Thursday, August 15, 2013

Learning From K9 Nose Work NACSW National Invitational Videos: Kristie & Jasper Part 1

Thanks again to Kristie & Jasper for sharing their videos with everyone! Each clip will show the raw search footage first and then analysis of key moments. Enjoy this awesome example of odor obedience and teamwork!

If you're looking for more details on each of these search scenarios, refer to the 3 posts featuring Muriel's National Invitational video, you can find them in the archive by scrolling down on the right hand side of this page.

The Moat - This is a fun search to watch. I asked Kristie what she was thinking as they passed the one hide Jasper didn't find...

Jeff McMahonYou hesitated as he passed the vice stand hide going towards the forklifts and going towards the table. Any idea what you were thinking at the time?

Kristie CervantezJasper stopped as if he smelled food or rabbit poop or something other than odor.  He was sniffing the dirt but not searching so I told him to keep going.

The Lily Pad 1 - This search highlights the teamwork at play when Kristie & Jasper search. She lets Jasper run the search, but she keeps an eye out for areas of interest that should get a second look, and tries to make sure no areas get missed.

JMThe high hide you block with your body, what was your thinking at the time Jasper was working over there?

KCI knew there was something in that area.  He was working the far wall and the smaller pallet quite a bit, I could tell by what he was doing he knew there was something there, he could just not quite source it.  It seemed like he worked over there for a long time.  Now that I see the video, I was blocking the source.  He decided to go to the other side of the search area, glad he did, and I figured we could be back, which we did.  He ended up finding another hide and I told him “let’s go back and figure out where that other one is”, thus guiding him right by another hide (I think).  By luck, I was in a better postion behind the short pallet and not blocking the odor this time.  He finally sourced it to the best of his ability and I trusted him and called it and we got it right.

JMYou respond well to his behavior changes, are you looking for something in particular that tells you he's definitely on to a hide?

KCJasper is a Labrador Retriever and he likes to retrieve.  When he is on an odor, he will do his best to try and retrieve it.  It is my best indication that he has found a hide.  Even if the hide is inaccessible, he will try to figure out a way to retrieve it and if he cannot, he will sit and look at me.

The Lily Pad 2 - Really nice search. Just watch & enjoy.

Large Warehouse Interior - Kristie didn't feel this was their best search, but I think they did quite well, and there is a lot to learn in the video.

JMGlad you went off-leash to start, I think he would have been fine, but maybe you wanted to save Jenn Brown from getting slobbered on!

KCThis was not one of my favorite searches.  I really wanted to go off-leash but was apprehensive because the area was not completely secure and so many of our classmates were sitting in front.  Jasper sometimes like to visit.  I am glad that I tried it and I suppose if the area were secure I may have let him continue..but I did not.

It was a very difficult area to search, especially on leash.  I was feeling pretty good when he got the bucket right away and than he found people and than he was headed for the doors and on went his leash.  I was really proud of how he worked the pallet hide and in hindsight, watching, I see that he was working the shipping crate also.

I do not remember much of that search except that it was so hot in there and he was working hard.  I remember trying to go down the aisles with him and at one point I was out in front of him, not a good position.  I lost track of what he had found and where he had been and I think that I may have just given up on any kind of strategy I may have had.  I am most disappointed in how I handeled this search.  I did not do my part and he was getting really hot. 

Small Warehouse Vehicles - This search Jasper finds everything he gets access to - the only hide he misses is on the far side of a vehicle he doesn't get to search.

JMHe's not on a vehicle to start the search, yet by working the space (esp wall opposite the SUV bumper) he ends up at the first odor pretty quickly. Did any part of you really panic when he ran in not searching a vehicle right away?

KC: Another bad habit that I have during a vehicle search is to pull to the vehicles if he starts searching the wall or not searching the vehicle.  During this search, I actually did not panic (for a change), I thought to myself “leave him alone..maybe he is working his way to the vehicle because the odor is bouncing off the wall”.  I trusted him and he was right.

JMBefore he finds the hide on the mini-van, he ducks under the rear bumper and checks a few times on the driver's side of the vehicle. You seemed to hold him on that side (hence the attempt to crawl under the rear of the van), was that because of the find on the SUV rear bumper being so close by?

KCThe rest of this search is a blur.  It went so fast.  I wish that I had done if off-leash.  I forgot that we had the option.  After he found the first one, I was just trying to remember where he had already been.  Everything started to look the same and the time went so fast.

JMHe misses the last hide because you didn't give him total access. Interesting that you went back to the area you'd covered several times rather than go check the one car that you'd barely checked - any thoughts on why you turned back to the area already covered?

