The golden years of nose work

I started doing Nose Work with my dog Spiffy back in 2010, when it first hit the New England region (like a ton of bricks, I might add). Mostly I wanted something fun and relaxing to do with my dogs, and this really fit the bill. Spiffy is a mixed breed rescue dog. I’ve had him for 11 years, since he was about two years old.

Spiffy NW3, L1I, L1E

Spiffy NW3, L1I, L1E

Spiffy and I trained with Gail McCarthy, CNWI ( from the very beginning. It was a good thing she used wooden boxes, because he is one mouthy son-of-a-gun. To say he is enthusiastic about nose work would be a gross understatement. It has been both a challenge and a blast to train him for the sport, and has really strengthened the bond between us.

He passed all of his ORTs on the first try, despite giving me a heart attack on the Anise round in Seekonk. Then he surprised me by earning his NW1 on the first try with a High in Trial and Harry Award. He earned his NW2 on the first try also, plus a bonus one. And now we are onto the NW3 Elite title, with two NW3 titles down and one to go.

Our tenth attempt at NW3 was last Saturday, on lovely Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Our previous attempt had been just one hide shy of the title. I was excited about the Mashpee trial, but also tired and a little stressed about work and travel plans. Despite my best efforts to envision a positive outcome, I kept falling into the “I’m not sure how we’ll do today” line of thinking. I just was not fully “there” for my dog.

Our first two searches of the day were vehicles and containers. Spiffy was the first dog on the line in our group. I made sure he was well pottied before we headed out.

Our vehicle search was 3 vehicles, situated on a slight incline. I believe we had 3:00 minutes (maybe 3:30) to search them. There were 2 hides, and we got them both but one was a bit tricky. Here’s the video of our search:

Next up was containers, in the building right next to our vehicle search. It was pretty straightforward, but this is where I blew it. We got the hide correctly, but then he indicated pretty strongly on a bag with a distraction. I learned later that it was a muffin wrapper. I guess we’ll have to work a bit more on distractions. Here’s our debacle:

After a bit of a break, during which we both took a nap in my car, we headed out to the Interior search. In the first cabin, he went straight into a small alcove area (it was sort of an open closet with almost nothing in it) and looked like he was in odor. He was digging through the trash can so I pulled him off and checked the rest of the room. No interest anywhere but that closet space, but he couldn’t seem to nail it down. So I reluctantly called finish and headed out. The hide turned out to be a high one, and he always has trouble with those. I should have known!

In the next cabin there were 3 hides, and he found 2 of them. One was in the trash can, which was a bugger since he was at the trash in the other cabin, but I figured why not call it, I have nothing to lose. Then he found a chair hide, which I had to help him to detail in order to get. We missed a third hide in a bunk bed. In the third cabin we found one hide in the dustpan and called finish. That was the only room we called correctly.

Our last element of the day was exteriors. We had to walk down a long staircase, which was pretty tiring. Spiffy is 13 years old, so going down the stairs is not so easy any more. There was one hide in this search area, and we got it right away. He showed no interest anywhere else. As you can see in the video, he ate a piece of wood charcoal out of the fire pit, which earned us a fault for disturbing the search area.

We have another NW3 trial slated for November 21st in Kingston, New Hampshire. I’m feeling really good about our ability to prepare for it and succeed! Until then, we’ll continue to have fun at class and at home, doing his favorite thing.

All videography credits go to Maria Corrigan, CNWI (


Spiffy’s first NW3 title, Columbia New Jersey, Oct. 2014

What I learned about flying with a dog

When I first heard that Rockit and I had qualified for the NACSW 2014 National Invitational, I felt very honored, but assumed we would not be attending since it required us to travel clear across the country. I started to work out the logistics of driving, but there were just way too many items on the “con” side of the column. I also conferred with my fellow competitor Kathe Baxter, who would have to travel with her Norweigian Elkhound from New York. It was Amy Herot who convinced us to talk with a few seasoned travelers about the possibility of flying, and to really consider this as an option.

We decided to bite the bullet, and along the way, learned quite a bit about flying with a dog in cargo. I want to share all the information I gathered so others might benefit. After all, it’s not too early to start planning for next year’s Nationals in Colorado!

Some of this information is from sites I found on the internet, some of it is from NACSW instructors Jill Marie O’BrienPenny Scott Fox and Kim Buchanan. Thank you all for your help and support! Another helpful resource is this page from

Flying your dog – the Basics

  • You can only fly dogs during certain times of the year; check with the airline first
  • The cargo area is climate controlled and pressurized, just like the cabin where people fly
  • Get a direct flight if possible (even if it means flying to an airport that’s farther away from your destination)
  • Try to fly first thing in the morning or in the evening
  • Book your flight and cargo as far in advance as possible
  • Your dog must be crate trained, and ideally is used to traveling in a moving vehicle within a crate
  • You CANNOT sedate your dog before flying
  • You will need a certificate of health from your vet within 10 days of flying
    • You may also need a rabies vaccination certificate
    • If you are flying round-trip with your dog, be sure to get the certificate within 10 days of your return flight, if possible.
  • If you can get someone to fly with you and help, do it!
  • Be sure to get confirmation from the flight attendant that your dog has been boarded. If they do not give it you can stand up and refuse to sit down until they confirm. BE AN ADVOCATE FOR YOUR DOG HERE.
  • It’s not cheap. The cost is based on the weight of your dog plus crate, so the larger the dog, the more it will cost. My dog is 40 lbs and it cost about $365 each way to fly her from Boston to San Francisco.


