she was a puppy in classes, we learned early on, as soon as she figures out it is game-time, you just can't fool her into making a mistake.  Even though it took her longer to get totally into the game this time, I was still very pleased.  We haven't focused on distraction work in a very long time, so I thought she did really well.

We followed this with a focus session where I was playing the eye contact game with her while J'Anna tried to distract her waving food in her face.  It took one time for her to not get the food from J'Anna for her to realize it was the game again.  Then she couldn't be fooled.  We also did some heeling with J'Anna trying to distract her and she couldn't be fooled at all. 

Then I set up to begin the course we were practicing and she was beautifully attentive, until I said "heel".  Then she immediately started looking around.  She didn't leave me, but she wasn't focused either.  She understands her job is to resist distractions (within her capability), but doesn't seem to understand I want the same attention and focus when there's no distraction.  I am certain I could set up a couple dozen open dishes of food along our course and she'd no doubt be amazing.  But when its easy, she doesn't focus.  I know she enjoys a challenge and I believe she wants to do well and please me.

Like I said, I think she just doesn't understand what I want.  Which of course puts the onus on me, clearly I've failed to teach her well.  I've asked a couple of people how they'd train this.  While they claim to be reward-based trainers, their solutions though not strongly punitive, are not reward-based either. So I'm looking for a truly reward based solution.

I know the answer is out there... feel free to share your ideas.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Title Fifteen - R-FE/N

I got the word a few days ago - Gimme qualified for the third leg of her RallyFrEe Novice title.  We again improved our score, by twelve points.  She now has fifteen titles (9 nosework, 5 barn hunt, 1 rallyfree).  The video we submitted is available at:

Here's what I see when comparing the video to the score sheet.  First, we got a total gift on the paw lift.  By the time we videotaped this, Gimme was pattern trained to do a paw lift there - I hadn't given a cue.  I've never used the pivot on the brick as a free choice before because I always thought the behavior should be independent of a target, so I was happily surprised to see the high marks I got for performance and difficulty.  I didn't even notice Gimme's incomplete sit on the sit-stand so was surprised to see the comment, but its there in living color.  The judge saw a "spin" instead of a "stand", I saw a "stand" followed by a "spin".  Still I had already noted it as something to work on - Gimme doesn't quite believe standing in one place doing nothing has value.  Clearly I have failed to make it valuable.  Her circle transition and thru transitions were both nice.  I didn't know what the judge meant by "slightly out of position at end" for the thru transition until I watched it and could see Gimme heeled a little wide after.  The right turn thru transition had problems - going back to the issue with listening skills, mentioned in the last blog entry.  I hadn't really given much thought to accuracy of position in our 360 pivot at heel, which accounts for the judge's comments.  Its interesting she gave me the exact same score and free choice difficulty points when she judged it last time.  Have to say the judge doesn't miss a thing - she even noticed the brief moment when Gimme looked away on her CW circle.  Can't disagree with her comments on the switchback or the center-front pivot.  Remember this is where Gimme was concerned the practice right before this run by seeing a dog so close outside the ring.  And I'd already noted we need to tighten up the accuracy on the center-front pivot.  This also is a repeat of the issue I notice with Gimme seeing no value in standing and doing nothing.  I didn't understand her comments about our circle-thru-combo and am going to ask for clarification.  Interestingly we earned a point more than the last time she judged it and then it had a number of errors.  The assessment of our right 270 and bow seem perfectly reasonable.

I've put together a comparison of all three of our video entries.  Again the most noticeable difference is an increase in higher scores for stations.
I earn 8-10 points for "Performed Very Well to Superb".  Our first time we got this for 4 stations, second time 8 and this time 9, of which 5 were 10 points for a Superb performance!  I earn 4-7 points for "Performed Adequate to Well".  Our first time we got this for 11 stations, second time 6 and this time 5. I earn 1-3 points for "Performed with Significant Deficiencies".  Our first time we had no stations with significant deficiencies, last time we had one (the failed bow at the end) and this time one (sit-stand).  Our difficulty points for free choice stations came up by 2 points.  Again an overall trend toward a much better end result. 

Last time we got a nice 5 point bump up in our score for overall scores in the category of heelwork, attention and teamwork. This time we lost a point, taking a little hit on attention, which is understandable, since Gimme was concerned about the possibility of there being a dog near the ring from her last practice session. 

Again I did a side-by-side comparison of the stations/free choice between the two events.  There are some interesting trends.  I continue to move forward before Gimme establishes an end position.  I'm still trying to use my movement to hold her attention.  And we continue to struggle with attention - more on this for next blog entry.  It will likely take more work to consistently improve my handling than to improve Gimme's attention, though the two are related, eh.

Here are the free choice comparisons and you’ll see the same issue with end positions and for the same reasons.

Here are the judge's comments:  "Congratulations on your new title! Excellent performance at many stations. To improve your score, work to increase attention to verbal cues and pay attention to positions, making sure the dog is in the correct position at the end of a behavior before heeling to the next station. Heelwork in this run varied; sometimes it was wide, sometimes forged, sometimes she was distracted by the environment. Increasing understanding of and desire for heel position in motion and at rest would increase your score."

I don't disagree with her comments.  I have a different take on the causes for those places where we have issues, but she was really on target... 

Friday, December 18, 2015

RallyFrEe Practice (4)

On November 23rd we practiced (which I've already blogged about), then again on the 30th - followed by taping for the competition.  I asked J'Anna, my practice partner, to tape our warm-up sessions.  To be clear - this is not intended to be a training session.  This is video day, so if she doesn't know it by then, its too late.  Mostly I was just trying to warm her up on the sequences and get myself flowing on my part of the job.

This first clip is a two-part station, CW-circle, followed by figure-8 twice.  You'll see Gimme was distracted here and there, then she gets up in my face for kisses.  She seems to have "performance anxiety" - which is always worse on video day.  I've learned this kissy-face is how she asks for reassurance.  I find if I don't give her the reassurance then, her performance goes downhill from there.  The next try was better, though still a little distracted.  The next station was a switchback, which she did well, with a bit more airs above the ground than it called for.  The next station was free choice, which I intended to be a center front pivot around me.  She was into major offering.  At times she seems impatient with my choices.  The second try at this she did much better, though threw in a CCW-circle at the start.  The next part is a little sequence I made up - this time she did it flawlessly.  The 270 right turn and bow were very good too.  I have to make a pretty big circle on those 270's when she is on the inside, otherwise she turns it into a pivot and that is points off.

On this second practice clip, she again starts out with offering.  I think this is often a product of a life long issue - poor listening skills.  Too often Gimme hears me speak and then just does what she thought I was going to say, instead of waiting and listening to hear what I actually said.  I need to revisit my earlier training notes and see what was recommended to work on this.  Of course, suggestions are welcome.  In her defense, we just started seriously training the paw lift behavior ten days ago, so she could have been confused.  On the pivot on her "brick", I intended have her do it twice... in our final video for submission she throws in an extra and I just let it ride.  She likes this behavior.  The next station is supposed to be a CCW spin followed by sit-stand.  Gimme has taken to moving a lot with the stand part of this, so its something we'll have to revisit.  She gets distracted here and at the next station, causing her to get out of position.  After she got in heel and offered me a nice bit of attention, I said "bowl", which is her cue to run to her special bowl for her reward.  The first couple of times we do a sequence using the bowl, its actually a distraction, but once she wins that reward a few times, then it serves as motivation to keep trying.

