Sunday, November 23, 2008

More open lot use

With the start of scent article use, I figured Z and I could use some extra work at home. We really should be practicing more on our own but there's just not enough daylight or people to do it with.

DH was our victim today and I used one of his dirty socks as the scent article.

We treked out to the empty lot and while DH hid, I distracted Z and tried to get her to "check" her scent item. It was a battle, but after about 2 or 3 mins she did take a good whiff so I released her to "go search". DH had walked about 100 ft out and hidden behind a slight drop off. Z headed straight for his spot, but overshot him a bit to the left. She got a negative about 8 feet in, turned and found him via sight. She did a decent refind, though I had to cue the jump alert this time.

Second search was L-shaped, about 100 ft in length. DH walked about 70-80 feet straight out and then turned right around the end of a hill. He remained standing about 30ft from the turn. I scented Z again for this rep, but it took much longer to get her to give a good sniff, probably about 5 minutes. As soon as I got the "check", I released her to "go search". She took off down the straight away, cast about at the turn, but picked the trail up and then saw DH. Her refind was a bit distracted by scent of some sort, but she did "leave it" and refind with a cue.

Our third search, DH decided he wanted to make his own course. He headed up the hill at an angle, looped back on the top and hid in the grass. Total track was probably about 200 feet. After scenting (where I finally gave up and just dropped a treat into the bag to get the sniff), Z hit the track going up the hill, but at the top she lost it, did a false refind alert, and got majorly distracted in a pile of rocks on the false refind, to the point she even ignored a recall. I had to go and get her, leash her and resend her on lead at that point. She appeared to pick up some scent again, hesitated, and then visually located DH. I had to cue the refind because I was only about 10 feet away from DH - we need to work on that some more.

Because the 3rd search didn't go so hot, I elected to set up a fourth one with more instruction to DH as the path he laid prior was too complicated for where she is right now. He walked down the hill at an angle, then doubled back at the base so his final hiding spot was almost directly below where Z and I stood on top of the hill. Upon release, Z picked the correct trail. She did appear a bit distracted by what I believe was DH's prior track, but reoriented and hit the base at the appropriate spot. At that point she started to sniff for his path but caught a glimpse of DH and found him visually. Her refind was better this time, but I still had to cue the jump alert.

Some frustration, but 3 out of 4 isn't too bad. :)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Work that nose!

Today we worked on "elements" in training, which means we focused on parts of the big picture instead of full searches. Tonight focused on scent articles, both collection and use.

After about maybe 45 minutes of discussion about scent articles, teams were assigned to one of two groups to go work in various areas of the warehouse we held practice at. Z and I worked with our training director along with two other teams so that he could help us out with this new task. Ziva was the last to run in our group since D wanted to set a few things up for us a bit differently than the other two, more experienced, teams.

C was our victim, so I collected a scent article (leather wallet) before gearing Z up. When collecting a scent article you have to be aware of a ton of factors: who's used the item (ideal is just the person you're looking for), how can you collect it with the minimum transfer of your scent, and how do you preserve other potential items for future use by you or another K9 team to name just a few.

I gloved up, grabbed a ziplock bag and looked around C's car. We found the wallet in her purse and it's highly likely she's the only one who handles it so it was a good choice. Being leather was a bonus as leather apparently holds scent very well. I used the baggie to scoop up the wallet, carefully avoiding breathing on it or rubbing it against my clothes or other parts of the car, closed it with a bit of air inside, and voila!, ready to use.

Once Z was "dressed" (in her new Ruffwear Web Master harness even!), we proceeded to the starting point. C had already walked away w/o Z watching, starting at that point and touching each support post she passed (one every 20 feet or so), about nose height from the ground. C hid about 60 feet away on this first trial. I put Z in a sit (fun considering we hadn't practiced with the new harness yet. :P), and offered the baggie, opened, at her nose. I cued "check" and waited until she took a good wiff of the item inside before sending her to "go search".

We were instructed to mark any straying from the track with a "No!" and reward on target work with "Good Dog!". Z was very hesitant and confused, but she did do some sniffing near each pole. She was definitely using her nose - she walked right by C's hiding spot initially! When she did connect up with C, she got heavily rewarded and we didn't ask for a refind since she was on lead and I was 10 feet behind her.

Round 2 had us repeating the scenario from our first trial with C hiding about 4 posts, or 80 feet, away. Z did better - more animated and on target - and did not blow by C this time like she did before. I felt like I was getting the pattern a bit better as well.