Check out the ATA guidelines for pet travel crates before buying anything. I bought theMarchioro crate from Amazon as well as the travel bowls, which are required. Both water and food bowls must be attached to the inside of the front door and be refillable from the outside of the crate without opening the door. If possible, add bright stickers to make it easy to identify your crate (the cargo folks may paste stuff over them).

If you think your dog will chew up the travel bowls (mine did), buy a second set for the return flight.

Rockit’s travel crateThe crate doors must be secured with zip ties after the dog is inside. You will need holes in the top and bottom lip of the crate to put zip ties through. If you don’t have them, the cargo people might drill them for you. When I left Boston they must have ran the zip ties through the side grill because they did not drill any holes. But when I dropped her at the San Francisco airport, the guy at the desk whipped out his drill and put these holes in my crate:

Holes drilled in top of crate to put zip ties through.

Holes drilled in top of crate to put zip ties through.

Thankfully he did a nice job. I recommend putting them in yourself if you can, as these crates are expensive and you don’t want some hack going at it with a drill.

Crate wheels are optional. They need to come off when you drop off your dog. I purchased them but did not end up using them, since I did not have to wheel her through the airport at all. The Marchioro crate has a cool storage bin at the top that you can use for the wheels.

This crate has two storage bins in the top. One is deeper than the other. This is the deep one.

This crate has two storage bins in the top. One is deeper than the other. This is the deep one.

Check with your airline to see what’s allowed in crate. Most likely it will only be bedding or blankets/towels. Remember that your dog will not be supervised while in cargo, so don’t put anything in that you wouldn’t want them to have without supervision.

What is the process like?

You will drop your dog off in the cargo facility. Be sure to find out the location and hours of each facility. Usually they are located very close to the airport, and often close to the car rental places. When you drop off your dog they will check the health certificate, then ask you to put the dog in the crate so they can weigh it. Once it’s weighed they’ll tell you how much it costs and you’ll have to pay at the facility. Have a credit card ready. They will also ask you for a photo id.

You’ll need to take the wheels off, if applicable, attach your water/food bowls, remove your dog’s collar (choking hazard), and put your dog in the crate. Depending on the airline, you might not be able to have a toy or kong in there. Bedding should be absorbent in case water spills or the dog has an accident. I do not recommend leaving a bone or chew item (bully stick, rawhide, etc.) in with the dog, even if the airline allowed it, as your dog will be unsupervised and these could present a choking hazard.

The cargo folks will zip tie the crate doors (to prevent the doors from flying open in the case of severe turbulence). If you are concerned about your dog chewing stuff in the crate, ask them to make sure the zip tie ends are not poking through the crate where the dog can access them. They will then put the crate on a dolly or carry it into the storage area. At this point you might start to cry. Go ahead, let it out. Your dog may start barking. That’s okay, they’re used to it in cargo.

Once you are done at cargo you will head to the airport and get yourself checked in and on the plane. If you can get a view of the plane’s cargo side, you may be able to see your dog being loaded. After you board the plane, let the flight attendants know that you have a dog in cargo and that you want confirmation that it is on board before you take off. As I mentioned above, be an advocate for your dog here!

Once the plane has landed, you will need to get your luggage and rental car, if applicable, and head straight to the cargo facility. Be sure to have your photo ID ready. They will bring the dog out to the waiting area, still in the crate. It’s a good idea to have some good scissors handy (the guy in Boston had trouble with his and had to use mine; I ended up losing my good clippers because I forgot them there). Be sure to take your dog outside quickly to go potty. You can go back in to collect the crate if you need to make two trips. Again it’s nice to have a companion here to help out, if possible.

Parking may or may not be readily available at cargo. Be prepared to run in and run out as quickly as possible. The process took about 20-25 minutes at both ends for me.

Rockit having a sniff outside the SF cargo office.

Rockit having a sniff outside the SF cargo office.

Rockit is a little stressed but happy to be out.

Rockit is a little stressed but happy to be out.

United’s PetSafe program

If you can fly on United, do it. The dog is shuttled from cargo to plane in a climate controlled van that is easily recognizable. When I watched dogs being unloaded from another flight, they were placed gently onto a luggage carrier and then quickly moved into the van. The driver pulled away immediately and headed back to cargo. Both times when I went to pick up my dog she was right there, I did not have to wait. The animals are boarded after the luggage, at the last minute, and are unloaded first when the plane lands.

