Front Door Safety

Front Door Safety

Keeping our dogs safe at the front door is important.  I remember one time when I was living in Arizona, I was watching a friend’s dog and this dog escaped through the front door and took me on a mile long chase through the snow.  Every time I got close, he would just run a bit farther away. It was terrifying.  No one wants their dog to run off when the door is opened and no one wants to be constantly blocking the door like a goalie.  So with Iona I have worked on front door etiquette.  It has payed off because I can leave the house with my arms full and not have to worry about her sneaking out.  If she does run outside of the house to greet someone, I know that she is going to come right back inside.  These are some of the strategies that I have used.  If you have concerns about your dog’s safety when practicing these, just put them on a long line so that they can’t go far.  Also you could practice all these strategies for back door before moving to the front door.  Finally, I have shown a progression here that Iona has already worked through, if you haven’t done any of this work with your dog, you will just need to take each step slowly.  I rush through the steps quickly in the videos.    

1. Place.  I am guessing that most people do this already.  When someone is coming into the house, Iona has a specific place where she goes to (the stairs).  The nice thing about this place is that there is a baby gait at the foot of the stairs.  I will often just close it so that people can come in, get settled and close the door before I let Iona in to greet everyone.  Sometimes guests just hang out in the doorway without closing the front door and she will not wait forever. 

2.  Whenever I leave the house to go to work, I leave Iona a Whimzee (dental chew).  Before she gets it, she goes to her bed and waits.  I then throw it on the ground and right before I leave the house I tell her “ok” and then she can eat it.  This is nice because it keeps her from being underfoot as I am getting my stuff together to leave for the day.  

3. She has also practiced waiting while I leave with the front door open.  Obviously, just work your dog at their level.  You might just need to work on opening the door over and over and over for a while till you progress to the next level.  You can see her start to peek her nose outside at 0:57.  I just close the front door gently and start over.  No big deal.  She will get it the next time.  The next step here would be for me to just leave for longer periods of time, but that would be a pretty boring video. 

4.  Next we want to teach our dog that going BACK in the house is fun.  This is important for if they do escape.  If you have a pre-set routine for going in/out of the house, then you already have a strategy in place if they do get out!

5.  Finally, make a game out of it!  We have played so many silly games revolving around the front door.  We have played chase games, scent work games, tug games, retrieve games.   But there are these underlying rules:  I let her know when she is ok to go out to play the game,  I ask her to run back in the house, then the game starts over again.  Here is an example of a quick game of fetch. You can see me refining her concept of where exactly she needs to wait throughout the game.

I hope this is helpful.  Please let me know if you have any other ideas!

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With her new titles last weekend, Iona will now be competing in the Masters class at AKC scent work trials.  In addition to Birch, Anise, and Clove, this means that she now gets to search for a new odor: CYPRESS!  This is how I introduced it to her.  I am sure that I could have just set a Cypress hide for her but I wanted to make sure that she understood that Cypress was a new target odor, so I went through this whole process from start to finish.  It did not take long.  Here are the steps that I took: 

1. First I purchased Cypress oil and new green tins.  I get mine from K9noseworksource. Next I added the oil to a bunch of q-tips and a cotton ball in a jar.  I made them extra strong.  I let them sit for a day.

2. Then I put the scented q-tips in the new green tins and added them to my pelican case where I store all my birch/anise/clove hides for easy access. I let those all mix together for a day. 

3.  Then today, I ran some regular outdoor multiple hide searches with the Birch, Anise, and Clove from the Pelican Case.  
4. When I got home, I set up a single switch box with just Cypress.  This is what it looked like.  Yes, those are tortilla chips, sometimes you gotta pull out all the stops for high value treats.

5. Then we played the shell game with Cypress as the hot box.  

6. Finally, I set some easy hides using just the Cypress tin.  I ran her on about twice as many, but I just did not video tape them all.  Next, when I practice with her, I will set the Cypress as single hide searches for a day or so and then just start using them equally with all the other target odors.

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Today, Iona and I went to a AKC Excellent trial at a school in Altadena CA.  This was the first trial held by the San Gabriel Foothills Scent Work Club, and they did a phenomenal job.  I had three students in the large group of novice dogs which ran in the morning and they all performed really well!  It is so rewarding to turn on other teams to this sport!

Our first search was Handler Discrimination.  We had done a bunch of warm up searches at this point and Iona was really revved up.  While she picked up odor immediately it  took her a while to source this one.  It is interesting because you can see her bracketing this like she would an inaccessible.  However she does eventually find source.  Usually when she finds the cotton ball in trials, she grabs it with her mouth, spits it on the ground and alerts on it.  When I called alert, I could see her straining to nibble at (what I assumed) was an edge of my cotton ball deep in that tire.  What a cool search area! 

