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Archive for the tag “K9 Nose Work”

Fall back to spring planning

Lower pasture leavesThe pasture is covered with leaves; the maples are leafless.  The mud is here (to stay) and with one frost down, and more to come, the garden is mostly done.  It was a big day on the farm, and I spent most of the day outside, after being gone almost all day yesterday.  Damn, but weekends are short!  I did more carrot harvesting in the garden, expecting to find the mondo cutworms again, but oddly only found one.  They must be moving on to some other part of their life cycle and/or the cold and wet has them doing something different.  Since I picked off all the monsters from the cabbage a few weeks ago, I have some tiny heads of cabbage developing.  It’s Savoy cabbage, and I’m hoping to have enough to make a meal at some point.  Tonight I had a baked Delicata squash – a little salt and pepper and butter (everything’sbetterwithbutter) and I’m full and happy.  

Yesterday was Daisy’s last nose work class for a few weeks.  She was just “meh” for some reason.  She and Pal were racing around the woods that morning, so maybe she used up too much energy?  Or maybe the search area (on a footbridge over a tributary of the Skykomish river where salmon were spawning) was too much?  She’s done brilliantly there before, though, and just seemed off in general.  Especially compared to last week, where even her handicap (her handler (me)) couldn’t slow her down.  She was so rockin’ on, even through a wild wind/rainstorm, as we hunted outside the local Lowe’s hardware store (in racks and storage area, also in a storage container).  I was drop-jawed in awe, and giddy with her mad skillz!  My crazy Daisy is my Amazing Daisy.

The next day I volunteered at a nose work trial being held about 40 miles south.  There were a few dozen dogs competing for NW1, and I assisted in the afternoon, along with my instructor Marilyn, and classmates Pat and Suzette. I was assigned videographer for the interior searches.  I was a little worried (do they realize I’m lousy with a camera?) but it turned out to be a breeze.  The judge, Teresa Zurberg from Canada, was great, and very instructive/helpful to the handlers competing.

I learned a TON, and got to hang with Dorothy Turley and Karen Eby, whom I met when I attended the Amy Herot seminar they hosted back in September.  Fun!  Dorothy hosted an ORT the weekend prior, too, so I’d just

My copilot, Farley, on the way home from getting his ORT.

My copilot, Farley, on the way home from getting his ORT.

seen her.  I entered Farley and Pal in the ORT, and drove down to Lacey that Sunday morning.  I wasn’t as nervous as I was with Daisy’s ORT, but still nervous.  Farley went first, and nailed it in 7 seconds.  It was a good lesson for me, as I called it as soon as he stopped and double-sniffed the hide box.  As I did so, and the judge said “yes!” he moved on to the next box in the group, looking for odor that also had some TREATS!  I treated at source and he was happy.  As was I!  My old guy, my heart dog, my amazing ‘there are no coincidences’ dog, made me proud.  As usual he got all kinds of compliments on his handsomeness, and even a comment on our search word “Feathers” (I found that at the trial most people use “find it,” “seek,” “search,” or some variation of same; because I have three dogs in training, it’s much easier to use a unique word that has nothing to do with the meaning “search”).  He did me proud, and I wished I had more than just liver treats and heaps of praise to tell him how wonderful he was/is.

Pal’s turn came up quickly and I went in feeling excited.  As we waited our turn I could tell Pal was in his “bird dog” mode – sniffing the wind, all senses open, not really focused on me or anything as he took it all in.  Hmm.  We went in and I could see that he was firing on all cylinders but not settling into it.  I gave his search word and he

Cute little Pal and his winsome eyes

Cute little Pal and his winsome eyes

began to search, sniffing the first two boxes.  He quickly went off target and began to hyper up, sniffing but not focusing.  I gave his search word again (and again) and he briefly dialed in, but was pinging all over the place.  It was ADHD behavior; not bad, but definitely not able to focus.  I brought him back to the boxes (he was at the end of the lead, looking all around the room) and he seemed to pay attention to one of them.  I called it, kind of knowing it was a shot in the dark, and nope, it wasn’t it.  The hide turned out to be an entryway hide (first box) and though he sniffed that box as we’d started, he didn’t react at all.  Oh well.  All he needs is more time to get consistent.  He’s awesome when he’s on (as he was in class this past week – A-mazing), but he’s not consistent yet.  I love him to bits and look forward to getting his ORT next time!