Our third and final trial went very well. C repeated the steps from prior trials, hiding about 100 feet away, and I scented Z as before. This time however, we were working in an area with lots of items on one side of the track, allowing for more scent being trapped as C passed by according to D. Z was MUCH more focused, appeared very solid on the track, getting good negatives when off, and beelined to C at a good pace. It was a VERY different picture from our first two tries. A very nice note to end on for sure. :)

After our runs, I was the victim for another team (K and C) and got to learn even more seeing the process from another angle. Learning new things in SAR can be a bit overwhelming, but once you get the idea it seems to progress quickly to proficiency. Pretty nifty if a bit daunting at times.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

On the brink

We pushed the boundaries today and encountered some frustrations. All in a day's training, but a new experience for us really.

We trained in a new location for us - around a local pond in heavy woods - and all after nightfall now that DST is over. The idea was for each team to work multiple short searches around the pond and not necessarily in 3s like we generally do.

Z went first or second and did about 5 reps total - hindsight being what it is, I realized afterward that we should've probably stopped after 3 or 4 instead.

I had two flankers (C and R I think) and a victim (J). Before heading out, I instructed J on the reward pattern for Z and made sure the flankers were set. We were doing basic runaways, so the first one was to be the shortest and gradually adding distance as we progressed around the pond.

In the dark, distance is hard to gauge, but I would say the first run was about 150 feet, 2nd was about the same, 3rd was probably 300 ft, fourth was about 200ft, final was about 150ft.

First round went well - J ran of to hide with some excited talkign to z and Z was raring to go, complete with whining and everything. She found J pretty easily, came back for the refind, and then found her again for us. Nice rep.

Given the niceness of the first, on the second rep we kept it the same length but added a bit of a curve vs. a straight shot. Z was raring to go again and took off like a shot, but did overshoot J by a bit before getting a negative and finding her. refind was ok, but not real strong.

We increased on rep 3 and that caused some issues - Z got a bit confused and J wasn't giving her many hints when she probably should've given the increase in distance. Z did find her but we may have had a false refind.

At this point I felt rather discouraged and should've reinstructed J on what to do if Z doesn't locate her easily or appears to be struggling, but this was new to me as well so i didn't think of it. J added more distance and in the process took off on the wrong trail, confusing both Z and myself as well as the flankers. Z apparently passed by her but didn't pick up on her location. Disappointing.

The final rep was just as bad as the 4th - Z was utterly confused, I was frustrated, and we had no idea where J had hidden so all the humans were having issues as well. Sigh.

I came out feeling a bit defeated and such, but C did say that she thought Z performed as is to be expected with all the uncertainty and mixups and did pretty well for the increase in difficulty.

I talked to our training director to get some tips and he mentioned that I might've been well advised to switch victims after the first mixups (it's my duty to see how to help my dog in training) and sticking with fewer reps of that difficulty would also be a good idea in the future. All things are well filed in my brain now.

I flanked for a few teams after Z and I worked and got to see how other dog-handler teams work in the exact same setting which was incredibly helpful. I was feeling kind of icky (tummy upset), but as long as I kept working I was ok.

Before packing up for the night, D suggested I get Z out for some quick, easy reps to help him see where she was and leave her and I with a more pleasant memory of training that night. We had K hide for us while D flanked.

First rep was about 70 or 80 feet in deep shadow on the edge of the woods. K reved Z up and she was pretty happy to be given her "go search" cue. She beelined for him and did a beautiful refind (D was impressed!).

Second rep was about the same distance and about the same results even with K's decreased talking and animation. Another nice refind as well!

Final rep, K was silent but Z was still hyped. Distance increased to approximately 100 feet, but she still beelined for K and did a wonderful refind, including an uncued jump alert! :D

Certainly a nice note to end on and D says Z's doing very well. He's very happy with her progress and remarked on her focus and victim loyalty - all very good!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A great use for open lots...

...includes SAR practice of course!! :)

DH and I took Z out to a cluster of empty lots in our subdivision this evening to do some short searches. We're very lucky that we live in a small subdivision with low traffic and about 6 empty lots in the middle, complete with rocks, ridges, tall grass, etc. that's perfect for short search patterns.

Tonight's details: about 18:00, temp around 55 degrees F, no breeze, sunny, rocky/sandy terrain with sections of tall grass (2' or more in height).

Search 1: Gave DH his instructions and dog treats and had him hide about 40 feet away behind a drop off. He walked out slowly with no sound or excitement at all. When released, Z bounded off after him, found him and did a perfect refind including her alert: bouncing off my thigh! DH fed her up for about 20 seconds, until he ran out of treats. He said she pretty much took a flying leap off the drop off, which is about a 3 foot drop - she really has no fear and loves the game, doesn't she? :)

Search 2: Started at DH's first hiding spot. DH climbed a rise and hid about 10 feet off the crest in tall grass. Total distance was about 50 or 60 feet. Again he had treats, but did not do anything special on his way away from us. Z bolted up the rise as soon as she was released, bouncing over the tall grass to see better. She again found DH easily and did an uncued refind with alert! :D On her way back to me on the refind, she again used hopping to locate me vs. trying to wade through the tall grass.

