Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Sniff Test

Poppy - 1st place container search with a time of 5.37 seconds
On October 26th, Poppy and I competed in her first nose work trial. It was a beautiful day in a gorgeous location - Welkinweir in Pottstown PA. Having been through the experience of a nose work trial with Ollie only a month before, I had a much better idea of how a nose work trial is run and what to expect. This time, my 2 fellow former classmates and their dogs were also entered, so it was nice to have the camaraderie and support. I was much more relaxed at this trial than I had been at Ollie's.

Linda with Kyra (who finished her NW1 title this day at age 13), Marilyn with Mia, and me with Poppy
We started with our morning with check-in followed by a walk-thru of all 4 elements. The searches would all take place around an estate house that is often used for wedding rentals.

Interior followed by exterior would take place in the morning and then, in the afternoon, it would be container followed by vehicle. I was a little perplexed about what to do with the interior search. I wanted to let Poppy do the search off-leash. However, after seeing the room, I had second thoughts. Not for the purposes of the search, but for the preservation of the room. This was a fancy room full of antique furniture. Poppy is an enthusiastic nose work dog. She puts her paws on on things and sometimes scratches at the hide. She jumps on furniture. I've trained her that there are no real boundaries - the hide could be ANYWHERE and it's up to her to go anywhere to find it. We were told our dogs shouldn't be allowed to jump on the furniture. I was thinking "UGH! How is that not going to happen?".
Part of the room where our interior search was held
Then it was our time to start the journey toward the house. There were several wait-stations from the in-gate to the house involving a lovely walk down a pretty trail. Unfortunately, Poppy did not have a lovely, relaxing time. The people running the trial were using several golf carts to move from here to there. Poppy has some weird fears and sound sensitivities and golf carts suddenly occupied the top of that list.

The most evil invention of mankind according to Poppy

She was having a series of mini-panic attacks during our journey through the various stations. What's more, it was turning out to be a pretty windy day, which only added to her anxiety and hyper-vigilance. The rustling of leaves had her bolting and jumping in terror thinking that there was a golf cart sneaking up behind her. I was relieved to get to the final wait station where the golf carts couldn't be encountered. To go from that into the fancy room of complete silence was a huge environmental adjustment for me. I can't imagine what it must of been like for Poppy. I decided, for the sake of the fancy room, to keep her on leash, although I was really disappointed that I didn't feel as though I had the kind of freedom I wished to just let her loose. (Turns out she ended jumping up on the most antique looking sofa in the room during the search anyway - I was momentarily mortified).

Fireplace where hide was located sans holiday flowers

The hide was located at the bottom of a stanchion at the fireplace. Poppy showed some interest in the area early on in the search and the thought crossed my mind to call it, but, whereas she's normally very bold about her indications leaving me with no doubt, this indication was luke-warm at best. I didn't feel the kind of confidence I normally feel with her and she moved on, which is not like her either. She typically exhibits pretty strong odor obedience and wouldn't generally move off an odor. However, I did notice that she seemed very cautious about the dark marble floor directly in front of the fireplace that she would have to step on to indicate the hide location. I'm not sure if it was a visual thing with the shiny surface or the slickness of the surface making her feel unsteady, but she definitely had a reaction to it and wasn't crazy about putting her paws on it. I worked the rest of the room with her with no other signs of indication and eventually was given the 30 second warning. I felt my best hope was to take her back to the fireplace to see if she would at least give me a weak indication again, but she really didn't want to get that close to it. Something was scaring her. Time was called and that was that. No title for us today. It was both disappointing and liberating. At least now I had nothing more to lose the rest of the day, although I would spend the next couple of days second-guessing myself and wishing I'd called the alert on her weak indication since I sort of thought maybe it was there. If nothing else, I've learned how she might react in a trial situation and that her normal alert behaviors may be much weaker than what I'm used to seeing in practice.
We went from the interior directly to the exterior search without any real waiting period in between, so Poppy and I needed to recover fast. The pictures below show the exterior search area which was in the front of the house. The picture on the right gives a better perspective of the area. The threshold was the doorway (since we were coming from inside the house) and extended from the foreground of this picture to the edge of the garden area in front of the windows in the background. It ran across the macadam to a stone wall bordering driveway directly across from the house (just off camera in this picture). LOTS of cracks and crevices for hides! The hide was actually up under the seat of the bench to the right of the doorway shown in the picture on the left, although it was pulled out a bit from the wall of the house.     

When Poppy and I crossed the threshold into the search area, she turned to the side of the door opposite where the hide was and worked that area for a short time. Then she moved to the side where the bench was and seemed to catch the odor pretty quickly. She worked the bench and went around the back side of it. This time she gave me a typical, strong indication including pawing at the bench seat and I immediately called the alert - 22.27 seconds and the 5th fastest exterior search of the day. I felt some sense of redemption.

