99 Problems

99 Problems

“99 Problems” was the longest search in the Turner Trials and in retrospect, it was the most difficult and most fun search that Iona and I have ever had the pleasure to run!

Jeff named this search “99 Problems” because we had 9 minutes to find 9 hides in an absolutely HUGE search area. I could write this blog post about so many topics regarding this search (productive vs. unproductive areas, elevated hides, scent theory, or how to structure a large search). However, I will talk about distractors, because this was our major obstacle with this search and one that we overcame quite well.  

When we finished the search, Jeff said to me, “you get an A for reading your dog, and a C for counting hides”.  Let me talk about my C first.  I did not set my timer on my watch at the start line.  I also got a little overwhelmed and could not remember how many hides I found.  Total rookie mistake, but it worked out ok.  

He also gave me some advice on the score sheet.  He said, don’t let your speed add to your dog’s speed.  I general, I try not to run behind Iona, if I am running (not just fast walking), then I know that she is moving too fast to pick up odor efficiently.  However, you will see me do a lot of running in this video.

In the beginning of the search, I reorient her to start her towards the building.  I don’t like to start her into a wide open area because she just builds momentum and keeps going faster and faster.  I want her to hit an object and work along it and hopefully hit a hide quickly.  This worked out well for us.  

At 0:45, you see a large COB and she dashes between the railing.  Here I misread her.  She was on odor, I don’t know why I moved her on, because my plan was to work the buildings, but I did.  I think that my nerves were a little high at this moment.  

1:43, I just could not believe that there was a hide here (I think because Jeff said we did not need to go up the slide during the briefing.  Good thing Iona stuck around till 1:50.   

2:28, You can’t see it, but she found a rock with pee on it and I moved her along. 

3:25, I had to actually check the ground here to make sure, but yep, just bird poop.  However, I remember thinking that this spot was worth checking again if I had time. 

4:55 – 5:00, See that high head as she works along the edge of a bush.  Gotta be LIZARD HUNTING TIME!

5:10, This was a really cool puzzle.  You can see her show vague interest in the picnic bench, but it was clear by 5:30, that the hide was coming from somewhere else.  I think this was actually the only time that I solved a puzzle before Iona!

6:10, She wants to go L, but I take her R.  I should have let Iona lead the way on this one. 

6:56, Now this is painful, in video, she was clearly on odor (there was a hide here) and I pulled her off, assuming that she was in a scent cone that she had already found.  Watching these videos, it is painfully obvious that Iona has an extremely good memory for scent cones and if she wants to follow a scent cone, the chances are extremely high that it is attached to a hide that she has not found yet.  This is the lesson that I will learn from watching this video. 

8:05, We spooked a live rat here!  So I turned her around to keep her from chasing it and thus missed a hide back there.  This was just bad luck. 

8:25, I am just so proud of how Iona worked this hide.  You can see her panting, yet she is just working it so hard.  She knows that it is elevated and is checking all the signs. As she gets close to the pole, she runs out of odor because it is shooting over her head and so turns around and rounds up some more, this time coming in higher and SOURCES THE HIDE! what an exciting finish, what a good dog!

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Here are our last searches from the Turner Trials.  These were back to back searches that seem fairly simple at first glance. However the catch was, we did not have a walkthough nor did we know the time limit.  So it was a bit surprising when we heard “30 second warning” called after only 15 seconds of searching.  Honestly, I would not have run this search any differently if I had known the time limit.  However, it would have been nice to know just how many grains were left in my hour glass.  When Iona caught odor, I knew it was a crack hide and I knew that she just needed time to source it, while she found the hide right after “time” was called, I am still very proud of her for this search. 

The search area was a big circle.  Ramona recommended running our dogs through the middle of the search area.  However, I feel that this strategy would only work well for this particular set up (where the hide was in the middle).  I prefer to run Iona around the perimeter in a clockwise fashion as I feel it is the most efficient way to cover a search area like this. If you go down the center than you will be slicing the search area like cutting a pizza, but if you go around the edge, she can pick up any odor that is in the center and work it from there. 

Watch Iona work the scent cone from this crack hide, it is almost a perfect wedge!

