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.

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