Search 3: Started at the top of the hill where DH hid. DH walked down the hill and turned right at the bottom, walked for about 20 feet and crouched down for a total distance of about 70-80 feet. You couldn't see him from the top of the hill, but he was visible once you hit the bottom. Z didn't see DH leave this time, but she took off in the correct direction when released, despite some neighbors making noise nearby. When she got to the bottom of the hill, Z used her eyes to find DH, raced to him, did her beautiful refind with alert (even with me standing on a steep incline) and went back to him, where I realized he had no food rewards! I had her do a second refind from just 5 feet away and handed him the food to reward with.

I was very pleased with Z's enthusiasm on these short search patterns and also thrilled to see the refinds gaining some reliability sans cues in various locations. I wish I had had my camera on the second search - she was just so cute bouncing through the grass and obviously loving the opportunity to work. :)

Monday, October 27, 2008


I know, I know, it's been ages since I posted. At least you've only missed a few practices since I was out of town for two practices. I'll update with today's work and go back later this week to fill in our missing practice details.

With the days getting shorter, the vast majority of this week's practice was in the dark. Z ran her stuff first, but it was still pitch black by the time we got into the woods.

Details on the conditions: about 7 or 7:15pm, probably 40 degrees F, brisk wind, mix of cleared paths and woods ranging from thin to heavy undergrowth.

Search 1: C ran about 50ft away and hid just off the trail, light off. Z was released, found C, and DID A PERFECT REFIND!!!!!! No recall from me, just hit C, turned and came straight to me at a dead run, bounced off, and went straight back to C!!!!! Very cool! C mentioned that Z was awesome and did exactly what she needed to. :)

Search 2:
C ran about 60ft away and hid off the trail again. Z was released, found C, paused a moment, but then came straight back AGAIN for a nice refind, returned to C and was obviously proud of herself - she got major praise from C since she was the victim and we're still working on victim loyalty (I stay quiet until C's done rewarding, then catch Z and give her a pat or two).

Search 3:
Because Z was doing so well, C made this more difficult: she ran down the trail about 40ft, then cut into heavy brush and crouched down about 30 ft in. I released Z and she didn't think twice about navigating the brush and brambles. C said she did have some trouble with some animal scent, but refocused and found her before coming back to me for the refind. On the way back she got a bit distracted by the animal scent, but still did a refind with only a little redirection from C - usually she needs a leave it cue and a recall when distracted by animal scent, so that's improvement there as well.

C said Z was obviously improving nicely and that, depending on trainings in the near future, she likely will get to start working longer "searches" soon! We won't rush her if she needs more time, but so far so good. I think I practically glowed when C said that she was really proud of both Z and I! I was floating on air all the way back to base. :) C did seem to gush about Z's work when we got back to base (she was talking to our training director who had designed our search patterns tonight) as well. That made me feel even more wonderful!

This week also marked a milestone for me: I was given responsibility for being the "puppy person" for a new dog on the team! We did a shorter, easier version of what Z did with the new dog (I'll call D) and she did nicely for her first time out. I enjoyed being on the other side of things since I could see differences between Z and D more easily that watching from the sidelines, and it gave me new insight into both how my dog is doing comparatively and how other dogs perform in similar situations - pretty nifty stuff for the dog trainer side of me!

Overall a great practice, despite the brisk weather.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Using our nose

I just got back from being out of town for a week last night, but both Z and I were raring to go to practice tonight, so that's what we did. Us? SAR addicts?! No! Never!

Our addiction was given a bit of a boost tonight in the form of a major milestone: Ziva was asked to find someone with senses *other* than sight and hearing! She also did her first work in pitch black as well, so it was a highly productive practice. :)

Round 1:
Big field with open and brushy portions, approximately 19:30, about 50 degrees F, clear, slight breeze. Had D serving as flanker and training advisor/observer, C as "victim".

Search 1: C hid about 70 feet away behind light cover. No sounds on the runaway or during hiding. I sent Z, she bolted to C, sniffed a bit, ran toward me but arced away to potty, then needed a recall to finish the refind. Ok performance given the distraction of needing to potty.

Search 2: Started at C's first hiding spot. C ran up and over a slight hill and hid in some tall brush and grass just off the trail about 100 ft away. Z headed straight for her, needed one recall to refocus on the refind. Good given the increased distance.

