Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Shiba Experiment: Can K9 Nose Work® Help Me Find a Reason to Tolerate (maybe even like) My Shiba Inu?

Confession time: I have a dislike of my Shiba Inu, Jade, so strong it borders on hatred. When I say "my Shiba Inu", I mean this like a prison warden would call a convict "my prisoner". This dog lives in my house, and I take responsibility for her care, but she's not mine mine. I take care of Jade, mainly because she's used her evil Shiba mind-control powers on my wife, Rachel, and made her have irrational feelings of love. I take care of the Shiba-beast, but, my not-so-secret hope is for this dog to run away in a snow storm and disappear from our lives forever. After over 4 years of living with this soulless creature, I've come to grips with the fact that no matter how many times she's run away or appeared to be choking on food she's stolen from one of the other dogs, this constantly nipping, yipping, shedding, snarling black imp is not leaving my life. Hoping this little Darth Vader dog may have a shred of goodness somewhere inside her, I've decided to turn to K9 Nose Work to bring her to the light. Who knows how this manipulative minion of darkness will respond to such a relationship-driven activity, but one thing's for sure, my Karma bank account should be in the black forever with this act of kindness.

How did Jade & I come to live with - and despise - each other? Human love. My wife, Rachel, had two dogs before we met, Jade, and a mutt named Deogee - who is a great dog & best buds with my dog, Muriel. The first time Jade & Muriel met, Jade forced her into a corner and frightened her so badly she emptied her bladder in fear. The second time they met, Jade physically attacked Muriel. This time I intervened and grabbed Jade by the hind legs, hoping to prevent bloodshed. While dangling in my grip, this serpent-dog coiled up and bit my elbow. The bite caused a reflex that sent Jade flying. She skidded across the floor, hit the wall, and popped up like a fluffy little four-legged terminator, driven by the singular purpose of inflicting pain on me and mine. Only because of my love for her human, was Jade allowed to be a part of my life. When Rachel & I moved in together (first in a one-bedroom guest house in the San Fernando Valley), Jade had numerous opportunities throughout each day to terrorize Muriel and drive me crazy. She would try to bite me any time I touched her for anything, she'd dig under fences, bring near-lifeless birds & squirrels to the front door of the guest house - once she dropped a bird in the landlord's family room - and she would emit a shrill banshee cry for hours each night, no doubt communicating the effectiveness of her dastardly deeds to some distant evil overlords. Like a comic book villain, she's no less black of heart after all these years, rather, she's become more patient and selective in the pain she inflicts. Most recently, she's run away several times, attacked Muriel over food a number of times, frightened the vet's office staff with glass-shattering screams in protest of a temperature reading by rectal thermometer, and murdered a few frogs in the back yard, leaving me to clean up frog bodies like the county amphibian coroner. In between her bouts of mischief and mayhem, she sits calmly with a blank stare that says she's fully expecting to outlast me in our little game of thrones.

Jade isn't entirely new to K9 Nose Work. I've been thinking about the possibility of working with Jade as my next nose work dog for a while now, and I did demo her a month ago at a clinic to show that even convict-dogs can benefit from some time in the "exercise yard". And, true to our relationship, Jade clawed at the ground, pulling against the leash as I led her into the demo area - she probably thought I was planning a public execution. Even as we played the game, she nervously popped around, expecting a trap to spring at any moment. I can't even imagine how we would work together as a team - trust is not something either one of us has found in the other. Yet, as much as I would enjoy the clean slate a puppy brings to the game, I find it much more interesting to try and use K9 Nose Work to dismantle the bad behaviors of the past and repair a broken relationship, with the hope of forging some previously unfathomable bond between dog and handler.

Over the next few months, probably as a members-only feature, I will document and share parts of my K9 Nose Work journey with the cute little excrement sack all of the neighborhood kids want to pet (unless said kids are holding food, in which case Jade will body slam them to the ground), in hopes of capturing the magical power of K9 Nose Work to alter the core of a being (or two beings) and to create trust and a bond where, before, only malice existed.

Jade giving the camera her favorite look: evil.
Here is a photo of Jade, video will probably follow as part of the members-only content. She's a highly food-motivated dog, so, if nothing else works, she'll learn to love food even more and hate that I hold large stores of it captive from her jaws, accessible only through honest sniffing work (not bullying and thievery). As this experiment moves forward, I really have no idea what I will do if this dog & I develop neutral - or worse, positive - feelings for each other. It will truly be a K9 Nose Work miracle!

