Sunday, June 8, 2014

While We Wait For 2014 NACSW K9 Nose Work National Invitational Videos

The 2014 NACSW K9NW National Invitational took place earlier this month in Santa Rosa, CA and was a thoroughly enjoyable event with great weather and fun searches, all taking place among a great community of nose work enthusiasts. Like last year, the founders of the sport have graciously promised video of the searches to all 31 competitors (34 teams actually qualified)! We each get whatever video is available of our own searches, and we are free to do as we please with this video (as long as it's not commercial use), which is a rare opportunity to let the general public get a look at the ups and downs of competitive nose work searches. These are not your average searches, either, these are some of the most challenging scenarios a team will come across at any nose work event. So, while we wait for the video to become available, I'll share some thoughts on my own experience at the Invitational this year.

Friday May 9th - Day 1 of the 2014 National Invitational

This year I drove from Minneapolis, MN to Santa Rosa, CA - with the help of my dad - and I was much happier about Muriel's well-being than last year when I flew her in the cargo hold of a plane. Muriel is something of a road warrior (see the A K9 Nose Work Road Trip post), so she jumped out of the back of the car at the hotel on Thursday night looking ready as ever to do some nose work.

For day 1 of the National Invitational, the 31 competing teams had four searches. Our group of competitors searched a vehicle search and an interior first, then an exterior search and a container search the second part of the day.

Day 1 Vehicle Search:

posted # of hides: unknown
actual # of hides: 4
search time: 3:30

layout: 4 vehicles in a line from search area start line to far end of search area. There was a 4-door car, a Prius, a pickup truck, and a conversion van. The vehicles were separated by cones.

clever twist: if your dog left the area around vehicle #1 as marked by cones and moved to vehicle #2, you could not return to search vehicle #1 again.

outcome: many teams succeeded at this search. Vehicles 1 & 4 each had 1 hide, vehicle 3, the pickup truck, had 2 hides. The Prius, the zero emissions vehicle, was also a zero hide vehicle.

If you looked at this search rationally during the walk-through, it was like doing several 1-vehicle searches in a row; but, if you were actually searching, with the way the wind was blowing, it seemed highly likely that your dog would be enticed to leave odor on the vehicle he was working for the promise of odor on the next vehicle.

For me, as a first search, it left me guessing as to how many hides we'd left behind, even though we pushed to the 30 second warning. I was not feeling like a superstar handler going into the next search!

Day 1 Interior Search:

posted # of hides: 6
search time: 3:30

layout: this search area was a female jockey locker room with multiple adjoining rooms. The locker area was the largest room, with open faced wooden lockers along three of the walls, a few chairs and a mop bucket were also in this room. The other rooms were a sauna with wooden benches, a shower room, and a large bathroom. Between the locker room and the other three rooms was a short hall with a bench against one wall.

outcome: Another successful search for many teams. As it turns out, knowing how many hides are in a search area doesn't really make it any easier to keep track of how many your dog has found! Here is the hide breakdown:

2 hides in the locker room; one in a mop bucket and one under a chair in the opposite corner of the room

1 hide in the small hall under the bench (the hide was actually in a spigot on the wall)

1 hide in the sauna under a bench seat where the leg meets the seat

2 hides in the bathroom; one under a sink at the back left corner closest to the wall and one in a bathroom stall inside either a toilet seat cover dispenser or the toilet paper dispenser - hard to remember!

More than a few teams got to the 5th or 6th find (me included) and spun around feebly attempting to tally up the hides found!

For me, this search was much more in my comfort zone. Muriel was driven from hide to hide, all I had to do was stay out of her way and make sure she didn't completely miss an area. Speaking of search area coverage, the shower room was blank and Muriel had little interest in searching it, but I made her search a bit more thoroughly - typical trust your dog learning moment.

Day 1 Exterior Search:

posted # of hides: 1 to 4
actual # of hides: 4
search time: 3:00 (i think)

layout: standing at the start line, a building with a large overhang forms the left perimeter of the search area, to the right of the building, forming the bulk of the search area, is a large grassy plot of land. The perimeter opposite the building is formed by a road that also forms the perimeter along the front of the area where the start line is. Within the area there are several plastic wheeled trash bins, some concrete planters, a fire hydrant, a few irrigation pipes & maintenance boxes in the grass, and some trees.

outcome: This was the first search with some near impossible challenges. First off, there were 4 hides. No team found all 4 and no team found this one hide in particular: maybe 15 feet from the start line and about 9ft up (maybe higher) under the overhang of the building where a pipe running up the wall meets the ceiling of the overhang.

The other 3 hides were very doable, two were ground hides straight ahead from the start line on the concrete walkway under the building overhang. These were maybe 20ft apart (guessing). The third hide was out in the grass area where some irrigation pipes and a maintenance/access box was located.

