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. :)