On our return flight from San Francisco, I watched Rockit being boarded. She went right from the van to the cargo conveyer belt.

United’s Pet Safe van, coming to drop off Rockit.

United’s Pet Safe van, coming to drop off Rockit.

Rockit being transferred from van to plane.

Rockit being transferred from van to plane.

One baggage handler stopped and poured some water into her bowl, and another was standing next to her crate at the bottom of the belt.

Rockit being loaded.

Rockit being loaded.

Rockit getting some water.

Rockit getting some water.

Waiting to be loaded.

Waiting to be loaded.

I didn’t see her go up because I had to board the plane, but my friends could hear her barking once she was loaded. The flight attendant also gave me confirmation that she was on board.

Be sure to review the checklist if you fly United:

Renting a car

If you are renting a car, be sure it is big enough to hold your crate. We rented the Ford Escape, which I don’t recommend if you have a medium or larger size dog (plus it was junk). Caravans are a good option. Be sure to scope out where the car rental place is in relation to the cargo facility on both ends. Usually they will be pretty close together.

Rockit in the rental car at Nationals in Santa Rosa.

Rockit in the rental car at Nationals in Santa Rosa.

The overall experience

Generally speaking, the trip went very well. We flew from Boston to San Francisco, drove up to Santa Rosa, and stayed for a week. Rockit chewed up everything in her crate, including the two plastic water dishes, during the flight. She also did a little damage to the inside of the crate. She is a shredder when we travel in the car, so I expected some damage. But she did not injure herself, and she was quite fine when she came out of the crate. I think she fared a little better on the return flight, which was about an hour shorter (she only chewed one bowl).

We were very lucky to have no delays or major glitches. I also did lots of planning and preparation to make sure I had everything in order. I was very nervous about how she would handle it, but she is a well-traveled dog. She flew from Puerto Rico to Boston as a puppy, and has traveled to many places in her six + years of living with me. Before flying to California, she had been to Canada, New York City, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Maine and Connecticut. She’s been on a plane, a boat, and too many car trips to count. So I felt pretty confident that she would be okay, and she fared even better than I expected.

If you are thinking about flying with your dog, do as much research and planning as you can, and talk to people who have done it (recently), if possible. Be sure to consider your dog’s health, age and temperament. And if you decide to go, don’t get too stressed about it. As with any travel, there’s always a risk involved. Your job is to minimize those risks and then envision a positive outcome.

Happy and safe travels!

Anne & Rockit


Having fun with Level 2 containers!

Today I held my first mock element trial, and it was a blast! It was a Level 2 container mock trial, and I got to test out some fun ideas I’ve had.

We had 24 dogs run a total of 5 search areas. Everyone was split into two groups, with one group (the Sloppy Joes) running 3 search areas, while the other group (the Chocolate Cupcakes) ran 2 search areas on the opposite side of the building. We were planning to also have an exterior search, but it was BITTER COLD today so I decided to nix it. Even though it’s good to train in all weather, I didn’t want to subject my volunteers and judges to it. We had crating inside as well. It was a little tight, but everyone was good.

This video shows three of the search areas that we had. The first one was what I called “classroom backpack” search. We set up four rows of chairs, plus one at the front, each with a strapped bag hanging off the back. Most bags were elevated off the floor (some slipped down; we had a hodge podge of chair types and wanted to make sure they were all sturdy). It was quite a challenge for the handlers, and a bit challenging for some dogs who had to figure out “oh hey this is a new picture for container searching.” We had two hides and two distractions. The distractions were both in the front row; one was chocolate chip cookies and the other was a slice of American cheese.

The second area was an all-luggage search (the two distractor items have been pulled in this video; one was in the corner and one was in the middle). This was in a Z pattern, with two rows up against the walls and one diagonally down the middle. This also had two hides and two distractions. We learned that Chex Mix is a very tempting distraction!! The second distraction was white rice, which some dogs also liked.

The third area was an “all small item” search, set in a retail area plus a short hallway. Because the retail area was highly distracting (treats, toys, etc. all along the walls), we did not include any distractions in the containers. It had two hides.

The other two areas, which are not in the video, were the “death spiral” and “big box, little box.” The death spiral was an assortment of items set in a spiral shape. It had two hides and one distraction. The distraction was Cheetos white cheddar puffs, which some dogs really liked. One of the hides was in a tea kettle, and the other was in a small white box. Most dogs totally nailed this search. Upstairs was the last search, in a kennel/daycare area that was also highly distracting for most dogs. We had 1 hide and 1 distraction (I’m not sure what it was, but it wasn’t food) — BUT there was only 1 minute to find it. Many handlers timed out after choosing to run their dog off leash. I learned that trying to do a tight-time hide in a highly distracting area is not such a great idea. We should have given two minutes. However it was a good exercise for handlers to know when it’s a good idea to choose off leash or not.

