Nadine and I met for our urban tracking practice this morning. It was cool and wet. We noticed all the dogs had a greater tendency to want to go up on the dirt/vegetation next to curbs at first. We think this is because the moisture intensified the smell of the dirt and vegetation, making it more attractive.
Gimme went first today. We did three tracks along the curb of 30, 50 and 90 yards, with food drops at 10, 25, 45, 65, and 80 - ending with a glove. As I said, all the dogs had a tendency to want to check out all the wet dirt/veg next to the curb, as did Gimme. Once she got her head back in this game, she got right down to task. On her third track she had to pass over a driveway between two parts of the curb. It was challenging, but not too hard for Miss Talented Nose.
When I'm laying tracks like this, I've devised a notation system, so I can take along a small piece of paper which keeps me on plan. I've checked my strides against a 50' tape measure and found I take 15 steps (counting both feet) for ten yards. So I break the food drops into steps, so I don't have to convert it in my head while I'm laying the track. My notes for today look like this:
Sugar had real difficulty focusing on task today. She has just come out of season, so its a real mental challenge for her. Next to Gimme, I think she has the most innate talent for nosey stuff of these four Dalmatian girls. It reminded me how truly blessed I am since Gimme isn't the least bit bothered by being in season. Anyway, we repeated Sugar's first track, but she still had difficulty. So for her third track we did the same length, but left a lot more food drops. I varied them between 5 and 10 yards apart. With this set up she was in this game and working well, so we stopped to be sure to end on a positive note.
After we did all the curb tracks, I laid a track on short grass, including a transition to cross a street and then turn to follow the curb. We crossed a second sidewalk. The small white circles on the pavement represent food drops. The blue square is a piece of denim for an article, plus the four gloves and a start sock.
The beginning and end of this track were both easy for Gimme. She had challenges with the transition across the road and turning to follow the curb. I set the three food drops to encourage her to put her nose down as I noticed last time she has a tendency to want to dash across roads to the other side. So the first drop was intended as a lure and the other two to reward her for keeping her nose down. Once she got into this mindset, she did fine. The second time we crossed the sidewalk, she kept her nose down and really motored along the track, precisely matching my chalk marks.
She did not indicate the denim square article and while I stopped her and showed it to her, giving her a treat, I didn't do the metronome feeding to build value in it -- my bad. This weekend, I'll do an article exercise following the curbs at the motel, using some of my stash of urban style articles, and being sure to metronome feed the heck out of them to build lots of value.
Gimme is contentedly sleeping as we speak. There is nothing like tracking (or an evening finding 17 nosework hides) to leave her feeling satisfied. This girl really loves to use her nose.
We also did a short session of obedience stays and Gimme did about the same as last week. This is hard for her and I probably need to revisit stays away from other dogs, to cement the task since its been awhile. Then we worked on a stand for exam. Little Miss Wiggle Britches had a lot of challenge with this, so we simplified the task, having Nadine do air touches. Gimme kept wanting to come to me for treats after these stays, so I had to stretch out toward her, metronome feeding to reiterate the idea of waiting for the treats to come to her. We ended on a nice success with actual touches and I rewarded her mightily for her efforts.
We have another barn hunt trial this weekend. Cross your fingers for us. I'm really hoping the successes of last weekend weren't just a fluke. We need two more legs to finish our Master title (RATM). It'd sure make me happy...
Class was really motivating last night. There were lots of hides, with challenging setups. Gimme thought this was the best fun EVER and was easily the star of the show.
We walked in to see this very challenging setup and were told there were between 1 and 7 hides and we'd have 4 minutes to search. There were two hides under tables (white boxes), one in the foot pedal of the recycle trash can (grey box), one in the wheel of the grooming table (box w/G), one on a chair and one 7' high between two water pipes.
August went first and found 4 hides. Two novice dogs came in to play and found a couple hides. Gimme was the fourth dog to play and the only one to find all the hides. She was on fire to find all these smelly hides. She immediately went to the threshold hide, which she normally
saves for later.
She spent a lot of time going back and forth between the hide on the grooming table and the one on the chair, with occasional sniffs at the water pipes where they entered the wall at just above nose level. The way she kept going back and forth between the two lower hides I really thought she was caught in a converging odor vortex. I tried moving her away a couple of times, but she always came back. Then she put her feet up on the wall between the pipes and gave me the "get over here" look, holding the position. I was so pleased she held the position to emphasize her find. Only one other dog, the last novice dog, found the high hide... he was rewarded for simply looking up toward the hide. The two low hides were both birch and the high hide was clove. If they'd all been the same odor, I'm not sure she would've found it.
The second search was the same setup, but on leash. We were told to follow the dog and when they got into the vortex and pipe area to gently use the leash to keep them there until they did something to indicate the high hide.
Gimme came in and immediately sniffed the hide on the recycle can, but moved away without indicating. I did see her look up at me, as if to be sure I'd noticed. From there she moved toward the nearest table and did pretty much the same thing - moving away without indicating and looking at me to see if I noticed. She's the only dog in class who isn't rewarded when she goes back to a hide she's already found during a search. After I reward her, I say, "Thank you, find another one." If I see her heading back to a hide she's already been paid for, I say, "Find another one." I think she thought she was supposed to find a new hide, because normally they change the setup between searches. So I gently held her near the table until she sorta indicated, then paid her. Then she happily went around the room finding the others again. I'm sure she had them all in under three minutes. She was the only dog who didn't have to have one or both of the converging odor hides removed to get to the high hide on the pipes.
