Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What Nose Work means to me

     In the late 90's, I worked for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a Wildlife Inspector at the port of Los Angeles airport, ocean port, Long Beach ocean port and international mail facility. My job was to enforce federal laws and disallow illegal wildlife into the country. Liveanimals to products of animals were imported daily. At that time there was a pilot Scent detection K9 program in San Diego at the border. The Los Angeles Office was going to make me the other handler. I was excited. I did a lot of research, contacted a lot of agencies, developed a Standard Operational Procedure manual and tried creative ways to get a budget for the program. I was gearing up to get a wildlife detection dog.

      Unfortunately, the mind set of law enforcement was, I was too handicapped to be a handler and some people just thought it was not appropriate to have a disabled person be a K9 handler. The program never started, and I later changed jobs. I was crushed to never get a chance to be a handler. This was back when my vision wasbetter. I still consideredpartially sighted, but at a mild level th at it shouldn't have been an issue to be a handler.

      As the years went by, I wanted to get into some kind of Search and Rescue. I was fascinated by forensic detection. I hooked up with a Search and Rescue group about 2006. But they wanted me to be proficient in wilderness searches first. I knew with my vision getting worse, and my kidneys also getting worse, that I didn't want them to send me out on a rescue and then they would have to rescue me. I lost my night driving in 2008, and most searches are done in the evenings.

     It was frustrating because i wanted to do something with scent detection, but you had to be in law enforcement or associated with law enforcement to do it. Then K9 Nose Work (R) came along and I hopped on it. So for nearly 12 years wanting to get a detection dog, I finally started Nose Work with Mickey my Belgian Malinois.

      With law enforcement mind set saying I couldn't do this, I set out to tell myself, oh yes I can! My vision has deteriorated even more, which the training has been challenging at times. I didn't want to be looked at as the special "handicap" girl, isn't that nice she is doing that, but wanted to rise above and be a fierce competitor. I want to be able to compete with "average" or "normal" people where I'm not in any special Olympics or any para Olympics. I want to feel that I can do this just as equal as anyone else. No more accommodations, no more "special" consideration. I want to compete just like everyone else.

      My hearing loss doesn't really affect too much of my ability to do nose work. There were some snags, but I was able to solve them. My vision is the biggest culprit. Being monocular with no depth-perception, having a haze, like it is  always foggy, and having floaters that are clumpy or with strings that get in my field of vision were challenges I had to work around. Dark rooms are a huge challenge and flourencent lights are problematic. As my vision gets worse contrast gets harder, the more minute visual cues of my dog gets hard to see, so I work harder.

      To a sighted person, they would get impatient and yell at me to call alert. they didn't understand I was learning. I am learning how to deal with my lack of vision and learning how to work with my dog. It was getting stressful being around people who got on my case for not calling at the right time. It did make me feel more handicapped. I had to ignored them and moved forward. That doesn't mean i didn't cry all the way home. It hurt. But I just eliminated them from my brain and moved on.I kept trying and working.

      I have studied sport psychology or mental management systems to help me get through the mental part of competition. How not to get stressed and fearful when I couldn't see. which was a big issue at trials. My brain would work hard trying to piece the environment together. I had to over think to get a picture in my mind I couldn't see.

When i would get tense for not seeing, this did affect Mickey. He is so sensitive. With my other dog, Divine, she isn't as sensitive and cares more about getting food. So she would go straight to the odor and alert. Mickey would get frantic and worry. It was important for me to be cool, collected and not panick. Harder to do. have your vision taken away and try to solve this problem when you can't see everything that is going on. It is stressing. All I can do is work harder at staying calm.

    It means so much to me to try and over come my disabilities and short comings and to succeed in getting Mickey's Eligte title. It is a way to show up those law enforcement officials, to show that disabled people can do this. I don't want to be the handler of "Oh isn't it nice she can play at nose work." I want to be competitive just like anyone else.

     Due to starting dialysis and the night falling much sooner, I haven't had a lot of chances to practice. So in a way we will be winging it. We have passed two times before, we have the knowledge, but the condition will be a little less that I would like. Doesn't mean we won't title, we can certainly do that.