Next, we waited a little then ran Interior.  At this level, you have three hides but two rooms.  You have to clear the first room first and it can have either one or two hides in it.  This is actually a pretty neat way to work up to unknown number of hide searches.  Iona busted into this search with a lot of energy and did a lap around the search area.  I find that it is best to just let her get this out of her system, and I would rather her be a bit too aroused than lethargic.  You can see that I do let her out of bounds a few times here.  She often picks up odor out of bounds and it is just so much easier to let her keep moving (in a small room like this), than try to finagle her back to the search area.  You can’t see the second hide here, but it was a pretty deep inaccessible in a cabinet, and she showed some nice bracketing before settling into her alert. 

The second room was a long vestibule with cubbies and then a bathroom.  There was no room for videotaping.  Iona cleared the vestibule, then alerted on a Q-tip on the floor by a shelf in the bathroom.  I actually didn’t see the q-tip so waited a second and then she moved her position to where the hide had originally been.  I guess a dog before had knocked the q-tip out.

Next up was buried hides.  We haven’t been seriously training for this, so I did not expect much, but figured it was worth a shot.  She ran into the search area and checked the distractor a few times and eventually caught odor on the ground.  I called alert and got a “no”.  I talked with the judge afterwards and he told me to expect changes to this class in March.  My understanding was that he was implying that I should wait on training Iona in buried hides. 

After a break, we ran Exteriors.  She caught odor from the start line and delicately sourced the first hide.  I knew that she knew where it was, but I wanted to give her the time that she needed to source it accurately.  You can see that swinging wide here works well for us again.  It is always funny when she busts out of the search area and takes the judges and the photographers by surprise.  This happens a lot.  The second hide was in the base of the umbrella and the last hide was buried in the planter. 

Our last search of the day is containers.  Watch at 0:20 where she decides to start searching the rest of the room.  This is actually happens frequently when she is searching in a big room like this.  She ALWAYS just wants to search the entire room.  So overall, she could have been a bit more focused, but I am super proud of her searches.  She eared a 1st on her interior search, and second on her HD and Exterior searches.  Now on to Masters!

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Startline Strategies

Startline Strategies

A good startline routine is important for a successful search.  The startline should be reproducible so that your dog knows what is going to happen, yet it is important to keep it flexible to account for variations in searching conditions.  When I start Iona on a search, I imagine that I am firing a rocket.  I need to have the right power and the correct trajectory to get the job done.  

Lets talk about power first.  First you need to tell how much gas your dog has in the tank (arousal).  I know that during trials, Iona generally has lower arousal (because she has been sleeping in the car for hours), however when we are training with friends in areas that she is familiar with, her arousal is higher.  You can (and should) do plenty of things to change your dogs arousal before you walk to the startline so that they are not lagging or bubbling over.  However, you can have an effect on the speed at which they explode into the search area by how you start them.  I have found that by holding Iona back, she really shoots into the search area.  I do this more for trials or when she is lagging.  If she is already ramped up to an 11 or obviously is 100% ready to work and focused, I will sometimes just touch her harness or even do a walking start.  Here is an example of a walking start.  Check how I put some drag on the leash to make sure that she hits that first container.  

As I alluded to above, it is important to send your dog in the correct direction.  If you have the luxury of a wide start line, then be strategic about where you start and where you send your dog.  I try to direct her to an object that is in the front of the search area.  If she hits that object, she will often continue to work nicely.  Often momentum just carries her away when I start her in an open area.  This is why I started her to the R instead of straight ahead.  In this search you can see me fumbling with my watch a bit, it is good to practice timing yourself before your searches if you plan on doing so during the trial. 

Another interesting observation is that if Iona perceives that the search area is small, she will search smaller.  However, she runs big when she thinks the search area is wide open.  Check out the difference in these back to back searches.  Watch her run past all the cars, what a nut!

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AKC Excellent Trial Acton

Today, Iona and I competed in the Valley Hills Obedience Club AKC Scent Work trial in Acton.  Overall it was great. It started at 09:30, easy drive, easy parking, lots of space, respectful competitors, low stress, and good hides.  This was actually two trials in one, so we were able to get a bunch of runs in.  Iona was really spectacular in all her searches.  She was super fast and efficient and placed first in at least 4 classes (I did not stay for the results of the second trial).  I just wanted to briefly talk about the searches to give a heads up to anyone that might be trialling at this level. There are food and toy and dog smell distractors in each search area but you could always see them. 