Search 3: Started at C's second hiding spot. C ran down a mowed row in the field about 150ft, then cut into the heavy brush at a 90 degree angle, headed in about 15 feet, and hunkered down.I sent Z and she headed straight for C's cut in location but overshot it, stopped about 15 feet past and spun around, started tracking, cut in *exactly* where C did, and found her!!!!! She took the shortest distance back to me for the refind, but then got distracted after the "Show Me" cue and I had to issue a strong "Leave It!" cue and recall her to reset her. She did find C again for her reward. This was the rep where she first used her nose vs. eyes and ears and both D and C were very proud of her performance.

Apparently Z does both air scent and trailing behaviors in our practice work, though we'll likely stick with air scent given the difficulty of the tests required for trailing dogs. We'll keep an eye on how her training develops both skills and go from there.

After putting Z up, I flanked for a couple of teams working on a new search problem: finding someone hidden and unreachable. Each dog had their own unique reaction to this problem and it was neat to see what worked, what didn't, and how each team worked together to solve it to the best of their abilities. That training was done in conjunction with a handler/trainer from a local K9 unit, so we got to see his dog work as well, which was pretty cool.

C and I discussed incorporating the "unreachable victim" idea into some of Z's foundation work and decided that it would be a good idea down the road so we can prevent her from developing any of the problems we saw at play tonight - they're all pretty easily solvable, but it'd be great to avoid them all together with work now instead of later.

In a rare twist, Z and I got another 3 search session in after official practice was over. C and I trekked into another field on the property, similar type to the first, and worked on nighttime skills. This was the first time I got to use Z's LED collar and bell and also meant that I had to learn how to use my own LED headlamp while working a dog - you don't want to ruin their nightvision by shining your light into their eyes but you also need to see where you're going, too. :) I'm getting better I think, only shone it directly at Z once and she didn't seem too phased.

Round 2:
Similar field to the first, about 21:00, about 40 decrees F, dark, clear night, with little light from stars or moon. Little to no wind.

Search 1: C ran about 40 feet ahead and ducked into grass off the path. Her runaway was animated, but she hid quietly. Z found her readily, needed one recall cue, completed her refind aok.

Search 2: Started at C's first hiding spot. C ran about 70 feet away and again hid just off the path. Z again found her readily and needed the recall cue to direct her refind.

Search 3:
Started at C's second hiding spot. C ran about 70 feet away, cut into the heavy brush at a 90 degree angle and hid about 10 feet in. Z again ran past the cut in when released, but self corrected after a shorter distance (about 5 feet I think). Z then forced her way through the heavy brush to C, bounced back to me (can't remember if I had to recall her or not), and did a nice "Show Me"/refind.

C said Z was doing well for only her second "using her nose" experience and working in the dark for the first time. We had thought Z had trouble with heavy brush on the first round of searches because she really picked her way around it, but this go 'round she obviously had no issue despite very heavy cover, so that's very good to know, and she definitely followed her nose on the last "search" of the night. Yay Z!

Vocab word of the day: the run past with self correction I mentioned above is referred to as the dog "getting a negative" - i.e. they realized there was no scent in that area and backtracked to find it again - as I learned tonight. :)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Distraction - aka "mmmm animal pee"

Yea weird title I know, but hey I have to keep things interesting somehow. ;)

Tonight was our second practice with the team and as usual, the "puppies" go first. Zive was the only puppy at this practice, so we headed off into the woods with C our friend from last week (puppy person) and S (another active K9 handler). C was the victim again and S flanked us.

Our practice area was in brushy woods, about 7pm, 90ish degrees, light breeze.

Search 1: C ran off with a fair amount of cheerleading and hid about 60 feet away behind a tree. I released Z with her "Ready? Search!" cue and she took off. Halfway to C's hiding spot, Z got mucho distracted by some leaves - S had me give Z a "leave it" cue and Z started looping about trying to find C. i gave a lot of encouragement and she did find her after a few minutes. This go 'round Z didn't do a refind at all, just hung around C, so S had me recall her to me. We're starting on the actual alert behavior - jumping up on me in this case - so I cued her to "paws up" and then sent her back to C to complete the refind. Z didn't need any sound cues from C during this search.

C and S gave me some pointers:

- The distraction was likely animal urine and thus a leave it cue is necessary at this stage; if she starts sniffing again like that I'm to cue "leave it" and then shut up.
- I, just as in agility, have the tendency to talk too much to my dog, which doesn't help anything at all and can hinder Z's focus.
- S said she liked how focused Z was while watching C disappear and said "she obviously knows what she's supposed to do" already, which is great. :)

Search 2:
C again ran away about 65 feet, but with less noise, this time. Z focused as before and found C much more quickly, though she still did a bit of casting about looking for her at first. The refind was about 50% - Z came back about 10 feet and then returned to C, so I recalled her, cued "paws up" and sent her back with the refind cue "Show Me!".