After a lunch break, the afternoon searches got underway - container followed by vehicle. Again, we had to run the gauntlet of scary golf carts and swooshy wind noises. Poppy almost came unhinged during our walk down the driveway to the final waiting area as a golf cart came down the drive behind us. Argh! The container search was set up in a large tent area next to the house. I gather from many photos I've seen, this is often used for weddings that take place at this location.
 Of course, when we did our search, it was minus all the chairs and tables and the sides of the tent were closed. My biggest concern was how the already hyper-vigilant, hyper-sound sensitive Poppy would react to the wind noise inside the tent. The tent sat in a gorgeous location on a hill overlooking a lake, but that just meant an open area for the wind to pick up and slam into the side of the tent. It turns out, our search was so short that
it didn't become a factor at all. Whereas Ollie's container search had involved searching
Evidence of our proud triumph
boxes in the shape of a jack-o-lantern, Poppy's containers were in the shape of a pine tree with the startline facing the "tree trunk". If I remember correctly, the hide was on the exterior left hand side of the 3rd "bough" from the bottom. As soon as I released her from the startline, she was off and running. It just so happens that she chose to work the boxes on the outside left first. When she started to pass the box where the hide was located, she whipped around and showed interest. That was enough of an indication for me; I called the alert. Our time was 5.37 seconds!!! First place! And by far the fastest time - the 2nd place dog had a time of nearly 14 seconds. We got a nice pretty purple first place ribbon to take home, so even though we didn't get a title ribbon, at least we brought a reward home with us for our efforts.

Last came the vehicle search. The 3 vehicles were parked side-by-side in a staggered pattern with the startline face the drivers side of the first vehicle. It was VERY windy by this point and competitors were instructed to call the alert loudly so we could be heard over the noise of the wind. If I remember correctly, the hide was located on the inside of the wheel-well of the rear passenger side of the first vehicle, an SUV. Poppy worked the that vehicle a bit, as well as the drivers side of the second vehicle, which was parallel to the location of the hide. She then went around to the front and worked that a bit before coming back down and working the passenger side of the correct vehicle. She stopped and gave me a medium indication on the hide. I wasn't very disappointed in her indication behavior because normally she is too exhuberant in indicating vehicle hides and scratches like mad at the car. I'm quick to reward the find and stop any major damage, but scratching like that in a trial could be faulted, so I was almost relieved that her indication was just nose touch and some excitement. Here is a link to a picture of her indicating the hide. Having learned my lesson from the interior search that morning, I decided to call it. It was the right thing to do. Her time was 26.73 seconds, which was the 8th fastest vehicle search of the day.

So, while Poppy didn't end up with her NW1 title, we had 3 really good searches and I learned a lot about what I might expect from her in a trial situation. I plan on trying again in 2014. At this time, I don't have plans to pursue a NW2 title on any of my dogs, but that could change. I AM looking forward to the element specialty trials starting up next April. In the meantime, I'm going to start Ollie and Poppy on anise. And I've started training Hokey in nosework. She's absolutely MAD for it!!! I'm going to be starting her on birch odor TODAY, but here she is doing one of her first search sessions, looking for hotdogs in boxes. She caught on like she's been doing it her whole life.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Contact Zone

I am currently in the midst of training Sprout to have great performances on all three contact obstacles. I'm training running contacts for both the A-frame and dogwalk and a 4-on teeter. Because I live in a city home with only a small yard, I don't have space for my own contact equipment. In order to gain access to equipment, I rent an agility building once a week to train. Right now, this means those particular training sessions are very contact focused; basically, I work one contact obstacle then take a short short walk break and/or run a short jump-tunnel-weave sequence before moving on to the next contact. One hour per week, may not be ideal, but it's what I have to work with and I believe I'm making the most of it and being rewarded with good results for my effort.

A-Frame: This is the one contact obstacle where I was able to do the ground work at home. I am using Rachel Sanders box method, which I previously used to train both Poppy and Hokey's running contacts. I started Sprout by running him straight through the box laid out on the ground. I decided in order to get him a little deeper into the box and to get a better bounce, I needed to raise the back end a few inches. The cardboard insert from toilet paper or paper towel rolls works great for this, although you can also add some PVC extensions. I like cheap, quick, and readily handy myself. I worked all 3 of the stationary positions on both sides of the box:

Next I added the jump grid to the box. These are two low jumps that precede the box. The 2nd jump is placed exactly 9 feet from the back edge of the box. This simulates the down ramp of the frame. Running through the grid teaches the correct striding up over the apex of the frame then one bounce before the contact zone and then a 2nd bounce into the contact zone and off the frame. It's building muscle memory for the real thing. I did have a little bit of trouble getting the correct striding from Sprout early on; sometimes instead of the two bounces in 9', he was adding an extra stride - so two little strides then a bounce through the box or sometimes he was missing the box altogether. By messing around with the jump heights and their distances from each other, I was finally able to get a consistent 2-strided performance from him. Once the consistency came, I was able to set the jumps as I normally would have. The following clip shows us working the grid over a few different days. Again, I worked the 3 stationary positions on each side and then, once he was proficient and giving me a consistent performance, I added some motion and obstacles.

