Friday, September 20, 2013

Learning From K9 Nose Work NACSW National Invitational Videos: Kristie & Jasper Part 2

Lots of nose work fun from coast to coast this past month has delayed parts two and three of the Kristie & Jasper videos. So, I will not delay any further. Enjoy the sniffing!

Day Two of NACSW National Invitational

Equipment Exterior - I love that Kristie kept the leash on Jasper for this search, it gives a nice contrast to Muriel's off-leash work in the same area. The more I watch videos of the exterior search at the National Invitational, the more I wish there was a search area like that in my backyard!

Jeff McMahonInteresting that he headed straight for the truck first, then on the same path as Muriel to the hide behind the plate on the yellow truck's front bumper, the stack tires, then the tube.

Kristie Cervantez: This was our first search of the day Sunday and I think we went 2nd, lucky for us, it was not too hot at that time.  Very windy though. I remember walking up and the Steward told me there were 8 we were told “unknown number”.  In watching the video, I really lucked out at where I started Jasper.  Again, though, I just walked up and that is where we started and it looks like we were lined up directly with the hide on the back of the truck. Jasper went right to it.  Good way to start the day.  Again, no real plan to start..I just followed his nose.

JM: I like your ID of Jasper crittering in the gravel as you head towards the tires. He's much different when he's just farting around and odor is not nearby.

KC: He is very different when he is not on odor.  My thought at the time was cat poop or something so we moved along. I guess I figured we will just walk around the perimeter and see where his nose stops.

JM: worked the tire stack hide similar to Muriel - on a mission, passed the hide and u-turned fast, sourced with confidence. very nice.

KCLittle Man was playing his “A” game.

JM: Tube hide presented no challenge for J-man!

KC: Again...just following Jasper while he does the work.

JM: Nice job getting him back to the perimeter/threshold for that hide on the red steps.

KC: We just ended up there after our “walk around”.  Michelle told me not too many people found that one.  I am actually glad that we ended up doing this search on-leash.  It helped me keep better track of where we were and may have kept him more focused.

JM: good idea to go down the row of vehicles after that threshold hide.

KC: is where I remember...oh yea..I should be counting how many we have found.  I was so focused on Jasper that I forgot to count.  I even asked Natalie, she was timing, jokingly how many have we found so far.  I even stopped for a second trying to count.  I think I stopped at that yellow tractor and Jasper found a hide.

JM: Interesting choice to go back to the corner where tires stacks end, then to work the trash dumpster. You take him back after he leaves, I actually like that strategy in most situations - might have worked well in the warehouse interior to sort out the shipping crate hide faster.

KC: Now is the point where I am thinking have we found 6 or 7?  Where have we not been?  That dumpster and scoop look like they are there for a reason (they were there for a reason..distraction!  No odor on them) so I asked Jasper to work them.  Nothing where are we going to go???

JM: Dang - that pressure washer was a tough two-hide object. He pushed right past the hide on the hitch to get to the one on the fender. No wonder no one found 8 out there!

KC: We went to the only corner we had not been...THE PRESSURE WASHER..  Little Man looks like he actually caught the one on the hitch first, then the fender.  He alerted on the fender and then bad handler me, I pull him off in the wrong direction.  Now I really cannot remember how many we have found..7 or 8?  Do I call finish or keep going? 

JM: Interesting to me that you would choose that corner for the last 45 seconds - he really showed nothing there as he found a hide in the tires and a hide in the tube - nothing between. I guess, at that point in the search it really doesn't matter where you go because you'd have to go back where you just were to find hide 8, but it is interesting to think about.

KCWe kept going and headed back to the corner..not even sure why..Than they call 30 seconds.  He alerts on the tire again and what the heck, I call finish.  It was a fun search.  He did great.