On this third practice session, you'll see she does the two behavior station very cleanly.  I noticed in this clip I was saying, "and thru" each time.  So I'm going to be watching to see if "and" serves as a pre-cue and helps her stay focused.  I'm thinking it could be like the military's use of pre-cues, such as "parade rest" and "atten shun", where the action comes on the second part of the cue.  She bobbles on the switchback but does it nicely with the repeat.  You'll see here I'm playing with having my hands on the front of my thighs to get her to hold center front for the pivot.  I don't intend to keep this, but tried it as a band-aid for the video.  She bobbled on the multi-part sequence, but got into the correct end position, so I sent her to her bowl as a reward for effort.

For our fourth practice session, we went much through the whole course.  Her heeling to start was really nice.  Still not clear on the paw lift, but gets it with the hand cue.  We ended up with four pivots on the brick.  You'll notice her embellishment on this stand was different than the time before.  We had a bobble there on the right-turn-thru-trx - this is a good place for a pre-cue to tell her something is coming.  Next is a free choice, she loves this backing around me in heel.  In fact I've had to clean up my handling because at one point she thought the cue was a twitch of my shoulder and I'm still working to make shoulder twitches meaningless. ☺  She does the circle and thrus nicely and then is distracted in the switchback by a surprise appearance of a person and dog nearby.  I chose not to repeat this station, because I wanted to reward and encourage her being able to move away.  You can see she is unable to focus at the center-front-pivot and goes into kissy face.  I wasn't surprised.  Dogs are a very hard distraction for her and even when she does well, she often needs reassurance afterward - needing confirmation of how well she did.  I chose to move her on to give her more distance.  She did well on the remaining exercises through to the end. She self-released to the bowl, but came back when I called her.  The video cut it off, but I had her do two more behaviors and then released her to the bowl.  I try to never release her to the bowl after a "take-a" (bow).

Just in case you missed it, Gimme did qualify with the video we submitted this day.  She improved on her prior score by 12 points.  This was her third qualifying entry, earning her FIFTEENTH title!  My next blog entry will show the final video we submitted and an analysis of her score sheet, with a comparison against the two prior score sheets. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Tracking Genius (22)

Yesterday we met at Flaming Geyser for tracking.  We decided to work at the far end of the park where the grass is kept mowed short, so it would be more like a sports park.  Also, Nadine wanted to take advantage of the chance to track through standing water.  The conditions were misty and cool.

We started with a short track of a large double serpentine curve.  The water was a large puddle on a driveway and where we crossed the corner it was no more than a couple of inches deep.  It had aged 10 minutes.  Gimme did well with this and had a good time, though she was a little pussy-footed about the water.

The second track was also mostly on short grass, except for crossing a road right at the start and then crossing (and turning) on a cement pad near the end.  We had several chances to track through standing water - good thing I keep my wading boots in the car all the time.  Again Gimme got to go first, it was aged about 15 minutes. 

It starts on the far right with a sock and immediately crosses a road.  Gimme did an excellent job of keeping her nose down as she went across the road.  In fact, all the girls did, which we credit to the recent work in urban.

Gimme made the first and second corners, but missed the first article, an eyeglass case.  I think she was just going too fast.  There was no flag on the second corner because it was marked by a drinking fountain (tiny blue square).  She did fine on the next turn, but was really confused by the firepit (two-tone grey circle).  It was full of ash and burned dirt, so I'm sure it was a big puzzle.  She did finally go through it and was the only one of the four girls to do so.  The others walked around it (4' diameter) and picked up the track on the other side. 

From there she got a glove, made another turn and then went through a shallow puddle in the grass, right to a glove on the edge of the cement pad for a covered picnic area.  From this glove, the track turned left and went between the covered area and three support poles.  This leg was the longest - easily 150 yards, with a glove in the middle.  After the glove it approached a playground area, with a lot of standing water on one end, which transitioned to puddle on grass.

The next turn brought us to a large covered picnic area with many picnic tables.  The track went right into the covered area between two tables and then turned right to end at a glove 8 feet away.  Gimme had no problem following the track into the covered area, but then started sniffing the tables.  It was like she was momentarily confused and thought we were suddenly doing nosework.  I cued her "track-on", then she went "Oh yeah, tracking..." and went back to work.  She easily made the turn and got to the last glove.  She's never tracked into this kind of spot before, but has seen picnic tables/areas many times in nosework practices, classes and at a few trials.  So I think its an honest mistake and we need to practice tracking through that kind of area again.

Even after all this tracking, Gimme wasn't convinced she'd done her share, so I set her up an article oval.  One long leg of the oval went through some really rough ground and Gimme never missed a beat.  She found all her articles and then was happy...

Just got notice that Gimme passed on her novice RallyFrEe video entry, giving her the third leg (to a new title).  This makes her 15th title!  Can't wait to get the individual score sheet and see how the scoring came down.  She improved her score by 12 points.  We are going to focus on fundamentals over the next couple of months.  We have to have 125 points to pass an intermediate entry.  Yayyyy Gimme...

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Nosework (4/14)

Last nights class had a Christmas theme and we are being told next week will be all Christmas.

When I walked into the entry room for class (its a small room which doubles as the "store"), I was greeted with this layout.  There were sixteen Christmas ornaments laid out on the floor in a grid.  My first thought was, "Omigod, I hope they're plastic."  They were.  I didn't know what Gimme would do.

I haven't shown where odor was because honestly when we got done I still didn't know.  Dorothy said Gimme found two of the three hides in the first ten seconds.  She was doing fine until she bumped one and it moved.  Then she had to bump them some more.  I never could tell when she was playing and when she was alerting, so had to rely on Dorothy to tell me which was which. Apparently this was exactly the same thing all the dogs did.  Many found odor quickly, but just couldn't believe it was in the ornaments, so they didn't stick it.  Some dogs went into play mode right away, others did it after accidentally moving one.  All dogs seemed to be really enthralled by the ornaments when they moved.

From there we went into a container search in the big room.  There were 21 containers in one long straight line.  There were chairs stacked against the wall right at the end of the search and there was a line of chairs against the side wall.  All the dogs seemed to have difficulty finding the hide in the flat box because it was between two taller plastic tubs.  It was like they came down the line of boxes, lifted their nose to go over the plastic tub and then didn't lower it until they got to the second tub on the other side of the box with the hide.  Gimme went by it three times and finally stopped for it the fourth time.  I was sure it was there the second time, but waited for her to solve the puzzle herself. 

After these two searches they took up the odor ornaments, but left the rest in the entry (for the next class).  When we came through there the second time to go to the next container search, I could tell from Gimme's demeanor she knew there was no hides in the room.  Of course that didn't stop her from reaching out to bap an ornament with her paw,
just before we went into the other room.  She seemed really
pleased with herself.

For the second container search they moved some of the boxes into the chairs along the side wall, one of which had odor.  The odor box between the two tubs stayed in the same place.  It was interesting to see Gimme catch the odor for the hide box up in the chair from the startline.  She went directly to it, from about 30 feet away.  She still had difficulty catching the odor box between the two tubs.

For the fourth and final search, they moved half the chairs into a parallel row on the other side of the line of boxes.  They kept the tub-box-tub hide sequence, moved the one from the chair to the end of the new row and added odor to the second box from the startline. 