We did not do a walk through of the areas, but I did give a briefing and a description of the areas before everyone ran. We also ran a dog in white (thanks Ellen!) to get an idea of the times. We were able to run all 24 dogs on all 5 areas in about 3 hours. I probably could have set out a few more hides. We had some really great dogs and handlers!

Thanks to everyone who came out to play, and thanks to our wonderful judges, Karen and Tracey, and the excellent volunteers who helped with timing, stewarding, resetting containers, and video taping for many of the competitors! What an awesome crew. And thank you to Canine Mastery for giving us the excellent space! Looking forward to hosting another mock element trial soon.

Nose Work in New Jersey: Another NW3 trial review

On Monday of this week I competed in my fifth NW3 trial with Rockit. We went back to Lebanon, NJ, where we earned our first NW3 title last year. I have to give a special shout out to to Karin Damon, Kathe Baxter and Donna Hreniuk for hosting so many NW3 trials in this area over the  past year, and doing a great job of it!

A major round of applause also to the volunteers and officials who braved the cold weather and snow for FOUR DAYS in a row and took great care of all us competitors. They kept things moving smoothly, kept us fed and made us all feel welcome.

The weather on Monday was extremely cold but not very windy, and the sun was very bright in the late morning/midday. The ground was covered in crusty frozen snow and ice, but we didn’t have to walk too far to the search areas. I crated indoors with my friend Maria.

Our Certifying Official was Jacy Kelly, and the judges were Sergio DeRojas and Amy Herot. Rockit and I were #13 in the blue group, which started with vehicles and exterior. Our time limits were (to the best of my memory, I didn’t write them down) 3:00 minutes for vehicles, 3:30 minutes for exterior, 3:00 minutes for interior search A, 2:00 minutes for interior search B, 2:00 minutes for interior search C, and 3:30 minutes for containers.

The vehicle search looked pretty easy, the only exception being that the ground was a bit icy. But it wasn’t actually very slippery. There were three vehicles, two small sedans and a golf cart. They were lined up end-to-end in a fairly straight line, but parked at slight angles. I set Rockit up at the start line — completely forgetting to check the wind, or bring my surveyor flag, duh — and let her acclimate for a couple seconds. Then I gave her the search command and she ran toward the golf cart immediately. She sourced a hide on the side of the cart. I called alert #1.

Then we moved to the small sedan parked next to the golf cart. She showed interest in this car, especially near the driver’s side. She poked around the wheel well, then moved to the front of the car, then back to the wheel, sticking her paw in a couple times. I called alert #2. At this point I could see she was not interested in searching much more (hint, no more hides) but I made her cover the last car. She didn’t find anything so I called finish. Our search time was 1:26, and we earned a pronounced from the judge (Amy).

Lebanon NW3 exterior

Lebanon NW3 exterior

From there we moved right to the exterior search area, which was nearby (see diagram). The area was a triangle, with a snow covered picnic table and a stone fire pit in the middle. The small edge of the triangle was the edge of a building with two very icy steps that we were told not to walk on. I let Rockit acclimate at the start line again, and I could see her nose twitching, so I knew she was already in scent. I gave her the command and she bolted across the start line and headed right to the picnic table, hit the underside of the front corner, and gave me an indication. It was so fast I wanted to make sure she had it right, so I waited her out a bit. She then jumped up and put her nose down on top of the table, in the same spot where she had previously indicated, so I called alert #1. The judge (Amy) chuckled a bit at that one.

Then we checked along the side of the building, but I didn’t keep her there too long. I moved her towards the apex of the triangle, and she showed interest in the fire pit. She jumped into the middle of it, and I figured yep, must be odor. She put her nose into a little crevice and I called alert #2. I moved her up to the apex, then back down to the bottom of the triangle. She seemed to be done searching, and wanted to sniff the tree that was out of bounds, so I called finish. Our total search time was 1:54 and we placed third in exteriors. We also got another pronounced from Amy

Lebanon Interior search room A

Lebanon Interior search room A

After a nice hot bowl of clam chowder from the potluck, we headed up to our interior search with judge Sergio. The first room was filled with bunk beds and dressers. The start line was the doorway which closed behind us, so I ran her off leash. She ran in with a purpose and I knew there was odor in the room, however she also missed a threshold hide. She ran around for a bit, then showed interest in one of the bunk beds. The beds all had little alcoves in the bottom for storing stuff, and Rockit stuck her nose way inside it, then lied down, so I called alert #1.

Then she jumped up on top of the bunk bed in the middle of the room, which made me think it might have odor on it. But she jumped off, and made her way over to a dresser that was near the doorway that we had entered. She bracketed around the bottom corner of the dresser, then made an indication, so I called alert #2. After this I asked her to take one last look around the room, even though by this time I think she had already covered all of the search area. She showed a bit of interest in the middle bunk bed again so I let her check it out, but tried not to pressure her. She jumped up and targeted the top corner of the bunk bed, giving me a look. I had seen this picture before at a trial…right before calling a false alert. I trusted my instinct and called finish instead. At the briefing, the judge informed us that the dresser with the hide in it had a hole at the back (facing the wall), so odor was probably coming out of the dresser and going all over the place. In retrospect, I think Rockit may have been picking up on pooling odor on that bunk bed. I think a few other dogs had also shown interest in that bed. Our total search time was 2:12.