     Getting this title will mean a lot to me. That i don't need special Olympics or special treatment to participate. I only ask for the same search area as anyone else. I never ask them to modify it. Each new challenges teaches me how to go back and problem solve in how I can over come the new barrier. I can do it, I can title. I'm looking forward to Saturday.

     Nose work means to me that I was able to show up the law enforcement and negative people who thought I was substandard in working with my dogs. this means i can be right there elbow to elbow with other competitors that do not have a disability.  I will feel accomplished that i am capbale and not handicapped.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Not in Sync

     November 21, Mickey and i had entered a Container Level 2 Element Search and Level 1 exterior search. It was held at a historical museum of Spanish adobe buildings, one of the original Spanish lands.

     The weather was warm, dry and windy.

     For the container search, the first was in a raised chapel that had a roof, but no sides. open Chapel. There were boxes on the floor and on the benches. Mickey got one hide, but didn't find the second. I was really puzzled he didn't find the second hide. I don't know if it was the wind, or him not spending enough time on the box. In past container searches, He would stick his nose on the container and find the odor.

      The Second container search area had three hides. Lunch boxes on grass. Mickey got two, but didn't alert on the third. I also kept getting lost. My brain wasn't there. Mickey and I were at a terrible start, blowing two of the searches. Just something to chalked up to really bad search day.

       The third search was in a dark room of books. We had off leash option and I let Mickey off leash. There were tables in the center with books, so the boxes were on the floor, on the perimeter. As I let Mickey go, he ran, he did something to a box, I ran up to him, called it....no. Ooops. Boy, this is a really BAD day!!! What I learned is I should have left him on leash. I would have been able to see him better, the room was really really dark, and it would have been better controlled.

     The last search were big cardboard boxes. one hide, yay we got it! Ok,1 out of  4.

        Then the next element was exteriors. This is level one so there is only one hide in each. Mickey got the first, got the second, and got the third, then the last one.......he was not focused. he kind of went to the odor, then went away, so i didn't call it, he wandered, paced, oops, ran out of time. Took him off, he ran to some ivy and instantly dumped. Oh sigh. i tried to get him to go earlier, but he doesn't like to go on leash. Oh well......crappy day anyway.

      You have to have a bad day. it is what i can say is "been there, done that. The more experience you have, even if it is falling on your face, the more seasoned you get. I wanted this to be a confidence booster for this upcoming trial that means a lot more to me. but my coaching skills for myself are really needed right now. Mickey and I have already titled two NW3 trials, we can do it this Saturday. Even though today was a bust in two elements, we had practice. The more we practice, the better! 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Working towards the Zone

     Today i didn't have to go to work so I decided to do a lot of various nose work practices today. I did one at a strip mall, a park and containers in my drive way. The Container search enabled me to work all three of my dogs.

        The little strip mall i went to isn't very big and isn't very busy. It has a huge church that has services Saturday night and Sunday. So today, Wednesday, not much was there. There are a few businesses but they don't generate a lot of traffic. I set 6 hides. One behind a brick wall. One  6 feet high (or higher) in a tree, 6 feet on a pole and three hides along the front of the church (Window sill, door and cubby hole on the ground). Mickey had a great search. While working him, I realized I did not have my hearing aids on. I usually listen for his gush of air to tell me he found the odor. My response time to him was different and I could tell he was a little frustrated when I didn't respond instantly when he did his gush of air. I simply don't hear it at all. But it gave me a new way to look at Mickey. I never looked at him closing his mouth, as Fred, an instructor, mentioned many times. Sometimes it is hard for me to see, so I looked for it this time. Today, I was working on visual cues rather than sound. I did know where the hides where so when he looked at me, I knew why, but that is a bit of a delay from his burst of air. Interesting to see his response that I was not responding normally.

