Thursday, November 19, 2009

The end of my story...

It's taken me a looong time to write this post, partly because it isn't a post I ever thought I'd have to make and partly because I wasn't ready to acknowledge what occurred on May 26th: Z was washed from SAR training. In addition, I was asked not to return with another dog (and/or as a member) until I had achieved some of the certifications the team requires.

Z washing was something I didn't see coming and something that I really think could've been avoided if there had been clearer communication with me as a new handler. Me needing to return to volunteer status is wholly my fault and something I take full responsibility for.

I'm not happy about how Z's dismissal was handled for a number of reasons, and thus I'm currently on a break from even serving as a volunteer with the team.

I still think about SAR a lot, especially with the new pup I got in May maturing into an awesome high drive dog. I've considered trying out for another team, but I think that at this time, as much as I hate it, my schedule is such that it wouldn't be fair to try to start from scratch again. I just don't have the scheduling flexibility I need for the practice and continuing education SAR with a canine partner requires unfortunately. Perhaps someday.

So here's me signing off for now - wiser, more in awe of the process, determined to try again when life permits, and wishing all those involved in SAR good trainings and fast, happy finds.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Singin' in the rain!

Tonight's practice was focused on motivationals for *all* the teams, not just us. This was due to two major factors: it was pouring rain and many of the teams have been deployed recently to a search where the victim has yet to be located.

Our pattern tonight was 2 short runs followed by one triple the length of the other two. K was our victim, no flanker. Weather was 50 degrees and rainy; the ground was soaked and muddy from 3 straight days of rain as well.

Run 1: About 40-50 ft down a dirt road; K ducked in about 5ft into some brush. Z did a pretty much picture perfect find-alert-refind sequence and so did I. K rewarded with food play as last week. Good motivation/speed, clean and powerful alert and refind.

Run 2: About 50-60 ft down a dirt road. K ducked in about 10 ft. Another pretty run - again a nice level of motivation and good enthusiasm on the alert and refind. Same rewarding.

Run 3:
About 150ft with a big right turn. Gave K 50 seconds to get into place, released Z. Great speed to find K; K reported that Z shot past her about 20ft, but skidded to a stop, paused and then located her. K wasn't sure if she had used her nose or visually located K, but I was just THRILLED to learn that there was no "faking" on the refind as there has been the last 3 or 4 practices. Z found K and came straight to me for *another* great alert-refind. I had K really feed her up at the end of that 3rd run because it was so wonderful to see. :)

Now to keep going in this direction...fingers crossed!

Monday, March 9, 2009

The rollercoaster

So tonight's practice made up for the last one. :) We haven't had team training since my last entry due to snow (!) and thus Z had a 2 week break from training. I was a bit nervous about how she'd perform, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Z got to do two sets of runaways and D's actually having us increase distances again, so we got a lot accomplished.

I had a new volunteer with the team serve as victim for our first round, B, and she ROCKED! I'm going to really try to have her help Z and I out frequently because she can really rev a dog up well and her rewarding technique is great. I think I'm actually going to instruct others how to do it for Z as well - B basically made Z play with her food by moving it around and having Z try and catch it vs. just doling it out like most people do. Z loved the extra movement and her tail was going a mile a minute the whole time, plus the added activity makes the rewarding last longer and maintains her victim loyalty really nicely.

Set 1: Weather was really nice, about 65-70, clear, low humidity. We worked on a curvy dirt trail bordered by heavy brush. B as victim, no flanker.

Run 1:
B reved Z up and ran about 70 ft down the path and ducked into the brush about 12 ft. She called out to Z most of the way and then went silent when she got into position. Z blasted off after her, went straight to her, did a gorgeous alert and refind and B kept her with her for a good 30-45 sec using her great rewarding technique.

Run 2: B again called out to Z as she ran away another 70 ft down the path and ducked into some brush again about 10-15ft off the path. Z again took off after her when released, foudn her straight away, came back to alert (slightly sloppy, but still obvious), and did a nice refind, again staying with B for her reward for a nice length of time.