For the third search they removed the high hide and moved all the hides except the one on the grooming table wheel. As we came in the search area, Gimme turned left and without sniffing the spot where it'd been, immediately knew there was a change. From there she went down the left side, scanning here and there, across the back and up the right side to find and indicate the hide on the new location of the recycle can. She didn't sniff much along the way, she mostly trotted along with me in tow.
I thought it was funny for her to "go the long way around" to get to the recycle can. She's had a lot of experience with them moving the entire object instead of just the hide (because otherwise it would leave behind too much residual odor). So now as I think about it, I believe she really needed to resolve where the dang recycle can hide had gone. Immediately after getting paid, she went down the right side, indicating both table hides. Then across the back, indicating the new spot for the chair hide. Then she went straight to indicate the grooming table hide without so much as looking up at the pipes.
I am constantly amazed at how incredibly skilled she is at using her nose. She was very content after this class with all the fun challenges. Finding seventeen hides is her kind of evening.
The people who run the Bellingham trials have done a lot to improve their setup. We haven't been here in over a year because the site was so challenging for a reactive dog. I decided it was time to try it again and am glad I did. Most of the issues I'd noted before have been resolved. Kudos to them. The real remaining issues are dealing with novice exhibitors who don't understand the rules or trial etiquette. There will always be newbies, so its just a matter of educating them as it comes up. They hold a lot of trials up there, so it'll be nice to have them back on the list of possibilities.
Saturday - Trial 1
Gimme started off well and was running around enthusiastically hunting for rats. Then I saw her start to lift her leg against a pole and yelled "no". I know I stopped her in time and could have stayed in the ring, since the judge didn't know why I'd yelled "no". But I chose to end her run to send a clear training message - lifting a leg will lead to the end of barn hunt fun.
Gimme hasn't tried to pee in the ring in a verrrrry long time; she usually gets in a last tinkle while we are waiting in the blind. In part I think newbie behavior contributed to the issue. There were two instances of newbies walking their dogs along the fence (and one more who was stopped), passing through the blind. Gimme was interested in going to the fence and probably would have peed there, but I didn't let her because I couldn't really see the dogs coming through until it would be too late to avoid them. We had a long walk when we first got to the site and another walk on the way to the blind, so its not as if she hadn't had a chance to take care of business. There's no guarantee it would have made a difference, but it might have.
Saturday - Trial 2
I made sure to have a blanket placed in the blind, since Gimme does better when she has a matt. We were fourth in the blind, so I wanted her to have every comfort. She was happy to drag me in the ring. She was hunting eagerly and found two rats pretty quickly. Then she did the tunnel on her own and she normally doesn't want to tunnel until she's found all the rats. When she came out she was clearly still hunting and found rat number three. There was a bit of delay and she found number four. I took her on another tour around the ring, finding nothing. She seemed to be humoring me and had repeatedly run over to the side of the ring near where the rats are housed. So with considerable trepidation, I called it. This is her second master leg (the first one in September 2014). Gimme also got a second place. To say the least, I was very pleased to have her do so well.
Sunday - Trial 3
I placed a blanket near the blind again and it worked well for us. Our run was very similar in many ways. Gimme was quite speedy running around and finding rats. She did the tunnel twice on her own. Again, after she found the fourth rat, I got the impression Gimme was
humoring me and she was going over to the side of the ring near
where the rats are housed. So with some anxiety, I called
it. This is her third master leg. I was very happy to not have to wait 13 months for another leg. We were actually faster this time than the day before. Gimme got third place.
Sunday - Trial 4
In the afternoon I was happy to see we were going to be the first dog out of the blind. I planned to use the blanket again, however didn't have time to place it. I was asked to scribe for the Open class by my "lucky judge" (the judge we got our two Q's under). The master class had been going so slow, I thought there was all the time in the world. As it turned out, when I came out from scribing, they were running the last dog in the blind before ours, so I had to hustle to get Gimme. I didn't have time to get our blanket there, so instead I just threw down my big thick vest. Gimme will use whatever I put down and was quite comfortable on it. Our run was not qualifying. Gimme took a long time finding the first rat and then just kept going over to the side of the ring near
where the rats are housed. I got her to search some more, but wasn't getting any interest from her and I thought we'd covered everything. So I got her to do the tunnel and planned to call it when she came out. The judge called time just as she was about to come out. Gimme dawdled in this very long tunnel, but it wouldn't have made a difference, since there was another rat. I think we got close to it, but not right on it. I didn't think Gimme was as excited to be there as she had been for her other three runs, even though she dragged me to the ring. She did have to kiss my face, which she does when she is unsure of something, so perhaps she was uncomfortable. I see she isn't sitting square again, which usually means her hip needs adjusting (we'll be seeing Tonya on Wednesday). I also thought she could simply have been tired since this was our last run of the weekend. Its may be she could tell there weren't as many rats to find and so wasn't as excited about it. And its entirely possible the rat she didn't find was just in a spot where the scent wasn't readily available. I'll just have to watch as we have more runs in the future and see if any trends show up. After we see Tonya, then I'll know if discomfort was an issue. Donna had some really cute stuffed squeaky rats left over from an event she did, so I bought two of them for Gimme. She doesn't know about them yet... ☺ Cross your fingers, we have another barn hunt trial next weekend.