None of the dogs stopped for the threshold hide and they all immediately turned to the new row of chairs.  Gimme didn't really pay any attention to the middle row or the side chairs until she had checked out the new row and there only actually checked the last two chairs.  She again gave the appearance of having caught the odor on the low stool from the startline.  Something about the air flow seemed to come down the room on a horizontal plane and Gimme would go right to it.  After she found the hide at the end of the row of "new" chairs, then she started down the other row of chairs and caught herself, coming back to the tub-box-tub hide.  From there she went to find the threshold hide.

The point of the evening's lesson was to see how the dogs responded to novelty.  The ornaments were intriguing because they moved so easily, even without the dogs purposely moving them.  Once they did, then the dogs would be attracted to the novelty of the movement, which looked a lot like their usual indication in some cases.  We noticed a couple of dogs accidentally moved boxes in the second search and then would be suddenly stuck on them.  This didn't happen to Gimme, probably because she's always knocking them around a bit, so for her it wasn't novel.  Then on the last search there was suddenly a row of chairs to the left and all the dogs had to go there first.

So dogs are really attracted to novelty and feel compelled to check it out.  This tendency is likely true across all dog sports.  Its our job as owner/trainer to expose them to so many unusual and different things, until it becomes harder and harder to create novelty in their work environment.  Then when you go to a trial, they are more likely able to get right to work without being distracted.

12/17 Note:  It occurred to me - this tendency to check out novelty makes perfect sense in a survival sense.  Sure, our dogs don't live in the wild and don't have to be ready to fight to protect themselves, still - those instincts are strong.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Urban Tracking (7)

Last Thursday was supposed to be a field tracking day, but with all the rain we'd been having, the rivers were waaaaay too high and we thought it might not be wise to be out in a field so close to a river nearly over its banks.  This picture pretty well sums up how incredibly wet its been. 

When we got there, the weather was passably tolerable.  It was raining lightly, a bit cold and everything was really wet.  We rationalized how the wet conditions would be ideal for the dogs in tracking.

We started with an article exercise on the longest sidewalk.  Nadine took about 30 urban articles and laid them out along the sidewalk, about ten feet apart.  The idea was to click/treat for any interest in the articles.  Nadine said two of her three were clicker savvy - if so, I didn't see any indication.  When we clicked, they just never looked up for their treats, so we switched to a word marker and it was a little better.  Gimme did well, but then she'll do anything for a click and a treat.

The biggest problem we had was the wind.  By this time it was really picking up - a good steady wind with gusts.  I have no sense of what the MPH is with wind, but there were times I had to lean into it because it was pushing me back.  It was flapping my rain poncho in a major way.  In any case, it was blowing our little urban articles around.  Some disappeared entirely, while others were just blown far enough to no longer be on the sidewalk.  We collected them up as this happened.

Our schedule was to do two tracks of island hopping, 80 and 100 yards.  By the time we finished with the article work, it was starting to get really nasty, so we modified the assignment.  We did one really long island hopping track of over 100 yards for each dog. 

Gimme went second and her track was likely close to 150 yards.  I'd told Nadine I didn't want to put down any food drops between the islands because of my concern about Gimme getting too "visual" in the urban tracking.  It was too easy for her to run to the next drop when she could see the white string cheese against the dark pavement.  Nadine said okay, then laid treats anyway, but using her pork treats, which blended into the blacktop.

Gimme did a marvelous job.  Without anything visual to rely on she just got right to work figuring it out for herself.  Most of the pork treats were left for the crows because Gimme blew past them so quick.  She loves to solve problems and "go", so I didn't bring her back to the treats.  She lost the track twice.  She had problems with one corner and then another time on a straight away across the open space (as Sil calls it "a corner which might go straight").  Both times I was able to see her behavior change when she lost the track, unlike the prior time when she just pulled along like nothing was amiss.  I just held my ground and let her sort it out and she did, very well.  She really is a very talented girl and loves a good challenge.

We still had two dogs to do and the rain was coming down in sheets.  Nadine suggested we call it a day, but by this time my bottom half was already soaked to the bone, so to me, another half hour was of no consequence.  Of course I didn't expect a sudden drop in temperature.  One minute it was okay and the next the temps dropped and then the sheets of rain contained a lot of ice crystals. 

There's a certain amount of insanity to playing the game in this kind of weather.  Meanwhile I'm looking for a good rain suit.  I figure if I'm better prepared, I'll never need it.

Gimme and I are trying to squeeze in walking whenever we can.  We are 18-3/4 miles away from our yearly goal of 500 miles.  I don't mind walking in a drizzly rain, but don't want to go out in a downpour.  I don't want Gimme getting that wet either, so its been challenging. 

Needless to say, Gimme is BORED and says she never gets to do anything fun.  It didn't help for work to run so late yesterday, so we didn't go to barn hunt practice.  Of course, part of the reason it ran so late is because the weather was decent, so I took Gimme for a 5 mile walk in the morning, thus getting a late start at work.  Gimme says its a flimsy excuse. 

Now I must go, its time for nosework class...

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Nosework (3/14)

We had five interior searches tonight, all using the same basic layout.  There were two tables with chairs, the red cart, three stacks of chairs against the back wall, and three other chairs.  The three white circles were two big white buckets with a paint can. 

Search 1 - The area was purposely set up to have all the "stuff" on one side of the room.  Its pretty common for dogs and handlers to focus on the stuff and ignore blank looking areas.  Gimme didn't ignore the blank area, she quickly trotted in a loop through the area midway through her search and then rapidly went straight to the hide.

Search 2 - Search 1 and 2 were back-to-back.  We briefly left the search area and turned the dogs away while they moved in the second hide item, a small plastic cabinet. This time Gimme paid no attention to the blank area, found the new hide first and then the previous hide.

Search 3 - For this search another hide was added on the back of the chair nearest the threshold.  All the dogs found the hides fast enough, but none went to the chair hide first, even though for NACSW purposes it would be considered a threshold hide.  Dorothy talked about how they are seeing threshold hides are rarely as straight forward as they seem.  Gimme liked having three hides to find.

Search 4 - This search only had one hide about a foot up on the wall in the blank area.  We were instructed to use our body and motion to aim our focus toward the stuff, but let the dog search however they wanted.  This search was about having the owner act like a "dumb handler", ignoring the blank area and focusing, as we and our dogs would tend to, on the stuff.  Gimme scanned the stuff and then as she got to near the three stacks of chairs, she caught the scent and went directly to the hide.

Search 5 -This was set up just the opposite.  The hide was on the wall in the stuff end of the room and we handlers were instructed to use our body and motion to aim our focus toward the blank area, but let the dog search however they wanted.

Gimme did what I thought she would do.  She rushed into the search area going toward where she expected odor to be and then noticed I was somewhere else.  Then she came to check out the area where I was standing, but quickly dismissed it saying, "Mom, you don't know what you're doing." 

To me this was exactly like the way we typically do search areas - especially interiors which are commonly off leash.  She rushes into the area, past any potential threshold hide.  She has always rushed into the area, she's always going to and I see no point in fighting it.  So I go with her and then wander back toward the threshold.  She notices what I'm doing and comes over to do a courtesy sniff - and sometimes I'm right.  If I'm right, she alerts.  If not, she goes back to work in the way she thinks best.  So this time, noticing I was hanging out away from her, she came over to give the area a courtesy sniff, then went back to work - and had the hide in about five seconds.

She knows my nose is worthless, but even a broken clock is right twice a day, eh. So she's always polite about humoring my ideas. 

Now my friends, the couch beckons...