Lebanon Interior room B

Lebanon Interior room B

The next room was a small rectangle with a gaming table in the middle (air hockey or something, I can’t remember), and two soda machines, with a doorway at each corner. Two doorways remained closed, but the two at the far end remained open. I chose to keep Rockit on leash because I had a feeling it would be a blank room and if so she would immediately head out the door, so I didn’t want to waste time getting her back. Sure enough, as soon I sent her in, she headed right out the door at the far end, not showing any interest in the room at all. I pulled her back in with the leash, and she tried to leave out the other door. I pulled her in and wasted some time having her search the room. Duh. Called it clear, our total time was 1:11. At the briefing, the judge for this room said “If your dog runs right out the door, call him back, put him on leash and call the finish.” He was right. I could have called this room clear after she tried to leave. In retrospect, I realize that she was heading right towards the third search room which had odor in it.

Lebanon Interior search C

Lebanon Interior search C

The third interior search room was a small bathroom with 3 stalls on the left and two sinks on the right. There was also a shower area on the right that was off limits so that the judge, videographer and timer could have a place to stand. The start line was the doorway. I let Rockit off leash and she went directly to the other side of the room. She took a few seconds to find the hide in the sink cabinet but she finally indicated so I called alert #1. I opened all the stall doors and had her check each one, but she didn’t show any interest.  I had her scan the area quickly one more time to make sure we didn’t miss anything, then called finish. Our total search time was 1:38.

I felt good about all our searches thus far. Last up was containers. They were in a large theatre room (same as last year) and the pattern was fairly simple, with three rows plus two shorter rows in between, a total of 19 containers. Most of the containers were small, and there were a lot of white boxes. Our judge was Amy. I set Rockit up at the start line and let her go right in. She sniffed several of the items, then hit on a black bag, indicating to me. I called alert #1. We headed off and I let her pretty much pick the path while I kept track of what she had sniffed. She hit on a tall red and white cooler that she managed to knock over. That startled her a bit but she stayed there looking at it, so I called alert #2. Yes! I had her check the rest of the containers quickly. She showed some interest in a grey plastic first aid box (I had her check it out to make sure she covered all angles of it) but I didn’t talk her into anything, and she didn’t indicate on it.  So I called finish. Our total search time was 2:01 and again we earned a pronounced from Amy!

Rockit NW3 Elite

Rockit NW3 Elite

I had a very strong feeling going into this trial that we were going to pass. Rockit is a solid worker and I knew what all my past mistakes had been, so I was determined not to repeat them. My motto for the day was “Get in, find all the hides, and GET OUT.” The longer we stay in, the greater the chance that I’ll talk her into a false alert.

Much to my delight, we did pass all four elements and Rockit was awarded her NW3 Elite. Our total search time was 10:24:68 and we placed fourth overall. I’m very happy with how we worked together and that we earned three P’s from Amy Herot, one of the founders of the sport.

At the judge’s briefing we learned that ALL TEAMS had passed the exterior and vehicle searches. In interiors, 11 out of 25 dogs passed, and in containers it was 13 out of 25. The distractions in containers were Babybell cheese, sugar cookies, and a mini kong (I think he said it was a keychain one). A few handlers called false alert on non-distractor items as well, I believe.

Sergio talked about interiors a bit, and had everyone LOLing at his visual demonstration of a typical handler seeing interest from the dog, and then moving closer…and closer…and closer…until the dog says OH IT MUST BE HERE, EH! And we give the dreaded false alert. Jacy also talked about having as little influence as possible over your dog. If you can stand at the threshold, or in the middle of the room, and watch your dog cover the area, then stay there! When the dog finds a hide, step in and reward, and step back.

Amy told the crowd that she was really impressed with the working teams she had seen, and that she gave out lots of P’s because of that. At NW3 level it is all about “jumping off the cliff” and having that complete trust in — and ability to read — your dog. And she saw lots of cliff jumping.

Needless to say, this was a very special NW3 trial for us. I feel very lucky to have such a fantastic dog for this sport. She has been easy to train and a joy to work with. I am also lucky to be able to work closely with a wonderful instructor, Gail McCarthy of Scentinel Nose Work, who has been with us almost every step of the way. Her experience in working with scent and training detection dogs has been invaluable to me, which is one of the reasons why I’m happy to bring her expertise to others through my events business.

I hope this recap has been helpful to future NW3 competitors. I love this sport and am glad I have another dog to continue competing with at the NW3 level.

Happy sniffing everyone!