Yesterday we got together to track at Flaming Geyser Park, the place where we normally track. Nadine had another appointment, so we kept it shorter than usual. It was foggy and cool - perfect tracking weather.
I set a nice track for Cricket. She was slow to get started, but then motored on pretty good. She had a challenge for the short bit where I walked on an overgrown gravel road, but she figured it out and found the corner. There was a good bit in the middle of the track where she really had a challenge keeping the track and finding the corner. When we got there, there was a guy with three large off-leash dogs playing right in the area where the turn was. He nicely leashed the dogs up and started to wait for us to pass through, but when it seemed to be taking awhile he went elsewhere with his dogs. Once we got past this area and the next turn, then she did well again through to the end.
The leg between the two turns was only 70 yards, so its entirely possible the loose dogs ranged out far enough to tramp all over the second turn. While Cricket did have difficulty, she never did quit working. It occurs to me I should teach Nadine what I learned at the Sil Sanders tracking seminars about doing an overlapping search grid. I don't know if it would have helped in this particular puzzle, but I've also never seen her doing anything like it, so it might be useful in her bag of tricks. I'll have to think about how to set it up so she can try it with Skookum.
Nadine laid a shorter than usual track, but it wasn't without its challenges. It was 305 yards. I asked her to put an article in the middle of every leg except the second to the last leg, then naturally end with an article. Other than this, I didn't give her any instructions. I wanted to have Gimme go a longer distance and make a second turn without finding an article, planning to have a big party at the end glove. She usually gets 12-15 treats for each article and I planned to give her 30 treats for the end glove.
There were two long legs and the longest one was the leg without an article. Gimme had to cross from deep field grass across and onto a short mowed path (the curve is going up a steep hill). The area of the last leg was also the really short grass.
This was Gimme's best track ever. Nadine had me just follow Gimme in from where we parked (about 70 yards) and said she picked up her trail and followed it faithfully. Gimme kept her nose down for this whole track. There was a slight breeze in from the left and I'd see Gimme drift out to the right, then catch herself and turn right to the track. So the first and third legs had a saw-tooth look to them. I was very pleased to see her correcting herself, especially since this was a big issue for us at the Sil Sanders seminar. Gimme raced along the second leg with the breeze blowing the scent right up her nose. She took all the turns very neatly and thoroughly enjoyed double-treats at the last article.
It was easily her best tracking ever and I was about to brag about it when Nadine said the exact things I was thinking. Of course Nadine thinks I should certify her right away, but I think we still have a lot of things to work on. We haven't done much in the way of aging tracks for her. And, I'd like to see this kind of performance more consistently. Nadine and I both wondered if the challenge of the urban tracking makes field tracking seem easier to Gimme.
Since Nadine had another article when she laid the track, she went ahead and kept track of her route back toward the cars, another 100 yards with 6 turns. The final article was at the base of a telephone pole, stuck back in a cut out of blackberry vines. Probably the most challenging part was the track on the narrow spit of grass going alongside the asphalt road. Gimme at first thought she should be crossing the road, but then caught herself and made the turn. So with Gimme tracking Nadine in and out of the field, her total track was 475 yards.
Because we were short on time I didn't set up an article circle. I also didn't know where the man with the three loose dogs had gone. Turned out to be a lucky decision. As I was just finishing packing my stuff back into the car, he came down the hill and right across the spot I would've used. I could easily have been right in the middle of tracking the article circle when he and his three loose dogs showed up.
Well, I finally have our RallyFrEe practice group up and going. I should have done this a couple months ago, but it has just taken me a long time to get back in the swing of things. We have practices scheduled about every two weeks through March.
As it turned out, we didn't get the main floor and had to use the puppy room. Its too small to set up a full course, so I quickly modified the course to make it fit. It was still a nice practice. This week it was only Gimme and me, with Diane and Valor. Diane hasn't taken any classes or seminars, so she was very amenable to suggestions for how to improve her training and their performance. You know how much I love coaching people. ☺ As we get going, there will three of us. I'd like to have each of us watching the others practice. One focusing on dog's performance and one on handling - noting the good as well as needs-improvement.
Because we haven't been there for three months and never in this room, it took Gimme a long time to acclimate and even then her focus wasn't what I know it can be. I'm not worried - I know it'll come back. Gimme was happy throughout. I realized I was forgetting to do the lure-once-first which I've needed to do this ever since she went on seizure medication. Once I remembered and lured each behavior the first time, then she immediately got a LOT better. The cool thing was noticing she still remembered some of the things on Wednesday. This may be because we started the process of reducing her medication in August (from 3x500mg to 2x500mg). In November we'll reduce it again and I'll be eager to see her retention improve again - I believe it will.
In any case, Gimme did nicely and I'm looking forward to entering the World Wide Video Event 2015. Gimme has two legs toward her novice title and if we qualify again, it'll be her 14th title. Naturally Diane was enamored with Gimme. She took a bunch of pictures and promised to email them to me. I'm looking forward to practice in 12 days - meanwhile Gimme looks forward to more frequent training.
Nosework class the same day (7 hours later) was not our best. Gimme was unfocused and "goofing off" through most of the searches. Of course the instructor's answer was all about shortening the leash, which I've given up explaining why I'm not going to do it, so am left ignoring the comments. Besides, I don't think it would have made a whit of difference, since she was often walking right by the hide and appearing to ignore it.
