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...