K9 Nose Work trials number nine and ten

I just finished competing in my ninth and tenth NACSW K9 Nose Work trials. This sport is so addicting for me and my dogs! I wanted to share my latest experience, because these were some really great trials.

First off, I have to give a huge shout out to Shamrock Pot of Gold K9 Scenter (SPOG) for hosting two fantastic trails in a row, despite the blistering heat and dearth of volunteers. And THANK YOU thank you thank you to the volunteers who gave up their holiday weekend to bake in the heat so we could compete. We had grilled burgers and hot dogs, fresh corn on the cob, fresh salads and fruit, and anything else you could want. The trial ran like clockwork, and best of all we had a huge air conditioned theatre to crate our dogs in, so they didn’t have to stay outside all day. I’m not sure I would have survived without that! Now onto the trial recaps.

Trial #9 – Friday July 5, 2013 – NW3 with Rockit

Rockit and I were in the red group, and fortunately we were slated to run exteriors and vehicles first. First dog went on the line at 9:45, I think.

The exterior search area was flat and rectangular, and marked off by flags. It included the side of a building, a good stretch of pavement and some grass. There was also a trailer parked on the pavement. We had 5 minutes, which seemed very generous. I tested the wind before we crossed the start line, and it was blowing pretty strongly from left to right, into the side of the building. I had Rockit on a 10-foot line and she took off, heading towards the corner of the building. She went out of the search area a bit, so I stopped her with the leash and she came back towards the corner of the building. There was a small rickety staircase attached to the building that went up to nowhere (somehow I did not notice this staircase during the walkthrough). She was clearly in odor near the staircase, and she actually walked up it, which scared me a bit, but then she came down and sourced the hide near the bottom. I called the alert and heard the wonderful “yes” word.

Next she took me down the side of the building, which had two large bay doors. She showed signs of odor recognition in the second bay (I think) and sourced another hide. I called it – yes!

Okay now it was time to head into the open area. She headed right for a big flagpole and started sniffing. Oh no, is she going to pee? Nope, I could tell she was in odor so I let her work it out, and she indicated at the base of the flagpole. I called alert, got the yes and then called finish.

Our total search time was 1:23. Judges comments: “Good odor obedience. Good indication.”

Rockit’s NW3 vehicle search in Fishkill, NY

Rockit’s NW3 vehicle search in Fishkill, NY

Next we went right into the vehicle search. It was really hot, so I stopped and gave Rockit some water. There were four vehicles, including one large mack truck. They were tight up against the building, and one vehicle was actually tucked into an alcove that led to the building’s entrance. I tested the wind and my flag did not move at all. Great. We had 3 minutes.

Rockit headed right for the big truck towards the back. She seemed like she was in odor but wasn’t showing interest in anything. I took her around the other side, and she just wanted to sniff the grass. So I took her to the car in the alcove, and she caught odor on the side of the building that was directly across from the car’s rear right tire. I stepped back and let her work it out. She stuck her nose into one of the hubcap holes, then into the other hole, then she started to lie down. A diffuse hide! I called alert, got the yes.

We moved around to check the rest of the car. She showed some interest in the rear left tire, but her head was pushing way in, and I could tell she was catching the odor from the hide we had just found on the other side. So I moved her back to the big truck, and here is where it gets ugly. I could tell she was sort of done searching, she didn’t have much spunk, but I thought she showed interest in the truck, so I made her check it out again. There was a reflector light attached to a pole sticking up from the front left of the truck, and she jumped up at it. Hm, why would she jump up like that unless there was odor up there? (And in the back of my mind, I was also asking “but they wouldn’t put a hide that high up on a vehicle, would they?”) So I sort of looked at her like “okay, show me” and then she jumped up at it again. I very stupidly called alert (with a question mark) and the judge said no. I looked back at him and the look on his face said “WTF WAS THAT?” (Note: I am not dissing the judge here, he was really nice.)

I wanted to shoot myself. She didn’t even indicate! They wouldn’t put a hide up that high! Why the heck did I say alert? It was a sloppy moment. But one I will not forget, or repeat. Five minutes into the trial I had blown our chance at NW3 Elite. Oh, well!

Our total search time was 1:55. There was only one hide, so we didn’t miss any. Judges comments: “Dog cued off of you, called alert too soon. Good odor obedience.”

Our next element was the interior search, with three rooms and one possible clear room. The first room was pretty small. Each room had a time limit of 3 minutes. I decided to work her off leash. I let her get acclimated to the threshold and I could see she was catching odor immediately on the left. I let her go and she stayed at the threshold, sniffing hard at the desk that was there. I stayed back and waited for her to work it out, but she needed to go to the other side. So I followed her over and she went under the desk, and banged her head on something (ouch), then pulled out. She was definitely in odor but couldn’t source it, and I think the head bang put her off a bit. She left and located a hide in the chairs along the wall. I called it correctly. She went to the back of the room and seemed to show interest in the junk around there, but found nothing. I got her back to the desk at the threshold, and she finally pinpointed the hide there, so I called it. Then she went to the back of the room, and seemed to show lots of interest there. I asked if I could move a box and the judge said okay. But she didn’t pinpoint anything, and I heard the ten second warning so I called finish. (Our time for this room was 2:54, too close for my comfort). We called this room correctly.