* Only the raw footage is shown for this search. The commentary for this video was done a total of 3 times. All 3 Coach's Eye videos with commentary became corrupted in the conversion process - there is something about the source video that the app does not like. Since I'm not reading from a script, there were 3 different commentaries, all of them now lost to the digital abyss forever. On the plus side, getting to talk about the video 3 times made me acutely aware of how much can be learned from this search!

To highlight a little bit of what I talked about:

- The garbage bin in the center of the search area was used twice by Jasper to work out two different problems. When thinking strategy, you have to manage your dog's need to work in the same area twice, with your desire to keep him from going back to source a hide he's already found. There's a balance to be struck in terms of how close you allow them to get to an already source hide and how many times you let them go back to an area. In this search, he needed the freedom to cover the same ground at the trash bin, and he would have needed the freedom to re-cover the pressure washer to find the second hide (the only one he missed).

- When Jasper finds the 7th hide on the fender of the pressure washer, Kristie takes him and directs him on to search away from the pressure washer, thus not putting him in a position to work the final hide. I am guilty of moves like this, as I'm sure others are, too. It's worth looking at how our dogs work from one hide to the next when we don't reinforce continued sourcing of the same hide. Be mindful, as each dog will be different, and some are very sensitive to getting paid for finding odor, no matter if it's the tenth time at the same odor without moving. The key to look for is how your dog resumes working once they know a second find is the only way to get more reward at a source. I see a lot of dogs who, once they leave an odor they've been paid for finding, will really make good choices in hunting down that next hide - much better choices than we humans will usually make!

- Kristie very confidently identifies when Jasper is just smelling critters or some other non-target odor scent in the gravel between the yellow truck hide and the stacked tires hide. It's pretty clear which is which when you watch him self-indulge in the gravel and then watch him work a target odor. Where people get caught up is in waiting for a final response. You can't solve a puzzle with just the last puzzle piece, but you can pretty much solve a puzzle with all of the pieces but the last one. Focus on the behaviors leading up to your dog finding source. This will give you what you need to rule out non-target odor interest, and to be confident your dog has found source even when he doesn't give you a clear final response.

Warehouse - This one was down to the final seconds for Kristie & Jasper! If you don't know/have forgotten, this was a known number of hides the dogs were searching for, so at the 30 second warning with 5 hides found, she knew there was one more out there somewhere.

JM: Your pace is nice and his responses to odor are strong.

KC: This was really fun too.  It was only 2 mins and Jasper was all business.  He seemed like he found one right after the next.  His “retrieving” behavior really showed itself on the second hide we found, on that big white thing.  He sourced it so well because he was trying to retrieve it.

JM: Squeaked that threshold broom hide in at the last second! Nice job!

KCI loved this search because I just had this overwhelming feeling of confidence in him.  Thus far, we had not made one false call.  You know I had been struggling since last Nov in San Pedro with my confidence in him and more so in myself.  It felt so good to have shaken all of that off and be able to “trust” my Jasper and have FUN.

Part three to follow in the next week or so. Thanks again to Kristie for sharing her videos!

Happy Sniffing!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Focusing on Distractions in a K9 Nose Work® Search

Our dogs deal with distractions in every search all of the time. Most of the distractions are low value compared to the target odor and the promised reward. Some distractions can be truly irresistible to even the most focused dog. Our hope is that our dogs will seek out and find the target odor, even if it means passing over a burrito in a duffel bag, or the scent of a deceased critter in a wood pile. Our biggest fear is that our dogs will take such an interest in a distractor scent that we'll get duped into thinking that a stick of butter in a box is the target odor. How do we put our fears to rest and make our hope the reality? How do we get to a place where we're confident in our dogs to always choose target odor above all other scents?

