Nosing into Fall (or, my latest obsession)
Though it wasn’t planned, I essentially took the entire summer off from blogging (and writing of any sort, to be frank). Here I sit, on the last day of summer (for the northern hemisphere) and thankful it turned out to be a beautiful day. The weather forecast was for rain all weekend, and it started pretty much on schedule (per forecast) last night at dusk. Let the mud begin, sigh. Then this morning I saw a few peeks of blue sky through the clot of clouds. Farley and Pal had their last nose work class for their beginning odor session and we headed out to the park with our liver treats, leaving an unhappy Daisy behind. By the time class was over at 11:45 it was downright hot, the sun having been out in force for two hours. Yay!
The boys did well in class, though the hides on the pedestrian bridge were extra hard, with lots of breezy air movement and the salmon swimming upstream in the creek below us (spawning season; we were working over a small tributary of the Skykomish River, which was a few hundred yards away). Pal especially gets distracted; his search word is “birdy” because he is. And with his bird dog brain, it’s hard for him to concentrate on one task. By nature (instinct/breeding), he’s hardwired to hunt, to have all his senses open and processing at once. He’s filtering so much at once that adding birch odor (paired with liver treats I make using the excellent Squaw Creek Cattle Company beef) isn’t necessarily the primary target in his bird brain. He’s a hunter, and once he’s locked onto a target bird he can and does hold point (and focus) for many minutes at a time. Or, in the case of his most
recent target, hours – he’s playing some version of predator/prey footsie with an obliging Douglas squirrel in a maple tree on the other side of the fence. He sits or stands in the same spot for what seems like hours (I can see him from where I type, he’s easily been there for half an hour now) fixed on his target and nearly unmoving (not at point, but definitely hunting). The squirrel will chirrup at him on occasion, but mostly Pal’s just there watching stealthily (methinks Mr. Squirrel has Pal’s number). So yeah, nose work for Pal can be a challenge. But make no mistake, Pal is an AMAZING nose work dog, and when he’s focused he’s as good as they come.
Farley is also very good. He’s old enough now that he can focus more easily. Plus he’s more of a chow hound than Pal. Pal likes his groceries, and eats like a champ, but Farley is more motivated by food. When he gets close to the hide he will usually start drooling, and I often wonder if the slobber he leaves makes it easier for the next dog searching. Far is very methodical, and also a little more bonded to me, so will often look at me when he doesn’t find the odor readily, expecting me to point to it as I do when he loses his ball in the grass or brush. He’s obsessed by his ball, so has a lot of nose work practice built up in his many years of searching for missing balls. He’s very thorough, and learned a long time ago to use and depend on his nose rather than his eyes (a dirty green ball in the grass is pretty much invisible to both of us). This too, is where he has an advantage over Pal, who is still very visual in his hunting (birdy, indeed). It’s an absolute pleasure to watch him work.
Miss Daisy, whose class is on break until October, is my best nose work dog, but she’s also two classes ahead of the boys. She’s done container searches, interior searches, exterior searches, and vehicle searches. Sometimes she’s a little distracted – she’s a very social girl and nose work isn’t necessarily her preference when there are people to meet and greet, and new best friends to win over. We recently entered an Odor Recognition Test (ORT) for birch (through the National Association of Canine Scent Work or NACSW) and I’m happy to say she passed, though it was a little dicey for a moment. Daisy is odor obedient, no question, and has been ready to pass her ORT for a few months now. When this girl hunts for odor (“giddyup!”) she is freaking awesome and it’s a sight to behold when she’s on task.
For a dog of her skill level, an ORT is ridiculously easy. In theory. Besides her handicap at the other end of the leash, there’s also her Achilles heel of sociability. At the ORT location, a dog training center about an hour’s drive south, we were led into the room where the ORT boxes were set up. All the humans were looking at her but not saying anything, and not coming over to say hello. She was a little puzzled at the quiet atmosphere. I held her for a few seconds at the starting line, just like we do in training, then gave her search word. She tugged me down between the row of flat boxes, one of which held a swab containing birch odor. She gave a cursory sniff (I’m guessing) as we went swiftly past the boxes, not even lowering her head. We got to the end and I stopped. She continued pulling – the NACSW videographer was a few yards away, and sitting (an easy target!)– surely this was Daisy’s new best friend! She then looked over at the judge, steward, and timer, pulling towards them. She could win them over, for sure. I held my ground. She was losing focus fast. I looked at the woman I’d mistaken for the judge and asked if I could say Daisy’s search word again (to get her back on track). I was too nervous to remember that I could say it as needed (no permission needed). Yes, came the reply. “Daisy, giddyup.” Nothing (the people spoke! (to answer me) Progress!). “Daisy,
giddyup!” She turned and sniffed one box in a cursory manner. Then another. We went down the row again .
At this point I was thinking “oh, well, not every dog passes, and it’s only $25…” This about a dog who has found hides in places that left me gawping in amazement at her ability. I gave her word again when, as we headed back, she seemed to have a different agenda. At this, she lowered her head and sniffed, then nudged, one of the boxes nearest to us. She nudged it again, nosing it across the floor. With all her shenanigans, and the fact that this was only the third box she’d actually (noticeably) sniffed, I hesitated. Was she just goofing around? A paw slap and mouth crunch would be next. Oh well. I turned and looked at the judge and stewards. “…Alert?” YES! came the immediate and relieved-sounding reply. This was music to Daisy’s ears and as the steward came over to me with her scorebook and time*, she was sure it was her chance to win over another Daisy fan. Normally you treat your dog at source (the hide) when they find it. Daisy had no interest in any liver when her new bestie was on her way over. I kept her from jumping up on the woman and tugged her back to the source box for a treat. I don’t remember if we ever connected treat to source, but we headed out the door with only one more obstacle, the steward at the door – “HiHiHi I’m Daisy!What’s your name?Don’t you LOOOOVE me?!” Whew! Now on to our NW1. Gulp.
I’m going to take Farley and Pal for their ORT at the end of next month, but don’t anticipate this social rodeo with them. Farley’s not a hugely social dog, and Pal is polite and demure. Fingers crossed.
*You get three minutes to complete an ORT; Daisy did it in 46 seconds (that felt like three minutes), when it usually takes her less than 10 seconds.