Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Rainy Day and My Backyard-is-a-Bog Training

Hokey planted herself in front of the heat vent. It was cold!

This will be a short, but sweet post.
Between the weather being horrendously cold last week...
then snowing...
then warming up so dramatically the snow melted in less than a day...
then raining buckets...
so that my backyard has become a virtual bog,
I haven't had much opportunity to do any real training with Hokey.

What to do?

How about shaping a random behavior?
I am using a flashlight as my substitute clicker.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sniffer Workout

Since I haven't posted anything about nose work since last summer, it's time to catch up on how the dogs have been coming along with training their sniffers. We've made lots of progress! But first I should mention that I decided to focus on Hokey's agility training and not continue to train her in nose work at the moment. Since I unofficially retired Ollie from agility in November, it was time to step up his nose work training as a second career. He and Poppy are now both attending formal nose work class and sharing the time by alternating weeks.

Ollie's nose leading him to the target odor
Our last session of classes started out with vehicle searches using food. Then we moved inside to start introducing the dogs to working on searching odor. Then our class went on hiatus from December until mid-January. For the majority of that time, I was focusing on doing agility with both of the girls, but as the date for nose work class approached, I got my ass back into gear and stepped up my practice sessions to several times a week. Scent work is so natural for most dogs, it doesn't take long for them to get back in the swing of things after a break, but I definitely see a huge difference in their abilities when I can practice more often.

Poppy using the wall to help her pinpoint the location of the scent

Cotton swab with birch oil
The first scent introduced to the dogs is birch (essential oil of sweet birch, aka Betula lenta). The odor is prepared by cutting up Qtips and applying the oil to the cotton tip. Preparing many swabs at one time and then storing them in an airtight small jar, such as a baby food jar, helps retain the scent for a long time and prevents the odor from contaminating the area while not in use.

The main thing to keep in mind when working with odor is that you want to be careful when handling the oil or anything that comes in contact with the oil. You do not want to confuse your dog by contaminating areas of your house, or other places your dog may frequent, with birch scent. Disposable gloves are essential. You may want to use a set of tweezers to handle the Qtips when taking them out of the jar and placing them in the hide container and vice versa. Do your prep in an area with access to hot water and hand soap and wash your hands thoroughly, even when gloved, after handling the odor article. Dispose of gloves and anything else not to be put back in storage by placing them in a ziplock bag and throwing them in an outside garbage can in an area your dog does not have regular access to or by placing them in the freezer until trash day.
Supplies for preparing odor search: disposable gloves, odor-treated cotton swabs, a search container & hand soap

2 Containers: tube with hole in cap & metal tin
The Qtips treated with scent should be placed inside some sort of container as to not contaminate the search area. At this point in my dogs' training, I place 3 - 5 swabs in the container. Some examples of containers that can be used: a small screw top tin with holes in the lid, an empty chapstick container with a hole in the top, taping the swabs to a piece of cardboard then folding it over and taping the edges down to prevent direct access to the swabs, a plastic fast food ketchup container with a lid taped down and small holes punched in the lid, etc. You want to mix it up and use different types of containers so that the dog will learn to search for the birch scent and not "birch scent mixed with the metal scent of the tin" or "birch scent mixed with plastic and tape adhesive". 

My personal favorite container is the screw top tin. It has a powerful little magnet inside so I can stick the container to anything metal - door hinges, heating grates, appliances, dog crates, etc. I love it!

metal tin with holes in lid
magnet & swabs in tin bottom

Magnetic tin stuck to heating grate

We started the transition to working with odor by going back and working with searches in cardboard boxes and pairing the odor with food. The food was placed just in front of  the container holding the odor, so that when the dog found the food it would take in a whiff of the odor at the same time and start to associate the birch odor with the food reward. When rewarding the dog with additional treats upon the find, those treats would be thrown in the box as close to the odor as possible or by offering the treats to the dog by placing your partially closed hand directly in front of the container so that the dog is taking large whiffs while getting the reward. Once the dog associates the odor with the reward, you can start placing a hide or two using odor only and not pairing with food at the very end of your practice sessions. You need to be VERY quick in delivering your rewards for finds at this stage. Once you are getting good response to the odor only searches, you can start doing less pairing and more odor only searches.

Poppy locked in on the odor with her nose
 Right now, Poppy and Ollie are no longer using boxes to do odor searches. I just pick a floor of the house to work and place the hides in random places. I start out the sessions by doing 2 or 3 searches paired with food as a warm up, then switch over to pure odor searches. They are doing amazingly well and are proving to me that they now "get it" when working odor only.

Here is Ollie doing some odor only searches with the magnetic tin:

And Poppy doing the same:

Here is Poppy again, showing some real nose work sleuth work when trying to locate the odor underneath a blanket draped over the metal chair that the magnet is stuck to:

I hadn't ventured outside for any odor searches yet, but decided at the end of Poppy's session last Saturday to give it a try just to see how she'd do. There was a breeze, which made it somewhat challenging. It took her a little longer than the interior searches we've been working on, but she did succeed!

As you can tell from their enthusiasm while working and the smiles on their faces, Poppy and Ollie both love nose work. I strongly encourage anyone to give this activity a try with their dog. It is immensely rewarding to see your dog hone its strongest innate ability and work at something with so much joy!

We started back up with class tonight by doing some mock odor recognition test (ORT) runs on closed containers. So look for more nose work posts in the future as we work toward the ORT and then getting ready to compete in nose work trials.