Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Learning From K9 Nose Work® NACSW™ National Invitational Video Part 3

This week we look at the last two searches from the National Invitational (no more searches - cue the sad horn, waaah waaah). I want to thank the NACSW again for giving us competitors the video footage of our searches and encouraging us to share it with the world. The response to these posts has been overwhelmingly positive, and it's clear that future posts featuring video would be warmly welcomed... so, we will see what can be done.

In the meantime, happy viewing!


Garage Bottles - One of the coolest K9 Nose Work searches ever. Toys, bottles, food in bottles, and garbage was scattered throughout the small warehouse. This was a 6 minute search for an unknown number of hides. A few teams had trouble with the distractors - dogs were picking them up and carrying them, false alerting, and just losing focus and wasting time. Muriel was made for this search because she has no interest in toys - or in using water bottles as toys - and she does a good job ignoring food distractions.

We found 7 out of a total of 8 hides and made one false call. There was a hide on the small blue step stool that we missed, and Muriel barely even noticed it. I know I don't even remember seeing the stool in the search area, so I was no help as far as making sure she searched everywhere.

One thing we really did well in this area was covered the threshold at the end of the search. Always important to work the whole search area, even if you feel like you cleared the threshold when you and your dog passed through it at the start of the search.

Interior Tables & Chairs - Our last search of the event. There were 5 hides to find in 3 minutes. This was a very fair, well thought out search. The dogs were challenged by the convergence of odors and the handlers were challenged by navigating the area in the time allotted. We missed one odor and I made one false call, and it was mostly a case of not covering the area completely and getting hung up on blowing odor.

Something to note on this false call and the one in the garage bottles search is that in both instances, there doesn't seem to be any behavior on Muriel's part that indicates she's close to or attempting to get close to a source odor. If the source is within her reach, she'll quicken her sniffing, detail the area around the hide like she's following a dashed line to an 'x' marking the spot, and inhale/exhale loudly at the source, taking in that sweet source odor like a fine wine. If the source is out of her reach, she'll make a clear attempt or attempts to get closer to the source, which usually manifests as bracketing the source (the high hides from last week's videos show this), and she's determined in her sniffing, like she knows the scent she's smelling is coming directly from a very nearby source. If no source is present nearby, her investigation of the area can look similar, but is usually missing the bracketing and determined sniffing. She's not locking down a part of the area where she knows source is coming from, rather, after an extended period of me enabling/encouraging/forcing her to work an area without source odor, she arbitrarily picks a part of the area and lets me fill in the blank.

Next week, we look at a few nose work training issues that can go undetected until you're least prepared to face them, and we offer a few tips on how to get your dog's sniffer back up to speed... and, in the coming weeks we have a special treat, handler Kristie Cervantez with her black lab Jasper has put her video from the National Invitational in the mail to Minnesota to be analyzed and shared on the blog! Kristie & Jasper did a fantastic job at the National Invitational, coming in first place overall for the two day competition, as well as earning a number of other top placements over the weekend. A big thank you to Kristie!

Happy Sniffing!  

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Learning From K9 Nose Work® NACSW™ National Invitational Video Part 2

Here are two searches from day two of the National Invitational. I'm pretty sure all of us competitors felt much better on day two with the experiences from day one under our belts. I really got thrown by some of the challenges of day one and the way Muriel reacted to some of the hides (not quite her usual self). On our drive back to where we were staying after day one of searching, Muriel and I agreed to put the failures of the day behind us and do better on day two. Thanks to Muriel really searching her heart out, we did much better day two.

On to the first two searches of day two!

Equipment Exterior - This is easily the most fun I've had searching an exterior/vehicles. The size of the area is hard to recall, but it seemed to be around two-thirds of an acre - big, and full of stuff. This was an 8 hide, 6 minute search. No one found all 8, but a few dogs found 7 hides. The start line stretched the length of the search area and was flanked on one side by a trailer and metal steps, and on the other side by a fence and forklift. I will confess that although I used some dust to check wind during the walk-through, the only wind going through my mind at the start of the search was blowing between my ears where my brain should have been. In my case, at least, it will probably take years more of searching before I can consistently assess wind in the search area and apply the information to read/help Muriel as she works to find source odor.