Then came time for the real deal. First, I set up the grid right next to the frame and ran him through it a few times. Then I set the A-frame pretty low and transferred the box to the down contact. I set a jump bar on the apex in case that helped him get the idea of leap over the apex; I had done this with Hokey and it had helped her. I'm not sure if it really helped Sprout or not. I didn't use one in subsequent sessions. If you look at the pictures above from our most recent A-frame session, you can see that he is now consistently leaping over the apex and catching a lot of air in the process - and getting a nice two bounce descent. For him, it seemed to come as a natural progression as his confidence increased and his drive accelerated. Here is his first session on the frame. I did raise it a little bit during this first session.

Here is Sprout's 2nd session a week later with the A-frame a little higher. As you can see, he's putting in some solid performances.

And here is Sprout's most recent A-Frame session on a still higher A-frame. Just look at him FLY! His confidence and drive are really starting to take off and he is sailing over the apex and putting in two solid hits. It can be hard to really see what's going on, but the pictures above are snapshots taken from this clip. He is catching some major air!

My plan from here is to continue to move to full height and to continue to get this kind of performance on a consistent basis, then fade the box. What is truly awesome is that NOT ONCE in any of these training sessions, has he missed bouncing through the box. He's 100% when it comes to hitting the contact on the frame so far. I am so pleased with his progress to date.

Teeter: In a previous post, I had shown a clip of the end behavior work I'd done in preparation for training the teeter. Finally, it was time to work the entire obstacle, starting with it set low, of course. Here is part of our first session (after training Hokey, I often forget that I can use a clicker with Sprout, even when it's in my hand!):

And here we are a couple of weeks later, with the teeter a bit higher:

So far, each teeter session goes like this: the first time, run like mad just past the fulcrum, then as it starts to drop suddenly panic and put on the brakes and look like a back-peddling cartoon character, end up in the contact zone, but not down close to the end. The 2nd and maybe the 3rd time through "Oh it's that scary thing that moves when I run across it. I need to be cautious." = a slow performance and a less than stellar contact performance (i.e. in the upper part of the yellow instead of down near the end of the teeter). Then the confidence builds and builds and by the end of the session he's got tons of teeter drive. My plan is to build his confidence while gradually raising the teeter to full height over several weeks. I also hope I can get him out and get him some exposure to other teeters.

Dogwalk: I'm still in the early stages of training Sprout's dogwalk. So far, I am planning a running contact performance. Unlike with Hokey and the foam tiles, I didn't do any ground work with Sprout. Instead, the last month or so, I've spent time each week letting him get used to the dogwalk by walking him on leash back and forth and letting him turn around. Then I've worked the down ramp by having my partner restrain him while I get him excited and then, when he's released, I throw a toy for him to run down the ramp and through a hoop I have set up at the end of the ramp. I had originally made the
hoop for Hokey's running dogwalk contact training and found it quite helpful since I was really at disadvantage trying to teach a solid running contact without the ability to use a clicker or any other sound to mark the correct behavior. I found the hoop taught her to run straight off the end of the ramp without leaping off while keeping her head low. She was able to retain the behavior after I faded the hoop. I'm hoping to have the same result with Sprout.

This past week was the first time I worked the entire length of the dogwalk with him (after the retrained ramp runs). Here is a clip of the result:

I'm pretty happy with this. I think his confidence will continue to build off this and his drive and speed with increase as a result. Once I feel satisfied with that, I'll start to fade the hoop and see if we retain the contact behavior I'm looking for.

Monday, October 21, 2013

JRTCA Nationals - AKA Mudfest 2013

Did you ever want to find out what it would be like to participate in a trial held in a bog? No. Neither did I. But that is precisely what this year's JRTCA National trial felt like. Let me back up and tell of my journey across the water from south-central PA to western MD.