We did not enter buried hides for a few reasons:  Iona and I have not been practicing them, at this level buried hides are in the ground and I have some concern about valley fever, and I suspected that the ground might be super hard, making for near impossible hides.  Indeed, the ground needed to be drilled to make burials and for the first trial, no dogs Q’d.  I did not stay around for the results of the second trial. 

1. Our first search was Interiors.  In Excellent, you have two rooms with a total of three hides.  There are no blank rooms.  That means that one room will have two and the other will have one.  You will need to call finish after each room.  This was a fun search.  The first room was a kitchen, and Iona buzzed through the out of bounds area to pick up odor and work it to an elevated hide (3 -4 feet) on the island.  She quickly picked up the next hide which was inaccessible in some cabinets.  The second room the women’s bathroom and the hide was in the hinge of the stall door. This one was interesting because I could tell that she was on odor in the vestibule before the start line at the entrance to the bathroom, instead of muscling her to the doorway, I took a step back and said start.  She started working the pooling odor in the vestibule and by the time she crossed the start line, she was moving straight toward the hide! If you do try something crazy like this, make sure that you cross the start line as well as your dog!  You will get faulted if you do not cross the startline. 

2. Containers was two long lines.  They consisted of all manner of things, fabric bags, sleeping bags, tackle boxes,  I don’t even know what.  Iona alerted in three of them pretty quickly. 

3. I felt that the Exterior search was pretty close to the buried section and at the start line to exteriors.  The search area was an L shape composed of the side of a building bounded by a sprinter van with some chairs and stuff.  I could tell that she had caught odor from the buried hides which were about 15 feet away.  However, i pointed her in the right direction and she quickly picked up a threshold which was under a pile of wood and then a converging odor hide in a crack of the wall which made up the boundary. She then started working the wall of the building and found another (somewhat) elevated hide (about 3 feet) .

4. Next up was Handler Discrimination.  This is self serve, so I take off her harness and I use her regular leash.  I also did some practice searches around the parking lot right before we went up to run the real search so she knows that she is not looking for odor.  The search area was an outdoor hallway bounded by the building and some big plants.  There were two benches in the search area and the hide was under one of them.  She just reached underneath and ripped it off and spat it down on the ground. I did not teach her this, but it sure makes calling alert easy. 

5.  For the second trial, we were the first dog up for Exteriors.  I could tell this was going to be a tricky area because there were a three lines of picnic tables pretty close together.  Picnic tables are hard for us because she zips through them really quickly.  The area had some old benches, some rocks, a shed.  She seemed to be lost for a while, but I think she was just a little slow getting into her grove.  She had been snoozing for a long time before I got her out of the car and ran her straight over to this search.  However, eventually, she did find all three hides. 

6. The next interior was a little more tricky, now the vestibule and the men’s bathroom were the search area.  She located the first hide in the toilet paper dispenser, though there was a bunch of pooling odor in the bathroom, she stated re working the same hide a few times before being convinced that she had already sourced it.  The second hide was an inaccessible on a podium type water cooler.  Iona had a hard time sourcing this one and I had to bring her around to the other side to get on to source. 

The second “room” was really just half of the big room which was delineated with cones.  This was a big circle of about 40 chairs.  Iona ran around the circle a bunch without finding much until she finally caught odor as the judge was calling 30 second warning. She worked odor from under a chair, to the backrest and finally to a closed closet door.  I called alert and finish with about a second to spare.  This was a pretty tough hide and I felt that the times for these interior searches were a bit stingy. 

7.  This Container search was a long “J” shape.  Iona alerted on the first box and after I called it, I blurted “finis…”  the judge did not stop the search but I was sufficiently shaken up enough to not notice that when I though she was re-alerted on a box, it was actually a different box! Oh well. This is the beauty of AKC trials, if this was an NACSW trial, I would be beating myself up ruthlessly, however, because all of her other amazing searches still count, I can just chalk it up as a learning experience. 

8. The last search was another HD search.  This time the cotton ball was stuck to a car.  I though that it was going to be tricky, but she found it in three seconds.   With this search, she earned her Scent Work Handler Discrimination Excellent Title!  Now on to masters!

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Three Hides High Wind

Three Hides, High Wind

Iona and I were practicing three hide searches today in preparation for an AKC excellent trial this coming weekend.  Danielle set these hides for us and I did not know where they were.  The conditions were a little unique for Santa Barbara, the wind was high, and this area was sheltered, forming quite a lot of swirling.  You can see Iona caught the first and second hides quickly. However she started to cast about pretty wide for the third hide and I brought her back into the search area. The most interesting moment in the search occurred at 0:55 when she stuck her nose in a hole and paused for a second.  At the time, it was really obvious to me that this was not an alert and I did not call it.  However, when I watch this video, it does not seem all that obvious.  Why do you think that I didn’t blurt “alert” on this one?  