I know a number of teams reported noticing their dogs working up the posts supporting the overhang or even working up the building wall, but no one had enough time to see the dogs interest through to an alert call. Muriel found the two in-line ground hides pretty quickly, then we spent a great deal of time wandering the rest of the search area and not really having much success. She came near the overhang at one point and worked up a post to a hand sanitizer dispenser, but we ended up calling finish at only 2 hides found. Wah wah waaaaaaah.

Day 1 Container Search:

posted # of hides: 2
search time: 2:00(?)

layout: the infamous hanging boxes search! A very cool setup with twenty white ORT-style boxes suspended from EZ Up tent frames on dirt and a bit of straw in the middle of a sheep barn. Everything about this search was fun. It was in a sheep barn, the boxes were hanging, the number of hides was known.

outcome: Most teams did just fine with this search. We found out there were no distractions, just two boxes with odor, the rest of the boxes were blank. One odor box was near the front of the search area, and one near the back. Muriel decided to take the perimeter of the sheep ring instead of going toward the boxes, I didn't fight her and so we made our way to the back side of the search area where she picked up odor and worked to her first find of the search. From here it gets pretty messy! Now that Muriel finds the hanging boxes valuable, she starts working through the middle of the area and tracing up the legs of the tent frames. I misread her behavior and call not one, not two, but three false alerts! Finally, we make our way to the beginning of the search area and I call her on the second odor box. Torturous search for me. Muriel is very honest in container searches, but, this was something we had never done before and that clearly made us both a little silly.

This is the kind of search I didn't agonize over failing at because it was just too damn fun!

Day 2 Large Exterior Search

posted # of hides: 1 to 5
actual # of hides: 5
search time: 4:30

layout: a large grassy exterior with picnic tables, an asphalt patch (10ft wide x 10ft long??), trees, and some utilities pipes on a concrete slab. This area was quite large for the time allotted to search, and there was a strong wind - which helped when you worked it right. Three of the hides were all the way to the back of the search area. One in a knot hole at the base of a large oak tree, one on a picnic table where an angled board supporting the table top meets the center of a horizontal board connecting the bench seats, and one under the edge of the concrete slab with utilities pipes on it. The other two were about midway into the search area, one off to the left side in a crack in the asphalt patch, and one more to the right side on a picnic table in the middle of the table top (i think).

outcome: a fun, challenging search. Two dogs managed to find all 5 hides, and a number of dogs found 4, with many teams running beyond the 30 second warning. The wind was at our backs from the start line, but gusting back and forth at times. Some teams reported critter interest - especially the far right side of the search area, I guess there were a bunch of gopher holes! A few teams had trouble with dogs peeing, but mostly it was just a large area to manage with time pressure. Muriel raced to the back of the search area and found the 3 hides without wasting too much time (she did spend a lot of time on the picnic table hide at the back of the search area, but I could have called it sooner). After finding 3 hides, we wasted a bunch of time working in unproductive parts of the search area and ultimately falsed, then timed out. I over-handled and failed to read her working near the asphalt crack hide, and we didn't even really give the second picnic table hide a chance. This was the third search where I felt very disappointed with my handling, and this made me dearly miss Amy Herot's weekly instruction. Those of you with an instructor you value, thank them, hug them, and never let them go!

Day 2 Banquet Hall Interior Search

posted # of hides: unkown
actual # of hides: 6
search time: 5:00

layout: a large banquet hall with tables and chairs filling the center of the room, a bar/galley area to the right about midway into the search, some chairs stacked on large push carts off to the left near the start, a trash can in the front right corner, and spectators all the way in the back.

outcome: what an interesting search this was. A handful of teams found all 6 hides with no falses or time-outs, many teams found 4 or 5, and the majority of teams worked beyond the 30 second warning.

1 hide was in the caster of a wheel on a push cart holding chairs off to the left of the search area and closest to the start

1 hide was in the trash can handle off to the right of the start

1 hide was on a table and 1 on a chair - do not ask me to remember which table and chair!

1 hide in the bar/galley area

1 hide in a panel (?) on a wall, left side of the search area beyond the chairs on push carts - I think. It's a blur!

Muriel was a goof in this search and spent what felt like 45 seconds doing the Wiley Coyote around the start of the search area before the tables and chairs started. She seemed to be running into scent plumes and frantically adjusting course as if there were 100 hides out there! She finally started working and I could not tell you the order in which we found the panel hide, the chair, the table, and the bar/galley hide. I can tell you that within the 30 second warning she worked the trash can, but showed no commitment, and as I was calling finish, she found the hide on the caster. I probably could have done better at keeping the pace and not wasting so much time in the beginning, turned out we could have used an extra 30-45 seconds!