This would have been a more practical mode of transportation than my Forester

The trial started on Friday, but I didn't have much planned for that day. Sprout was pre-entered in lure coursing and then I planned to run both terriers in the tunnelers agility warm-up, which is a pay-at-the-gate type class. Lure coursing ran until 3 and tunnelers normally starts around 3. The drive SHOULD take a little less than 2 1/2 hours, so I figured as long as we left town by 11 or so, we'd make it there in plenty of time for the lure coursing run and then we could do our tunnelers runs. Unfortunately, that day also happened to coincide with record rainfall for this area. Water and flooding everywhere - and the rain just wasn't letting up. York County was especially hard hit. As a consequence, traffic was horrible and travel was treacherous. At one point on Route 30, somewhere west of York, we came to an area where there was a lot of water on the road, but still passable. It just so happened that when I was driving across, an 18-wheeler was coming in the opposite direction. There was more water on that other side of the road than on mine and as the truck passed me, it sent a tsunami of water over and under my vehicle. I made it through fine, but my check engine and a couple other lights on my dash came on. It was running as normal, but it certainly made me nervous to continue driving it. I had no choice at that point. I wasn't about to turn around and drive through that water again.
Not my Forester, but a reenactment of exactly what I saw. Not good.

We ended up getting to the trial site a little after 3. I was disappointed since that meant I had missed my lure coursing run. As I got out to walk the dogs and get my bearings, I noticed that lure coursing was still running. I wasn't sure if I needed to check in first, but I figured it was worth a shot at trying to get my run in. Unfortunately, because of the chaos, I didn't get any pictures or video of Sprout's attempt at lure coursing, but it looked kind of like this:
Okay. Not really that bad. But the start of the course did involve running through some water and mud. The track was basically square around the perimeter of a field. It started at the lower corner, turned then went up a gradual incline where there was an agility tunnel to run through, turned again and ran along the top of the incline where there was another tunnel to pass through before turning again and heading down the slope to the finish. Sprout started out well. He chased the lure through the water and mud and up the slope. Then the momma's boy part of his brain kicked in as he got to the far side of the field; he realized I wasn't with him and how far away from me he was and panicked. He had two back-to-back runs. The first time he ran back to me as he got to the first tunnel. The second time he made it through the tunnel then panicked at he approached the far corner. He tried jumping over the temporary fencing to cut across to me. The people running the lure tried to get him to chase it again. He started to, but then gave up and came back around to me. So much for our adventures with lure coursing. I thought he'd really like it, but apparently he didn't like it as much as being with me. Hokey seemed interested seeing the lure running. However, she is kind of a princess when it comes to wet and muck and I didn't want to immediately turn off her interest by trying to run her in those conditions. Maybe another, drier, time.
The queen of speed. If I can get her to chase a lure, she'll be a force to be reckoned with.
I wandered around until I found the check in building and picked up my packet. There I ran into a friend who informed me that the tunnelers run was moved to the next day, so we left and headed for the hotel.

At least Saturday dawned a little brighter. It was nice to see the sun here and there throughout the day between the rain showers. I was kicking myself that I didn't enter Sprout in Agility I. Yes, he would have to do the A-Frame and DW, which I've only begun to train, but I think I could have easily "faked" an obstacle performance of each. I think he would have rocked. Instead, while I waited for the tunnelers course to open up and Hokey's Agility II class, I decided to try brush hunt with Sprout. He had no clue whatsoever about what he was supposed to be doing. He probably needs a proper introduction to rats. Who would have thunk he wouldn't just go out there and immediately hunt down a rat in a cage? Oh well. It was fun to try.
Sprout wandering aimlessly around the Brush Hunt area
Next came our tunnelers runs. I ran both dogs twice. I started with Hokey, who did pretty well, although about halfway through she paused for a little bit. I thought maybe because she was suddenly confused about why we were doing so many tunnels.

Then I ran Sprout twice. He did well with his first run. Excellent for his first time at a trial, especially with the multiple distractions such a excited dogs at the brush hunt area nearby and the less than idea footing due to the wet weather. He, too, seemed a little confused about why we were doing so many tunnels in a row, but took it in stride. He had one off course tunnel entry in that first run. His second run included a couple moments of distraction, but he worked well and was fast and this time got around without going off course. So proud of him!

Then I did a second run with Hokey. That's when things started to go awry. She stopped after the 1st tunnel and refused to go on as I encouraged her to continue. Then she took off back to the gate. She did come back and start working again, with a couple more weird glitchy things, like stopping to bark at the judge, but then she did finish strong. I'm still not sure what went wrong. Something freaked her out - the mushy footing, trialing outside for the first time, the general atmosphere? Maybe she was sore somewhere? Who knows? Being at the hotel was a new experience too and she became somewhat obsessed with the light and shadows under the door. So maybe the entire experience was just too much for her to handle at this point.

Things went even worse in our Agility II run. I got her to the line and released her. She ran around the 1st jump and over to the fence at the opposite side of the ring (where the gate was). I got her to come back to me a few times, but was unsuccessful at getting her to take any obstacles. She was definitely having a meltdown. Poor girl.