I first wondered if she was simply brain-tired from RFE practice. I think working at something which isn't natural (unlike scenting sports like tracking, barn hunt and nosework) can use the brain more, or in a different way, causing more mental fatigue. I'm not suggesting Gimme doesn't enjoy RFE or OB, but they do require a different kind of focus and brain work, whereas dogs come hardwired to focus for scenting challenges. For instance, tracking on the morning of nosework class hasn't been an issue. Anyway, if brain-tiredness is the issue, then we should see the same thing happen after the next RallyFrEe practice. Most of our RallyFrEe practices will be on Thursdays, but the next is on a Tuesday.
After watching Gimme's second and third searches, I was more inclined to think Gimme was bored with the exercise. It was set up very much the same as last week. The only difference was, when a new row of novel containers was added, the hide was set in one of the prior rows. Dorothy had wondered if the dogs were attracted to the novel containers more than drifting scent, so they did a very similar exercise to check the theory. As it turned out, the less experienced dogs were attracted to novel containers. Gimme and August (the most experienced dogs) were only attracted to the truly novel egg-carton-material burger container row (unused so no distractions there).
I now believe Gimme came in, saw the layout and remembered last week and the five repeat searches of one hide each. And this week the searches didn't even have any distractions to make them more challenging. As I mentioned last week, I've noticed she finds these one-hide searches less than satisfying. I saw Gimme returning to "shopping" (called "cataloging" by scent dog professionals), she checks out the whole area and when she runs out of interesting stuff, then she indicates. I even saw her seem to veer away from hides in the third and fourth searches. We noticed early in her training how much she prefers the hunt to the find, which is why I started rewarding with peanut butter in the first place - to increase the value of the find.
For the fifth search, there were four odors out. Gimme started into the search area looking like she was going to do the same haphazard and unfocused searching I'd been seeing. We got to the far end and started up one side when all the sudden she just turned on and got serious. I think this is when she realized it wasn't a one-hide search. She found the four hides very quickly, one right after the other. The change was dramatic (and unnoticed by the instructor).
Afterward we had a vehicle search. It was set up as a novice search, two vehicles and one hide. We got to the far side from where the odor was and Gimme was intent all over the tire and back bumper nearby, then suddenly dragged me around the vehicle to pinpoint the hide on the other rear tire. Gimme maintained her enthusiasm and enjoyed this little puzzle.
I don't think she is generally opposed to one-hide searches, rather I suspect she finds them frustrating when they happen repeatedly with a return to the car after each one. It took us longer to walk from the car to the building than would be needed for the searches and then she gets immediately turned around to go back to the car. What is fun about this? Whereas, when we did all the level one element trials, also all one-hide searches, she seemed okay with it (though even then I noticed a bit of 'tude). At trials there is all the time out of the car in the various stations, where she and I are playing games while we wait, then she gets a novel search, followed by another novel search, followed by a long walk back to our car. So even though the searches at the level one element trials were simple, there was more for her to "do" related to them.
I'll be watching to see how this plays out in the next few weeks. I know the intention is to really focus on container searches in the next few months, so there could be a lot of very basic stuff. If I see the same attitude from her, I'll have to find my own way to punch up the interest. It occurs to me as I wrote the description above about the difference between class and trials - there are two ways I can increase the interest for Gimme. I can make sure I take her for a short walk before and/or after each search. I could also set up a hide nearby so we leave the building and go to another search. We could also run through some of her tricks in the parking lot. I may think of other options as well.
I don't want her to develop a bored attitude about nosework just because they have to serve the needs of the novice dogs. Most more experienced dogs wouldn't be bothered about this - it certainly didn't affect August. But then we all know, Gimme isn't "most dogs". Of course its entirely possible I'm off in left field all by myself. Time will tell.
Yesterday was our second day for urban tracking. We used the same location.
We did curb tracks of 25, 40 and 75 yards, with a start sock, food drops at 5, 10, 20, 30... and so on, and a glove at the end. Gimme did much better with the food drops than she did the time before with articles in place of them. She liked the grab-n-go aspect of the cheese, though she missed a couple because she was going so fast. All the dogs did very well.
Nadine had a burning desire to try the "island hopping" exercise. It won't come up for us for awhile, but she really wanted to do it. I said I was okay with letting the dogs do a sample of it, but I thought it was very important to work through the exercises as Sil has laid them out. IE we may sometimes dabble in stuff ahead of where we are, but will still work through the early work to be sure we are laying a good skills foundation. There's no point in jumping ahead if we're going to have to do remedial work later.
Islands are those cement landscaping planters "islands" you see in parking lots. Skookum and Cricket got three islands and Sugar got two as the end of her 75 yard curb track. This is the layout for the island hopping track we laid for Gimme. The blue rectangle is a car parked near the islands we wanted to use. Gimme had done this at the tracking seminars we took with Sil Sanders. The key thing is to hold back and play out line to let them sort out the puzzle as they go across the gap to the next island. Use light, comfortable tension when they are right and increase the tension a little when they are wrong. The idea is to make the wrong decision less attractive (not as easy) without making the decision for them. Gimme did really well. She had a little challenge sorting out her first gap, but the other two were easy peasy.
I'm continuing to lay "article circles", though they are tending to be short lawn tracks on urban days. Gimme loves to find an article on every leg. Here we are throwing in some transitions, simply because we have no choice at this location.