Happy Sniffing!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Be All About Your Dog in K9 Nose Work

Many lucky K9 Nose Work dogs and their people just wrapped up an enjoyable long weekend of nose work - with the added bonus of a beautiful backdrop - at Colorado K9 Nose Work Camp, surrounded by the Rocky Mountains. Last month, a great group of nose-workers gathered in Pennsylvania for K9 Nose Work Camp in the Poconos Mountains. Attending a K9 Nose Work camp is a singular experience in the nose work world, it's also a big commitment of time and money. Similarly, attending seminars or workshops, or traveling a long distance for K9 Nose Work classes, requires you to give more than just love for the opportunity to learn K9 Nose Work with your dog. When you invest your time, money - and your love - into K9 Nose Work, it's easy to let the desire to reach certain goals, as well as expectations for the way training should happen, get in the way of true learning for the dog (and the human). If you want to reach your desired goals and have your expectations met, you have to be willing to be all about your dog in K9 Nose Work.

What do I mean when I say you should be "all about your dog" in K9 Nose Work? Here are some ideas:

Set Your Dog Free - on or off-leash, beginning or advanced, your K9 Nose Work dog needs to spread his scenting wings and fly. He needs to start making his own decisions and coming to his own conclusions about what pays and what doesn't and how you fit into the picture when you are part of the search. The smaller and more insignificant a role you play in the game, the better. The more freedom you give your dog to explore and rule things out, and to come to the one right behavior independently (find source odor), the better.

The easiest way to do this in the beginning is to have your dog work off-leash and search for primary reward, then paired odor & reward hides with random supplemental reward, and to have an instructor do most of the interacting necessary in the search until your dog is confident that source odor is the only game in town that pays.

As your dog progresses, you'll be a bit more involved in the searches (rewarding, helping make sure areas are fully covered), so it's as important as ever to make sure your dog is still searching freely without getting hung up on things you're doing (knowingly or otherwise) in the search. Your reward should not be hidden from your dog. We humans would probably love to snatch a paycheck from our boss' hands before our 40hr week was over, but we know, even if that check is dangling before our eyes, we won't get it unless we put in the work. Your dog can be the same way. He'll happily work for his paycheck even if it's right there in your hand. In fact, he'll understand more clearly that it's there and waiting for him as soon as he finds source odor. When you play the disappearing/reappearing coin trick of reward tucked behind your back or stuffed in a bait bag, this can be confusing for your dog - especially if you're early or late with the reward and he fixates on where it's coming from. Finding source odor should be your dog's only goal, not trying to outsmart you and your spring-loaded treat hand.

Just like you shouldn't hide the fact that your dog's reward is right there waiting if he just finds source, you should not keep him in the dark about your movements and actions in the search. At some point, your dog is going to need to know with certainty that sometimes you might stand in an area, by an object, or even ask or direct him to search something/somewhere, and at no time should that mean to your dog that a reward is forthcoming; only if source odor is found does your dog get that reward. Same goes for distractions, and clear areas. If your dog cannot confront these scenarios and go through the possible outcomes (always leading him to the one and only outcome that pays: find source for reward), then it should not surprise you if he pulls one over on you at the time when you are most vulnerable (blind search).

Early and always, let your dog discover how he can be right in the search, even if it means he tries some of the wrong behaviors as he works on understanding that finding source is the one right behavior in all situations.

Try to See Things Your Dog's Way - I don't mean get down on all fours and sniff around - although that's fun and probably has some kind of value in some alternate nose work universe! I mean, think about how we are different from our dogs, especially how we react to experiences and how we process information. Humans have a tendency to focus on the negative in any situation. To dwell on it, in fact. And, to apply prejudice to similar situations they might encounter in the future. Dogs - and this is just an observation - appear to take what works from any given situation, and forget the rest. It makes sense; you wouldn't last long in the wild if, when devouring a tasty rabbit, all you thought about was the terribly long time it took you to locate the rabbit, the multiple times you pounced and he wasn't there, the few times you sniffed up trees when he was hiding down in the thatch, the extended bout of sniffing you went through while he cowered right beneath your nose. You'd do much better to see it as a successful hunt (you are eating the rabbit, after all), and you'd make sure on your next hunt not to be so easily fooled, maybe to pay closer attention to the information your nose is bringing in.

When working with your dog in nose work, think in terms of what the experience of searching means to the dog when success is always achievable - not always easy, but achievable. It means that the experience is almost always positive, and will result in better performance in subsequent searches. For example, a dog who works a container search with a hide in a flat bag where scent is escaping in such a way that the dog doesn't commit to investigating the bag, rather he looks everywhere else, will usually respond much differently to similar situations in future searches - he'll make sure to check flat bags sooner and more carefully, and if the hide is in a flat bag, he'll commit to it with more confidence.