We ended the day by taking both dogs to the Thunder Tunnel area. Both dogs were introduced to the rat in the cage that would be at the end of the tunnel. Sprout, Mr. KILL ALL THE THINGS, completely surprised me by acting terrified of the rat. He's my highest prey drive dog at home, so that threw me for a loop. Hokey, Miss Nearly Zero Prey Drive, at least showed some vague interest (and Sprout got slightly more brave seeing her checking out the rat).

The women running Thunder Tunnel were SUPER super nice and encouraging. I can't say enough good things about them. Sprout went first. He did the entire tunnel with A LOT of encouragement. He'll do just about anything for me. What a brave boy!

Hokey made it clear she wanted no part of doing the entire tunnel, so we just had her do the short section from the ball pit to the end a couple of times. She was a good girl.

Sunday, the final day of the trial, started out gloomy and got worse - drizzle to rain - as the day progressed. Hokey was entered in Agility III in the morning and Colors in the afternoon, but I wasn't sure if I was going to attempt to run at all given the even mushier footing and her quirkiness the previous day. I walked the Agility III course and decided I had nothing to lose by at least attempting it. It did not go well. Again, when I released her from the startline, she ran to the fence on the other side of the ring. This time she wouldn't even come back to me. I wasn't going to push her anymore. It was disappointing since I know what she is capable of, but she'd made it clear something was bothering her and that she didn't want to work. I scratched her from the afternoon class, but did stick around to do a "fun run" in the rain with Sprout so I could at least end things on a good note. It was a game called Dare-to-Double, which I gathered comes from Teacup Agility. He did great. His greenness showed a little bit as he was reluctant to take the long tunnel that curved away from the inside of the ring when I handled it from the inside, but then he did take it when I went out and did a front cross and stayed to the outside. I was told that our score would have been a Q in a Teacup trial. So proud of my little man and how he handled everything. It's hard to believe he's only been with me and in training for 3 months!

Each dog got a placement ribbon in the tunnelers practice run, so at least they each got a memento to bring home. I think it's pretty cool that Sprout's first ribbon is from a national event. I got an expensive car repair bill that I have no idea how I'm going to afford. My take home from the trial is that Hokey needs a little break from agility, so we are working on some other things right now to build her confidence back up and cement our working bond again (watch for an upcoming blog post on that). But I'm already looking forward to going back next year and rocking agility with Sprout and potentially doing some other things with Hokey. I'm just hoping for much better weather and definitely better driving conditions.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sniffing Out Success

Ollie has a brand new title! We went to our first nose work trial on Sept 28th and were successful. Now, in addition to his plethora of agility titles, he has NW1 listed after his name. I'm nearly as proud of this title as I am of his ADCHs and LAA.

I've been trialing in the USDAA masters ring for the past several years, but I have to say, I found the experience of this nose work trial to be vastly more stressful than any agility competition. Why? I don't know. Maybe because EVERYTHING counts and if you miss one of the 4 elements there goes your chance at your title. Maybe the cost; compared to a day at an agility trial, a nose work trial is pretty expensive ($95 for NW1), so if you blow one element, there goes the entry fee, which for me is a good chunk of change I'd rather not lose without something to show for it. Maybe it's the fact that, in this area anyway, nose work trials are few and far between and when they do occur there is a long waitlist of teams who didn't manage to be selected through the random draw process, so, if you aren't successful, it could be a long time before you get the chance to try again. What didn't help my stress any was the fact that Ollie was dead last (#38) in the running order in both the morning and afternoon. Some trials will split the entries into two groups and while one group does 2 elements, the other group does the other 2 and then they switch in the afternoon. This particular trial didn't work that way. All dogs ran through the interior and container searches in the morning, then the vehicle and exterior searches in the afternoon. That meant the hides, especially the afternoon ones which were put out first thing in the morning, had been sitting there for hours before Ollie got a shot at them. Luckily I'd been putting out hides at home before I left for work in the morning and then letting him search for them when I arrived home, so he had been prepped for this. Still, waiting around for hours for my turn didn't do my anxiety any favors.

The trial was held at a sports/amusement complex near Gettysburg. The good news about
this location was that it didn't involve a lot of walking over long distances like some nose work trial sites do. The bad news was, because the locations of the search areas were so concentrated, I believe that is what contributed to the decision not to split the competitors into two working groups. Also, the site was a bit odd, even a little creepy, in places.

When I arrived, I parked in the "reactive dog" section. True, Ollie is a veteran when it comes to trialing and is used to being crated in my vehicle in close proximity to others with dogs, but with nose work being more sensitive to the needs of reactive dogs, I figured why not keep my reactive dog as calm as possible while waiting our turn by catering to his personal space issues. As with his ORT, he wore a red bandana to alert others that he is a reactive dog and to please keep their dogs at a distance.  There was a check-in and then a walk-through where we got a look at all 4 search areas and had the chance to ask questions. Then, after a period of time, the trial got underway.