We started on grass over on the narrow strip and went up toward the bushes. We passed right next to the trees just like last time. I placed a glove right across the road and sidewalk as a reward for crossing the road. Then we crossed another sidewalk with a glove right on the other side. From here the track went right up next to the building, hugging the walls, with one glove in the second bark strip. This involved crossing and tracking on narrow sidewalks, but my intention was to use the building as a curb. From there we turned again, crossing a sidewalk and then a 45º turn toward the last flag and article.
Last time when we tracked so close to the peed-on trees, the dogs all found it challenging, but this time none of them paid any attention to it. Gimme found it hard to do the road/sidewalk crossing and she was hampered when we got our line wrapped around a sign post. She finally crossed it, but had her head up. She made the turn and then again had a spot of difficulty crossing the sidewalk. Her tracking along side the building was brilliant, though she did have to check out each little door/alcove where the turn was - especially after she saw workmen through an open door. You know how much she loves men. She had a much harder time crossing the sidewalk the third time, seemingly unwilling to commit. She finally did and then made the turn to the final glove.
In hindsight I realized the gloves at the first two crossings were acting as a lure. She had her head up as she crossed pavement and now I'm sure she smelled the articles and just went to them - she wasn't actually tracking on the ground. For the third crossing there was no article right across from her, so she had to figure it out on her own. Transitions are way beyond the skill level our dogs have for urban
tracking, but they are all doing okay - with Skookum doing the best. Clearly Gimme was having difficulty with them. By our human way of
thinking, crossing a road or sidewalk shouldn't be hard if the dog can
cross an open space in island hopping tracks. But, Sil says transitions
are really quite difficult for most dogs. Next time I will make sure there are no article-lures and will put a food drop or two to help her keep her nose down.
I was recently asked when I thought I would try to finish her Rally Obedience title (she has one leg). I couldn't really give a timeline, saying I don't really have anyone to practice with, who I can count on to reliably control their dog. Then it occurred to me - I have Nadine and she does obedience too. So I asked her if we could practice stays together (not required in Rally).
Nadine brought Skookum out, who is very steady and reliable. We followed Nadine and Skookum "into the ring", from about 10 feet away. Then we set up for sit-stays. I kept Gimme a comfortable 12 feet away. Nadine went out to 30 feet, but I stayed within 12 feet (the length of my leash). I went back and rewarded Gimme a couple of times and we ended with a nice 30 second segment. Then we set up in the same place for a down stay. When I was out at the end of the leash, Gimme got up in a sit, though she didn't move from her spot. I went back to her and got her to down again and couldn't help but notice she moved herself 2 feet further away from Skookum. I took this as her way of making it easier for herself and noticed she was very careful to not look at Skookum. I've seen her do this before - the not looking thing when a challenge is hard. We got a nice 30 second down stay and I rewarded her a lot after it. Then Nadine heeled Skookum back and forth near us while I gave Gimme a steady stream of treats.
We ended with this. I could tell it was hard for Gimme and I appreciated her efforts, rewarding her with her comfort food (peanut butter) when it was hardest. She was dead to the world afterward.
I noticed she was better in this situation than she has been for a long time with strange dogs during our walks. I usually move us 20-25 feet away and/or use barriers. I'm just not comfortable with all the unknowns from these strange dogs and strange people. So if it isn't comfortable for me, then it won't be for Gimme either.
Class was all about containers tonight and outdoors. Containers in element trials are frequently outdoors. Each row had a container with a distraction. After each search they added another row of containers. The hide from the prior search was removed (leaving a blank spot in its row) and there was a new hide in the row just added. Our instructions were to essentially follow the dog and if you got to the end of the row, do a front cross to come back down the row. As more rows were added, we were to make an effort to ensure the dog checked all the containers. The "X" on a container indicates a distraction.
Our first search was a row of 6 white boxes. The hide was in the third
box, the distraction was cheese. All the other dogs went past the hide and then caught it on the
way back. Gimme was the only one to stop immediately, without passing the hide.
For the second search they added a row of orange plastic containers. So it was two rows, two distractions and one hide. I didn't know it, but the orange plastic container closest to the startline held a mouse-toy with squeaker, made of rabbit fur. Gimme ignored it for several searches, until... She did well on this search, heading right for the plastic container with the hide
The third row added was all metal containers. Still one hide, but now three distractions. The distraction was chicken. The hide was in a child's metal lunch box. For some reason all the other dogs were disconcerted by this hide and tended to avoid the lunch box, as if they were sneaking up on it. Gimme started up the row of white boxes, but then switched over at the gap to the metal container row and stopped right at the lunch box. She couldn't have done it more perfectly - of course.
For the fourth search they added a row of plastic shoe boxes. So now we have four rows, one hide and four distractions. This should have been a piece of cake, but August ran right before Gimme and he discovered the mouse toy distraction in the orange container. He opened the container (lid popped off readily) and proceeded to play with it. One thing you will see at trials is more than half the class will ignore the distraction until one dog falls for it. Because a dog who is really excited releases certain pheromones which attract other dogs, almost every dog after them will fall for the same distraction. [in this case it was only Gimme]
Sure enough, when Gimme started her search, she went right to the orange container and popped it open and was all over the mouse toy. She isn't usually CRAZEEE about toys, though she does like them. Still this one was made of rabbit fur and as every gardener and every respectable barn hunt dog knows - rabbits are vermin. It didn't help when she made it squeak! I had to drag her away from it and it took a lot to get her to go back to nosework. Dorothy thought I should take her away from the search, but I didn't think it was fair to punish her for doing something I would be rewarding in another situation. She did find the hide (which was HARD because it was so close to the toy), so she got really well rewarded. I made sure to move directly away, not going close to the distraction.
