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.