      The second place I went to was a park. I did six hides. One in a latch of a chain link fence. One in the crack in the cement. One by a pillar, one behind a railing, one between grass and the walk way and one in the middle of the grass in a sprinkler cover. There was probably an hour between these searches. Mickey just was distracted, probably because just as I started to do my searches, a few  families came out of their cars to get ready to play soccer. That is one of the hardest things about practicing at parks is sometimes no one is around and then when you want to do the searches, you get distractions. We worked through them. He found them all.

          Then I came home and didn't feel like going to any other parks or strip malls so I put out a bunch of containers in my drive way. I increased the difficulties and always did two odors. I ran all three dogs and all three really loved the game. I did use a distraction by putting toys and pine cones in a bag, but Mickey didn't seem to be phased by it. A few weeks ago when I went to the Halloween search, Mickey went straight for the bag that had a lot of distractions in it. Really hitting the bag hard. Which is odd since Mickey usually leaves bags with distractions alone. Well today he left it alone. We are back in the game.


Sunday, November 8, 2015

A Wokrshop with Fred Helfer, a smaller group

     I have waited a long time to have a smaller group with Fred. We had 6 working teams today with one host and two helpers. Perfect size. Everything went really well and smooth today.

     It is two weeks before Mickey's two element trials and three weeks before Mickey's NW3 trial. I'm trying to get back into the swing of things and working with Fred was a great opportunity to get my skills going.

......First Search.....Interior, Men's Bathroom
      Our first search was in a bathroom. I was relieved when I went in and saw the lighting good enough I could see. There were two hides. The bathroom goes in to the left, then right where there are sinks to the left. Another right goes into another section with the stalls and Urinals. The hides were placed in the corner next to a sink on a broom, and the second odor underneath the second sink. These hides were rather close to create a converging odor problem for the dog. We also had the fan in the bathroom moving air around.

     I opt to have Mickey off leash, let him in, he caught the general area of the first odor, but got stuck under the first sink. I did call it, but knew it wasn't strong enough. I almost think Mickey knew it was on the broom, but doesn't like moving objects like brooms. After some waiting out, he eventually got the odor on the broom. Then he got the second hide under the second sink. We went to the stall area to let him check out everything. he did not find odor.

        I did have a little bit of a "deer in headlights" episode. I froze and my brain didn't think. I just let Mickey go and I follow when I do this. I don't do it all the time. When I am mindful, I do much better directing and presenting areas to Mickey. it is like getting back into an old habit that I have to work my way out of it again.

         What I need to get back into is when I walk in, (or during the walk through) what are my goals and what are the goals for the dog. Think about having fun. Be observant of my surroundings, watch the dog, but don't be so fixated you are not seeing the whole picture. Step back, don't crowd your dog.

------Interior, Conference Room---------
      this is a fairly small conference room. Three hides very close together. This room has an air current from the air conditioning.

       Mickey comes in the room and instantly turns right, hits the trash can. I walk in the door, and my body pulled him away from the trash can. he moved away and started to search the room. he later came back to the trash can but tipped it over. For me this was confusing because Mickey likes to tip over trash cans for fun. Fred told me that is where the odor is and reset the trash can. Mickey went up to the trash can and appropriately alerted. Then he went back into the room, wandered a bit then went to an area where a chair was in a corner next to a filing cabinet. Mickey showed interest but I could tell he did not find source. Fred had me move the chair and Mickey sourced the odor.

      Then we wandered a bit, Fred said where haven't you been. My brain froze. There was a corner that Mickey brushed over. It was between the trash can and the odor behind the filing cabinet blocked by the chair. It was up on a picture on the wall. took Mickey awhile to source this odor. It was in a challenging spot.

      We need to remember to check our corners. They are important. When I thought they were covered, they weren't. I have seen Mickey in the past not cover corners well, but in a trial we got everything. So I'm not sure what that connection is, whey we get it in a trial, not in a workshop. I'm wondering if it has to do with my mindfulness. I'm not that mindful in a workshop as I am in a trial (if my head is on right).

       Don't forget to ask if you can move an object.