Monday, December 7, 2015

Rat Practice

We went to Eatonville tonight to attend one of the rare Monday night practices.  They used to always have them on Monday night, but then it got changed to Saturday (when I teach classes) or Thursdays (when I'm in Auburn).  It was decided to offer a couple of Monday night practices in December.  I figure Gimme needed an outlet after being cooped up all weekend.

The first time in the ring they put out three rats for her.  She did a great job finding them and all her barking was directed at the rat tubes, with pawing for indication.  Then she did the tunnel for me - all in 4:05... a good solid time.

I spent time helping some novice people with their dogs.  One terrier would find the rats right away (within the first 10 seconds in the ring) but wouldn't indicate, though the owner said she used to.  So we really ramped up the play with the tube.  The first time she paid any attention to the rat tube, the owner really played with her, moving around the ring with it teasing her, patting her side and praising her.  The dog loves the rat tubes - I think she has figured out they will be taken away if she indicates. 

We kept her in the ring, just having the owner and dog turn away while I hid the tube again.  We did the re-hide 5 times and by the third time she was really indicating strongly.  She loves having her Mom play with the tube with her.  Later on they came in for another turn.  We'd hidden two tubes and she found them very quickly and indicated them beautifully.  She's gonna be a fun dog to trial.

I also got to help introduce a 4 month old Cattle Dog to barn hunt.  She was immediately fascinated by the rat in the tube, set out in the open, and didn't want to leave it.  Then we set it out next to a litter tube, to see what she'd do.  She sniffed the litter tube first (because it was closest), but then completely focused on the rat tube and again didn't want to leave it.  She could have passed an instinct test right then and there.  Very cool.

For Gimme's second turn, we hid three rats and then as she'd find them, I'd draw her over into another area in the ring and they'd be hidden again.  Gimme thought this was the best fun EVVVVER.  She got to find seven rats out of three.  Her indications were all really good and I only had to remind her to use her paws one time.  There was more barking than earlier, but I'm okay with it, provided she isn't just wasting time, standing around barking.  Gimme was a little less cooperative about doing the tunnel this time, so when she did it (the 4th time), we made sure there was a rat tube right in front of her as she came out. 

Her reaction was kinda funny, she kept nosing at the tube like she couldn't believe it was just laying right there.  I think she's forgotten her times in Instinct when the tubes were out in the open.  Her eyes were huge.

She's contentedly snoozing as we speak.

Nosework (2/14) & tracklaying

One nosework class was cancelled because of weather and then Thanksgiving week no class was scheduled.  So this week (Dec 1st) was our first class following a two week break. 

The plan was to revisit edges and corners.  In  nosework so often hides are on things toward the middle of the room, so dogs can get out of the habit of checking the edges/corners.  For the first and second searches there were 6 hides around the sides or in corners of the room.  One of those hides was about 5 feet high on the inside of the garage door.

Gimme was the third dog to run and she did very well.  She started on the scattered stuff in the middle of the room, but finding no odor, she quickly moved to the sides and corners.  She was as fast as August at finding the hides on the perimeter.  This is interesting, since August is a German Shepherd and they are known to be "perimeter dogs" who tend to check perimeters of an area first. 

Gimme actually beat him a lot in overall time because of the high hide.  August went past the high hide repeatedly and didn't indicate until the sixth pass.  Gimme got it on the second pass; really it was just a re-check from her first pass.  She was moving so fast when she passed it the first time, she had to swing back around to it to check it out.  It took her no time at all to go high and indicate.

The third search was one hide in the middle and three on the edges.  Gimme aced this too.  For her these were all pretty easy searches, so hopefully they will do something more challenging this week. 

Of course she's been so bored all weekend, she'll probably be happy to do anything, even basic stuff.  I was away most of the day on both days to lay track for WSOTC's TDX test.  It was fun and I was able to use things I learned at the Sil Sanders seminars to improve my performance as a tracklayer.  Sil was in charge of all the track-laying and cross-tracks and coordination of timing.  Its really quite a complicated thing to get everything done at the right interval, so his analytical approach made it flow nicely. 

Sil instituted two procedures years ago for clubs holding tests in this area (well after my last tracklaying efforts), which made it much better.  1) After the tracklayer walks the track with the judges while they are plotting the track, then she goes out and walks it again solo.  Sil says too often the tracklayer will be distracted by the judges and doesn't get their count down or landmarks, so its important for them to have the opportunity to walk it again solo, which builds their confidence and reduces tracklaying errors on test day.  2) Tracklayers got to walk the course as the team was working it, staying just behind the judges.  This means the tracklayers can hear the judges' discussion of what they are seeing and their decision making process.  This was very informative for me.  And, if the judges blew the dreaded whistle, then the tracklayer would take the working team to the nearest known point and walk the course with them, so the dog ends on a positive note.

Honestly, I think Gimme would have passed on the track I laid.  The Border Collie who drew my track only made it a bit past halfway before they blew the whistle, though honestly it was a mistake he made well before then which led to him getting off track and quitting.  For the first part of what we walked he was still very uncertain, but once he found the second article, then his confidence was restored and he barrelled through to the end.

Gimme made it very clear I'd neglected her and should be doing something to make it up to her.  She had zero sympathy for my desire to lay around like a lump and wait for my migraine to go away.  Tonight we are going to Eatonville for a barn hunt practice, so she should be happy when we get home from it.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Urban Tracking (5 & 6)

Thanksgiving morning, Nadine and I met at the Auburn theater parking lot for tracking.  It was wet and cold.  The tracks on the program included island hopping again.  We started with an article circle, then we did our two tracks, 40 and 60 yards.  After reading my last urban tracking blog entry Sil Sanders reminded me to include aging information.  Its important to record this information, so we know where we are in the overall scheme of things.

So for Gimme, the article circle was 10 minutes old, followed by the two tracks back-to-back, also at about 10 minutes.  Gimme did okay, but not as well as she has in the past.  Before we were laying then running immediatley, so I suspect aging them is a bit more challenging for her.  There were moments where her talent really showed through, but overall just not as stellar as I'm accustomed to.  I saw a tendency to try to look for articles, instead of following her nose.

Skookum was great.  She's such a solid little tracker.  Cricket did real well too.  We again did a simpler track for Sugar.  She has a lot of natural talent, but she's also very soft and so we want to bring her along and make sure we build her confidence so she stays enthusiastic.  So for her track, we used a really long curb and then just one hop to an island.  She did well.

This week we had planned to go to Flaming Geyser for field tracking, but the weather report included a lot of potentially nasty stuff, so we elected to stay in town.  We repeated everything pretty much like before, except the track lengths were 60 yards and 80 yards.  We again started with an article circle, then we did our two tracks, and again at 10 minutes for age.

Gimme did pretty much the same as last week. Again I saw the tendency to look for stuff (articles and food drops in the gaps between islands), rather than follow her nose to them.  I do plan to bring meaty treats to urban tracking from now on, as they won't be visible on the pavement like pieces of white string cheese.  At one point Gimme went off on a likely path and I thought she was really into it.  She had her head down and was pulling steady.  Then Nadine told me Gimme had turned the wrong way, was well away from the track and moving further away.

She did a very credible impression of tracking and I had no clue she wasn't on the track - and Nadine couldn't see any clues either (and she knew the instant Gimme was off track).  I've gotten better at reading her in field tracking, but it didn't help me today on pavement.  We've decided to tape her tracks next time we do urban and see if we can see anything different.  Since the tracks are short, it'll be easy for Nadine to tape her.  BTW we saw Skookum do the same thing, going the wrong way and looking like she was tracking.  Not sure what this means.

