Exterior searches - We started with a series of 4 simple searches with either one or zero hides. Our task was to state whether we thought there was a hide, or not, before our dog alerted.
- The first search was under an adjacent portico. Gimme was only loosely interested in searching, so I called it "clear". There was a hide and the instructor told me where it was so I could help Gimme find it, high up and under the mailbox. She was excited then, as if to say, "Oh yeaaaah, I remember this."
- The second search was in a small area of the parking lot, about three stalls wide, filled with construction materials. Gimme again seemed lackadaisical and I called it "clear". Right after I did so, she caught the drift of odor and with support was able to find the hide. It was down in a small concrete box (like the kind used for utility meters). So it was a little difficult, but wouldn't normally present a challenge for her.
- The third search was another portico and the hide was at the base of a column. Again I said it was "clear" and it wasn't. With support and extra time, Gimme was able to find this one.
- Again in a portico and Gimme searched briefly and then was more interested in going out to the grass. Of course, by now I was reticent to call "clear" and this time it really was.
Interior search 1 - This search had the hide underneath the base of the red cart with a fan about 5 feet away and blowing directly on it. Five feet in the other direction was a mass of stuff covered by a tarp, to create a large surface for odor to catch on. As the dogs tried to work it out, if they struggled the instructor turned the fan down to its lowest setting. If they continued to have difficulty, she turned it off. Only one dog of 4 didn't have to have it turned off, August - he's the only dog in class who is consistently as good as Gimme. While we did need the fan turned off for Gimme to source the hide, the best part was how long she was willing to work at this. The search lasted over 5 minutes and there was no sign Gimme was ready to give up.
Interior search 2 - This was a recovery search, so the dogs could end on an easy search to maintain their motivation. The fan was left off and the red cart was moved a bit and turned over, making the hide more accessible. Gimme found this in a reasonable time. Normally she would have found it much faster, but I was happy that she was focused and really working. Good girl.
For our January 9th class, I remembered the camera and Dorothy was there so I have video for two of the three searches.
Interior search 1 video - This search is set up on a set of highs and lows along two long sets of exercise pens. The actual hides were in regular tins and there was also a set of tuna cans painted black, which were a big visual draw. The idea was to replicate the search walls used in training by professional detection handlers. While some aspects were similar, I think this was much harder than intended. One thing we know from tracking is how challenging chainlink fences are for even the most experienced of dogs. I can't help thinking these hides on a long stretch of open expen have to act similar to the way a chainlink fence acts on a track as far as 10 feet away.
As for Gimme, she again had difficulty because of her false pregnancy. I got the obligatory reminder to keep the "leash nice and short", which I ignored. It works best for us if we have a short rush into the search area and then I close up to her. While she was searching, she wasn't finding anything, so a minute into the search, I pointed out the nearest hide to her, "cheating". As she deals with this challenge, I think it's my job to help her get into what we are doing. To her credit, she had an "ahah" moment and found the next hide in just 16 seconds. It took her 45 seconds to find the other hide again from the other side, with me supporting her by keeping her in the area. In some ways it seemed like she may have known it was there and didn't think re-finding it was valid, since I don't usually pay her a second time for the same hide. Or maybe not.
Interior search 2 video - To make this a more successful search for Gimme, we paired all the hides, which helped a lot. Dorothy commented how she loves the way Gimme gets her self-reward and then turns back to me for more - which is something I've encouraged by keeping her there and rewarding her again, whether she looks to me or not. The good news. One challenge with the paired hides is how often the treat fell to the other side of the expen fencing, which I mostly solved by lifting and moving the expen so she could still get it and then gave her another treat.
Interior search 3 (no video) - There was a third search which somehow did not get taped. It was again paired and mostly the same results. The one thing I noticed which was different, if Gimme came to a hide she'd already found, so it was no longer paired, she just moved on. The bad news. She's too adept at changing her behavior and abandoning behaviors which have worked in the past in favor of a new behavior. In this case abandoning her indication of odor, regardless of whether it is paired.
Overall she did better and I expect her to be much closer to her normal skill level this coming class. She's getting more and more comfortable leaving the baby and working.
Which is not to say she doesn't take good care of her babies. She's always been prone to going back to bed after her first trip outside in the morning. Now she snuggles up with the baby. Don't anyone tell her it's a platypus...