Day 2 90's Style TV Interior Search

posted # of hides: unknown
actual # of hides: 5
search time: 4:00

layout: a long rectangular search area with a gaggle of old cathode ray tube (90's style) TVs on the floor just ahead of and to the right of the start line, to the left were freestanding wood shelving and metal bunk beds in a line from front to back of the search area, at the back of the search area was a sink, soap dispenser on the wall, an old-fashioned upright scale, on the right of the area was a chair (or two) in the back right corner, and open-faced lockers lining the right wall - and the TVs.

outcome: Another fun search. Challenging for the human, which made it challenging for the dogs. I think a lot of people enjoyed the number of challenges packed into one search, even though a lot of people found 3 or fewer hides. It just goes to show that if the challenge is fair and well-thought out, a team doesn't need to have found everything to have had a fun search.

2 hides in lockers - both high up in the open-faced lockers, can't remember how many lockers separated the two hides

1 hide in the neck of the upright scale

1 hide in the frame of a metal bunk bed closest to the back wall of the search area

1 hide on wood shelving - can't remember if it was the second or third freestanding shelving unit from the front

Muriel liked this search. If memory serves me, we found the wood shelving hide and one of the locker hides on a first pass, then we found the metal bunk bed frame and the scale hides on a second pass... then we wasted time on the TV area. Nothing there, duh. I don't recall seeing interest in the second locker hide, but then I don't recall being much of a help in any search that weekend! I was very proud of Muriel for climbing into a locker and getting as high as she could, and for sourcing the scale hide, as it appeared to be tricky for her with the sink, a trash can, and wall-mounted hand dispenser nearby.

Day 2 Small Exterior Search

posted # of hides: 1-4
actual # of hides: 4
search time: 3:00

layout: a rectangular space at the end of a sheep barn. The start line was an opening/entry a bit left of center on one of the long sides of the search area. The left end of the search area was open, the right end was closed. To the right of the start line was a slatted wood wall and to the right of that was an opening/entry to the barn. Across from the start line was a walkway into the barn and to the right of that was a small shack (maybe a bathroom??) with a drinking fountain mounted to the wall facing the start line.

outcome: This was a tight search area with a lot of wind whipping through it, and some interestingly placed spectators! Many teams found all 4 hides and many did so before the 30 second warning. There was a hide under the drinking fountain, a hide at the open end of the area off to the left - maybe in an aluminum fence post, a hide behind a pipe in the slatted wood wall between the start line and the other opening/entry. The fourth hide eludes me... maybe it was in the wood wall at the right end of the search area.

I think this was the kind of search that every team felt was 100% doable. The only hide that caused Muriel any trouble was the drinking fountain, the wind was whipping around and she started low where the source was, then chased hight to a hand sanitizer dispenser, and that's where I called it. I knew I shouldn't have even as I was calling it. The other hides all seemed very straightforward. I really enjoyed working the left end of the search area where Muriel tangled the photographer up in the leash - whoever it was, great job of getting untangled so we could find the hide!

Day 3 - Finals

I will hold off on details of the 4 searches that the top 12 competitors participated in until I get an account or two of the day from a top competitor. As a spectator, I enjoyed watching the teams search, but I wasn't really retaining information regarding hide location, number of hides, search times, etc.!

What I do remember is that the teams searching on day 3 really kept their stamina up and finished strong. The 10 minute exterior search tested stamina levels for some teams, but even teams that were pushed seemed to bounce back for the other searches. It also was clear to me that the teams competing in the day 3 searches were just thrilled to have made it and were searching with less stress than they had the previous two days. The last thing I noted was that after day 1&2 the spread from first place to twelfth place was 4 points, after day 3 the pointed spread from first to twelfth place was 7. I think that shows how much teams rise and fall in the standings each day. Who knows what the competition would have looked like with a second day of top 12 searches?!

I have to give special acknowledgement to Dana Zinn and Kudos as the winners of this year's National Invitational. What I got to watch of their searching on Sunday was magical. I have seen them search before, competed with them, and practiced with them, and this was the most effortless partnership I've ever seen displayed by any team. The two of them were so relaxed and in the zone. Awesome nose work, Dana!

It's already nearly a month since Nationals, but it feels like yesterday. What a great time spent with nose work friends old and new, with students ( I counted 5 of my & Penny Scott-Fox's students competing!), and with our dogs! K9 Nose Work is simply the best activity & sport for dogs and their people.

Happy Sniffing!  


  1. Awesome reporting! Felt like I was there! Wish I was! Next year for sure!

  2. Thanks for reading and commenting Carol & Angie! It is an experience every nose worker should have - and just as much fun to volunteer/spectate as it is to compete!