KCAgain, lost track of where we had been and what he had already found.  It was fun though!

Vehicles Open Bay - This search was tricky for video cameras to capture, but there's a nice view of Jasper working a deep hide under the flatbed truck.

JMNice work on the drum hide under the flatbed.

KCIt is the retrieveing thing again.  Jasper is not afraid to go as far under a vehicle as he can to try and retireve a hide.  When he is working like that, I know he has found it, I just need to wait for him to let me know.

JMIn this search there are parts of the vehicles he doesn't pay much attention to, interesting that he misses the hide in the metal frame on the rear of the flatbed. You were moving pretty fast through the area. 

KCI have a bad habit of moving too fast in vehicle searches.  I need to slow down my pace a bit so that he will slow down his pace a bit thus not missing things because we go by too fast.  Funny at the end, he had his eye on my back pocket.  I guess he figured out where I was keeping his treats.  :)

More videos to come soon!

Happy Sniffing!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Getting to the Source: Finding and Fixing Hidden Training Issues With Your K9 Nose Work® Dog (And You)

Almost every K9 Nose Work team will face one or more training speed bumps on their scent work journey. Some have easy solutions (stop reaching in your pocket for treats just before your dog finds the hide), others, like a suddenly false/fringe alerting dog, take more time. Let's look at a few of the most common issues and some tips on how to fix them so your team can get back to sniffing at highway speeds (regardless of what Sammy Hagar says, in nose work, you CAN drive sniffty-five)!

*Remember to always seek out the knowledge and expertise of a Certified or Associate Nose Work Instructor (CNWI/ANWI) to guide you on your nose work journey and help pump you up when your team's sniffer goes flat. A trained eye observing you and your dog can identify and fix more problems in a few searches than you reading every article on nose work out there and trying to fix things on your own.    

My dog loses interest or gives up in new/challenging environments: This problem can blindside a team that is otherwise strong. If your dog does well in class - his home base for nose work - and advances his skills, there is a tendency to train at that level in all situations. But, a dog who is less experienced in an area - like exteriors - will not respond well to advanced challenges as an introduction to an already challenging environment.

Keeping with the exterior area example, an otherwise strong dog may get into this environment to search for a challenging hide, show a little odor obedience, but not see the search through to source. He may get distracted easily, choose other activities to do instead of searching, and he may even show signs of stress, or give up altogether.

The fix: Shift your thinking back to the early stages of the game and how your dog was introduced to searching. Bring out the boxes, use a little presentation, keep search areas small, keep searches simple. Get your dog to buy-in to the game in this environment. Don't move too fast to increase the difficulty of the searches. Keep the sessions short and end with an easy search. If your dog just won't come on board to search for odor in this environment, pair food and odor.

Tips to avoid this problem: While your dog is searching for primary reward and paired food & odor, try to spread your training out evenly across all the elements of K9 Nose Work. Don't wait until your dog is searching odor only to increase the difficulty level of searches. You're much more likely to see a motivated sniffer working tough problems when his nose tells him there's definitely an edible reward waiting at the source.

My dog suddenly started false and/or fringe alerting: This is not a problem that just fell out of the sky. Your dog has been thinking a lot for a long time about what gets him his reward, and he's probably not the one to blame for this new behavior. This is very simply a communication issue. You don't see too many dogs false or fringe alert when searching for primary reward. They might go back to the last hide placement and check it out to see if what paid once will pay twice, but there's rarely a commitment to that spot, it's more like wishful sniffing.

The problem starts developing when we a) introduce a formal alert or wait for the dog to offer a final response b) start working more blowing/pooling/lingering/inaccessible odor hides c) start working more blind hides. We introduce too many other possibilities for our dogs to be right and get rewarded. Suddenly, pawing after finding source or looking at you after finding source gets a reward. Sometimes a sniffing dog working lingering or pooling odor near source can get a reward because we think that's good enough or we're having a lazy day. With inaccessible hides we can send all sorts of mixed signals; a dog doesn't get rewarded for catching the scent at it's strongest point, because we think that's not correct, or a dog gets rewarded, but could have worked closer to the source.  

The fix: So, the easiest thing to do is slow down on a, b, and c. Go back to easier hide placement (like small cones or buckets that the odor collects in around the hide so the source is easy to find and stick with), go back to instant reward at source, and keep the blindfold off (no blind hides) so you're not giving your dog the wrong signals about what pays. Work your way slowly back to the more confounding hide placements and occasional blind searches, always with an eye to reward your dog for source odor recognition. As much as 'looks at me' is a pretty obvious final response for finding odor, there's a risk that the 'looks at me' behavior becomes the trigger in your dog's mind and the source odor is just an extra step in the process. Odor needs to be the final stop on the train to treat town. Practice rewarding your dog more for a nose sniffing source, and hopefully that will reduce the chances that he'll sniff a chair halfway across the room from the hide and give you that treat eliciting 'looks at me' face.