The fifth row added was a variety of plastic containers and the new distraction was peanut butter! I was worried about Gimme's ability to resist it, but she was still obsessed about the toy possibility. From the startline she was really intent on the mouse toy container, standing on two legs pulling in her harness. The toy was no longer there (they removed the mouse toy for August and Gimme for the last two searches). Gimme ran over, popped the lid and then obsessively sniffed it, detailing every inch looking for a hidden bit of vermin. She finally decided it wasn't there and then was able to move on and search for odor, finding the hide very quickly.
For our sixth and last search, they put hides out to fill all the gaps in the rows, but the container with the hide didn't match the other containers in the row (so we'd know which was a hide). This gave us 5 hides and 5 distractions. The container (pink circle) added to the shoe box row was a paint can. These are normally really hard, though Gimme doesn't find them challenging. For her, the challenge was still the orange distraction container. She again had to check it out and then went straight to the paint can. From there she found the hide in the green oval row (variety of plastic containers). But then she couldn't seem to find any more. She was pretty much done with the orange distraction container, but wasn't completely focused.
Dorothy noticed I was moving her around really fast. Once I slowed us both down (and took a few deep breaths), then she was able to find the other three hides neatly. Naturally the other instructor said I "always" move too fast, to which she added I should use a really short line with her. I do let Gimme enter search areas at the pace she wants and then I normally slow her down, gradually if necessary. I certainly don't always move too fast. I think I'm usually really good at adjusting her pace in a way she accepts without frustration. I think this time I was unconsciously moving fast to keep her from going back to the orange distraction container and then we were both feeding off each others' speed. And, as I've said before and no longer bother to explain in class, I'm not going to work her on a short line - its not appropriate for her.
What it all comes down to is, my dog. I know Gimme is easily frustrated, though she has improved tons since she was a youngster. I am always going to be careful to protect her attitude and enthusiasm. She likes anything where she can use her nose, she loves to work and really enjoys a good challenge. I see no upside to messing with something which works so well for us. Once you mess up a dog's attitude, it can be really hard to get it back, if not impossible. This isn't a risk I'm willing to take.
Something I noticed in class was how whiny Gimme was. After each search, she'd sit in the car and softly whine until her next turn. My sense was she was frustrated by only having one hide all the time. I also noticed this when we were doing the Level 1 Element trials. It was like she was complaining, "Hey, I'm ready for level 3, so why are we doing baby searches?" There wasn't a peep out of her after the last search with five hides. She is contented now and peacefully snoozing away...
Last Thursday: I got there early enough lay a track for Cricket and we let it age to 45 minutes. Sil likes to name track shapes he uses frequently. We called mine the "drunken outhouse". I really threw Nadine off by using several 45º turns instead of 90º turns.
While I was laying a track for Cricket, Nadine laid one for Gimme. Here's the map from it - its 335 yards. Gimme had trouble on the first leg when she noticed a lady walking two dogs straight out in front of her - they were a long way off but it was still a distraction for her. She's been okay with tracking where dogs have crossed over her track, but the visual distraction was hard for her to let go of.
I had Nadine do a couple legs with two flags, instead of flags at the corner. Basically when the flags line up, one behind the other, then you are at the corner. Once she mentally let go of the dogs, Gimme did well until she got to the top of the hill (on third leg). There was a breeze coming to us from across the path (off to our left) where the lady and the dogs had been walking a bit before. Gimme was distracted and pulled off to the left to check it out. I let her work through it and when she came back, she was really strong - and luckily there was an article right afterward, so a nice reward for coming back to work. She did well then until we got to the bottom of the trail and then she had difficulty finding the track to the end of the leg. I noticed when Nadine did the same track with Sugar, she had difficulty in the same spot.
It wasn't Gimme's best track, but I was very happy to see her work through the distractions. One of the things Sil said at the seminar is, if your dog is never distracted, then they aren't learning anything about dealing with distraction. He says dogs need to be distracted/challenged and then work through it.
While Nadine took Skookum out on the track I'd laid for Cricket, I laid an article circle and then ran it with Gimme. Gimme really likes these; she finds them motivating and is getting better all the time about pulling out ahead of me on her restarts.
Tonight: We drove to Eatonville (about 1:05 each way) for a barn hunt practice. I have Gimme entered in trials for the last two weekend of October. So I wanted to get in another practice (or two if I can get there next week as well) to work on waiting out her barking and responding to her paw indication. The first time she did very well, much less barking and used her paws quite readily. For her second run she was barking a lot. She would run around the ring and periodically stop and bark, but not in any way I could tell what it was about. A couple of them it turns out were barking at rat tubes, but from 6 feet away. Its good to have this practice opportunity where I can wait her out and encourage her to go back to using her paws. I don't care if she barks, but I definitely want an indication which is clear.
We started class with an outdoor search, with four hides. The search area was outlined with a bunch of orange cones and included the covered portico (shown by the brown squares) and along the front of the building where a big garage door opens. The triangle is the door to the building and the tan rectangle is a bench sitting next to the door.