Imagine if you watched your dog search the flat bag from your human perspective, you would probably feel like he was struggling, and want to do something about it. You'd be thinking "Why is it taking so long? How come he's passed it 6 times? Why is he leaving the area to sniff random things?". You might try to put him on leash and guide him on a path to the bag, or to stand by the bag and call him back every time he leaves. You'd probably be focusing on why he wasn't doing better, finding it faster, being more clear with his indication - all the negative things. Consequently, you'd be missing the fact that your dog was learning that whole time, and that he was working toward an achievable success. while we may have to manipulate a search environment or handle our dogs differently depending on the search scenario, the best strategy to begin with is to be patient and let your dog learn.

Be Willing to Try New and Different Training Ideas... at Least Once - some of the best things I've ever done with my dog in our K9 Nose Work training were things I felt so at odds with when I first tried them, that if I had not kept an open mind, I would have dropped the ideas in a heartbeat. After seeing how Muriel responded to the different ways of handling her in different searches, I would have been robbing her of excellent learning and skill building if I would have let my feelings of discomfort and doubt influence our training.

New exercises often take several repetitions over time and in different environments before your dog is reaping the full benefits. Sometimes, the exercises are working for the dog even when they're not working for us.

If you're training with an instructor at a camp or seminar, or in your weekly class, and you're asked to try new or different ways of starting a search, handling your dog, or rewarding your dog, then make a real effort for your dog - even if you have your own ideas about how the new strategies will play out. You may not even be aware that you're giving your dog way too much leash in the search, starting him when he's not paying attention/ready to hunt, or paying him too many times for finding the same hide. Going along with a new way of working can help your dog shake some of these bad habits you've been promoting.

Are there times you should not try something new & different? Sure. If you're getting information from a source that's not familiar with the activity & sport of K9 Nose Work, you might not want to try things on blind faith. Instead, you should absorb the information you receive and think about how some part of it might be applicable to your nose work training.

Let Your Dog Teach You - you may be the handler part of the nose work team, but what you should really be doing is observing. Your dog has so much information to share in any given search that if you're ready to watch, you'll be amazed by what you can learn that will help your team in the search - or at least not do any harm!

Try pairing your reward with the source odor so you can just watch the search instead of worrying about your role in the game and whether you will inadvertently cue your dog with poor reward timing.

Use what you've learned to be a better handler. If you see that you're trapping your dog in certain parts of a search and he's not moving out independently, there's an opportunity for you to positively affect the search, just by moving around more. Maybe your dog starts his searches at 90mph and doesn't turn the sniffer on until he hits 200mph, so he begins most searches by jumping into the deep end of the odor pool and then spending way too much time doggy paddling around without a plan. Be more patient at start lines, set threshold hides, set multiple hides in a row for your dog to find one after another close together. A handler who learns from his dog is a handler who starts to think like a dog - and, in most searches, that's a good thing!

Whatever stage of nose work training you and your dog are in, try to keep things fun and exciting for your dog - exciting usually means challenging, but achievable. Do your best not let your own preconceptions or feelings about a search project onto your dog. And, remember, if your dog wasn't having fun, he wouldn't get right back in the searching game and do it all over again, tail wagging & face beaming. So, trust that your dog is both an excellent student and teacher, fade yourself into the background a bit and be all about your dog!

Happy Sniffing!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Learning From K9 Nose Work NACSW National Invitational Videos: Kristie & Jasper Part 3

This week we look at the last two videos from Kristie & Jasper's National Invitational searches! The 2014 NACSW National Invitational is already scheduled for May 9th in Santa Rosa, CA! If you & your canine already have an invite, congratulations! For the rest of you, sniff hard and sniff fun, you may or may not make it in for 2014, but it's all about the journey, not the destination!

Day 2 NACSW National Invitational

Garage Bottles - I could watch videos of this search area over and over again. There's so much to observe in the way each team works the problems out. Jasper, as we've seen in prior videos, is such an independent searcher and really gets - and enjoys - the task of finding every "bird" in the bushes!

 *** this video was giving me trouble right before posting - I could view it no problem on an iPad with Youtube app, but not on a laptop through Safari or Chrome. Let me know if you have issues, not sure what I can do about it, other than redo the commentary and re-upload at a later date...***

Jeff McMahon: Boy, he heads off to chart his own path! You can always count on him to hunt one down, then another, then another! -- hang back at the start a little more and he might start knocking them down right from the get go instead of coming back later to round up the two or three he blows by at the threshold.

