Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Last Blind before trial time!

     Practicing blind hides is different from known hides. Mickey knows how to read me well. Slight turn of my body, shuffling of my feet, breathing etc. are all cues form him we are getting close to odor. When it is blind, I'm not giving him cues. this makes for forestation with mickey because he wants to find that odor, and looks to me WHERE is the ODOR? I have to work through his frustration. that includes being patient for him to find the odor.

      In my last practice, I learned a great tip. Let Mickey work out the odor. Many times the instructor or my training partner will say, "Do you want me to show you where the odor is?" I get frustrated and say yes, but this last time I didn't. This time Mickey had to learn to actually find the odor. No subtle cues from me to help guide him. He was on his own. He often looked back or false alerted to signal "help me!" I didn't want Mickey to fall into "learned helplessness" trap. This is disaster in a trial. He has been depending way to much on, If he can't find the odor instantly, he will search a little bit, and then depend on me. this is what happened in Bellingham, WA. He has learned "wait out, mom eventually will show me." We are moving up the ranks Mickey, time for you to actually search for it. You will not get handouts anymore.

         I was patient and waited him out. I didn't break down and have my partner show me the odor. I was getting frustrated inside and kept telling myself NO! DO NOT ASK WHERE IT IS!!!! Mickey needed to work it out. Mickey tried hard to source. False alerted. I called, partner said NO. We did this again, Mickey false alerted, I called it, partner said NO. Hmmmm....Mickey started doing "frustration" behavior. We had to remove the other odor. Wait him out, let him work. Mickey needed to learn how to WORK through his frustration. This was a high hide, it was in a wood slit on a trash bin gate. A black straw with a swab was used. When Mickey finally found the odor, I gave him about half my treat bag. He worked hard. Some argue about jackpot training, but I don't over use it, so the point was CLEAR. The reward did match the effort and reward was only given when he found it. Once we can thoroughly work through this issue, I think we will do well in the third level in trialing, NW3. But this Saturday, I need to pass NW2. Mickey is awesome when he can find it right away, but when he can't, he gets frazzled and then starts to beg for help. No more showing him where the odor is located. he's a big enough boy now and experienced enough that he can now learn how to source it. What I will do for him is give him different angles and opportunities to find it. Watch carefully for a false alert and try to call it when it is right. So close to trial time! We keep getting better every time! It is exhilerating. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Handling Epiphany

     Mickey has a wonderful way of alerting. It is clear, precise with confidence. I read him well during these times. Then there are other times he isn't clear. During these times, I have struggled because it isn't quite clear when to call the alert. While Mickey is dabbling his nose here, and there I have a really  hard time sorting out how to read him, I would freeze up and fear would set in. I needed to get over this "deer in headlights" syndrome. At Mickey's last trial, an NW2 in Bellingham, WA, he didn't do a strong alert for his external hides and it confused me. I didn't know how to help him to find the odor. I was unsure, and that resonance vibrated to Mickey.

     I set out to get rid of my fear and learned about focus. Focus on task and not worrying about other people, making comments, looking like a failure and most of all take control of the situation so I won't have the fear of someone taking over. In the past, when I took herding lessons, I had an instructor, who had one top trials, take over. She didn't want the sheep and the dog to get messed up. She didn't want the dog to learn bad habits. This stepping in caused me to shut down where I was not actively thinking. I didn't learn, I just learned to zone out. It was like someone always telling me that I couldn't handle it,

    I needed to get into the zone so I could take charge. I learned about focus. I needed to get out of my head and into the game with Mickey. I was over thinking and over analyzing out of fear of making a mistake rather than collecting data. 

     Before practice today, I took my knowledge of focus and wrote out a plan. I wrote out what I would do at the start line. I wrote out what I would do when Mickey's searching for odor, dabbling around where you know he's got the odor, but doesn't pin point. Fringing. I wrote out a plan what would I do when he does this. I also reminded myself of points such as, belly breath, look at the whole search area, not where Mickey is located. Be aware of your surroundings, not hide in your pod, but notice the end of the boundaries. When Mickey fringes, walk side to side, reset if you have to and belly breath. 

     Today in practice, Mickey was false alerting often. I called a few hides wrong, but kept going. Towards the end of our practice, I started get it, the difference between a false alert and an actual alert. EUREKA!!!! And we got the hits! Doing my new focus plan got me into reading Mickey better. I was in the zone, I was collecting data where I was able to respond appropriately to the situation.

       This is why I do not believe in a trained alert, but a dog's natural ability to tell where the odor is located. A natural response is more innate in his response, it is different from an operant or learned response. It is with more reflex. Finally seeing this distinction I now can read my dog! YAY!!!! I can now tell when he's fringing or false alerting and when he gets an odor. I struggled with this before because I didn't have a plan what I would do when he did this. I was stuck. I had the knowledge, I just had to work it out on paper and a plan before putting it to practice. When I put that plan to practice, I was able to experiment what worked and didn't worked through trial and error. By the end of practice, I got it!