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NW3 Interior Search

NW3 Interior Search

This was Iona’s search from her recent NW3.  Since there are an unknown number of hides and the max number is three, finding three is such a relief.  This was a really solid search from Iona and I was really proud of her.  You can see her first catch odor at 0:24. However, she does not source it.  Rather, she makes a few big loops around the room.  This is pretty normal for her as she likes to move and I find that it is best to let her swing wide to pick up odor instead of trying to restrain her to the search area.  You can see a sharp COB around 0:54, when she hits on the trash can.  Watch how I start to back up as she sources.  This is important because it takes the pressure off her and gives her space to source.  The judges reported that the third hide gave dogs the hardest time because it was in a transition zone where dogs were not really searching.  I felt that these hides (and all of the hides in the trial) were more than fair.  They were all nose height or below.

 Originally, I felt that the scent cones in this search were not overlapping, however after watching these videos a few times, I think I figured out why Iona left the first hide and why so many dogs had difficulty with the third hide.  This is a big converging odor puzzle!!!  Iona leaves the first hide because she catches strong odor from the trash can hide on the far side of the room!  Watch her pull me hard as I barely make it around the rocking chair! (0:39).  Although her loop looks random, she is really just rounding up odor to source it!  Next, she immediately returns to the startline and finishes up where she left off, quickly sourcing the threshold hide.  Now the third hide is being overshadowed by the powerful trashcan hide which she passed several times without picking up.  She is only able to find it after excluding the other two hides!  As a result, a dog that has not practiced searching through converging odor and keeps returning to previously found hides might have a hard time with this last one.

Here is another angle on the same search.  Since Iona is a fast dog, I am constantly working the leash to keep it above her head and to keep the correct amount of distance from her.  Note how many times I let the leash out and pull it back during this relatively short search!

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Done with NW3s

I am done with NW3s

 Iona and I competed in our second NW3 yesterday (11/24/18).  I had been anxious about this trial all week long and really was stressed throughout the day.  As usual, Iona was phenomenal.  However, she was not perfect and we did not title.  This experience really crystalized a feeling that I have been having for some time now:  I am done with NW3s (and for that matter NACSW).  

First off, I want to make a few things clear.  NACSW is a phenomenal organization that is responsible for getting thousands of dogs into the sport.  Without NACSW, Iona and I would never have even known about this sport!  I owe them a lot.  NACSW consistently has quality trial locations and judges.  I also want to give a shout out to Agile Paws who put on the trial and all the volunteers who helped.  It really was a tremendous trial.  My real issue is the NW3 rules. For a team to pass their NW3, they need to be perfect all day.  They run 6 searches: a container, a vehicle, an exterior, and 3 interior searches.  All searches have an unknown number of hides. Interiors have between 0 and 3 while the others have between 1 and 3.  Finally, you do not know the results of the day until all the teams have run every search at the end of the day.  This is stressful. Titling is difficult because the margin for error is very small.  As a result, few teams pass.  There were two out of 35ish teams at yesterdays trial that titled.  There is also a significant bottle neck effect.  To move on to Elite trials (which have arguable more lenient rules), your dog must get three NW3 titles.  As a result, there are long wait lists.  We have entered close to 10 NW3s and have gotten into two of them.  One both of our NW3 attempts, we missed one hide.  Sigh.  

I practice nosework with my dog because it is fun for her.  I compete in the sport, because it is fun for me and because it is good to test my training.  I learn from my mistakes, so that we can become a better team.  I have competed in about 25 trials with NACSW, AKC, and USCSS.  I am always a little nervous going in, however I am almost always able to change nervousness to excitement and then to happiness as Iona runs.  But it feels different with these NW3s.  Maybe it was the long waits to get into the trials, the mind games of not knowing how I did after the searches, or just the frustration of feeling like all of her great searches were wiped out by a small mistake.  But NW3s are not fun. 

Luckily, there are other alternatives.  While the AKC program is new and the judges are still not super consistent everywhere.  I can say that I have had great experiences with the clubs in my area.  Furthermore, they are closer, held more often and there are no wait lists.  Most importantly, you do not need to Q in every element to title.  Each element is separate.  This is great because it really lowers the stress levels.  If yesterday had been an AKC trial, I would be walking away with three legs.  Finally, NACSW is very strict about keeping dogs in their kennels/cars throughout the trial, they only leave for potty breaks.  For an active dog like Iona, this is very difficult.  At the AKC trials, Iona and I go for long walks after she searches, and hang out by the car. We even visit with friends.  I know that there are a lot of teams stuck in NW3 limbo, to those teams, I would recommend giving AKC a shot.  All you have to lose is your vehicle search!


