Sunday, June 1, 2014

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.

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