When our turn came close, I took him over to the warm up/recovery area where there were 4 boxes set out, one of which contained birch odor. This let him know what we were about to do. Each search area had 3 or 4 stations that you move through where dogs are kept at a safe distance from each other while waiting their turn. We moved through those on our way to the interior search area. The interior search area was pretty creepy in my opinion, but the final staging area was even worse. It was in a room with black walls and glow-in-the-dark graffiti painted on them. The only lighting was from a single overhead black light. Needless to say, the atmosphere didn't alleviate my growing sense of dread. Pictures of the actual search area can be found here. Yes, with the dim lighting, black graffiti covered walls, weird panels and old banquet chairs and arcade games randomly strewn about, it was a like a creepy graveyard for amusements of the early 1990s.

Happy Sniffing - hope you make it out alive!

Like this, only about 20 years older
To fit the atmosphere, it turned out to be our most nail-biting search of the day. First, I opted to do the search on leash, which in hindsight may have been a mistake. The hide was up inside an old banquet chair in the middle of the room between one of those weird panels and an arcade game. We had 3 minutes to find it. Ollie opted to check the perimeter of the room first. Then he actually got near the hide. I suspected that it was the general location of the hide because it looked like he started to clean up some dropped food (! - why weren't those crumbs cleaned up??!!!!). It's hard to recall, but I *think* I may have pulled him away a bit to get him back on task. That's when he veered from the area of hide and started to focus on an arcade game, Sonic the Hedgehog, right across from the chair. He spent a lot of time and energy on that game. As a consequence, I now hate that game.

Most hated arcade game EVER!!

After spending a lot of time on the arcade game without alerting, I pulled him away for a sweep of other areas. Nothing. Then came the dreaded 30 second alert that no one wants to hear. I felt my stomach sink and panic rising. I took Ollie back to the area he was interested in and again he looked at the Sonic game, but then, thankfully, turned toward the chair, sniffed his way up the leg and alerted at the hide with just under 20 seconds to spare. PHEW!

Then it was immediately on to the container search. The containers were on the floor in part of a large gymnasium and had been arranged in the shape of a jack-o-lantern, i.e. a circle of boxes surrounding other boxes forming eyes, nose, and a mouth. I was surprised when I walked Ollie into the room to find many spectators seated in chairs watching. Very different from the ORT. I walked to the startline, took a deep breath and started the search. I let him go straight up the middle and then choose which half of the outer part of the circle to work first. He chose to go right, which turned out to be an excellent choice. About halfway down the arc he alerted on the correct box. The search lasted 11 seconds in all - the 5th fastest out of the 38 dogs - and it earned us a "pronounced" score and a round of applause from the spectators. It brought much relief after our less than steller interior search. Pictures of Ollie searching containers at the trial can be found starting here - go to the last two pages of the container search photos to see him.

After a very long wait for lunch break and the 37 dogs in front of us to search, it was our turn for vehicles and exterior. The vehicle search was set up like this, with the hide in the front of the driver's side wheel-well of the 3rd vehicle from the startline (starred):

We paused at the startline and then forged ahead toward the line of vehicles. Ollie bypassed vehicle 1 altogether. Then something in the miniature golf area behind the vehicles briefly caught his attention between vehicles 1 and 2. I got his focus back and he went to vehicle 3 and started searching. He found the hide in less than 14 seconds - the 4th fastest vehicle search of the 38 dogs! Since I don't get a chance to practice vehicles as much as the other elements, I was thrilled with how fast he found it, especially since he bypassed the other 2 vehicles to start his search on the correct one.

Three down, one to go! I felt pretty good about the exterior search, since that tends to be his strongest element. Even though we'd been practicing elevated hides, I was hoping it would be closer to ground level since his beagle nose is best at those. The final waiting area involved standing next to a weird life size giraffe statue that towered over us. Kind of like the picture on the right, only more weather-beaten and with more demonic eyes.

The exterior search area was only slightly less creepy than the interior one. At least there weren't any black walls and glow in the dark graffiti involved. But there was a lot of cement and some playground equipment that looked like it was designed to give children a sure case of tetanus. But, actually, the lack of plant life in the search area was a huge bonus for us because Ollie can be a quick and sneaky marker if he smells that another dog has peed  anywhere in the vicinity during previous century. Elimination equals elimination, so it was a relief to me to know that he would be much less likely to do that in this particular exterior search area.

As I approached the search area, the judge made some kind remarks about Ollie and his happy smile and wagging tail, which made me smile and helped to put me at ease. We crossed the start and Ollie started to work the left side of the perimeter of the search area. As he worked his way forward he came to the start of a wooden fence. He immediately honed in on a crack in the railing then followed it down to a crack in the cement and alerted. Afterward the judge jokingly commented that his head whipped up to look at me standing behind him so fast that he nearly gave himself whiplash. He completed the exterior search in 11 1/2 seconds - the 5th fastest exterior search of the day - and earned another "pronounced" score. You can see pictures of Ollie doing the exterior search starting here - go to the last two pages of the exterior search photos to see him.