     Other points I worked on were placement of my hand with the leash. I was holding my hand too high. I wasn't aware of this until a judge made this comment on my score sheet. I also have learned to stand to the side instead of behind Mickey. When I am behind Mickey, I can't read him as well as if I'm on the side. This makes a huge difference.

      It was interesting today  seeing Mickey getting frustrated and alerting on pooling odor. I'm not sure why this was an issue, but we had to work through it. I can work through it when I can read the difference between fringing and a clear AH HA! This is IT! Right here! Even though we have practiced a lot of sourcing, Mickey needs to learn that we don't alert to pooling odor, you must go to source.

     I see myself dancing with Mickey better now. I'm following his lead, but not taking his bluff.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Moving right along----workshop

      Today in Bloomington, CA irwas a beautiful day. Sun bright with warmth. I wouldn't say it was hot, but the temps were rather warm.

       Since we only had 4 people, instead of our usual 6, our workshop was only 2 hours. We did three different hides.

        First: Container search, outside. All but one item was in the sun. It was next to the building where there was an inlet of the building, creating a corner where odor could pool in the corner. This corner was in the shade. The wind was blowing at a 45 degree where the wind was to our backs of the start line, but slightly crossing over to our right. This would push some odor to the building and possibly up, under the over hang and push back down on the containers. The left side went to a grassy field.

        The first odor was in a young girls back pack and the other odor was on top of a suitcase that was standing up right. Mickey got these two in about 35 seconds.

         Second: two searches. A and B but one area. We did not know the number of hides. There are lines in the floor that was convenient to separate each section into four quadrants. For Trial A, once we left a quandrant, we could not go back. This was on leash. They did this set up in Nationals. For the second part B, we did the same search, but off leash and no quadrant restriction. Both times we had 4 minutes. 
        There were tables, chairs, some chairs folded on the ground, a box with twine, a turned over bucket, hand truck, cart, step stool etc. Some of these items were stand alone or folded on the ground, while others were bunched together to create an inaccessible hide.

       First trial A: I went into the first quadrant, not knowing if she had a total of 8 hides or more. Mickey was knocking them off. When he kept hitting more it was like WOW there are many here!! I lost count. We worked systematically and did well. I like how to get into the practice of breaking up a search area and working it. It made the search less overwhelming. One issue was, Mickey kept going back to the hide he just did. This looses time. he did this with about 5 hides. We were not told yet how many we got.

       Second Trial B: This was harder for me. I lost track of a lot. I did remember a hide and pushed Mickey over to find it. It's like I was trying to remote control him. I didn't like this but he did nearly just as well. He did go back to a few hides he found, but I tried to be more active to pull him away without it being too aversive. Towards the end I thought I missed a hide, but what happened when I kept pushing him to find something, he got frustrated. Kept hitting what he knew and right after that he started to false alert. MANY TIMES.It was interesting to see what happens with this kind of set up and to know when and why he false alerts.

       At the end I found out that Mickey found 10 of the 12 hides in the first go around. He would have gotten 11, but he left a quadrant, then caught the odor, head snap, and went to that quadrant and hit on it. I did reward him. So he did find 11. I was extremely pleased how he did the first go around. The last time in class (workshop) we had 8 hides and he only found 2. I say we improved our game!!

       The second go around for trial B, he found 11 of the 12. I felt more frazzled and frustrated. I didn't feel I worked the area as systematically. I thought we found less of the hides, but we found 11!! But what tripped me up was on leash and remembering where the hides were located. Interesting how I tend to "trip" myself up than needed. When I focus, I do well.

Good lesson today. 4 weeks until our next trial!

Bellingham, WA NW2: Mickey is an Awesome Dog

     Mickey and my first try at a Nose Work 2 trial in Bellingham, WA. What an awesome experience. Trialing in a place different from home. From the southern border to the northern border. The terrain, ecosystem, vegetation and climate are drastically different. It felt like leaving summer and going into winter. My idea of winter is what we have here in Southern California. Rain, grass and green. In Southern California, we are having one of our worst droughts in history. I have no lawn in my yard, it is just dirt with no vegetation. A week and a half before I left for Bellingham, we had 106 degree temperatures and 6% humidity. My nose bled a whole day due to the low humidity. I kept dreaming about my up coming trial as I knew I would meet moisture and green.

      This trial was quite the adventure. Mickey having been in retire status as a service dog, I had to work at getting him out and exposed to lesson the shock factor traveling up north. Not only did I get him out in public, but I had him engaged in a different kind of activity, swimming at a K9 swim therapy facility. I knew he needed exercise and to do something different. I also tried to work Mickey in nose work as much as possible. I think the combination of everything proved to help him handle the trip well.