Search 3: C ran off about 70 feet with little noise and hid behind some trees. A pile of brush stood in the middle of the area we were working, so Z had to navigate that first, then looked for C - again some searching before finding her, but she did find her person. Again no refind, but a fast recall to me, good paws up, and a nice return to C when told "Show Me!"

C and S talked with me after the 3rd search and gave even more pointers and insight:

- Z is showing some leanings toward air scenting vs. trailing. S thinks if she keeps up with what she's been doing she could be a "kick ass air scenting dog" in the long run.
- Z is still progressing incredibly well given her inexperience w/ SAR work until recently. Even her bobbles are fine; they're very normal at this stage.
- We need to work on distractions - C and S both think that Z's distracted because the woods is just so cool to her. To address this, we're supposed to go hiking more, especially off lead, to desensitize Z to the woods as a unique, "cool" place. It needs to be commonplace and no big deal for her to focus more easily and just going out once or twice a week actually lends more excitement to the outing vs. lowering its value.
- It's ok for Z to roam about after she finds her person - the idea of the game is that finding people allows the dog access to whatever they find rewarding and for Z that is food and sniffing around at this point.

The rest of practice I flanked for two dog teams and talked with other team members. I got my official membership packet and more info on certs as well.

I threw in a few tug toy sessions and some heeling practice for Z in between flanking missions since I would like to build her tug drive in this environment (it's very high in agility, very low at SAR practice) and work more on obedience with distractions. She performed well in each respective session and by the end of the night was showing much more of her normal tug obsession and some very nice heeling and eye contact behaviors.

In other news, I successfully passed my first FEMA IS class earlier today and am well on my way to the second. :)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


I was pretty tired last night so I didn't mention one other key events from our first practice as members of the team: I now I have *homework*! Who would of thought that I'd be happy to have homework again after getting out of college?!

Over the next few weeks I have to take 4 homestudy exams through FEMA (yes that FEMA - the Federal Emergency Management Agency) and complete a home study course and exam to earn SarTech III certification.

SarTech III certification is very important as it's a well respected certification and can thus often provide easier access in search situations by lending more credibility to the dog handler. It's also key to have other outside certifications and keep good training records so that in the future, once the team becomes deployable, there's no question that they know what they're doing and have been appropriately trained and tested.

Guess I'm going to be getting my own titles instead of just putting them on my dogs. ;)

My Dog ROCKS!!!

Z had her first real SAR practice today after I cleared the final interview and entrance evaluation and she was AWESOME!!!!!!! :D Our "victim" was the team's "puppy person", so she really knows how to do runaways and rewards and all that good stuff. She was impressed with Z's performance her first time out, especially the quality of her refinds - apparently she is *very* advanced for this stage of the game.

Practice was held at a big warehouse - very dim/dark inside, no air circulation, concrete floor, HOT - so it was a totally new situation for the Z. She hesitated briefly at some open metal stairs leading into the building, but had no issues working in the dark or on the slick floor.

I watched one puppy go before us so i knew what to expect and then it was our turn.

Search 1: Our victim did a very active, excited runaway to a spot about 70-80 feet away and hid behind an RV. Z was super amped - making funny noises and straining at her collar before I released her with our "Search" cue. She scrabbled on the concrete and tore off after our person - running past and then doubling back, finally finding her after a few sound "hints", getting a reward, sprinting back to me on the refind (VERY GOOD), and then returning to our person after a bit of initial confusion about how to get back to her. She got a great reward (45 seconds of verbal praise and cookies) and it was time for the next rep.

Search 2:
Our victim crossed the warehouse floor to hide in some palletized wood about 60 feet away. The runaway was slightly less energetic, but Z's anticipation and release mirrored the first go 'round. Z only needed one sound from our person to orient her this time, despite the strong smelling wood and much darker surroundings. The refind on this was a bit harder for Z and she ended up going down the wrong aisle - we did wonder if she was trying to find a shortcut back to the victim and/or doing some air scenting since she perfectly paralleled the victim's position. A few "Show Me"s later and Z found her woman and got another good, long reward.

Search 3:
Victim did another, even quieter runaway to hide behind a bus about 60-65 feet away. Z again was very interested in finding her person and didn't need a single sound "hint" to find her. Her refind was a bit odd as I was already fairly close to our person, but it worked for our first official time out.

Z performed well in a very different environment, with all sorts of new people and scents. Each search was progressively harder, but she continued forward progress and showed a lot of good traits and skills already. Getting kudos from the team's puppy person who has seen each team start for the most part is very affirming and a bit of an ego boost for sure. :)

We've been instructed that she can do several refinds in the same search rep if needed, so we'll work on that in similar situations in the future.

