Rain was looking excited when she got dropped off for nosework class this week. It was to be our last class, but it seems like she was looking forward to finding her hot dog bits and eager to get searching.
I brought a card and jar of homemade plum preserves for both Rachael, our teacher, but also Deborah, the person whose office we had been using as our private room over the prior six(ish) weeks. Everyone at Oregon Humane Society (OHS) has been really nice to us, from accommodating Rain and her “special needs” to fostering an overwhelmingly positive, yet completely professional, environment. Two of our classmates were “insiders” (staff/volunteers) and they too brought a sunny tone to our weekly gatherings. Several years ago I interviewed for a job at OHS and now I want to work there more than ever!
On this night of our very last class, we had plenty of fun. We started things off with another novel search location: outside! The humans grabbed our coats and headed out to the secured grounds behind Oregon Humane Society where a group of boxes was waiting. There was just a little light left in the sky, but the brick patio with boxes scattered around it was adequately lit. The ground was dry, the temperature was warmer than it had been in weeks if not months—being outside was great.
Rain was moderately better about being upset when I left her by herself on this night. She was not pleased when I came in just to grab my jacket and didn’t fetch her for a search though. Later on during class I did catch her hooooooowling again, but I think(?) she has made progress on this since our first week of class.
We conversed among ourselves as we waited for the next dog to come have their turn. We learned that Fiona and her person had been on a long hike at Coyote Wall that day and Fiona had roughly 30 ticks picked off of her at the end of it!
Ticks aren’t generally a problem in the wet Pacific northwest, but they can be found in drier, grassier areas east of the Portland metro area. Spring and fall are when ticks are most active and numerous, and our relatively mild winter may have meant a bigger than usual early bug hatch. Our vet Dr. Ricker has heard similar tick reports recently so depending on how much hiking we plan in the coming months, I may level up Rain’s flea medication to include tick prevention this year.
When everyone was done with their outside search, everyone grabbed a box and we came back inside to find rows of identical white boxes inside our big room.
Rachael explained that this exercise would be a blind search. All but one of the white boxes had never had anything in it, and we wouldn’t know coming in where our hide would be—it was our job to figure it out based on clues from our dogs. This search would be timed.
When Rain beat Fiona’s time, I was pretty happy—but when the subsequent dogs beat Rain’s time, I remembered that Fiona had also been on a lengthy hike that day and might be tired. It wasn’t until Ralphie’s person pointed out that putting all the treats in the same box was probably making the box more smelly, thus leading to faster times. Good point!
Before we put the identical white boxes away, Rachael talked about the next step in nosework—training on an odor. She passed around a jar of halved Q-tips that were scented with just two drops of birch oil. It was strong when I smelled the top of the jar—and it occurred to me that birch smells just like what they call “wintergreen.” Well, to my dull human nose, anyway.
Rachael decided to demonstrate odor work by asking us to place one of the birch-scented Q-tips in the designated box and hiding it while she went to get her dog Elsa. They came in and performed the same exercise we did, only with birch odor instead of treats.
We also learned that once a dog switches to odor work, they get switched off of food hides. This is a potentially important consideration moving forward with Rain, as we usually hide a Kong with food in it every morning for her to find. If Rain starts working on truffle dogging, we’ll have to reconfigure how this game is played.
After the white box setup got cleared out Rachael placed an array of everyday objects out on the floor. She placed the same four hides around the room for each dog—each presenting a new wrinkle. One hide was right inside the door before the dog was released (Rain spotted hers before I even let her off leash), one was at the bottom of a laundry basket (everyone laughed when Rain’s front paws lifted off the floor as she tried to reach deep into the basket but couldn’t quite get it), one that was in a relatively open space, and one that was atop a mesh bag containing dozens of plastic balls—the type you find in ball pits.
That mesh bag was an interesting challenge based on where the scent flowed. The treat was placed at the top, pretty much in plain sight—but the scent was dropping down into the air pockets of the balls inside and created more challenge for the dog to find. We watched Davie follow the scent nearly from the floor up the side of the balls until he finally reached the top and got his apple treat.
Our very last round was similar, with different hides in the same room. Rachael switched around a couple of objects, but nothing too major.
And that was our class! She talked about the upcoming class for odor work, and another idea they’re developing for a drop-in nosework class where they can help dogs work at whatever level they’re at. As for Rain, I need to find out whether training her on a birch or anise odor (the two odors they’ll use in the upcoming odor class) would be a waste of time since we don’t plan to do competitive nosework, and whether we should just start training using truffle odor.
We bade a final goodbye to Rain’s room once we had packed up to head home. Rain had a fun night but settled down fairly quickly for the night once we were back home.