Run 3: B ran about 80 ft away before taking a sharp right turn and heading down the path another 30 ft before ducking in. She called out to Z just a few times before disappearing around the bend. Z kicked up dirt as she went after B, ran past her location about 15 ft, turned around and found B, then started her return, but according to B stopped and returned to her. B ignored this behavior and Z then came to me to alert (nicely) and completed her refind well.

Set 2: about 65 degrees, clear but dark, large grassy field. K served as victim for us on this set with B as flanker.

Run 4:
K showed Z her reward and then ran about 50ft away and hid in brush on the left side of the field. Z did a picture perfect run with a direct path to her victim and a nice, fast alert and refind. K rewarded as instructed, but for a bit shorter period of time than B had on Runs 1-3.

Run 5: K said bye to Z and ran about 70ft down the field and ducked in about 15 ft on the right. Z again located her easily, alerted well, and performed a spot on refind all at a good speed/motivation level.

Run 6: K ran about 60ft before ducking down a path on the right for 20ft and then cutting into the woods about 10 ft. Z left me at a good pace and found K, returned and hesitated on the alert (she was about to turn back without alerting, but I redirected her), but alerted solidly after the redirection and returned to K well after that.

I'm seeing a pattern: Z "fakes" her alerts on the 3rd run of each set! I'm going to be focusing on that behavior in the next few weeks, but the last run of tonight was good as I was able to catch her mid-"fake out" and successfully get and rewarded the proper alert behavior. This should set us on the right path hopefully.

I was very happy with what I saw tonight - a very motivated, speedy, and pretty accurate dog. :) We still have a long way to go, but it's always nice to see progress and figure out some of the issues from prior runs.

Monday, February 23, 2009


That's really all I have to say about team training tonight.

I've been so happy with Z's progress after the crittering incident and then tonight, when D is flanking for us on runaways, that silly dog from weeks ago reappears. *sigh*

C ran for us as our victim and did a great job revving Z up as she ran off and granted, Z did have good enthusiasm upon release, but D wasn't happy with her refinds. Runaway 1 was nice, runaway two she dawdled and I had to call her back, and runaway 3 she did ok, but not at a speed I'd have liked. So, given what D saw, he says we need to keep working runaways. Grrr. And he and I had a little tiff over how to recall a dog (he uses a word said one specific way and I either use Z's name or her recall word said differently than D - I don't think he appreciated my difference of opinion).

At least he did say that the woods we were working in are pretty heavy on animal scent compared to others and we can go ahead and add some distractions to the runaways.

Since we had fewer dogs to work than usual, I did get to do another set of runaways with Z using Sm as our victim. Sm hasn't worked with Z much so we had some bobbles on rewarding and communication, but nothing too major.

Runaway 1 was pretty, though Z hesitated on the jump alert part of the refind. I'm guessing this was due to the heavy leaf cover in the wooded area we were in.

Runaway 2 was also nice, though we had the same refind alert issue.

Runaway 3 was ugly: Sm ran further way this time (about 70ft vs 50 as before) and Z didn't see where she stopped to hide. On release she raced off but got confused, looped around twice, then went snifing off after something in the wrong direction. I called her off and she came quickly. Once she got back to me and I resent her she got back on task and found Sm. Her refind took a bit too long and she again missed the alert initially, but we did eventually get things accomplished and Sm rewarded her for her efforts.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Are we making progress yet?!

Team training tonight! S ran for Z - I love working with S because she's got some great insights and suggestions and doesn't talk to me like a complete dog training novice like D often does.

We decided to do 2 runaways and then a short trail at the end. Both runaways were about 50 ft in length and Z did ok - she did have some trouble returnign to me quickly on the second one, but her initial sprint to S's hiding spot was nice on both - good motivation and on task.

For the track at the end, S ran about 100 ft straight away and then turned a sharp left and went into the woods about 60 ft. Z was really revved up while we waited for S to signal that she was in position and she took the scent article nicely, too. Upon release she sprinted along S's track but blew right by the turn. She got a hard negative after about 15 ft or so, looped back and S said she appeared on track for about 10 ft before veering off to the side. I didn't have to call her off of this detour (yay!), and once she came back she got back to work nicely and found S without any cuing from either of us. Her refind was a bit slow, but ok.