Always Deliver a Clear & Clean Reward - Not only is it important for your dog to get rewarded at the source of the target odor, but it's also important that you not drop food reward elsewhere in the search for him to eat. The clearer your dog is on what pays (finding the source of the target odor), the easier it is for him to seek that out above all else. If your dog usually finds a dropped treat in the search, he's being rewarded for efforts that don't result in locating the target odor. If you encourage him to find dropped treats, beware. Behavior that's rewarded is behavior that's repeated. Maybe, he expects that you also want him to find food in target-odor-only searches. What happens when he encounters food in the search, but he can't just help himself to it? Hopefully he doesn't offer a final response. Your dog should get paid only by paired reward on the target odor or reward you deliver, anything else he enjoys in a search will make it harder for you to read his communication.

Confront Distractions Head On - If your dog really has a problem with certain distractions, avoiding them is not going to make the problem go away. Rather, your dog needs some clear communication on what pays and what doesn't.

Some dogs respond well to a simple search exercise with three boxes: one containing the target odor, one blank, and one containing a high value food distraction (the food should be in a container within the box). Let the dog investigate the three boxes and pay him immediately for interest in the target odor box. If your dog wants to get the food in the distractor box, be patient and let him make the decision to leave the box and search for target odor. Do this a few times with lots of rewards for choosing the odor box, then add in several more blank boxes and watch your dog hone in on the target odor box without much waffling.

Some dogs show great progress working a search with 6-8x the number of distractor boxes to target odor boxes. Make sure to draw a diagram of your container search, and label all boxes clearly - you don't want to reward your dog for finding banana nut muffin! This exercise seems to work best if the target odor boxes stay put and the the distractor boxes move around. Again, if your dog is interested in a distractor, let him investigate and leave it on his own. If you drag him away while he's still trying to get to that rabbit pelt, he'll just pick up where he left off the next time he passes that distractor.

Be an Observer - Definitely take advantage of watching your dog in K9 Nose Work searches to see how he investigates a pee smell or food item differently from the target odor. But, also watch your dog in all other areas of his life. How does he look when checking out that tree on the corner that every dog in the neighborhood makes a pit stop at? What's his nose do when you set a tupperware container full of leftovers out on the table?

If you watch all the ways your dog investigates non-target odor scents, you won't have to wonder if that bag in the container search he froze on, then left, needs to be checked again.

And, while I feel for anyone who has had to make a false call on a distractor item, don't get too down or yourself. Your dog is not suddenly also alerting to corn on the cob or old gym socks. Most likely, you misread his initial signs and encouraged a second look at the item which then gave it some kind of value in your dog's world, and the two of you kept fueling the fire of false alert, until he gave you what looked like his behavior at odor, and you made a wrong call. Your dog doesn't get paid for your mistake, it's not suddenly a better gig to false on food and get nothing than it is to get rewarded for finding target odor. It is worth thinking about how your dog is different when working to and sourcing a target odor versus smelling distractors; pretty much every dog is different in some way.

Keep the Target Odor Valuable - Yes, it's good for our dogs to put the target odor in direct comparison with high-value distractors, but this works way better if the dogs already consider the target odor to be an easy-to-find source that consistently brings a reward. Make sure your search scenarios feature hides that promote clear communication from your dog. This doesn't always mean the search needs to be simple and the hides super accessible, rather, you and the dog need to be on the same wavelength regarding rewardable communication. If you're running searches with your dog and he routinely displays source odor behavior and/or gives a final response three or more times before reaching the actual source of the hide, you need to adjust your searches. This kind of practice won't help the team, especially during searches where distractors will be present. On the flip side, if your dog does searches that allow him to confidently work to source and allow you to meaningfully time rewards, he should have a strong desire to find odor in any situation.

When you & your dog are practicing K9 Nose Work and confronting distractions in the search (planned or unplanned), try to remember that you get more information when your dog investigates a distracting item or area, even though it may result in your dog peeing on a bush or pawing at a bag with potato chips in it. Practice is not a K9 Nose Work trial. Peeing in the search or false alerting on a distractor item does not mean your practice session - or your learning opportunity - is over. Take something positive from every search experience and use it to inform your training going forward. You'll never know when observations from a training "failure" will help you to read your dog and achieve competition success.

Happy Sniffing!