     The past year Mickey has been my dog. Our relationship as a service dog team needed to be rebuilt again. Our bond needed to grow. When you are with a service dog 24/7, there is something about that bond I can't explain. A connection like no other.

      The first day, Mickey and I rode on a trolley (light metro), an airplane and a shuttle. He did marvelously well. Unlike his trip the previous June when his lower back was hot, which I'm sure he was in pain. I had given Mickey a full dose of Previcox to alleviate any possible issues. I wanted him to be comfortable and didn't want this trip to be a drag. I wanted Mickey to enjoy getting out and being with me again.

        The next day we hooked up with friends in Tacoma, then off to the train station for the ride up to Stanwood, WA. Mickey slept like a good service dog on the train. The next day I was able to do some practice with Mickey. This was a rather interesting experience for me, watching Mickey do his search different. I can't quite put describe the words, but the way he worked an area was certainly different. Almost like the water  molecules were acting as a transport system for the odor molecules, causing them to move different. It was fascinating to watch. Mickey's sweeping pattern was different and you could see while he was sourcing, the trail of odor moved differently than in dryer weather. We had misting that day.

       The day of the trial we drove a little under an hour to get to the trial site in Bellingham. An elementary school was gracious enough to let us have a trial at their facility. The rain was heavier this day, causing the search area to be a new challenge for Mickey. For me, I spent a lot of time outside in the wet.

       Our first run was containers. Mickey nailed both odors in 34 seconds. I dropped food so we lost our first place.

      The second run was the exterior. This was an area between two buildings. In the center was a dirt/fine gravel walkway. On one side were large rocks that a dog could walk on, but it was off limits for humans due to safety reasons. It was a slight weave type walk way with trees, bushes and the end a picnic bench, which the front was in the search area, from middle to the back was not the search area.  This search proved to be a challenge for Mickey. Mickey did work the area, found the first hide, but wasn't clear to me and he left that area. Mickey did show uncertainty and it was hard for me to read him. The first odor I called wrong. It was located on a low brick wall on the end. Extending out by one brick had a brick hole where odor was sinking. When Mickey put his nose in there, I called it. Which I did that more of nerves, not that I was sure. The second hide we didn't find. The second one was at the base of a tree. The odor rose up the trunk, into the canopy umbrella of the tree, then sunk down to some bushes. Mickey was working the bushes, but was trying to source each leaf. it was like the odor was sticking to the bush. Mickey knew that wasn't the source, but you could tell he was trying to problem solve and figure this out. I blocked out with most of the other part of the search. Someone said he did go near the odor at the base of the tree. I do not remember doing that. I tend to focus too hard on my dog. But as time goes along and more experience I get, I will be able to assess the environment at the same time while my dog is working.

       The next element was interiors. It was in two adjacent classrooms with a door between the two rooms. Where the door was located was a hard floor that covered one wall to the other, while the rest of the classroom was carpet. The first room, 2 hides. Mickey got them quickly. One in a box on a lower shelf and the other on a counter in a napkin holder. Both hides were where my dog stayed on the hard floor the whole time. In the next room, the hide was also located where Mickey only stayed on the hard floor. It too was a napkin holder. I didn't notice, I was just watching my dog. he told me where ti was located. We ended up with 3rd place on this one.

       The last and final element, vehicles. We had two trucks, a low trailer and a horse trailer. Mickey went straight out, caught the odor right away, and went to the other side of the horse trailer. It was set behind the wheel, but because he was trying to source all over the place, I accidentally called at the last place he bopped his nose.I did see him stick his head in the side of the tire, but I was nervous to call it since it seemed like he wanted to source more. When I didn't call it, he got a bit nervous and he is known to start doing false alerts when he's frustrated. So he did source correctly, I was struggling reading it since he moved around like it could be some place else. At a later practice, I learned how to read him better, so i learned from this experience.

          Just like we all want our title, we didn't get it, but I wasn't bummed. I was elated at the experience. I learned. The travel to get to the trial from down south and working an environment my dog and i are not use to doing I think was fantastic in how he did. To me, this is all apart of trialing, having great learning experiences. When we get too caught up in a title, we loose the whole fun of working with our dogs. I love Mickey dearly and this is to honor him on such a wonderful job he does.

         The next day was time to go home. That evening I cranked up the heater. I normally like a room cold, but from being wet all day with soggy socks (even after changing them once already during the day) I was ready to get back home where it was dry. I love Washington State. I love the people, the culture and the beauty it holds. I hope I can trial there again. Alecia who hosted the trial is an awesome lady. I'm glad I decided not to transfer to Seattle to live. This trip really confirmed that it wouldn't be good for my body.

           As for Mickey, we bonded closer on this trip. It was like having my awesome service dog back. He just falls into his roll so well. he alerts me to things that are so natural. i miss this dog so much and love him so much. I'm so blessed to have him.  In 4 weeks we trial again in Vista, CA. Only a 45 minute drive from home. We get another fun chances to have some fun solving puzzles again.