WE HAD OUR TITLE! I was ecstatic and relieved. And so proud of Ollie. What a great little dog he is!

And now I get to put myself through all that terror and stress again next weekend with Poppy. At least the upcoming trial site looks very pretty and not intimidatingly creepy. Poppy CAN be a lightning fast searcher, but she is more erratic in her search patterns and not always as exact in her alert behavior, whereas Ollie is methodical and his alerts are very easy to read. So stay tuned for another nose work trial report. In the meantime, I've been prepping hard this past week. I'll leave you with a video of Poppy and Ollie working some interior searches.



Thursday, September 19, 2013

The New and the Deja Vu

My goodness. Between keeping Hokey's agility skills up and prepping her for a few trials, getting Ollie and Poppy prepared for their upcoming nose work trials, and working on Sprout's foundation training, I feel like I do nothing but dog stuff whenever I'm not at work. Not that I'm complaining!

Hokey's running dw has become pretty consistent

The New 

On Labor Day, Hokey and I went back into the ring for the 2nd time after a few months break since her successful first trial at the end of May. I decided to give UKI a try. I like their jump height cut-offs and A-Frame heights for my little dogs. Also, since Hokey has some issues with the table (the down seems uncomfortable for her, probably because she is deep chested and has no hair or body fat for padding), I like that the table is only an optional obstacle in Agility (aka Standard) and, when it is used, it's a no-count down and go. Seems like a fair compromise. UKI courses are international in flavor and somewhat technical, except for the Speed Stakes class, which, as the name indicates, is supposed to be more about speed. I like challenging courses, so really like what UKI has to offer as a possible alternative to USDAA. I also like that you can go into the ring with a toy and, at the startline, declare your run to be "Not For Competition" and then just use your time in the ring to train and have fun with your dog. I have a feeling I'll be taking advantage of that with Sprout in the future.

Sprout - proud serial decapitator of Kongs
Like I mentioned in my previous post, Hokey has some distraction issues to work through. Her first class was Speed Stakes and that went pretty well. Just one small distracted bobble at the 4th jump, but I was able to bring her around easily and continue on. Definitely not her fastest run, but it was pretty good considering how green she is and that she hasn't worked in distracting environments very much. It was good enough for a Q and 1st place. 

Next was beginner Jumpers (with weaves). It had moments brilliance and moments of not-brilliant-at-all due to her getting distracted. It didn't feel good at the time, but when I went back and watched it, it wasn't as bad as I thought. 

Her last run was Agility (standard). It was a pretty nice run. Much better than I thought it would turn out looking at the course on paper. She stayed with me the entire time right up until the last jump, where she left me for a second. I got her back quickly, but in UKI running past the last jump is 5 faults (refusals don't count at the beginners level at any other obstacle except the last) and you need a clear round to qualify. She was a little tentative on the contact equipment, but again, that's just a matter of getting her out and experience.

Overall, I was pretty happy with how she did her 2nd time out. 

Here is a clip of Hokey and I practicing this past week. The hard rear cross and table performance weren't her best of the night, but at least she hit her A-Frame contact, which is something she'd been very naughty about during her previous runs and her teeter performance looked pretty great too.


The Deja Vu

It seems like I just went through all this foundation training stuff with Hokey. In fact there are many posts from over the past year that chronicle her progress. Now I'm doing it all over again with Sprout. The difference is that Sprout is on the accelerated plan. I can't stress enough how important taking the time to build a solid foundation is in agility training. This dog is exceptional. He has lots of drive and learns everything so quickly. 

Sprout demonstrating that he has *a little bit* of drive

This is a demonstration of what an eager worker he is. Here he is before I got into position for some one-jump work and then after I finished the exercise. He is far too eager to begin and certainly isn't ready to quit. Every time I let him out in the yard these days, he's out there taking jumps of his own accord. It's hard to believe that when he came to me just 2 1/2 short months ago, he wasn't even interested in passing between a set of jump standards with no bar set. 

I decided I might as well teach Sprout to weave. 
He went from this first introduction to a single set of 2x2s:

To 6 poles:

To 12 poles:

All in exactly 2 weeks. (See my back-to-back posts on weave training for a step-by-step account of the training method used to accomplish this).
And here he is working serpentines for the first time and then incorporating them with his newly learned weave skills in a layering exercise:

I'll be starting Sprout's contact training soon. I've already begun working his end behavior on the teeter. (For a more detailed explanation of "The Bang Game", refer to my post on Hokey's teeter training). Soon he'll be ready to start working the teeter as an obstacle.

