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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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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