Skookum did well, though I threw her a couple of challenges she had to sort through.  For her start I had Nadine take her to the start article at a 90 degree angle and let Skookum figure out which way to go.  And twice, instead of leaving one island at an angle, so it's apparent where the course goes - I went straight across and she had to turn at the curb.  These were good challenges for her.

We set a different kind of track for Sugar.  I used two long parallel lines of parking "stops", thinking it would be easy.  It wasn't hard, but she seemed to want to work the track from the wrong side of the stops.  She had no problem finding her articles from the wrong side of this little "curb", but we couldn't understand why she did it like this.  In each line, she was on the "wrong" side, so it didn't make sense from a wind direction p.o.v., (really only a tiny breeze). 
Note: As I was just reading this for errors a day later, I think I figured out what was happening.  The parking stops are just 6 foot long curbs.  As I walk along the "outside", I am leaving foot tracks on the outside right next to the stop, however skin rafts and other debris from my body are falling on a wider pattern.  Its likely they were falling on top of the stops and on the inside.  So Sugar was following them when she found them.  We'd move her to the outside and she'd stick there for a bit, but when she was passing from stop to stop (over a gap of about 4 feet), if she angled and got to the inside, she'd resume tracking there.
Cricket actually did the best today and she was the only one who didn't go from article circle to her tracks.  Nadine was trying to make good use of time, so she did the circle with Cricket, then put her up and did it with Skookum while I was laying tracks.  Gimme also did article circle and then tracks.  I'm wondering if the time back in the car to rest her brain, and percolate on what she just did, actually helped Cricket's performance.  So next time we'll try the same pattern with all the dogs and see what we see.

Sugar didn't get to do the article circle, because while we were running Cricket's tracks, someone came along and picked up ALL 8 of our articles!  We didn't see them and have no clue why they did it - since they left other parking lot junk.  Tooooo strange.  Obviously we will be keeping a better eye on our stuff in the future.

I have to say I don't like what I'm seeing with the article circle on pavement.  The dogs aren't trying to track from article to article.  Gimme did at first, but now she's going visual.  My intention was to increase the value in urban articles for the dogs, so at first I didn't care.  I can't get Nadine to break out of her minimal rewards (1-3 treats), so I don't know how much good its doing her dogs, though it does serve as a warm-up.  I certainly don't like seeing Gimme rely on sight.

So I have two ideas:
  1. No more article circles out in the open, since the dogs can too easily see them.  I'm concerned they are learning a bad habit, especially since I'm seeing bleed over with Gimme.  Instead we'll go back to doing the articles on the grassy strip, but using the more urban type articles.  This'll give us the ability to make them less visual, meanwhile encouraging our girls to use their noses.
  2. The other idea is to do a sidewalk article game - much like I originally did when Gimme was a puppy to see what her natural indication would be.  Its just a matter of laying out a whole bunch of articles along a sidewalk, ten feet apart.  The dogs are on leash attached to a collar (no harness) and just get paid for interacting with each one.  By not having a harness, I'm thinking it'll separate this mentally from tracking, meanwhile building article love.
Meanwhile, Gimme is snoozing contentedly...

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Seizure Again!

Minutes after my last post about Gimme deciding on her own cues, she had another seizure!

It was the first seizure in 6 months and 8 days.  It came on the fourth day after the recent reduction in medication, so we are back up to the prior dosage.  We started at 500mg Keppra three times a day, then three months ago reduced it to 500mg twice a day.  The emergency vet said we might be able to reduce it over time until we used none.  So this time I went to 250mg twice a day.  I thought it made better sense to have some Keppra in her system at all times.  I've put her back on the 500mg twice a day dose and we have an appointment with our veterinarian Tuesday morning.

When it first started, Gimme came out from under the desk (remember I'd been writing the blog post) and sort of stopped with one foot up on a cushion.  I thought I was in her way, so I moved and encouraged her to come out.  She moved about three feet further and then stopped, looking a bit hunched over.  She'd woken me up in the middle of the night with an urgent need to go outside, so I thought for a moment this was related and she might puke.

Then I saw her trembling and how her body was sinking to the floor.  Realizing it was a seizure, I got down with her and just held her until it passed.  I think it lasted less than 2 minutes.  Overall I think it was less intense than the prior seizures.  It seemed to have a cycle, like waves.  So I think perhaps the reduced levels of Keppra in her system was enough to reduce the intensity, just not enough to prevent it entirely.

I couldn't get through to talk to my vet, this being the day before Thanksgiving.  He had an office full, standing room only, two techs out sick, and had plans to catch a flight.  So I called the emergency clinic where they'd originally prescribed Keppra and asked my question about moving the dose back up, whether I should do 2 or 3 doses of 500mg.  They pulled her file and said twice a day would be good, reiterating how important it was to keep our Tuesday appointment.  About an hour later the receptionist from the clinic called to say she'd talked to Doc and he said to get her back on the twice a day regimen.  So it was good to have both veterinarians in agreement.

My first account on Wednesday is the same place I get her prescriptions filled, so I talked to the pharmacist.  He looked it up online and said it takes about 1½ days for Keppra to completely leave the body.  It took 72 hours for it to get low enough to no longer control her seizures.  Thus, I don't have to panic if it so happens we miss a dose (not that I'd ever skip one on purpose, but, things happen).  I'm on the K9Epilepsy list and there are cases where the owners are pretty much slaves to their beloved dog's disease.  So I'm thankful on this account, since my life is pretty chaotic much of the time.

Although I was in panic mode most of the first few days, I've settled into this new reality.  Gimme will need to be on medication for life.  The bad news is, this shows her seizure disorder has progressed.  Between her first and second seizure with no medication was 6 months and 4 days.  Between the second and third seizures was 6 months and 8 days, which looks okay until you consider this was with a reduced level of medication.  It only took 72 hours of reduced meds for the seizure to occur.

The good news is, her seizures are controlled easily with a medication which is low risk, has minimal side-affects and is inexpensive (about $20 per month).  Twice a day is a regimen which fits well into my day, even on the more hectic days, so I can keep things regular for her.

Another interesting outcome - The first episode was during a RFE class and the second was minutes after a RFE practice.  In this case, it occurred during our typical morning routine.  I knew all along it was crazy, but there's been a subtle tension when we go anywhere to practice/train RallyFree.  So now I can now let go of the superstition that it had anything to do with RallyFrEe or Obedience type training.  Woooosh - that's me heaving a big sigh of relief.

I should point out, within 20 minutes after the seizure Gimme was her usual self.  She was bouncing around, cavorting, bringing me toys - all as if to say, "I'm fine, I'm fine, don't worry, quit obsessing, let's play".

Last time she had a seizure, Gimme told me ice cream prevents seizures.  Now she claims peanut butter is also a seizure preventative.  Obviously she should get plenty of both.  She's also been telling me that some day she is going to die and if I didn't play with her, I'm going to feel very guilty.  Then she adds, we should play more often, probably several times a day.  She's my girl - always working the angles...

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Morning Funny Ha-Ha

For as long as I can remember, Gimme has been bringing me her toys while I'm getting dressed and the like, every morning.  She brings them, pushes them into my hand repeatedly and any attempt on my part to actually take the toy, results in her
          a) dancing away with it, or
          b) tugging with it.

