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. :)