Tips to avoid this problem: From the very first time you reward, pay careful attention and time your reward to be delivered when your dog is actually sniffing the odor. This is fairly easily done when pairing food and odor, because your dog is already there doing what you want without having to wait on you. As you and your dog progress, there may be times where he gobbles his reward at source and turns to look for seconds from you - this is a good time to chill out and be cool. His nose will go back to that source and that's when you bring in that reward. Do that often enough, and even if he looks at you occasionally, he'll be a true believer that only odor pays.

When I say "show me" my dog sometimes doesn't go back to source: I am always interested to see this command in action. The luckiest handlers speak it and the dog goes and finds the hide again and gets his reward, but most of the time this command translated to dog speak goes something like this: "Well, if I found it the first time and didn't get paid, why am I going back to that same spot? Maybe, I'll try something else." And so you get a dog that starts checking other spots around the source of the hide, and maybe he sweeps over the source again and you reward, but maybe he doesn't - and you reward. You can see how this gets confusing for the dog.

The fix: Zip your lip and let your reward do the talking. If you miss an opportunity to reward when your dog is sniffing source, have patience and be ready to deliver a well-timed reward the next time he finds the hide. If getting your dog to stick on odor is a chronic problem, then see the fix for the prior problem and work on setting hides that promote your dog sticking at source. When you reward, pay it out slowly so your dog stays at source longer, and don't hand out a reward for him looking at you, only for him sniffing at source.

If your use of "show me" comes from past experience misreading your dog and calling an alert too soon, it's best to phase the phrase out of your vocabulary. Your dog could actually get used to the chain of events you're reinforcing, get in odor and close to source, check-in with handler, get told "show me", sniff again somewhere near source and check-in for reward. It's better to set up non-blind searches and plan only to respond to your dog sniffing source. That means if he stops two feet before the hide and looks at you, just keep on walking, and if you must stop, don't engage your dog with eye contact or body language. Be patient and only come to life and deliver a reward when he finds that hide.

Tips to avoid this problem: Don't introduce a "show me" command. Instead, observe your dog carefully in non-blind searches and get to know the signs that he's found source odor. When you encounter the rare situation where you're not confident in your observational skills or your dog isn't giving you his normal signs, just relax. He'll know there's only one way to get his reward: go to source; and if you miss him going there the first time, he'll go back, because he's never been paid for anything but going to source.

My dog urinated in a search. He's never done this before!: Dogs relieve themselves during searches for many reasons. Some dogs reveal themselves early on in the game as uninhibited eliminators. Other dogs show pretty good control, closing the flood gates on command before so much as a drip of urine drops to the ground. All dogs have the potential to go to the bathroom during a search, no matter how long they've been doing nose work. Still, it's shocking and embarrassing to a person when his dog soils a perfect search record by answering nature's call in the search area.

The fix: Management. Try a pre/post-search routine that involves a command to get busy and empty the tanks. When searching known areas of urinary interest, don't support your dog's pre-potty routine. Keep him moving until he's actively working the hide. Take note of how your dog looks in areas that have no nearby hides. Often, with no or very little available scent dogs will check out of the search and check in to relieving, marking, checking their peemail. If you learn to read the signs, you can manage your dog in the search and keep odor obedience at the top of his list.

If and when your dog eliminates in the search, don't panic. Give him a break and get back out there to find that odor. Adjust the search to make the hides easier to find if necessary. The key is not to keep your dog from areas where he's likely to pee, it's to increase the importance of odor in areas where he's likely to pee. If odor obedience is winning 9 times out of 10, he's doing great.

Tips to avoid this problem: There's no avoiding nature's call. It's better to face areas that he may want to eliminate in and do your best to set him up for success: pre/post-search elimination routine, easy hides in smaller search areas, careful observation of when he's switched over to critter/pee mode.  

Despite the different issues that can pop up in our K9 Nose Work journeys, our dogs are uber-forgiving and always willing to wait for us to catch on to the problem and offer a solution. So, be the handler your dog deserves and approach each bump in the road knowing that the road was smooth to start, you probably caused the bump, and the road can be smooth again if you focus on clear communication and odor obedience for your dog.

Happy Sniffing!