I should probably give you the low down on the trial.  This was held at a church.  It was put on by Agile Paws.  The club, the CO, the judges, and the volunteers were awesome. It was a nice location and the temperature was cool with somewhat overcast skies all day.  Slight breeze.  There was a really tight parking lot and the potty area was right behind the cars.  The dogs were not allowed to leave the parking area.  Iona was 8th in the running order.  She was eager to search but not overaroused.  She really was phenomenal.  

The first search was an interior with three hides.  I was so thankful that Iona found all three quickly.  What a relief.  This was a large room with a small reception area, tables and chairs, and a cubicle.  Lots of stuff.  I wasn’t too concerned about this search area.  My strategy was to treat each little area as a separate area and make sure that they were clear.  Iona picked up odor near the start line but then left it to push all the way to the back of the search area. I let her go and after a few looping passes, she found her first hide in the back of the room on the lip of a trash can.  The then returned to the threshold which was in a filing cabinet near the threshold.  The third hide was under a bookshelf along the wall in between the two.  The judge said that if teams worked the area linearly, dogs missed that hide.  No problem there.  Iona does not do linearly. 

Second search was exterior.  I felt that this would be the most difficult search.  It was a large outdoor area with tables and chairs (the waffle kind that let air through).  4 large columns with a roof thingy, a entrance way and some plants, hose bib, and chairs near it.  I started Iona towards the wall where she quickly found a hide under a chair. Then she just worked pooling odor for the next 2 min and 30 seconds.  I correctly figured out that this was from the first hide.  Proud of myself on that one, however, I felt that there might have been another hide and did not know if I made the correct call till the end of the day. 

Next up was vehicles.  Three cars, one in front of another, and the third off to the side.  Iona fond a hide on the license plant of the first car in about 10 seconds and then wanted to search the rest of the cars in the parking lot.  I made her search the other two again and again until time ran out.  

The following two rooms were very small and Iona found a single hide in each of them.  At this point I was thinking that something was up.  Single hides for the last four searches?  We must have missed a hide somewhere.  

Our last search was containers. They were different boxes in a big loop around some children’s play equipment.  Again, I had to kinda muscle Iona to the boxes as she wanted to search the whole area.  However she found the two hides and then…. falsed on a single tortilla chip in a box.  This is pretty weird because we have been training this A LOT.  But….she does love tortilla chips.  I think if I had waited another beat, she might have moved along, however she was in such a grove up to that point that I was just trusting her fully.  Oh well. 

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Blank Room Comparison

Blank Room Comparison

Last weekend, I attended a great seminar with the amazing Julie Symons. I highly recommend her classes at FDSA.  One of the more interesting lessons was a blank room comparison where we ran a blank room, and then later ran a regular search in that same room.  Here are Iona’s two searches for comparison.  
In the blank room search, it is interesting to note that she never really stops moving or hones in on an area.  She can seem like she is in odor sometimes, because when there is no odor, she starts working harder to vacuum up any stray molecule.  She also starts checking deeper into corners and starts popping up more and more often as the search gets longer and longer.  After I called finish, I gave her a treat even though she did not find anything. 
For the regular hide search, she gets on odor almost instantly and starts sourcing.  In a room this small, I would expect her to find a hide in about 20 seconds.  She does the same with the second hide.  After that, she actually looks pretty similar to how she looked in the blank room search (moving and moving without stopping).  I purposefully overworked her a bit in both of these searches because I figure that I will do that in a trial and I want to know what her limit is before she falses.  In retrospect, I should have stretched the blank room search out to 3 minutes to see what she would have done.  

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Lofting Effect


Fran Bryan set some blind hides for me today and I ran them as the sun was setting.  This search ended up being much harder than expected and the way that Iona ended up sourcing the hide completely blew my mind.  I believe that this is an interesting example of the lofting effect.  You can find an excellent description HERE.  The wind was moving from R to L in this video.  The reason that the scent is rising is that the ground is cooling quickly but the air still stays warm.  As a result, the relatively warm air is rising.  On that day, this search area was the only one with this strange scent conditions and I originally thought that this was an example of the chimney effect.  However after seeing this effect happen several times with night time searches, I am fairly certain that what we are seeing here is lofting. 
You can see that Iona searches right underneath the hide without picking up odor and eventual sources it by climbing up on the table to catch the rising odor. She then follows it down from there.  You can see her trying to get high up earlier in the search but she can’t quite catch odor. Note that I have sped up the first 2/3 of the search to save you some time. 

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