S believes Z was crittering on the detour, but I'm not so sure. Even if she was, I'm happy because she disengaged on her own which is a new thing for her; up 'til now she's always either been on task completely or had to be called off the critter distractions. Still more work to do, but I think we're moving in the right direction at least.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Practice Makes Perfect

Today we got together with K and her dog J (lab) and S and her dog G (golden) at Croft before work. Nothing like getting up bright and early to go run about the woods.

Each dog got several practice runs in, but I'll just talk about Z's since I'm running short on time.

We started with just a regular set of run aways - the first was about 50ft, second was around 70ft, and the third was about 80? ft.

The first one Z overshot her person since they had ducked into a little wall off the side of a building, but she looped back, found them and did a decent alert/refind.

The next, Z took a different route than the person had taken, but she beelined to her at a nice speed. She did dawdle a little bit, but once she got her head back in the game she performed a nice refind.

On the final runaway, the person ran into another building (picnic shelter). Z found her efficiently and did a good refind.

Overall a good set of runaways, so I decided to set up some short tracks.

The first track did NOT go well. She was following S's DH and we had a scent article but I don't think Z really picked up the scent when I presented the article. She took off in the right direction initially but kept getting distracted by scents. The track was about 5 ft long I would guess, with several turns, so it may have just been the difficulty level, but she seemed uber-distracted. Even when I could see our person, Z spent a god 2 or 3 minutes just goofing off before she pretty much accidentally found him. Bummer.

Our second track I simplified greatly into approximately 100 ft with no turns, but still in the woods. I instructed our victim to start moving away from Z when he saw her just to amp up her motivation a bit as well. I had a bit of trouble getting Z to take the scent article, but once I did, she was raring to go. She stuck to her trail well and found her victim quickly with lots of enthusiasm. The refind was a bit rough, but considering how on task she was for the track, I wasn't too upset in the long run.

At least we were able to end on a good note and it looks like I would be best advised to ease her into actual trailing in smaller increments to set her up for success.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Another new place

Team practice was at a new location this week, so we had fun exploring the property. Z did longer runaways (all between 70 and 100 ft) in one of the fields along the treelines tonight with C as her victim.

1st runaway:
C ran about 70 ft away and ducked into the brush in the treeline. Z was off upon release and found C, but didn't want to come all the way to her since she was standing in thick brambles. She did return to me and do a nice alert before returning to C and inching into the brambles for her reward.

2nd runaway:
C ran about 90-100 ft away and turned right into another treeline perpendicular to the first. Z again ran right to her, though she did come all the way in without brambles to contend with. She did a very strong jump alert off of me and went back to C for her reward lickety split. This was probably the best rep of the night for Z.

3rd runaway:
C ran about 80 ft away back into the original treeline. Z went after her with lots of speed but shot past her and C had to call out a few times to get her redirected to her spot. Z did go in all the way to C through light brambles when she found her and did a nice refind as well after that initial bobble.

As an experiment, I had C reward Z with food for her finds but then toss her toy stuffed with tuna brownies to see if she'd engage in some play like what I see on the agility field. No luck this time - much more interested in the food vs. the toy still. It might be something else to work on in the future but I've got more important stuff to focus on right now, so we'll probably just keep trying different stuff as we get the chance.

Overall good enthusiasm and focus in the dark in a completely new location.

After putting Z up, I played victim for another puppy, G. G is at about the same point as Z is and he's lots of fun, very enthusiastic, and a bit of a goof still at 1 year old. It was pretty neat to see him take several turns on our runaways smoothly and his unbridled happiness at finding me. :)

Later, I ran as flanker with C for K and his dog C. A nice 3/4 mi run through fields, over a creek, and into the woods for all of us. Got to see some nice scenery with the moon almost full and pretty bright in the open. I can't imagine how cool this farm would be in daylight!

While waiting for others to come back in from their practice runs, I got to chat with S a bit about starting dogs and her thoughts on the matter and she said some things that really made a lot of sense about the pace at which we push dogs at the beginning and how going too fast can be so detrimental to the foundation skills you need to build to be successful in the long run. It certainly resonated with me and really helped to have someone give me a bit of a different perspective than what I get elsewhere. I'm looking forward to practicing with her and K on Thursday. :)