Colin with Pebbles

Colin with Pebbles

As I mentioned, today was a big day on the farm.  Colin the ram came to visit, and got right to business.  He’s owned by my friend Sally, and is a puny little guy with a butter-soft fleece.  Being a bantam weight ram didn’t slow him down; he entered the pasture with the confidence of a ram twice his size.  He looks like a mini-sheep next to the Black Welsh Mountain boys (not huge themselves) and definitely less threatening to the girls (one hopes).  The youngsters – Minnie, Lorna, and Nona – are all in a nervous dither, keeping their distance (especially Lorna and Nona).  Pebbles stood her ground and lowered her head “you little runt, I’ll show you!” and Colin quickly set her straight.  “Um, hello, ewe, I’m here at your service and by the way, I have horns and know how to use them.”  She quickly realized her mistake and retreated.  He wasn’t a jerk about it, but neither was he going to take any guff.  Cinnamon, my shy, feral moorit ewe, was the only one who put out the welcome mat for Colin.  Timing is everything of course, and she was obviously glad to see a ram.  You could almost see the thought bubble over her: “Finally!  Where have you been for the past two months?!”  Though the mechanics were off (he’s really short and needs to find a rock to stand on…) he’ll be here for the next five or six weeks and I have faith they’ll all figure it out.  There’s plenty of hillside here to facilitate height differences.

Sally stayed for a half an hour or so and we enjoyed a good chat while watching the flock to make sure everyone was settling in.  After she left with her cute little Border

Colin with Bo

Colin with Bo

Collie pup, Gemma (squeee!), I let the dogs out.  They were inside to keep things quiet outside (and because the driveway gate was open), and were very excited to see/smell things after Sally left.  The boys settled down after the obligatory perimeter search, but Daisy…well, Daisy was her wild self.  She, of course, couldn’t leave well enough alone.  While I’m sure all three dogs registered the fact that there was a new sheep on the pasture (ram smell!), Daisy IMMEDIATELY zeroed in on that fact, and him, and spent the next two or three hours running the fence line, bark/yipping at him incessantly.  Thankfully Colin was nonplussed.  He knew Daisy was there (how couldn’t you?) of course, but didn’t freak out or change behavior.  He was much too interested in his new ewes.  Meanwhile Daisy barked and barked and barked and barked, working herself into a lather.  While it didn’t bother me all that much (not sure why?), I’m sure the neighbors were enjoying her high pitched yapping (not!) as she ran up and down the hill along the fenceline.  By the time she began to slow down a bit (no exaggeration, it was at least three hours of running up and down),

Coming in April, I hope!

Coming in April, I hope!

there was a muddy rut worn into the grass along the fence.  The barking diminished after the first hour or so, but she was still focused on this new sheep.

It kind of surprised me that she noticed there was a new sheep—out of 10 sheep (can she count, too?) she was completely focused on Colin—and that she got hyped up to the degree she did.  Maybe it was his diminutive size that had her so excited?  He’s smaller than she is, no exaggeration there, and maybe she felt he was one she could take on?  On the plus side, it gave me a chance to play ball with Farley without her normal interference, and we took full advantage of it.  When she finally gave it up and calmed down it was almost dusk, and I fed and watered the chickens and sheep, and prepared to head inside.  She’s been sleeping ever since.  Ahhh.

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Nosing into Fall (or, my latest obsession)

The garden, soaking up the last rays of summer.

The garden, soaking up the last rays of summer.

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

Pal with his eye on something

Pal with his eye on something

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 on a tennis ball search

Farley on a tennis ball search

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.

Daisy at home with her sheep

Daisy at home with her sheep

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,

All tuckered out after her ORT trip

All tuckered out after her ORT trip

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.

Class season

Skylight art.  This is not one of the ones that's leaking, thankfully because it's right over my bed!

Skylight art. This is not one of the ones that’s leaking, thankfully! (Because this one is right over my bed!)

It’s February already, and we’re into the New Year well and good.  I’m mostly remembering to write 2013 now, not 2012.  The weather is back to normal: rain, rain, and more rain.  In fact, so much rain that I’ve sprung a leak, and found the skylight in my loft dripping again this past week.  Last year when it leaked it was blamed on the snow pack build up and melt (it’s on an area of a very steep roof pitch).  The guys came out to patch it up (more caulking around the flashing) and I thought that was that.  But, alas, no snow this time, and it’s leaking again. Unfortunately another skylight is also leaking.  I checked to see if there was some sort of debris build up – a pile of wet leaves on the uphill side could potentially cause some back up saturation, but nothing.  It’s a bummer, since the roof and skylights are still pretty new (June 2010 complete reroof/installation), but hopefully the damage to the ceiling isn’t too bad.  It seems to be a very slow leak; when I discovered it there were just drips on the floor, with mild damage/swelling to the wood floor (I’m keeping a bucket there now, until I can get someone out to fix this once and for all).  Thankfully the other three skylights seem fine – I have five total – though there is some suspicious mold spotting in a third…hmm.  