The "easy" hides were: at the base of the left column (as viewed from the startline), under the lip where the metal corrugated siding meets brick and above the bench, and under the siding lip to the far side of the garage door. A fourth hide was about 8' high at the top of the right column (green dot). We were given just 2½ minutes to search.
Gimme found the left column hide and the hide on the far side of the garage door right away. She put her feet up on the right column briefly twice. She sniffed around the bench, but never got to the hide there - which was obstructed by the bench position. The third time she put her paws on the column, the instructor said, "REWARD YOUR DOG!". Gimme knew there was a hide up there, but her bad owner wasn't reading her. Then we ran out of time.
I was thinking barn hunt where she often likes to put her feet up on support posts and consider the rafter area and we know there are no rat tubes up there. Seriously, this was what I was thinking - its the picture I got in my head. Gimme deserves a medal for putting up with me. She was the only dog of the five who looked up at all.
Then we repeated this search without the hide above the back of the bench. As each dog found the other hides, if they tended to go back to them, the instructor removed them to make the search simpler. The other dogs needed a lot of hints to find the high hide and got rewarded for even looking up the column at all.
Gimme found the same two first hides and only had the nearest one removed. Then she put her feet up on the column and looked over to me with this, "Whaaaaa, do I hafta draw a picture?" look. We haven't done high hides in a long time, so I was glad to see her figure it out, even if I didn't. We can't do too many high hides or she starts getting high-headed, air-scenting the clouds, and forgets to search low. Since the other dogs don't really have this skill, I suspect we'll get a few more high searches in the coming weeks.
Our last search was an interior with a jumble of chairs everywhere and I was certain we'd be on leash for a line handling challenge. Instead it was off leash and we were given instructions to watch for our dogs to get busy in an
area without finding a hide there (we knew where the five hides were) and when the
dog left the area, we were to step into and stand in the area
ourselves. The gallery of spectators were seated in some of those chairs right in the middle of the search area. The hides were pretty usual stuff.
I asked what the purpose of this move was and didn't really understand the point of it even after the answer. In any case it turned out to not be necessary. None of the dogs really spent any big amount of time in any one area and were all busy searching the whole room. Gimme was easily the fastest dog to find all 5 hides. Then again, August (GSD) wasn't in class and he's the only one who's ever close to her speed. He's not as fast as she is, but is more methodical, so sometimes he finds the hides faster than she does.
Yesterday Gimme got her first paying job, where she got pay from someone besides me.
Deidre lost the big diamond from her 30 year old engagement/wedding ring. She knows when it fell out, within a 15 minute time frame and where/what she was doing at the time. Naturally she lost it either in the dirt inside the horse arena or in the grass in parking. She has insurance, but really wants HER diamond, not a replacement. So we decided to see if Gimme could find it. Afterall, Gimme did find some sunglasses in a large area 3 weeks after they were lost. I used pretty much the same process to get Gimme to hunt for things with Deidre's smell on them.
First we had Deidre walk in some grass and drop four gloves about 15 feet apart. This is like tracking and was easy peasy for Gimme. She got paid with peanut butter when she found each glove. The second time around Deidre walked in the same grassy area, but threw the gloves one at a time out to either side of where she walked. Find gloves, but not tracking. This too was easy for Gimme. We gave Gimme a break after this while we prepared the next task.
We tied short lengths of string through four small grey-brown beads (slightly larger than ¼ inch diameter). The string was just so we'd be able to see the beads ourselves. Deidre walked down the center of a gravel road and tossed the beads to either side into the very short grass.
First I walked Gimme up and down to see if she'd find them on her own, but she didn't. I wasn't expecting her to, since this IS a very hard task, given how small the items are and since they don't hold scent like big cloth gloves do. I had to help Gimme find the first one, pointing right at it and cuing her to "check-it". For the second one, I swept my hand in a general area cuing "check-it". After this, Gimme found the other two on her own. One thing which was very interesting was how her demeanor changed when she got a whiff of Deidre's beads - she became very intense, laser focused on finding them. It was very cool to see. She really seemed to like this challenge.
We gave her another break and some Go Dog water. I was telling Deidre how hard it is to get Gimme to drink enough water. Turns out one of her sponsors (dock diving) is Go Dog, so she brought some out for Gimme to try. Gimme thought it was weird and it took her a bit to decide to taste it. She started by just sticking her tongue in it and then considered the taste. As odd as she clearly thought it was, Gimme seemed irresistibly drawn to it and kept going back to it until it was all gone. So I've ordered some to keep in the van for when we are traveling. This will be a LOT easier and less trouble than what I've been doing.
Our next step was to have Deidre walk along and toss a bead into each of two tall patches of grass. Gimme was able to find these and so we decided to go for it.
First I had Gimme search the aisleway in the barn. She spent a long time at it, having a good time, sniffing here and there, but didn't show any change of behavior. So we went into the arena, which is where we practice barn hunt. Gimme was very distracted by the presence of obvious barn hunt rings, bales of straw, empty tubes, etc. So rather than fight it, I walked her over and let her check it all out so she'd know there were no rats and we were here for something else.
Then we searched a 12x 25 foot area where Deidre had been standing after she first noticed her ring was "scratching". Gimme was very interested in the area right at the wall. Deidre said this is where the wild rats come down and one of her terriers is always digging there. I let Gimme check out the area and when she was satisfied there was no rats there either, then I encouraged her to search the rest of the area. The only place she showed any strong interest was right under the table. I didn't note a strong change of behavior, so it may only be she was checking the area because it would be a likely nosework hiding place.