Kristie Cervantez: This was the most fun of the entire weekend.  I, like everyone else, when we did the walk through laughed and thought “OH BOY...this is either going to be the most fun or the biggest disaster”.
What should be mentioned is this, Jasper LOVES to play with water bottles.  Since he was a puppy he has been a water bottle cruncher, whether the water bottle is in a toy or by itself.  He also has a couple of the toys that were strewn about, so again I thought, this could be trouble.  How wrong I was about trouble.  I am so proud of him.  He was all business as soon as he entered the search.  No goofing around.  He knew what his job was and he did it.  Crazy!  I like watching the video from both angles.  What amazed me when I first watched it was how long it took him to alert on the first hide.  Over 30 seconds (glad I did not realize that at the time..I would have panicked)...What was more amazing watching the video, he entered the search area and pretty much scoped out the whole thing.  It looks like he was mentally checking off where he knew some of the hides were before he got to the business of finding and alerting on them.  It was another “unknown number” of hides and I was so focused on what he was doing and so proud of how he was working, I did not even think to count how many he had found.  I truly just followed him the entire time, calling the alerts and handing out the treats.  This search was all Little Man.

JM: The first water bottle hide is tough because he's so pushy he knocks it around and has to re-find it twice.

KC: When I am not quite sure where he is alerting, I will ask him, “Do better” and I did on this one.  He tried to do better for me but you are right, he was pushing it around.  He did know where it was and I did call it and get it right.

JM: The toy hide under the ladder, are you worried he's possibly on the wrong object and waiting to see if he starts working again?

KC: This one was funny.  I did the same thing, “do better little man” and Jasper looks at me and I says..”NO..I found it you call it I already did better..you need to TRUST ME”.  He actually said all of that with that one look at me..I was just the only one that heard him.  :)  He was right and did not need to “do better”.

JM: On the pallet hide, even Jasper now seems to be wondering if he's following the scent to the right source, taking a little more time to figure things out.

KC: On this hide, I knew he found something, I think he again was trying to figure out how to retrieve it.  He finally got as close as he could and alerted.

JM: Clear indication on that hide in the center of the area in the vertical cardboard tube - nice!  

KC: This is one of the ones that he found on his initial canvas of the room, he just worked his way back to it.  Good Boy!

JM: Great job covering the whole area and getting back to the threshold to find remaining hides.

KC: Great job Jasper in covering the whole area.  He took himself back to that threshold hide.  If you notice, I never once led him or touched him or directed him in any way..at least I do not think that I did. 
He got that last one and again, I had no idea how many we had found.  He kind of sniffed around Luther a bit and I think finally saw the spectators.  He looked around somewhat and then looked at me and I knew he was done.  He just had that look as if to say “That is it MaMa...we found them all”.  FINISH
We left the area with the biggest smiles on our face...

Interior Tables & Chairs - This search still impresses me as a really cool problem to put the dogs in the middle of, and even though it's not as grand and flashy as some of the other searches, it's a challenge worthy of the best sniffers around. How fitting that it would be our last search - a smaller, more familiar looking search area for the end of two long days of searching, but a tough scent puzzle to solve. A "wolf in sheep's clothing" of a search!

JM: nice first find - so funny that he just charges into the middle of the search area after that!

KC: I think this was my second favorite search.  I stopped outside to give him some water.  He gets really thirsty after searching and we had just left the bottle search.  I remember opening the door to start the search and it was so quiet.  All weekend that room had been a hub of actitivty and it was like opening the door to Church.  :)  I was not sure how well we were going to do. He had just worked pretty hard.  Little Man rocks again.  He enters the search area and boom...alerts on the TV Stand.  Christina (judge) asks me the dreaded “Where?” question.  I showed her where he was alerting and we got it right.  I think I said to her “I deserved that” because he was not as accurate as he usually is (he was tired..I could tell), but I knew what he was telling me.

JM: Good job with the chair hide. Nice flow to the shop vac hide.

KC: Following Little Man as he does his thing, finding a hide and trying to figure out how to get it into his mouth.

JM: Gets table hide at 1 minute left to search. There you guys go again working the area he's pretty much cleared -- I see a habit that could be broken!! Like my inability to move Muriel on from blowing odor in no less than 60 seconds!

KC: Let’s break the habit.  :)

JM: Okay - working the chair hide you clearly aren't sure if he got it already. Makes more sense as to why you're hanging out there. Was very hard to keep track of everything in these searches.

KC: I think that the hide we missed was right behind us.  It is that converging odor thing we need to work on.  In watching the video, I see him catch odor over there but than works the table and chair.  You are right, and I think I asked, haven’t we found this one?  I could not remember and he was working, trying to find something.  He finally gave up and alerted and we received our one and only “No” of the entire weekend.

JM: hmmm... interesting call. I did the same thing, calling a false in the final seconds of this search. I think it was nose work fatigue for all of us!

KC: After the “No”, they had already called 30 seconds and I just called finish.  Little Man was tired and I could tell.  He did an amazing job and I am just so proud of him.  He loves his MaMa and I love him and in watching us together, I think it shows.

What a great series of videos Kristie so generously shared with us all. Thanks again to Kristie & Jasper and thank you to the NACSW!

Happy sniffing!