Monday, 29 April 2013

Sporting Detection Workshop

Yesterday we attended our first sporting detection training workshop with Stacey Shaw and Karin Apfel.  The workshop consisted of two groups, beginners who had basically never done any scent work before and then the advanced group who have started their dog on odour and are no longer pairing with food.

The beginner group mostly worked on building the drive to search.  Food was placed in open containers and the dogs were encouraged to go "find" it.  Once the dog had found the food the owner was to continually feed for several seconds to encourage the dog to stay at the box and to increase drive for the game.  Once they had that figured out, odour (wintergreen) was placed in the box along with the food.  The big tips for the beginners where to stay behind the dog while they search, feed multiple times and NEVER pull your dog off the box.  Pulling the dog off can be interpreted as a correction to the dog, and you never want to correct them for sniffing.  Handlers were told to verbally encourage their dog away from the box or use a food lure.

The advanced group worked on container searches with odour only in the box. The searches started with boxes in rows, and moved to scattered boxes, boxes on chairs, under chairs and against the walls.  This taught the dog to expand their search area and to really start using their noses, instead of visually spotting the hides.  One tip I likes was having two boxes side by side, one with odour and one without.  If the dog comes across the blank box first they are likely to skip past the box next to it instead of searching it (probably thinking it is the same box, not two separate boxes).  This exercise teaches the dog to be a little more methodical in their searches.

After the workshop the Designated Odour Tests took place.  The test is a blind search with 12 boxes set up in rows, with one box containing the odour being tested.  The handler takes the dog into the room, past the start line (the time then starts) and then has 3 minutes to find the box with the odour in it.  When the handler thinks their dog has found the correct box the handler calls "Alert" and then the tester lets you know if you were right or not. 
   Wintergreen was done first with 10 teams entered.  The DOTs started at 7:30pm and the dogs were obviously tired after a long day at the seminar. Only two teams passed the test.  I am happy to say Strider was one of them.  The picture to the left was my "wahoo" when the tester said "yes" we were successful!  I'm just a little happy ;)
Spryte  however did not pass.  She was pretty frantic with her searching and ended up jumping over the correct box and indicating on the one beside it.
    Pine was next with 6 teams entered.  4 dogs passed Pine, both Strider and Spryte were among the dogs who passed.
  I then tested Strider and Spryte on Thyme.  Strider passed and Spryte did not.
   I came away with a few insights into my dogs. First off that Strider is way better at this game than I thought. I almost quite it with him because he seemed to be struggling.  I thought he might be too old and his scenting ability diminished.  He sure proved me wrong!  I will definitely continue this game with him.
   Spryte was a bit of a mystery at first. She is usually the dog who excels at it in training,  and she had been doing really well at the workshop. But she just got more frantic by the end and was really not sniffing all that much during the DOTs.  She was over aroused and it really impeded her scenting ability.  On the drive home I was trying to figure out what had happened.  After some thought my conclusion was she was just too hungry and could not focus on the task at hand.
     She is the type of dog who needs to eat her meals on time.   Sometimes we will wake up to Spryte dry heaving in the morning because she is hungry.  She normally eats supper at 5pm but that was right in the middle of the workshop.  So she didn't get supper.  She had lots of treats, it's not like she had an empty stomach.  But I think the anticipation of supper was getting her more and more anxious as the night went on. And by the time we did the DOT's she could no longer focus. 
   I know plenty of people who withhold meals before trials to build a bit of food drive before their runs.  The idea being if the dog is hungry it will try harder.  And sure that works for lots of dogs.  But it does not work for Spryte.  I've learnt that if it is meal time, it doesn't matter how many runs we might have left or if we are going into the ring soon, she needs to be fed. The food calms her down and lets her focus on her work. The lack of food makes her anxious, barky and more frantic.  It's something I've noticed before in her, but it only just solidified for me after yesterday's workshop. I will not make this mistake again,

Here are the Pine DOTs that both dogs passed:

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

New CDX for Spryte!

I am so thrilled to announce that Spryte finished her Companion Dog Excellent (CDX) title on Friday at the Red Deer Show.  She finished with a score of 196.  We lost a point for barking, which knocked us out of the ribbons. Oh well, the perils of running a Sheltie in Obedience!
     I'm just happy to have it done.  There were so many times over the winter were I thought it would never happen.  Her dumbbell issues always seemed to be getting in the way.  She didn't want to hold it, she would throw her head back, roll it around in her mouth while slinking back on her hind end, or she would just stand over it and not pick it up.  We had a whole plethora of dumbbell issues.  And it's not that she has ever had a bad experience with the dumbbell, I have used positive methods from day one with her. It's just she is not a natural retriever and the whole idea of fetching and HOLDING something in her mouth was her idea of sheltie torture. 
    We slowly worked through the issues with tons and tons of positive reinforcement for dumbbell work.  The two biggest training tools I used to improve the exercise (I can't really say fixed, because it is not perfect and will take a lifetime of work to maintain it) was resistance work and placement of reinforcement. 
   The resistance work involved trying to gently pull the dumbbell out of her mouth, if I could pull it out then no reward for Spryte. If she held on to it and resisted my pressure then she got a "yes" and a cookie.  This taught her to hold it tighter in her mouth and not roll it, otherwise I could pop it out and Spryte would miss out on a reward.  Very upsetting for a dog that loves food so much!
   The other tool I used was to always pull the dumbbell low and towards me, so that she was holding it almost against my leg and then I would reward in the same position. This taught her to keep her head forward and low, which directly interfered with her natural preference to hold her head up and back to roll the dumbbell around in her mouth.  Simple training theory: Teach a desired behaviour that directly conflicts with the unwanted behaviour and suddenly the problem is fixed! (ie teach the dog to sit for petting and you no longer have a jumping on people problem). 
   So now we can get back to training multiple skills again without the stress of an upcoming trial.  We will get back to training for Utility, definitely continue with our Nosework training, but mostly we can focus on agility again.  I really haven't done too much agility this winter with my obedience goals taking center stage.  I enjoyed the break from the sport and now I'm feeling refreshed and excited to get back at it. 
    Infact we had our first serious agility practise this morning, working on the skills from the Justine Davenport foundation course.  It went well and I got some great work from Spryte.  Backsides of jumps with me leaving,  multiple wraps around jumps, threadles and some really nice flappy tappy (running dog past obstacles). I'll have to record one of our training sessions soon and post it on here.
Now off to do some nosework!