------small containers---------

We then had our search on small little boxes. It was fun and Mickey did get all the boxes. However, towards the end he was just bouncing around to boxes and I was feeling a bit frazzled, not knowing he got them all. I did get a little lost at the end of where have I been and what did he missed. However, Fred did point out that Mickey didn't hit all the boxes because he didn't have to, as he could tell which ones had odor coming out of them. He probably was hitting the boxes because I gave the body language of, keep looking! This had so many boxes, about 50? That this is more on Elite Division level, not NW3.

---------some pointers----------

What is my purpose?
-present an area for the dog

Watch the environment. Pay attention to what the wind is doing. Use the wind to your advantage. Use a loose leash, and don't crowd your dog.

-----Exterior, two pipe corrals, first one just an outside corral, a second one went partially into a barn----

First corral.....

       We went in, circled a few times, Mickey did hit odor, then he went down a channel, jumped up, i called it too quickly, not odor. Just pooling odor from a channel.

Second corral......

       Went in, Mickey went straight for the balls that they put in corrals for horses. They were soft and Mickey could bite into it and carried it around a bit with him. I discouraged it and got him back into searching mode, sort of. he was still thinking about the balls that when he went to an area, he went right past odor. I just knew he wasn't paying attention. He eventually went into the stall, found the high hide. Then came out, then we went along the corral, he found the odor he breezed by due to the balls. Then we worked the barn wall. and he eventually sourced the odor and got it. this was a bit more difficult mostly due to the balls that were distracting him. I certainly do need to practice with more balls.

-----Vehicle Search-------

Three vehicles, two odors.

zig zag of perpendicular configuration.  Mickey got the first hide fairly fast. I went around that vehicle to clear it. Then we kind of got stuck on finding the second odor. Fred noted it seemed Mickey was getting tired. It was at the end of the day. Mickey found odor by really going under neath the car, but was about 1 1/2 feet from source. We then worked him to source.


Things to remember.....
Watch for when mouth closes.
What is the behavior before the change of behavior?
Pay attention to the wind. The Wind is your friend.

I really did think I was moving along, It just seemed today I stepped a few steps backwards. Probably because I'm not practicing 3-4 times a week. With health issues, it is really hard to keep up with it and I tried to trial two other dogs. It really is difficult for me to work more than one dog. Makes it hard to focus. But I do have to remember these were difficult problems. They were set up for a purpose, and I think some hard for NW3 level. I have three weeks until our NW3. I need to get my head calm and have fun with this. If I don't, I will blow the trial. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A Weekend of practice

      I was fortunate to participate in a Halloween Mystery Nose Work style. Our dogs searched and then we picked a clue.

     The area was a place I've never been before, Frog Field Dog Sports in Ramona. There are old stalls, an agility field, a nice size dirt parking lot and a house. A dog person's dream house.

      We had three different search areas, a pretend dining room, luggage room and cutlery. Uniquely designed to simulate an Old  English murder area. the parking lot had three vehicles and was also where the murder took place. Next to the agility field was the cemetery, another search area for the dogs.

       I noticed that doing the searches in the barn were a bit difficult for me, they were dark. I'm seeing this pattern. Mickey also wasn't right on like he normally is. His alerts were subdued, not crisp like they normally are presented.He missed one in the vehicle area and one in one of the barn rooms. He did really well in the cemetery even though the little baby Skeleton jumped up when Mickey rand over the grave. Thus, that is where the odor was! Mickey did startle, but did return. GOOD BOY! he got the other two odors really well.

         It was a good practice. Afterwards we had to solve the mystery. I was wrong on everything, but I don't read mystery novels.

         The next day I got to do a lot of interiors. A medical group is moving out of their building and Smrt Dogs was able to have a practice mock interior search there. Mickey did ok. He did miss a few hides and he just wasn't crisp. Having this happen again, I started to realize I think it is time to see the chiropractor. When he is not that focused, misses odors and doesn't give a clear alert, it usually means he just isn't quite comfortable. I wouldn't say he's in pain, just not comfortable. Fortunately he has an appointment before my all day workshop I have this coming weekend.