The second search was another speed search where we did not know the exact time allotted (however by this time, I had an idea that it would be short).  
While Iona was phenomenal on this second search (watch her catch odor at 1:15 and alert at 1:23!), It took a bit of handling skill speed this search up so that we did not time out.  After the first hide, she immediately moves down wind and out of bounds in the second hide’s scent cone.  This is classic Iona.  She likes to explore the edges of the scent cone and we just did not have time for it here so I changed her direction at 1:31.  Luckily, she stayed in odor (even though she is running) and finds the second hide.  Watch her do the same thing AGAIN for the third hide!  In a training situation, I would let her chase that odor and take as long as she needed to figure out the puzzle, however here, I knew that we did not have time for that.  I am lucky that she was able to stay in the scent cone when I turned her around both times. 

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The most important searching game

Scent Work Basics

Scent Work should be fun for our dogs! They can learn all the skills of this game with a low pressure game using their own toys.  To play this search game, all you will need to do is play with your dog using a toy and then have them wait, and then hide the toy a short distance away.  When they get the toy, make a big fuss, play with them some more, and give them a treat.  This is Iona’s favorite game, and I have played it with her thousands of times.  It never gets old because the toys are always hidden in different locations.  It is important to understands the concepts of scent work when hiding these toys though.  Keep them accessible.  Elevated will be harder than ground level, corners more difficult than thresholds, etc.  You can actually set some very difficult puzzles for your dogs with this game.  I also feel that this was a good way to teach Iona to be more versatile for what she was searching for.  She can play this with any toy, or really any object now (such as my wallet), all I need to do is show it to her once and she will go and find it.  
Obviously, you will not use the same search cue and start line for this game that you use with scent work. 
Iona has been playing this game since she was a tiny puppy.  Here is a really cute video of a young Iona playing this game.  She was a lanky teenager in this video, wearing boys’ dinosaur underwear because she was in her first heat cycle!  Look, her nose used to be black!

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Red Rock River

Red Rock RIver

On April 27, Iona and I participated in one day of the Turner Trials.  Here is our first search of the day.  We had 3.5 minutes to find 2-5 hides.  Also, one boundary of the search area was a swimming pool. I was a bit apprehensive going into this search, because I honestly did not know how Iona would perform.  However, Iona took the lead and found 4 hides quickly and then we cleared the rest of the search area, eventually finding the last one. 

At the beginning of the video, you can see me start my watch.  Good Boy! The wind is blowing toward the camera here. 

Iona caught odor immediately off the start line (0:19) and veered toward the metal cart thingy.  When she started trying to crawl under it, I knew that the hide was innaccesible and safely called alert.  Ramona said a lot of teams got stuck here.   

She then just kept on nailing hides one after another.  I think that we had four hides before a minute was finished.  The fourth hide we found was actually pretty cool, she caught odor on the other side of the fence and we had to go around to source it.  I had to read this situation correctly and guide her through it (although Ramona was taking alerts on the other side of the fence). 

Hides like the first 4 (large scent cones, fairly low, without much convergence, without pooling) are really Iona’s jam.  Her sweet spot is racing from hide to hide at top speed.  Her strategy for searching is just to run until she she hit a scent cone so it is nice when there are big distinct scent cones.  The high wind really helped us here by creating these huge scent cones and then blowing away all the pooling odor.

The hide placement here (and throughout the trial), show how well these judges understand scent theory, they used the consistent wind to create these wonderful puzzles for our dogs to solve. 

For the last hide, we basically had to search the whole area again till we found it.  Note how I had her search down wind from the entire search area to catch a hide that may have been along the edge of the search area (which went halfway out into the grass).

I should note that Iona is scared of pools, you can see a little of this at 2:39 and 2:52.  However, when she is working, she has her superhero cape on!

Eventually we located the last hide.   You can see her COB at 3:04.  This scent cone was much smaller than the others because the hide was trapped in a neoprene sleeve and Iona really had to be in just the correct spot to hit odor.

Overall, Iona just nailed this search.  What a dog!

Enjoy the video, Stephanie and Matt Reed shot it and edited it.  You can find their website here. Incidentally, they have a handsome male French Brittany named Nero!