Z was also introduced to cadaver materials today and performed admirably. Some dogs react quite negatively to the "smell of death" that body parts carry, but Z was pretty interested in checking the stuff out - some initial "boogeyman" fears, but she maintained interest each time I led her into the area of the jar containing the cadaver item. Our team training leader has said he'd really like to see her trained up as a cadaver dog given her small size - she's the smallest dog on the team thus far and her petite build would allow her to get into tight spaces *much* more easily than the larger dogs can.

Sounds like we'll prob start working cadaver stuff soon as well as regular tracking work. I personally hope we can cross train and certify in both live search and cadaver work, but we'll see where her skills and aptitude lead us.

What a rush!!

Monday, September 8, 2008

In the Woods

Went on a hike in the woods with the girls this evening and got DH to tag along. Happily, he also agreed to play "victim" at the beginning of the hike so we got 3 reps in tonight. We saw better results than our earlier object searches thankfully!

Search 1:
DH walked down the road to the trail and hid behind some brush about 40 feet away. He doesn't understand how to rev up a dog, so I encouraged Z myself; she was very interested in following him. :) I let her go on the cue, "Ok, Go Search!" and she ran full speed ahead, over ran his spot by about 8 feet, then turned quickly and located him. He gave her a treat, she did a nice little refind, bobbled a bit on the "Show Me" cue, but eventually ran back to him for the rest of her reward. (he was pretty boring and missed giving her some of the treats - def not an ideal victim unfortunately)

Search 2: After some coaching we ran a second rep after getting on the trail. I had DH go around a bend in the trail about 70 feet away and repeated the reving and cue from the first search. Z once again bolted after him, got her cookie, did her refind, and got her "Show Me" cue a bit better. Her reward was better, but still not perfect.

Search 3:
This search was a short one - just about 30 feet with DH around a bend in the trail again. Z did well on the release with cue as usual, found DH, and then completed half the refind before being distracted by some horse apples on the return trail. I gave her a "leave it" and she came back to me and did a decent "Show Me" given the distraction an short distance. Her reward was more animated thankfully.

Overall a decent round of searching, with a few bobbles to work on. As usual, distractions are not our friend, but she did well in the woods off leash in a location where she's not used to many rules (it's our usual off leash hiking trail). Hopefully with a more animated and experienced victim we'll see a strong refind and less susceptibility to distractions. :)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Playing Catch Up

I'm about 2 weeks behind when it comes to updating my poor blog - I swear I'll do better in the future!

We've not been doing much unfortunately - practice 2 weeks ago was cancelled (very rare!) due to flash flood warnings in the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav. We got about 5 inches of rain in a day and a half and they were predicting storms. The next week we didn't have practice because of Labor Day. Poor Z was absolutely bouncing off the walls after a week without agility as well.

Since the last update, we've done two short object search sessions, both at the agility training field. I was rather disappointed in the results of both.

The first round was last Monday and involved searching for her toy among the stored obstacles. The first "search" was good - fast, accurate - but the next two were much more lackadaisical. The day was hot and we were at the agility field after practicing that for a while, so I'm guessing those two factors combined badly, but Z will need to get over that if she's going to make it as a SAR dog - being hot and tired is not an excuse in the real thing. :\

The second round was last Wednesday and the set up was similar thoguh we used a different toy. All three reps were slow and took a while for her to focus on finding the toy. This round was not during the heat of the day, but it was after a full hour of agility class.

**bad trainer, bad trainer** Isn't the definition of insanity trying the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?!

Ah well, we have practice with the group tomorrow finally if the weather gods cooperate, so I'm hoping we can get some good victim reps in and some pointers on improving things outside of practice. I have a feeling this means I'm really going to have to buckle down and work a LOT more with her in a more methodical fashion - imagine that!

Good thing I'm an addict...

Monday, August 18, 2008

*happy dance*


Z got the go ahead to start coming to practice after I updated the powers that be on her last search with a victim! Apparently she's farther ahead than they expected her to be at this stage in the game (the returning to me was indeed the start of an indication/refind!) and thus she needs to start working with the team to maintain her progress. Rockin'!

In other news, she got a clean bill of health from the vet today so we're good to go on that front. The only blip in the exam was that she has a slight heart murmur, likely genetic, but it won't affect her performance in SAR or in daily life. Yay!

Sunday, August 17, 2008


I FOUND A GOOD VICTIM!!! A friend of mine and I went hiking with the dogs today and when we got back to the cars I asked if she'd mind being a victim for Z; she said "sure". :) We got three good reps in on runaways!

Rep 1: My friend ran away from Z after showing her that she had cookies. She made lots of noise as she ran, then hid about 60 feet away behind some brush. Z was raring to go at that point, so I released her with her cue "Go Search!". She bolted after my friend at top speed and ran right to her hiding spot, where Z promptly got her cookies and a verbal praise party. When the cookies were gone, Z ran to me (beginnings of an indication?!?!) and then returned to the victim when I asked her to "Show Me". :D Awesome.