So that's the report from here. I have Hokey entered in 3 runs at a CPE trial this weekend and then the following Saturday is Ollie's big day - our first nose work trial! I just received the information on the location (they don't send the actual location to you until a week or two before the trial) and the run order. I'm not entirely happy with our position in the run order - last in our group. In order to prep for this, I've been putting a few hides out in the morning and letting them sit all day. Then, when I get home from work, I immediately put Ollie in his harness and have him search. So far, so good. He's a little slower at the elevated hides that have been out all day, so we'll continue to work at building his speed. I've had a couple of odor swabs cooking in a box for the past 2 days. He's lightning fast at finding that, so I'm encouraged for the container search part of the trial. I think his weakest element is interior searching, so we'll be working hard on that one for the next week. Poppy's  nose work trial is at the end of October. Wish us luck! I'll be writing about our experience soon. 

The nose work dogs resting up for their big trial debuts


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

"What I did this summer..."

If you've been beggin' for a new blog post, here it is! I feel like I'm sitting down to write one of those back-to-school essays on What I Did This Summer. Did you know that having 4 dogs and training 2 each in different sports keeps you pretty busy? So busy that it can be hard to find the time to sit down and write a blog entry?

Summer - time to relax
Although summer has been "slow" in the sense that I haven't entered any events, I sure have been keeping busy. I'm gearing up for a busy fall season starting this coming Monday when Hokey makes her return to the agility ring for the first time since her debut in May. I expect we'll have some "stuff" to work through. Namely, her distractability when it comes to ring crew. I mostly train on my own and one of the downsides to that is that Hokey only rarely gets exposure to working in an environment where there are other people and dogs. She is a social butterfly with people and, because of her deafness, if she locks onto someone and wants to visit, I can't call her off if she's not looking at me. I dropped into group class with her last week to see where we are with her visiting issue so I can be prepared when we do some
trialing this fall. I asked people to sit in the ring while she ran in order to simulate a trial environment with ring crew. She did do some visiting, but it was very brief and she came right back and worked. In fact, she was pretty much on fire and focused *most* of the time. So, we have a little something to work through, but the only way to do that is to get out there among the people and try to run our hearts out.

These are a couple of months old - we're doing a full height frame now and generally not using "crutches" on the contact equipment - but here we are doing some training back in June. The first video shows Hokey doing a frame-flip-tunnel for the first time and then running some sequences:

And here we are working on her running dogwalk into the weaves:

Ollie and Poppy have been busy gearing up for their first nose work trials. Yes, that's plural; trial with an "s". Since at a nosework trial, the hides remain in the same location for all the dogs entered, a handler can only work one dog per trial. I've been waiting around for a trial to come along since they both passed their ORT in early March. Nothing cropped up around here until recently - two nose work trials, one at the end of September and one at the end of October. It was the luck of the draw, literally, that I was fortunate enough to get both dogs into those 2 trials. The entry for both trials was random draw. Ollie was selected for the one in September and I know the
waitlist (those who were picked in the random draw AFTER the ~35 spots available were filled) was at least 27 dogs long since that's where a friend of mine ended up. I'm not sure how long the waitlist was for the trial that Poppy got into in October other than a vague email statement saying "there is a long waitlist". So luck was definitely with me. I still have no explanation as to why my numbers didn't come up in the big PowerBall lottery at that time. I mean, I was on a roll!

I've been working on a TON of foundation training with Sprout. He's like working with Hokey x10. Months of the kind of foundation training I did with her have been compressed into weeks. Not because I'm trying to rush him, but because he learns crazy quick!
Playing the Mountain Climbing Game on the Frame
An example - I've brought him along to the building where I train Hokey twice now. By the 2nd time, he'd already mastered an automatic down on the table through pure shaping. I don't even have that with Hokey yet! (To be fair, being that she is deep-chested, has no fur, and not an ounce of fat on her body, so can be a somewhat reluctant about going into the down position on a hard surface because it is a bit uncomfortable for her). I'm thinking of starting his weave training soon just to give him something new and exciting to learn while we continue to work on building his foundation. I won't be doing a lot of separate posts on foundation training topics as Sprout progresses because I feel like I've just recently "been there, done that" with Hokey. Here are a few videos taken at different points during the last few weeks though. I can't believe this dog has been with me for less than two months!

Learning "back"/rear end awareness:

Playing with the tunnel:

Some Basic 2 jump/tunnel Handling:

Front-cross box work:

Pinwheel foundation training:

More pinwheels - only the 2nd time working them, 2 weeks after the pinwheel foundation session:

We'll be checking in with reports from our agility and nose work road adventures, as well as Sprout's training progress. Hoping I won't feel pulled in too many different directions!