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Yay Prik!

Paprika and Fran High in Trial!

On Saturday, my training partner Fran Bryan went High in Trial with her girl Paprika!  I am so proud of both of them because they have worked hard to become a great scentwork team.   Fran is a phenomenal trainer and Prik is the best behaved dog that I have ever met.  She sticks close to Fran’s side no matter what because that is her nature.  So a lot of the scent work training with her has focused on confidence moving away from Fran and making the game fun and rewarding.  It all came together for them on Saturday’s AKC scentwork trial in Altadena (put on by the Scent Work Club of the San Gabriel Foothills).  Fran says, “I was super happy with her attitude!  She was whining and even doing a little bark at the starting line of each search and moved around without hesitation.  Even if she had not been fast, I would have considered it a win, because of how excited and confident her searching was”  But Prik was fast, fast enough to earn High in Trial! Here are her times and placements:
1st in Exterior: 7 seconds
3rd in Handler Discrimination:  25 seconds
3rd in Buried: 5 seconds
4rth in Container: 5 seconds
5th in Interior: 14 seconds

Prik and Fran

Here is are some fun videos of Iona, Soli, and Prik from a practice session a month or so ago. For this elevated hide, the wind was blowing straight at the hide blowing odor all over the place.  You can see that Soli and Iona get stuck in pooling odor while Prik has not problem with it at all!  It is always interesting to watch different dogs work the same hide. 

On this day, there was a huge flight of Painted Ladies (a butterfly).  Throughout the day, they were streaming by at a rate of 15-60 per minute. You can actually see them in these videos flying R to L!

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Turner Trial!

Turner Trial 2019!

The Turner Trials are three days of elite searches.  Penny Scott-Fox organizes these trials in memory of her late dog Turner.  This year, she managed to get access to the Dry Town Water Park in Palmdale! Needless to say, Jeff McMahon and Ramona Audette made full use of the large areas and steady desert wind to set some seriously devious hides.  These judges understand odor extremely well and while the searches were always difficult, they were never impossible.  

While I was unable to compete in all three days, I was lucky to be able to compete yesterday.  Iona earned a first, second, and third in her searches, first overall and the Best Teamwork award for the one day trial!  I went into this trial a bit nervous, as the last time that Iona had searched at an elite level was at last year’s Turner Trials…  I felt that it was important to set reasonable goals for the day and my personal goals were to give Iona time to source each hide and to make sure that she covered each search area.   I was extremely happy with our performance throughout and could not be more proud of my girl.

The first search of the day was called the Lazy River and was a medium sized area with a grass and concrete.  One side of the search area was bounded by a pool with steps leading down into the pool.  There were 2-5 hides in the area and we were given 3.5 minutes to clear the area.  Of course the pool was off limits, however the dogs could search right up to the edge of the pool.  Iona busted into this search area full of focused energy and proceeded to find four hides extremely quickly.  The last hide took us up to the 30 second warning and was found in the neoprene sleeve on the rail leading down into the pool. 

Jeff’s masterpiece was the next search. He named this “99 problems” because there were 9 hides and we had 9 minutes to find them. This search area was around the bottom of one of the slides and was absolutely HUGE.  By far the largest search area we have ever searched. The area was shaped like a boomerang with a grassy field on the left arm. Buildings, a shower, and the support beams for the stairs were in the center. On the R arm was the actual slide.  The back of this area was bounded by shrubs and a fence.  

There were a few things that I did wrong on this search:  I forgot to start my timer and forgot how many hides we had found.  I also could have organized the search a lot better.  However, I did a good job at letting Iona work each puzzle and calling alert correctly, I also did a good job at moving her through the empty areas and keeping her in the productive areas.  Finally I did a good job at reading her when she was not working but was rather smelling dog pee, bird poop, lizard hunting, or chasing a live rat (which she did at varying times during this search).  I was most proud of how we handled the two elevated inaccessible hides in this search, calling one right before time ran out!   In the end, we found 7/9 hides and earned a first!  I can not wait for this video! 