Going over the video for this search made me think about the importance of observing as many dogs as possible working blowing/pooling odor problems. I think there is an observable difference between a dog working blowing/pooling odor when a hide(s) remains to be found, and a dog working the same problem when all hides have already been found (or at least all hides in that general area). Something to think about when we handlers start hanging around too long in these blowing/pooling odor areas.

Warehouse - This search tested how quickly dog & handler can work an area under time pressure. There were 6 hides to find in 2 minutes! Working quickly is not our strongest attribute as a team. Muriel sometimes gets caught up sniffing every particle of scent on her way to source, and I sometimes let superfluous sniffing go on too long. In this search, we did well enough with time management, but we missed a hide and had a false call.

The hide I made the false call on is similar to what trips up many handlers in NW1 trials: a hide where the dog may catch the odor strongly near, but not at, source and/or the handler may call alert before the dog is done working to source.

Two more searches remain to be analyzed, the Garage Bottles search (with tons of distractions), and the Interior Tables search (with lots of tables & chairs). Those videos will come in a post next week.

Happy Sniffing!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Learning From K9 Nose Work® NACSW™ National Invitational Video Part 1

Okay, I received a flash drive in the mail with some video of Muriel & me doing our searches at the National Invitational (woo hoo, Christmas came early this year!). We're going to look at a number of the searches using the Coach's Eye app and see how much we might learn from them. Some of you may not know much about the National Invitational - what the location was like, how each day flowed, what it was like to be a competitor sitting in shade on the backside of a building all day waiting to search and wondering where everyone was! Here are some answers: the location was industrial, each day had a morning and afternoon and we split into running orders of six teams each for the searches, the backside of the building was not too hot, and we had food, chairs, and each other's company to prevent us from going sniff crazy! That covers the summary. On to the video! I aim to keep this post lean and mean like a 2 minute, 6 hide warehouse search!

The Moat - The first search of day one of the National Invitational was a 3 minute, 5 hide mixed element search with forklifts and tires, a stand with a vice clamp, a working table, and other miscellany. It was a cluttered area with lots of tight spots for handling.

What made this search area difficult was the wind blowing across the length of the area and causing dogs to chase a little and overlook at least 1 hide (no dog found all 5). The hide overlooked by most dogs was on a stand with a vice clamp. This was between the table and one of the vehicles, and near a hide on a utility pole. Muriel & I ducked under the table to get to the back of the search area and passed right by the stand without a twitch of the nose from Muriel.

Again, this search could have been a bit different for us if we had handled the blowing odor situation better. We spent the lion's share of our time trying to work out odor on a forklift (see video below) that we never end up finding... I should say, Muriel did find the odor, she just didn't take off one of her shoes and throw it at me to tell me so.

As for the hide on the vice clamp stand, this might have been a matter of handler strategy - make sure to cover ground in many different ways, and make sure your dog is in a position to actually search that ground. This means finessing things so you guide your dog to an area, but then permit him to take control and search it. Not an easy task. I imagine this strategy would have resulted in a mess of tangled leash or the funky dance of "You go first." "No. You go first." "I'm not walking through that pinched space with that thing above my head. No thanks."

When you practice this kind of search scenario, start out with an easily navigable area and work your way to the pinched space with a thing above your dog's head (just make sure the thing can't fall on your dog's head). Even simple set-ups with tables, chairs, and household stuff to clutter the area can really help the two of you learn to navigate awkward search environments.

The Lily Pad - This search was our second of day one and it consisted of two side by side areas within a large 3-sided covered storage area. The search times were brief (3 minutes and 2 minutes), and there were 3 hides in one area and 4 in another. Forgive me, but I may not get exact details for each search area correct, but that's very much what competing in the National Invitational was like, hard to correctly remember the details during and after each search.