It’s class season again, with nearly every weekend filled with interesting things to learn.  I’m not signing up for many this year, though, and the one I did sign up for conflicts with another I reeeeally want to take, but c’est la vie and I’ll have to wait for next year’s version.  I did go to Country Living Expo & Cattleman’s Winterschool again this year (and it caused a conflict with my other class, so missed one of those), but I think it will be the last year I do Winterschool for a while, unless something I absolutely can’t resist comes up next year.  I had a class at last year’s Winterschool that was a major disappointment, and this year there were two that were total wastes, two disappointing “meh” and two that were okay and worth going to.  Unfortunately the two okay classes were the first and last of the six sessions, with a lot of frustration in between (sheep shearing class without a sheep!, and the instructor didn’t even turn the shearers on!).  The two “waste of time” classes were primarily due to instructor substitutes at the last minute, and while I understand things happen, I would rather have sat in on another class session than wasted a whole hour getting frustrated.  It seems there should be some contingency for that, to allow people to choose something different instead.  Oh well. 

The class that I missed that day for the Winterschool classes was my second Nose Work class with Daisy.  This weekend was our third class session

The only thing I'm really growing right now - wool.

The only thing I’m really growing right now – wool.

and I’m not missing any more!  Even though there’s a class with the Snohomish WSU Extension that looks great but would cause me to miss two more of Daisy’s classes, plus another class/day long seminar that coincides with both.  The one, Women In Agriculture, is one I attended last year.  It was a great day, but not really a fit for me, since I’m not growing anything commercially (yet!).    The Growing Groceries class is on four Saturdays – normally perfect for me, but conflict with two more NoseWork classes.  It’s so frustrating, because the WSU classes normally tend to be on weeknights, at 6:30 p.m., in a city 25 miles north of here (meaning: impossible for me to do, with my work and home schedules).  Dang, because Growing Groceries (learning how and sharing that knowledge via community service) is exactly what I want to be doing – encouraging people to grow their own food – but again, it will have to wait until next year.  And I tell myself it might not be “all that” anyway (witness my excitement for Winterschool this year, which turned out to be frustrating disappointment).  One of the disclaimers you have to sign for GG says something about towing the line and not espousing personal beliefs when it comes to pesticide control, etc.  I guess they may use non-organic practices when needed, and you have to be good with that, and not disagree.  All in all, though, the WSU Extension (and especially the Snohomish County chapter) absolutely rocks!   

Daisy, looking serious.

Daisy, looking serious.

But back to K9 Nose Work.  I went to the first class on the 19th, not knowing quite what to expect.  I’d had more than one person recommend it to me, including a friend with a reactive Scottish Terrier, who knows the struggles I’ve had with my outta-control-in-public wild thing, Daisy.  Within minutes of being at the class, I knew we were in the right place.  As soon as the in structor, Marilyn, said “no obedience allowed!” in Nosework training, I relaxed a bit.  Daisy is easily overstimulated, and a trip out in public means we spend a lot of time pulling on each other.  She’s wildly enthusiastic and gets positively hyper when she sees another person or dog.  I blame myself, but know she’s not a mean dog, and just wants to meet people, sure she’s meeting her new best friend each time.  No obedience in class meant we wouldn’t be spending the whole hour trying to get her contained, and feeling embarrassed, exasperated and discouraged in the end anyway.  

It’s fun to see her work with her nose, even through her ADD overstimulation, and trying to get

A more typical pastime - playing with the garden hose and having tons of fun!

A more typical pastime – playing with the garden hose and having tons of fun!

her back on track can be a challenge sometimes.  She’s happy and excited, and really likes the many treats she gets.  We practice out in the garage on weeknights, and the 10 minutes we spend is just enough.  I don’t seem to have an attention span much longer than hers, and I can see her falling off right at about 10 minutes.  I have another friend who’s been doing it for a little while with her Rottweiler and really likes it too (though she’s a three hour drive north, so we don’t get to practice together).  I’m looking forward to seeing where this leads us.  

Today was a quiet day.  I overindulged a bit on Friday night, out with some gal pals for our modern day salon – meeting once a month to chat, meditate, and set intentions.  We didn’t eat dinner until nearly midnight, noshing on veggies and dip all evening, but the wine was flowing freely all night.  I never felt tipsy, and didn’t have a hangover on Saturday, but my body was definitely processing all weekend, and I never had the vim and vigor I needed to do my outside chores (beyond the absolute minimum).  Of course the weather probably had something to do with that.  It was supposed to be nicer than it was, according to the weather reports, with predictions of 50 degrees and sunshine.  It wasn’t 50 degrees, and there was zero sun.  And the cloudy chill just didn’t inspire me much. 

 Maybe next weekend.

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