The last search of the day were back to back searches with an unknown number of hides and  unknown time limits.  The first search area was a large circle that was essentially blank (a few benches along the edges) with the wind to our backs.  We zipped along the edge working clockwise and 15  seconds into the search, the timer yelled “30 second warning”.  At that same time, she caught odor.  I knew it was a ground hide and she started working it up wind.  It was a nail biter, but she ended up sourcing it just a second or two after time ran out.  The second search was essentially the same except for we had a bit more time, this time she found three hides.  

Overall, this was such a great experience.  Iona and I left each search grinning and satisfied that we had been pushed to our limits.  Running elite searches like this is such a rush.  During the search, the rest of the world disappears and the only thing that matters is the connection between me and Iona, I react to every movement of hers and she to mine.  It is an intricate  dance at high speed where both of us take turns leading and following.  I am always humbled by her skill and enthusiasm for this sport, and I am lucky to have such an innately skilled partner. 

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New Sister!

New Sister!

Great news, Iona is a big sister!  She has been adapting really well to the new furless puppy that we brought home and has been extra sweet around her.  Whenever we come back from a walk, she searches the house for her and doesn’t give up until she gives her a quick sniff.

Lately Iona has been a little more bored than usual and she has been really into this new puzzle that I set up for her.  Basically, she works on getting her squeeky and wool tennis balls out of a narrow little bag.  Super easy and super fun.  Enjoy. 

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Masters High In Trial

High in Trial!

So proud of my girl for winning High in Trial in Masters AKC Scent Work last Sunday. The Scent Work Club of the San Gabriel Foothills put on an amazing trial at the beautiful Mountain View Mausoleum. Thanks to all the judges, volunteers, friends, and instructors who made this day possible. Iona’s searching was precise and fast all day and she even searched through a distracting lizard and some pooling odor in her last search of the day. She was the only dog to qualify in every search!

This is by far the coolest location that we have been able to search.  The Mausoleum is old, huge, and beautiful.  Luckily, Iona and I searched here last year for three days of Elite searches with the Turner Trials so she knew what to expect.  She looked extremely comfortable searching the areas and I could see her checking some areas where hides had been previously.  It is funny to reflect on how much we have grown as a team since last year!

At the Masters level, you do not know how may hides are in each search area, but you are given a range for each search (1-3 hides).  This makes the searches quite a bit harder than excellent.  Overall, all the hide placement was fair.  No super high hides, no deep inaccessibles, no converging odor.  The dogs ran Interiors to Containers to Exteriors. These ran back to back so the dogs ended up with 5 searches in a row.  This is probably the best case scenario for Iona as sometimes she just loses steam at a trial when she falls asleep in the car between runs. 

We started off on Saturday with an Interior Search. These searches are a bit of a math puzzle but basically, it is important to work out all the variations of hides before you step into the search.  There are can be between 1-3 hides and there can only be one blank room.  So with a Interior search with three rooms, you can have 3 hides or 2 hides total.  The first search area was a “T” and Iona found a hide in one arm and in the threshold and I quickly called finish. So this meant that one search area was blank and the other had a single hide.  She made it pretty clear that the second search area (a bit of hallway) was blank. Finally the last search area held one hide.  This hallway had a mop, and a statue with a chair in front of it.  Iona caught odor by the chair, moved up under the statue then sourced it to an electrical outlet in the wall.  This was probably one of her best searches in a trial ever. 

On the second day, she absolutely destroyed her HD masters search! This was two search areas.  One had two cotton balls and the other had one CB.  The first search area had a arc of boxes, some other stuff and some benches.  One hide was in a box and the other was under a bench.  The second search area was kinda like a container search with a bunch of household objects.  The hide was under a step stool.  On Saturday, the hide was under a fabric wagon and she could not find the scent cone.  I am guessing that none of the other dogs could either because no teams Q’d on that day.  I did a bit of training with her on this at home after the trial and it is really hard for her to find the scent cone when the hide is under the wagon.  

In Interiors on Sunday, the first search area was on a U shaped balcony which had two hides, one was slightly elevated threshold. The other was a floor level hide on the other side of a large U shaped balcony.  After finding the two hides, she did get a little sticky in some odor drifting over from the two hides, however I could tell that it was not sourcable and called finish.  The second search area was a blank hallway that was full of objects that seemed like they would have hides in them.  She made it abundantly clear that there was no hide in the hallway. 