I let Deidre know so she could give it special attention. She plans to dig out 3 inches of dirt from this area and sift through it by hand. I've calculated this is 75 cubic feet of dirt! She is certainly determined...
We went outside to the parking area where she'd been talking just before she found the stone was missing. This is really short grass/weeds, mostly kept down by the vehicles driving on it. Its a 12x15 foot space. Gimme searched this and there was one spot where she showed the intensity I'd seen earlier and I marked it for Deidre to give special attention to. It was an oval shape about 2x3 feet. Gimme never did indicate, but she really checked it out.
Throughout the actual searching, when we were pretty much done with an area, I dropped one of Deidre's beads for Gimme to find. Not including the training beforehand, Gimme worked for about half an hour. So I wanted to be sure she was finding something here and there, to reward her effort.
While we didn't actually find the diamond, I think we narrowed the search a bit. I'm most interested to hear what comes of the spot in parking where Gimme showed the most interest. We'll only know if Gimme was right if Deidre actually finds the diamond. Because the diamond is so small (relatively) and because the place where it was lost is so big and challenging, it might not be found and we'd never know she was right. Naturally I will let you know if its found.
Deidre gave Gimme a 3½ pound package of frozen organic chicken drumsticks. Gimme was very excited by her "paycheck". Some things never change.
We started class with what seemed to be a very simple blind vehicle search (2 white vans). There were two white vans with two odors. Gimme went about 2' up the near side of the small van, before going back and going to the near rear wheel of the larger van. She was there a few seconds before going around the rear and up the right side. She inspected the front wheel, was briefly distracted by some lingering odor off to the right (exterior search from an earlier class) and then came back to the van, quickly indicating the hide, high in the rear wheel well. Then she went along the back end of both vehicles and up the left side of the smaller van to find the hide under the front license plate. Dorothy commented, "Despite her bit of distraction, she still did this search in under 1 minute 10 seconds!"
The big odd green shape I've included in the diagram is what we call "the vortex". Its a place where two odors converge, creating a challenge for dogs to sort out. While it was simple for Gimme, the other dogs found it much more difficult. Gimme made it look so easy I didn't even realize there was converging odor until I watched the other dogs. This was made a bit more challenging because source odors were effectively at the same height - I don't know if it was the same or two different odors. The wheel well hide was higher, but scent from it was forced lower by the body of the van. The other dogs spent all this time going back and forth and round and round in the vortex area and their handlers weren't experienced enough to recognize the issue and move them out of there. Gimme went in the area briefly at the beginning of her search, but didn't stay there.
Our next two searches were in a set of glass racks from the business across the street. For the first search there were four hides and for the second search there were six. There was a slight breeze as indicated by the blue arrow. Many of the racks had glass strapped to them, which also changed air flow. Our instructions were to walk the line with the dog (staying on the front side) and let them make the decisions. If the dog passed a hide we weren't to do anything to aid them and let them go past it and not go back toward it unless the dog caught it on their own and insisted. As we got to the far end, we were to go a bit past the line of racks and do a front cross before going back down the line of racks.
Gimme went down the row catching the first, third and fourth hides, then catching the same ones on the way back. I think she smelled the third hide from where she was at the first hide, and then caught the fourth as we went past it. On the reverse path, she caught the fourth hide as we went by it and likewise for the third and first. We weren't allowed to influence their path, i.e. couldn't use our movement to push them into the spaces between the double sets of racks and with the breeze blowing odor away, I don't think Gimme ever knew the second hide was there.
For the second search there was more of the same. Gimme (and all the dogs) tried insisting there was still odor at the same place on the first set of racks. I think since the hides were all further back on the racks, with the dogs' approach from the startline, the lingering odor was the strongest and most likely thing to them. We were told to wait and let them sort it out. As the dogs realized they wouldn't be paid for it, they checked other places on the rack, finding the hide further back. From there Gimme went to the fifth hide and the sixth. We did our front cross and she found the same ones on the way back. I think this was predictable and for the same reasons as on the first of these two searches.
The stated idea was - if the dog wasn't allowed to go back to a hide they missed, then they would realize they were missing out on an opportunity to earn reward and would search more carefully the next time around. There were seven dogs in class and for the four slower ones, this seemed to work out. There is one moderate speed dog and she did a little better. All of these dogs slowed down even more than their normally slower (and moderate speed).
For the two faster dogs (Gimme and August, GSD), there was no real change-improvement. I think for this process to work, the dog actually has to realize there were other hides there and thus, there were rewards they were missing out on. From Gimme's demeanor, I am certain she believed she'd found all the hides out there.
From my perspective, I don't feel like we learned anything in this class. The vehicle search was so easy and presented no challenge to Gimme, though it does add to her experience bank. The way the two glass rack searches were set up, I don't think Gimme learned anything from them. She never knew there were other hides to find, so has no reason to alter her search style. Left to our own devices, I would have handled the search differently and I know she would have found them all.
For me, this was frustrating and the first time I've been disappointed by class. It probably feels worse because we ended the morning (tracking) on a frustrating note. On the other hand - - - Gimme is so talented and experienced, it only makes sense to find she'll learn less and less, eh...