Rep 2: I held Z while my friend ran a similar distance away and hid behind one of our cars. Rinse, repeat of the first rep: high speed, accurate find, return to me and then back to the victim. Yay!

Rep 3:
My friend ran behind a rock pile about 20 feet away from Z and I. She wasn't able to hide completely this time, but was about 1/2 behind the pile. Z was just as enthusiastic when released and just as quick "finding" her victim, but we didn't have a return to me because we were already so close.

Great reps in all - a very nice start imo. Of course I may be creating a monster - Z kept circling my friend and I in anticipation of another rep and then refused to get in the car when asked the first time (did on the second cue lol) - that never happens after just a regular hike or practice in agility. Seems like she's taking to this well!

First Saturday practice

Every week we have a practice on Monday evenings for about 2 hours, but two weekends a month there's a long practice (about 6 hours generally). Usually I can't make Saturday practices because they are held while I'm teaching classes at work, but this week practice was in the evening, so I could make most of it. :) I got there at 7:30pm (it started at 6) and didn't get home until just now (midnight)!

Tonight I was on two searches: one longer one (about 45 mins) and one shorter one (about 9 mins and 1/2 mile). I "flanked" for both, which means I walked to the side of the dog team so we could cover more land and help each other out as needed. On the longer search the team had the dog handler and two flankers, the shorter one only had me flanking.

The first search in one direction was through a pretty brushy woods and I spent most of the time walking perpendicular to the slope of a hill, running into cobwebs every few feet, and ducking through overhanging limbs. Going back was through a field of grass, but we got tangled up in brambles several times - yuck! The dog found the victim on the double back and we headed back to base.

The second search was a fast one through grass and after dark vs. sunset. The dog stayed on track nicely for the most part and the search was over super fast. It's much easier to run through grass than woods. ;)

It was fun to see the teams in action, but I also enjoyed hanging out at base while the trails were laid as it gave me a glimpse of all sorts of things that go on to support the teams both in training and in a real search.

I think the most interesting thing was seeing how they use GPS to "see" victims (and thus the track) and the teams following behind (and thus their accuracy on a track). Lots of info is gained with this technology and it ensures that no one gets truly "lost" during practice as you can "see" where everyone is. :)

I'm looking forward to Monday's practice!

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Last night was agility practice and I decided to do some SAR exercises before and after class. Despite having tons of dog people around, we really didn't have much opportunity to recruit victims, yet again, so we did a combo of things.

Before Class:

Search 1 - 3: Put Z in a sit stay and hid her tuggy among some miscellaneous agility stuff. I immediately saw the challenge presented by doing this on the agility field when I released her - her focus was on the obstacles, not finding the toy. :\ I redirected her once or twice each time and she was successful in finding the toy, but I think that was mostly sheer luck as it was obviously not her primary focus. (Note to self - stop making huge leaps that leave the dog in the dust!)

One small benefit to this round was an increase in drive with her tuggy. Since we're no longer using the rabbit fur tug (it would work at cross purposes in SAR), I've gone back to a plain fleece tug which is not nearly as interesting. After the first "find" the drive for the tug leaped a lot, and continued to do so after each subsequent "find". :)

After Class:

Search 4 - 6: Put Z in a sit stay and hid myself (no victims, plus I wanted to see what she'd do). I did this in various locations on the field but made it easy. I released her with a "OK! Go Search" cue and then stayed quiet. The first two rounds went very smoothly and she easily found me, on the third I hid under the A-frame and that threw her for a loop - she ran back and forth over the obstacle and I did have to repeat the search cue to help her out in locating me. She had good, sustained interest throughout and we got to reward with both a tug as well as her hedgehog squeaky toy.

I did get one victim to help me for one rep at the end of things. She did better than my other recruits (made a great big deal while running away, hid well, etc.) but her rewarding left a fair amount to be desired (make squealing noises, but forgot to reward with food or the tug I gave her), so I ended up doing the rewarding myself. :\ Less than ideal in that realm, but Z was very speedy at running to the spot where she last saw the victim and then methodically covering the area until she found her. :)

We ended after the victim rep because Z had been working for a good hour and was getting a little bit frustrated/tired. Didn't want to push too hard at this stage, especially given the challenge inherent in working on the agility field.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Where are the good victims?!

So today we were shooting for doing some good runaways while on a hike with a friend and my family - yea they weren't very good victims and thus I don't know how much help the reps we did were. :P I need to find people who understand the whole "stop and get super happy when the dog finds you" bit and I need to be more explicit in what they need to do. *sigh* From now on I'll also be setting "searches" up on their own, not during another activity with extra people and other canines in close proximity. Live and learn.