Containers on Sunday had a food distractor in one of them.  She didn’t blink at that yet she falsed on containers on Saturday without the food distraction.  Go figure.  

Exteriors on Sunday was our hardest search.  The second she stepped outside the door, she started lizard hunting.  I took a second to get her focused and she was able to pull it together and search despite being distracted by the lizards in the search area.  She found the two hides relatively quickly then got distracted by a glob of pooling odor that was quite separate from either one of the hides.  It was hanging by a drain pipe but she never actually alerted on it.  I checked downwind from it for a crack hide and rechecked by threshold, checked the pooling odor again and called finish not really sure if it was the correct call or not. 

Running blind hides is scary, more so when you don’t even know the number of hides in the search area.  To run these hides successfully, you need to know what your dog looks like when they are not in odor, when they are in sourceable odor, and when they are in pooling odor that does not have a hide attached to it (this can be hard). 

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I just wanted to post a few videos of some of Iona’s favorite games.  This girl loves to play!  She plays so many silly games.  Many of them she makes up.  What you see here actually took a bit of work.  While she tugged a lot as a puppy, I had to work on my technique to get her back into the game as an adult dog.  I would love to get her tugging in all kinds of environments and that is something that we need to work on some more.  Long term, I would love to use the tug a reward for scent work, but I doubt that will happen with this dog as she has such a long history with getting rewarded with food.  However,  it is nice to use the tug for training in the house rather than food. 

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How to Train a Nose Press

How to Train a Nosepress

When people see Iona’s alert, they always wonder if it was trained or natural. The answer is that it was a little of both.  She was bred to point birds and she points at odor.  I just captured that point into a final alert.  Lots of dogs have different final alerts.  Some dogs scratch, others look back at their owner, some dogs bark or even lie down.  I personally like the nose press best out of all these options because is it the least destructive and it is very accurate.  However it is hard to train and it is not necessary.  Reading your dog well is a whole lot more useful that a nice nose press.  The thing about a final alert is that it is a conscious decision from the dog and they can false alert.  Waiting for a final alert is no substitute for reading your dog well. 

I have found that new handlers have a hard time teaching this skill AND they don’t really need it to be successful.  So for that reason, I have stopped teaching this in my intro classes and I am parking this lecture information here: 

To start, your dog should already be diving their nose toward the hide.  We will be shaping this behavior into a longer nose press.  Think about teaching your dog a duration behavior like a sit stay.  They have to know what you want from them first, then you just raise the criteria (length of the sit or the nose press) bit by bit.  You would never expect a puppy to perform a 5 min sit stay on their first training session, but rather, you would raise the bar by increments. 

We will be doing the same thing with the nose press, however our final goal will be to have them press for just a few seconds.  So as your dog dives their nose into the container, just wait a beat longer each time before saying “YES!”.  It is important to read your dog on this one and to reward them for the nose down behavior, not anything else.  If you wait to long, they can get frustrated and learn to scratch, head bob, or all other behaviors.  If they do pop, their head up, it is not the end of the world, don’t say “no”, just wait them out, they will put their head back down.  Check out the video at the end of the lecture for how to shape this.  Please note that the timing for this step can be VERY tricky.  Remember that Iona already knows the behavior in this video and if this video moves fast.  When you do this at home, you will have likely not be able to wait this long right off the bat, but rather it will take many reps to get there.  When in doubt mark the nose press earlier rather than later.

So in the two minutes that Iona is shuttling back and forward from this hot box, she does 9 nose presses.  I timed how long it took between her nose press and my “yes” call and this is what I found. 

1 – .44 sec
2 – .33 sec
3 – 1.03 sec
4 – .77 sec
5 – .94 sec
6 – 1.25 sec
7 – 1.57 sec
8 – 1.70 sec
9 – 1.63 sec

So that wait is really not long at all.  Iona can now wait for a really long time (5 seconds?) but if I had tried that when we were just getting started, I would have had one confused dog. 

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