In the next room, she quickly located a hide near the back of the room, in a desk, in the same spot as the one in the previous room. I called it correctly, then had her continue to check the rest of the room. She didn’t locate anything else, and went back to the first hide a couple times, so I called finish. Our time for this room was 2:39 and we also called it correctly. But why did I make her search for so long?

The last room was pretty big. She trotted around the room but didn’t show much interest in anything. But then on her second go-by, she did a head turn at the desk near the front of the classroom, and showed interest in the drawers there. I wasn’t feeling super confident about it, but she gave me an indication (she lied down and pawed at the drawer), so I reluctantly called it (p.s. isn’t this the clear room?). The judge reluctantly said “no, I’m sorry.” Our search time was 57 seconds. P.S. this was the clear room. Only 2 people passed interiors at this trial.

Our total search time was 8:33 with 2 faults for the FA. Judge’s comments: “FA where other dogs have put noses.” At the judge’s briefing, he said a lot of dogs had indicated on this spot, so they opened the drawers to see what was in there. There was a box of herbal tea (Celestial Seasonings Mandarin Orange Spice Herbal Tea to be exact), and the ingredients include cloves. The judge said that in the detection world this would be considered a trace amount, but that some dogs might pick up on it. He also said dogs will often indicate where other dogs have rubbed their noses, and he felt this may have been the case. I dunno folks, I think Rockit was indicating on the tea. Oh well, something more to work on.

Last element of the day was containers. There were only about 20 containers, in a pretty neat grid, and we had 2 minutes 30 seconds to search them. I let Rockit go and she indicated on the first hide pretty quickly, near the back of the area. I called it correctly. Then we went back down the row and she hit on a white box, but she was playing soccer with it. She did lie down, but didn’t look at me and looked more like she was interested in seeing what was inside than she was telling me it was odor. So I kept moving and she pulled off it. We went over a row and she indicated on another container. This time she looked at me with the “it’s here!” look, so I called it and was correct. I took her back over the row with the white box and she gave it a sniff but moved on. So we kept moving down the rows and she gave each package a sniff but didn’t indicate. Then I noticed that stray bag that was not in a row, I almost missed it. I took her over to it and she indicated pretty strongly on it, so I called the alert, then the finish. We nailed containers!

Our total search time was 1:41. Judge’s comments: “Good indications. Good handling.” At the briefing they brought out the distraction boxes. There were four of them – two had food (a banana and some coffee cake) and two had these GLORIOUS leather toys. I’m certain those were in the box that Rockit was playing with.

So, we didn’t get our third NW3 title but we had a great day. I realized I am getting “out of shape” as a handler and need to step up my training. I’ve been busy working on events, but it’s time to get back in the saddle and train more.

Only one person titled at this trial, but many other folks came really close and there were lots of element titles awarded (we got our NW3-E and NW3-C). I was in my car and headed home by 5:45.

Trial #10 – Saturday July 6, 2013 – NW2 with Spiffy

I went back to Huntington on Saturday to run Spiffy in SPOG’s NW2 trial. He earned his NW2 in the fall at Falmouth, but I wanted to run him again because it may be a while before I get him into an NW3 trial and he just loves the game.

We had the same two judges, and many of the same volunteers (did I mention how AWESOME these people are??) and the weather was just as dreadfully hot. Spiffy went right into the air conditioned room and I covered his crate to keep him happy. Once again we were in the red group, and once again we got to do the outside elements first. Yay!

We started with the vehicle search, which was again near the building, to keep it somewhat in the shade. There were three vehicles and we had 3 minutes to find 2 hides. I tested the wind and it was blowing right at us. Good! Spiffy went right to the second vehicle and sourced a hide in the rear wheel well. He bit at the car and I called alert. I was a little nervous b/c I couldn’t see the judge, but I heard his “yes” behind me, so I paid Spiffy and we moved onto the next car. He wasn’t paying much attention to the cars, seemed to be air scenting, so I turned and walked backwards while hugging the car, and he started giving it a sniff. He sourced another hide at the back of the vehicle, in some sort of hitch or something. Once again he bit at it and I called alert – correct! The videographer made a comment about that being the first time he’d seen a dog bite at the source, but the judge seemed to like it. Our total search time was 51 seconds. Judge’s comments: “Good indication. Good handling.”

Next up was the exterior search. This had some pavement but also lots of grass, and included the side of a building, with a couple doorways and some kind of machine in a small alcove. There was also a tree, and a drain, and a staircase leading up to the building. I tested the wind and it was blowing at us and to the right. Spiffy was pointing towards those stairs, and I knew the hide was somewhere in that area. We had 3 minutes to find 1 hide.