Search Area 1: We're going to focus on two things in this search, first is the dog that can't quite commit to the hide, and second is the handler that can't commit to the dog's signals. In the video, Muriel is pretty clear on where she wants to work, but she is not content to alert to a source (she can't reach it - not even close). I let her work for an extended period of time, but I'm not confident enough in what I'm seeing to call alert.

We waste a lot of time being discontent and unconfident. The nearby hide on the other side of the stacked wood could have been causing trouble with the decision making on the high hide. Had Muriel been guided away from the area, found the more accessible hide, and then went back to work the high hide, she might have made a clearer decision.

This is one of many cluttered and busy areas we searched, and it's worth pointing out that the very strong desire to let your dog work longer because the area seems busier is not necessarily a good strategy. If your dog struggles to lock down a hide in 15-30 seconds, move on. You can always go back.

Search Area 2: The learning experience that was search area 1 had not quite sunk in, but I was more prepared to call alert sooner if she gave me similar behavior to the high hide in search area 1. Time once again got the better of us here. We found two hides and got caught up working blowing odor to eat up the remainder of our time.

A good strategy for me & Muriel might have been shorter leash length and a little less freedom to roam. A few times she got caught up between odors or by blowing/pooling odor. For some reason, this is a hard scenario for our team to recognize and work through. Slowing things down might make it clearer for both team members when blowing/pooling odor is leading nowhere, when two odors are converging, etc. On the other hand, sometimes an odor problem needs to be solved by getting further away from the source and finding the edge of the scent plume, so, strategize with caution!

Large Warehouse Interior - A large area search with 6 minutes to find an unknown number of hides. The real challenge of this area was the high hide in the stack of pallets. Although, a number of dogs breezed by a hide at the outside corner of one of the rows of shrink-wrapped material - handlers were told to be careful in that area because of some open boxes of solar panels on shelving just a few feet away from the hide. Not sure if handler preconceptions and concerns had anything to do with dogs being less successful on that hide.

This search was about covering ground and staying out of the dog's way, as well as dealing with close convergence involving a very high inaccessible hide. Once again, troubles abounded because of blowing/pooling odor. A huge exhaust fan cooling system was running overhead while we searched, and, I believe a cargo bay door was open beyond the search area. Who knows exactly what was happening to the odor but the dogs!

Muriel had no trouble finding the threshold hide, the medium height hide in the wooden cargo box, the hide near the solar panels, and a hide in between two rows of shrink-wrapped material. I think we missed a hide on the building wall deep in the corner of the search area (or we didn't), and I missed the high pallet hide. That makes for a total of 6 hides in the area. The amount of time we spent trying to work out the high pallet hide was maddening! In the end, Muriel got frustrated and went to the wooden cargo box, sniffed the bottom corner opposite the hide and alerted. I knew it couldn't be right, but the two of us were desperate for some validation of our efforts at that point, so I called it. Nope. False call. Lose a half point.

Small Warehouse Vehicles - A traditional vehicle element search with the option to go off-leash. There were three vehicles and an unknown number of hides to find in 2 minutes. I chose to run Muriel off-leash and it worked out nicely for us. Because of the focus on vehicles I was much more able to read her signals and guide her to areas I wanted her to search, as compared to the more cluttered environments of the mixed element searches. Unlike the forklifts in The Moat, these vehicles were passenger cars (a minivan, SUV, and a 4-door sedan), and the configuration and hide placements were not really causing difficult convergence of the odors or blowing/pooling odor. This was more of a speed test to see if the team can stay on task and work efficiently.

This video contains some decent searching, but not the teachable moments contained in some of the other videos. I'll focus on the hide on the front of the SUV in the bumper to the left of the driver's side fog lamp. Muriel showed interest early on indicating she wanted to search towards the front of the SUV, but she turned off fast and worked problem. When she made her way to the front of the SUV she caught odor early, but wasn't quite there. I can't stress the usefulness of sourcing exercises and lingering odor exercises. I read Muriel correctly, but I'd prefer she work her way to source without needing to check in and test my handling skills!

Next week we'll continue the video analysis (and possibly the week after, too). Hopefully, it helps to see searches in action and hear some of a handler's inner monologue, as well as some post search reflecting.

Happy Sniffing!