I can't tug while I'm getting dressed, but I can throw toys.  I encourage her to "bring" me things so we can play.  I've been trying all this time to get her to "release" the toy to me and the only time she would do it was if I took her by the collar and then she gets a slightly disappointed look on her face - suggesting she finds this approach less than fun.  I've tried teaching her to "release" more formally with very little success.

Last night I was sitting on the couch and she snagged one of my socks, hoping to get me to play tug or at least, be less boring.  I said "mine" and she plopped it in my hand!  Suddenly a little light bulb flashed brightly - it occurred to me to try "mine" in the morning.  I just did and like magic, it worked.

All this time I thought "mine" meant 'don't touch'.  Apparently Gimme is quite capable of understanding this cue in a different way in a different context.  Plus there is the whole Gimme thing - wanting to be in control of the process.  Not the first time - won't be the last.

Now Gimme wants me to get off this 'puter, so we can practice this game she has FINALLY taught me to do in the RIGHT way.  I better get to it right away, before I forget and she has to train me all over again tomorrow...   By the way...

Dear Friends
Happy Thanksgiving

Monday, November 23, 2015

RFE Practice (3)

Today J'Anna and I met to set up and practice the novice course for the World Wide RFE video event.  When we get this third leg, it'll be a new title for Gimme.

I started the morning being awakened early (we were already getting up at the crack of dawn) by the Empress of the Cosmos who wanted a tummy rub.  Naturally I obliged until the alarm went off.  Then got up and speedily got ready, got Gimme's breakfast ready and carried all the stuff I'd stacked with my keys out to the car.

Then there was the ordeal of getting Gimme to go outside with me to get in the car.  She'd already been outside for the fastest tinkle in earth's history, so she was certain going out again into those frigid conditions was not on her agenda.  I did finally get her out to the car, put her vest on and cranked the heat up as far as it would go.  Light was just starting to peep over the horizon when we left home.

Gimme acclimated faster than she had last time, but wasn't all that attentive when it came to work.  I did get a quick practice on each of the exercises, and a refresher on the Free Choice behaviors I'd selected.  She did okay, but I just couldn't get her really enthused and focused.

J'Anna and I decided to treat this like we were videoing for real, so the dogs would be used to having someone standing in the middle of the course.  So I have a video from this morning.  Its a very long clip, so I've removed some delays to make it a little more manageable (6 minutes after editing).  Its a good thing we practiced videoing, since its really not clear enough for submitting.  We'll have to work out something different.

11/23/15 Practice
This video is from almost the last of our training.  I was using the special bowl and Gimme kept offering behaviors I hadn't asked for - basically offering bow all the time with a couple others thrown in.  She's never done this before, so it took me a bit to figure out what was going on.  After we did one reward with the special bowl, she was much more enthusiastic and focused.  There was barking and whining from the day-camp room, which distracted her quite a bit too.  It was hard for her, but she managed to work through it.  I was very proud of how well she did the behind-right-thru-around-left-through sequence - we haven't practiced this in forever, not even a warm up lately, since I just remembered it in the middle of the night.  When we did it so long ago, I was in the middle of teaching right and left (circling around one leg), so I was surprised to see she remembered it without a refresher.  The second time we did it where she had the mistake, it was my fault, since I hadn't gotten my weight shift correct - which tells her which side to end on.

So what I learned right before this clip was to make sure the rewards I'm using in the special bowl pay adequately for what I'm asking her to do.  Working without getting a treat every time is hard, so it has to be worth her while to work for it.  I'd just started putting 15 pieces of cheese and 5 peanut butter chips in her special bowl.  You'll see after the first reward, how much better focus she was giving me - she really wanted to win the "bowl" release. 

Also, I think the earlier offering of bows (with other behaviors) shows she has realized how often "bowl" follows a bow.  So she was trying to talk me into a bow.  I've been trying to make sure we always do something else after the bow before I release her, but it seems clear it hasn't escaped her notice how "bowl" comes shortly after the bow, regardless of whether I insert another behavior in there.  I think next week I need so do some simple "heel" and "side" work with bowl releases to get her to understand it could come any time.  I also think I would get better work from the beginning if I just did some heelwork with a couple releases, then move directly into the course without making a formal break.

Kinks and all, I was still very happy with her work. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Value in Vacation

I didn't plan it this way, but am finding our break from RFE/tricks/obedience training has hidden value.  When my father passed away, it threw me for a loop and really the only training I did was the classes we were in (nosework).  We also went to a couple of barn hunt practices.  And then there was tracking with Nadine and her spots.  Also, we kept up with our annual walking goals, though we've gotten behind a few times and had to put in extra effort to get back on track.  Plus we did go to three trials, resulting in two new titles.

So its not like we weren't doing anything.  Still when we were home, I was pretty much a bump and Gimme made it clear she was bored.  She's tried everything in her extensive repertoire to get me up and doing things with her.

With the RallyFrEe practices and now our third video entry for novice, in the last couple of weeks I've trained a few times.  Plus there have been three group practices.  But I was mainly working on getting Gimme a refresher on doing the station behaviors on a verbal cue.  She is improving - yeahhhhh.  This has been a big challenge ever since she went on medication for seizures.  It got better when we went from 1500mg per day to 1000mg.  Now we've bumped down again to 500mg, so hope to see even more improvement.

Anyway, last Thursday I was trying to remember what we'd been using for Free Choice behaviors and thought I'd try Gimme's forehand pivot.  I didn't have our brick (octagon shaped wooden block), so borrowed a dog dish from the facility.  Oddly, for the life of me I couldn't get Gimme to "pivot", instead she kept offering "can".  This is a trick where she puts her back feet up on a platform and then walks her front feet around it.  When we were working on this late Spring, she could only move her front feet a couple of steps and on the rare times when she tried to go further, she'd step off the platform with one rear foot.  Yet here with this platform, she was offering a full rear-pivot and mostly keeping both feet on.  Once I restricted rewards to only those where she kept both feet on, I got both feet on more consistently.

So I thought it was because the dish was much lower than the pretty patriotic themed can I'd been training her on.  I got it out tonight, for the first time in about 8 months, and she got right on it and gave me the full rear-pivot.  Again, once I kept rewards to only those where she kept both feet on - both feet on is what I got.  Then I got out the brick and within minutes she was giving me those consistently as if we'd never quit practicing.

It was cool to see behaviors we haven't done in a very long time come back soooo strong, with just a little bit of practice.  I'd heard this about taking a break on a behavior, but hadn't seen it so clearly.

Tomorrow J'Anna and I are getting together to practice the World Wide video competition novice course.  Then we'll meet again the following Monday to warm-up and then video.  Cross your fingers for Gimme and me - she only needs one more leg to get the RFE novice title...

Friday, November 20, 2015

RFE Practice (2) & Urban Tracking (4)

Nosework class was cancelled Tuesday night because of weather.  It wouldn't have been an issue for most students, but a few do live far away.  Dorothy lives out past Rochester and holding classes would have left her going home in driving rain down dark country roads.  Clearly we need to keep her safe so she can come back and teach class.  I was glad they got the cancellation notice out by both email and text, since I would never have thought they'd cancel.

Yesterday we had RallyFrEe practice.  Gimme did well, though not quite as brilliant as I know she is capable of.  We were back in the big room so it took her three trips around the perimeter to be fully acclimatized and ready to work.  We clearly haven't worked with her Special Bowl enough in recent months.  Just the presence of it was a distration, though she got better working through it as practice went on.  Next Monday we practice the course for the World Wide video event and the following week we'll set it up again to video.