Search 1:
I held Z while the group of people walked away down the trail. Reved her up myself since they didn't. Released when they were behind some brush about 60 feet away and she was intently watching. She sprinted after them, but turned back when she saw me running behind her. She did return to the people with another "Search" cue.

Search 2: Same pattern as the first but the people were about 50 feet away when she was released and I didn't run behind her. She didn't turn back, but kind of "bounced" off them and returned to me once she had located them.

Search 3: Same pattern as the first 2, but people were about 150 feet away (no good brush until that distance). She started off rocketting away, ran to one of the people in the group, bounced off, returned to me, and then refused to refind them. I used multiple "search" cues. Overall this was obviously too great a jump in criteria for her.

Search 4: I did one more search about 20 mins after the first 3 to make up for the last one that frustrated both of us. This i set up methodically: one person (my DH) walked about 60 feet away and hid behind a bush. When Z was raring to go, I released her and she shot after him. She almost overshot his spot behind the bush, but skidded to a stop and ran up to him. She got a food reward but not a ton of praise (he's not the most enthusiastic victim) before a jogger with a small dog suddenly appeared and I had to recall her to me.

Mixed reviews on this practice, but we have to learn somehow. Lots of things to keep in mind when setting up training reps, that's for sure!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Day two, Round two

We did another set of 3 object searches after work this evening, this time indoors in the training building where I teach classes. I tried to make these searches harder and she still seems to be doing well to my novice eye. I hope I'm not accidentally doing something to mess her up...

Search 1:
Z left behind 1/2 wall, hid wubba toy behind trash can after moving and faking a placement in other places. She was more methodical about searching for the toy this time instead of beelining for it. She scanned the open area then moved from left to right across the area investigating hidey spots until she found it. Played a game of fetch as a reward.

Search 2: Z left in a corner behind the half wall again, similar placement strategy. Hid the wubba toy in some miscellaneous toys and training equipment on the other side of the room from the trashcan. Z went to the right side of the room this time and worked over to the left side in a similar fashion to Search 1. She spotted the wubba and maneuvered to pull it out from its spot behind a bike and other obstacles easily. Rewarded with wubba tug game.

Search 3:
Crated Z and hid wubba on training floor instead of entry area. Released Z to "go find it" and she worked the floor from left to right quickly (there are fewer hiding spots on the floor vs. the entry area). Rewarded her find with another game of fetch before heading home.

Down the Rabbit Hole!

Yesterday marked the beginning of a crazy adventure for my young dog, Ziva, and myself. Ziva passed the basic evaluation required by Foothills Search and Rescue to be accepted into training as a wilderness search and rescue dog! Here's a copy of a post I made to one of the dog forums I frequent:

Yup, Z passed her eval today, despite the 101 degree temps (we were outside for about 45 mins).

She's not stellar in terms of toy drive with other people yet, but she works nicely for food and they think she should do well with some work with others using her tuggy and/or a ball. On the "search" test she did nicely, especially given the heat - she looked for her ball for a good 10 mins before she wandered over to get water and flop on the grass, which apparently is a good start.

Our homework is to build drive to the victim using "runaways" and "pop ups"; runaways are just that: the dog is restrained while the victim hides and then is released when they are raring to go, pop ups are similar except the person goes out of sight to hide and then "pops up" every so often so the dog gets glimpses of them.

Z's not to come to the next few practices until we get some more of the above training under our belt at home, but then she'll start training for real with the club.

I'm soooooooo proud of my little girl, especially because she'll be the smallest dog and the only mixed breed on the team!

It was certainly a great day and as soon as I was on my way home, I made calls to all my friends who know Z to give them the great news. Everyone is psyched for us - which is good since we'll need various practice "victims" to do our homework over the next few weeks!


Today is one of my long days at work so we aren't doing much in the way of training, but on my lunch break Z and I went out in the light rain with her ball and did some baby object searches. As instructed, I'm adding the cue for searching already ("Find it" in our case) and only doing 3 reps of any one exercise to keep her in the game.

1st search:
Z sat behind a tree while I hid ball in bushes about 15 feet away. Released to "find it", she sprinted toward the bushes and spotted and retrieved the ball immediately. Playtime and lots of "good girl"s, tugged with the ball.

2nd search:
Z sat behind a tree while I hid the ball in brush about 35 feet away. Exact repeat of 1st search but she overshot the ball initially.

3rd search: Z laid down behind some low bushes while I tossed the ball about 10 feet away. Once released she zeroed in on it's location and retrieved the ball quickly. Praise and tug as a reward and back in the house to chill.

I'm happy with her performance so far: lots of drive to "find it", accurately locating the object even w/o seeing it hidden, and happy and upbeat throughout. She looks like a coiled spring when I leave her on the stay to hide the ball - she seems to really be enjoying this "game"!