I let him get acclimated a bit, then he took off into the search area, heading right up the stairs as I predicted. And right here is when I realized HOLY CRAP I FORGOT TO BRING MY LONG LINE! Spiffy was on a 6-foot leash, much too short for his exterior search. Oh well, I would have to make do. It was ugly, Spiffy moves very fast and furious, and the leash got tangled a few times, I was way to close to him. He showed interest in the doorway at the top of the stairs, but he was chasing odor. I took him back down and up the stairs, but still chasing. For some reason I then took him out of that area, further along the building. He searched the alcove, and searched and searched and searched and then my teacher’s voice came into my head and said “you are spending way too much time in an area where he’s not finding odor!”

So I moved him out and back towards the staircase. He stopped to sniff the grass, but I could tell it was pee sniffing and just as he was getting into position I pulled him off (good call). I took him back to the doorway and he chased odor some more. I tried cover as much of the area as I could, but he wasn’t finding it. Then the 30 second warning came. Crap, I kept him near the stairs, and we were on the grass near the side of the stairs when he suddenly oriented towards this small drainpipe in the grass, tucked right next to the staircase. I didn’t notice that in the walk through! He went right to it and stuck his nose in, started pawing at it, so I called alert and got the YES. Whew!!

Our total search time was 2:44. Judge’s comments: “Use a longer line, give him more freedom. Good handling.” Ha! I found the judge at hospitality later and told him that the short line was a mistake on my part, ha ha.

Next up was our interior search, with two rooms. The first room was very small, with a table in the middle and some junk piled up near the threshold. We had 2 minutes to find 1 hide. Spiffy bombed into the room and made his obligatory lap around, then caught odor near the pile of stuff in the corner of the room, in front of the doorway. He pinpointed a hide and I called it, correctly. Our total search time here was 22 seconds. Judge’s comments: “Not interested in threshold” (he is a stickler about this).

The second room was a big modern classroom, with several rows of tables, and chairs up on  top of them. Again I worked him off leash, and he bombed into the room and made a lap around. I mean, he was actually running in the room – the judge was laughing, we were all having a grand time. He made his way back to the threshold where he caught scent, but was chasing it. I could see there was a table in the corner that he wasn’t searching, so I moved past it and he followed, then located a hide near the bottom of the table. I called it correctly, and we moved on. He ran to the front of the room and I followed him up. I saw him catch odor in the second row, so I hung there and let him work it out. He kept moving up and down the rows, and kept throwing his head up so I knew it was high. I stayed out of his way and it took him a while, but he finally located the hide in a little tray that was built into the table. I called it correctly.

Our total search time for this room was 1:56. Judge’s comments: “Needs to slow down. Would benefit from search pattern.” Well, Spiffy is 10 years old (closer to 11) so he’s about as slow as he’s going to get. But, point taken. My plan for containers, even before the judge’s comments, was to keep him on a short leash and make him work a pattern.

Spiffy’s NW2 container search in Huntington, MA

Spiffy’s NW2 container search in Huntington, MA

So, after a lunch break we moved onto thecontainer search. There were only about 15 containers, and we had 2.5 minutes to find 1 hide. There were quite a few people in the room watching. I had my 6 foot leash, and I kept it short, walked him up to the first container on the left and gave him the “find it” command. He searched nicely and did a nice pattern. As we got to the last row, he showed some interest in a plastic case, but left it quickly and moved right to a white box next to it. He started pushing it around, and I was about to call alert when he picked it up and started walking away with it. Now, he usually only does that with food, because he wants to take it away and have a party with it. So I wasn’t 100% sure, and I let him drop the box and took him back down the same row, then back up it. Once again he picked up the white box and this time he flung it around. I held my breath and called a meek alert. The judge said yes and everyone in the room BURST OUT LAUGHING, including myself. I paid Spiffy as the judge walked over, and with a smile said he had to give us a fault for disturbing the search area. But everybody had fun watching us, that’s for sure.

Our total search time was 50 seconds. Judge’s comments: “Nice search.”

So Spiffy passed the NW2 again, I’m very happy considering I have not trained nearly enough with him. There were 11 NW2 titles awarded, and many of my good friends earned their titles after multiple tries, so it was a great awards ceremony.

The judges’ comments at the briefing were similar on both days. They emphasized giving the dog room to search, letting the dog hunt independently and building that drive to hunt. Doc’s big comment was “The search starts HERE” with HERE being the threshold. Too many dogs are missing threshold hides because we are practicing “deep” hides more often and not building that expectation that the hide could be right at the start line. And also, make sure your dog REALLY wants the reward you are using. Change it up a bit if you need to, so the dog doesn’t get bored.

Overall it was an outstanding two days of trialing, despite the heat wave. I am very grateful to the judges, CO, trial hosts and volunteers for giving us the opportunity to compete. Good luck to all the NW1 teams competing today! I hope you have fun and learn lots.