Today we did urban tracking and kept it kind of short since I needed to be back in town by noon.  Each dog got to go island-hopping, which means they track along the curb of a planting island and then across open pavement to pick up the curb of the next island.  Three of the dogs (Skookum, Cricket and Gimme) did four islands with three open pavement segments.

For Sugar, who seemed to struggle last time we did urban, we modified the exercise.  We set her track along a long section of curb with lots of ins, outs and corners.  I had extra food drops to ensure she stayed motivated (she really hates cold weather and was dancing her paws on the frosty pavement), then she had just one section of open pavement to an island.  She did very well with this and really showed what she knew how to do.  We are left with no clue why she had difficulty last time, but everyone has an off day now and then, dogs too.

This diagram shows the track for Gimme's island hopping adventure, starting on the right, with a start article and four articles on the track (red stars).  We placed a couple of food drops (yellow circles) on the open pavement segment.  She struggled with the first gap, did okay with the second gap and aced the third gap.  Her gaps were larger than the other dogs had, because she has more experience at this, having done it a few times at the Sil Sander's seminars.  From watching her, it wasn't a matter of not knowing how to do it, rather she wasn't clear what she was supposed to do. 

We had plenty of time, so I set up an article circle on open pavement, with 8 articles.  All the dogs have missed some of the urban articles, so we wanted to build their desire to find anything with the tracklayer's smell on it (not just field tracking articles).

Nadine's three dogs weren't really tracking (nose down to the pavement) and so I had her move them along in the general direction of the next article and party at it whether they found it or not.  They got into this game and continued, still not tracking, but at least trying to find articles.  I suggested she use some other cue to encourage them, rather than water down her tracking cues.  This worked well because they all need motivation on their articles, especially Skookum.  As they went around the oval of articles, you could see them getting into the game and indicating faster and faster, and with more emphasis.

Interestingly Gimme was the only one to keep her nose-down and track from article to article.  She'd use her nose to scent the direction and then as she got closer would look up and dash to the article.  She really does love her articles - of course it helps she gets paid so well for them (a minimum of 15 treats each).  I won't ask Gimme to go without treats for an article until we are being tested.  I was really pleased with her efforts as it was very clear she knew what to do.  Next time I plan to set the article circle first, to warm up her brain.

We were still well within schedule, so I was able to detour to the house, thus Gimme didn't have to wait in the car for my appointment and errands.  Instead she was able to enjoy a well deserved slumber on the toasty warm couch.  Just sayin...

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Tracking Genius (21)

We were supposed to meet Nadine for urban tracking this morning, but the rain made it impossible.  Its coming down in sheets - which started Thursday afternoon.  It was nice for much of Sunday and Monday morning, but now the rain has returned with a vengeance.  Fortunately we'll be able to meet on Friday and the forecast is much better.

Nadine wanted to practice finding the direction at the start, which we'll need when we get to TDX level.  So, she set up a 3-part track to give the dogs a chance to try it.  The pink line shows the path we'd take to get from the end of the first track to the beginning of the second, so we didn't come in on Nadine's path (blue line).  The total distance for these 3 tracks was 690 yards, not counting the movement from one to another.

Gimme did pretty good on this, though she seemed a bit confused at times.  In hindsight I think this may be because at the end of each track, we would seem (from her perspective) to leave the track.  She doesn't seem to have any difficulty figuring out which direction the track went.  Also, we usually run my article track before her main track, so it may be partly because she didn't get a warm-up.

I did notice something, which I've seen before.  When she starts a track, she seems to take off at a slight angle from the track on a straight line, to where she is getting further and further from the actual track.  Then she will self-correct and stay dead on from there on.  I've seen it before, but didn't think much of it.  It was more apparent with three starts.

I laid a track which I intended to be an article circle of sorts, with an odd entry - where the dogs again had to find the direction, TDX style.  However, I ended up laying a very different track once I got into it, because I couldn't figure out how to do a "circle" and then get back to the car without interfering with the first leg (because of the terrain).  In keeping with Nadine's desire to get better at reading Cricket on corners, I only put flags in at every other corner.  I mentally marked the corners based on deer poop, a mole hill I stepped in and a "pretty" weed.  Since I intended to do an article circle I didn't count steps, but if I had to guess, I'd say around 400 yards.

Nadine decided to run Skookum on this track.  She has a TD and is nearly ready to try for her TDX.  This day on this track she was quite distracted.  There were a lot of very large "deer" tracks and we guessed the elk were coming down from the hills, because of the cold.  Usually this would have no affect on Skookum, so we were perplexed and wondered if a mountain lion had passed through the area.

I ran Gimme on it, expecting her to have the same difficulty.  Often she'll take little side trips where a dog before her took a side trip, but not this time.  Gimme aced this track and showed no concern.  Other than her obvious annoyance at having to wait on me while I picked up and stowed all the flags and articles, she really couldn't have been more perfect.

So we are left with no clue why Skookum had difficulty.  Thank God this wasn't their test day.  Meanwhile Gimme was finally happy as a clam.  She's always quite fussy wanting her turn and then another turn.  Usually two full tracks satisfies her.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Nosework (1/14)

Gimme was back to her usual enthusiastic and brilliant self.  All but the last were one-hide searches and Gimme didn't seem put off by them.  Of course, they were all puzzles, and effectively there were three hides in the room, just sectioned one from the other by expens.  Searches 1, 2 and 3, were done back to back; as were 4, 5 and 6.  Search 7 was done by itself.

I've continued to use a red dot to show odor.  The owner/handler's location is shown with a blue-violet dot.  The instructor location is shown with a lime green dot.

Search one contained two small plastic cabinets (larger grey), one red rolling cart, and other miscellaneous stuff.  The inaccessible hide was in a filing cabinet.  We were told to come in, get seated in one of the chairs and release the dog to search.  When the dog found the hide, the nearby instructor rewarded the dog.

None of the dogs had any problems searching without their human following them around.  Gimme didn't seem to notice I wasn't there until she got her nose close to odor and Dorothy gave her peanut butter chips.  Dorothy fed so early, it was as if Gimme didn't connect it to finding the hide and continued trying to source it.

In this second area was a wheelchair and three walkers.  The chairs along the wall was where the gallery of other students sat.  The handler sat in the chair off by itself.  This was a paired hide, so Gimme rewarded herself. Again Gimme was unconcerned about leaving me lounging in a chair and got right to work. 

The third search area was three tables (rectangles) and dozens of chairs. I think the spacing between the tables was tighter than I've indicated - Gimme could have gotten through underneath and between them, but it was easier to go around.  You'll notice this is the first time we didn't join the dog in the search area.  I liked how they made a gradual transition from the handler stationary and out of the way to the handler actually outside the search area.

The instructor moved in too soon to reward and was ignored, since Gimme was intent upon sourcing exactly where the hide was.  I find this consistent with Gimme - she wants to do the whole job.  Yes, she'll usually take a treat, but as with the first search, she's not satisfied until she knows where the hide is.  When she sourced the hide and then took the PB chips, it was like she seemed to "get" it as a reward for finding odor.  Suddenly she got all silly acting - almost submissive in appearance.  Given her confidence and how much she loves people, we interpreted it as her "having a moment" about realizing other people could give her rewards.  I know she has gotten a LOT of treats from other people, but this is the first time she's gotten any PB rewards from someone else and connected to nosework.  Chris has given her rewards in connection to some obedience and then agility when my hand was all messed up, but neither were peanut butter.

For the fourth search, the filing cabinet was moved and the handler was outside the search area.  Most of the students walked through the little "gate" and tried to turn their dogs right there and I noticed the dogs seemed very confused by this and it affected the start of their searches.  So when I brought Gimme in, I walked her through the gate and took a couple more steps before turning and going to the gate to release her.

Gimme went right to work and had no trouble finding the hide.  In the course of her search, I moved over to the right, so I could see her work.  So when she found it and looked up to see if I noticed, not only wasn't I where she'd left me, but she saw Dorothy swooping toward her.  Then Gimme moved away from the hide and wouldn't go back to it.  After a bit of her avoiding it, Dorothy went over, squatted down and offered her treats near the hide - then they were pals again.  I don't think Gimme was actually afraid of Dorothy, rather she just thought she was being weird and didn't know what to do about it.  If she'd really been afraid, I believe she would have come to where I was standing, which she didn't.

Again for search 5, I noticed the handlers being awkward at the gate and saw it was confusing to their dogs.  They'd call the dog to them at the gate, leash them (or put a hand in their harness), then try to turn them right there, while backing up to get on the right side of the gate.  I just stepped well into the search area and took Gimme's harness and then when I turned we were facing the gate, so no awkwardness.

The hide had been moved to the walker.  Gimme went right to work and did a stellar job.  She quickly checked the wheelchair and just as quickly left it.  A couple other dogs spent a long time on the wheelchair, unable to leave it and search elsewhere - one dog spent almost three minutes insisting the hide had to be on the wheelchair.  Gimme found the hide on the walker very quickly and happily self-rewarded from the pairing treats.

For search six the chair with the hide had been moved to the corner.  Gimme took such a direct line to the chair, her search was over almost as soon as it started.  Or it would have been had she not insisted on detailing the chair to find source again. 

For the last search (7th) all three hide items were in the search area: filing cabinet, chair, and walker.  The handler was instructed to stand right inside the door and when the dog found the hide on the chair, they would reward it.  One instructor was positioned near the walker and the other near the filing cabinet.  They brought some free-standing gates made of PVC and construction fence to set on either side of the walker.

Only one dog went straight to the chair at the threshold, a small terrier, so maybe the hide being at nose level for him was a factor.  All the others found the hide on the walker first.  I saw Gimme sniff toward the chair as she passed it, noting a hide there.  She was pretty quick to get the hide on the walker, then toured the area before coming to the chair.  Again she was very thorough in detailing the chair to find source before indicating.

All the dogs saved the filing cabinet for last.  Each of them would get very close to it, sniffed at it briefly and then leave.  Sometimes several times. We think this is because the filing cabinet was now backed up against the giant metal garage door and compared to how warm the room was, the garage door was cold.  We think the cold from the door was falling to the floor and the odor for the filing cabinet hide (which was inaccessible to begin with) was possibly rising to join warmer air nearby.  Gimme had to indicate twice to get paid for this hide because Dorothy was being so careful not to repeat the swooping incident.

All in all it was a fun class.  Gimme was happy to have so many searches.  I was happy to have a happy-working dog again.

Friday, November 6, 2015

RFE Practice & Nosework (6/13)

RallyFrEe practice on Tuesday morning went very well.  It didn't take her as long to acclimate this time.  We worked the dogs out of our cars, so she had down time between her acclimation and working, and then between the working sessions (a total of 3).  I was very pleased to see Gimme remembered some of the things we'd been working on and didn't need the lure-reminder.  I worked on some new stuff and in hindsight, should have worked on the new things earlier in the practice when she was fresher.

I again noticed she was not as sharp at nosework class as she normally is.  Four of the five were one-hide searches, but they weren't laid out in an obvious repeat of prior one-hide searches (except the high hide which she'd seen twice the week before).  Each search presented an interesting puzzle.  So I didn't get the impression Gimme was bored, just not her usual brilliant self. 

I mentioned to my instructors at the end of class in the future I would not be doing a RallyFrEe class/practice on the morning of nosework class.  They were both dumbfounded at my impression of Gimme as less than her usual brilliant self.  They thought she did fine.  Indeed if you compared her performance to the average dogs or less experienced dogs in class, then yes, she did fine.  If you compared it to how SHE normally performs, then there was a drop off in acumen.  Honestly they have so many nosework students, they probably don't remember a lot about individual students - I know I certainly find myself repeating myself a lot. 

I have never seen this when we do tracking on the morning of nosework.  But then I think of tracking, barn hunt and nosework as using natural dog skills.  All dogs know how to use their noses, the only thing we do in training is to give them experiences to hone those skills.  Whereas RallyFrEe doesn't use natural skills and is based on learned behaviors.  As such, it uses a different part of the brain or at least uses the brain in the different way.  I think it just makes her more brain-tired.  I'm the one who schedules the RallyFrEe practices and our plan is for Thursdays, it just so happened we needed some fill in dates to get started.  If we have to do a RallyFrEe practice on Tuesdays, I'll make sure Gimme's involvement sticks to things she knows well and keep it short and sweet. 

Our first (and third) search is one we've done before, where the handler has to remain in a box and let the dog move away to search on their own.    The idea is to eliminate handler behavior as an unintended cue to the dog.  The last time we did this, Gimme aced it and the instructors' comments were along the line of how little she pays attention to me when she is searching.  (there was other stuff in the area, it just wasn't really part of our searches)

This time, Gimme was still happy to search without me, it just seemed to take her a long time to find the two hides. The search is on leash, so I was sure happy for my longer line, since we didn't get tangled up in stuff.  She had to check the stuff on both walls, ignoring the chairs at first.  When she did decide to check out the chairs, then she found the first hide quickly.  After I rewarded her and moved back into the handler box, it took her awhile to find the other hide. 

The other search in this setup (our third search) was to test the dogs' expectations.  They'd found hides on the chairs and would expect to find it there again.  Usually Gimme very quickly eliminates this idea, but this time it took her longer.  She did go past the chairs to find the hide under the red cart, she just wasn't her usual speedy self.

The other three searches (second, fourth and fifth) were using the bigger part of the room, again with chairs everywhere.  The two brown circles are bar stools and the two light blue rectangles are foot stools.  The two little blue circles along the left side represent the pipes on the wall.  These searches were off leash.

For the second search (the first in this setup), the hide was high up between the two pipes on the wall.  Gimme is the most experienced at high hides and yet she appeared to take a very long time to find this hide.  She started down the left side (between the stools) then veered to the right corner, came along the back wall, then up the left side.  As she passed the pipes I saw her nose go up, so I think she got the drift of it then.  Instead of working the problem, she went up past the table and to the right side to snoop around.  Gimme was actually the slowest to solve this problem of the class! 

I got the impression she was saving it for later.  It could be she remembered the hide location from the last class, where we did it twice.  I often see evidence of her remembering things which other dogs don't.  So I wouldn't be surprised to learn she knew immediately where the hide was.

For our fourth and fifth searches, they moved the high hide over onto chairs in the right corner.  It was very close spacing between all those chairs, so some of the dogs were inhibited getting in there.  The small terrier did the best, since he just passed right under the chairs. These were actually Gimme's best searches of the night.  She seemed to get to work more quickly and has never been inhibited by close spacing.

I don't want it to sound like she was "bad"... I'm just so used to her being the star of the class.  So when she isn't star material, it really stands out to me.  She was still the cutest, no matter how you parse it.  Just sayin...