Rain Visits the Corpse Flower

Rain on WSU Bench at Night

Scrolling through the political echo chamber on Twitter last week, I noticed an intriguing local news story about a corpse flower that was on bloom watch. It was a very intentional pet project of a science professor at Washington State University-Vancouver, which is just down the street from where Rain had her herding test a couple of years ago.

When I shared the information with Steven he pointed out that Rain, as a trained nosework and truffle dog, might enjoy smelling the stinky flower. I agreed, and from the live webcam it looked like the plant was stationed outside and was protected from close access from visitors. Corpse flower watch was ON!

Tuesday morning when I got to work I discovered that the flower was officially blooming, and ten minutes later I spotted a longer line forming behind the closer-range visitors on the live YouTube feed. After some consideration, rather than scrambling to head over immediately we reluctantly decided to wait. The bloom would be open from 24-48 hours, Rain and I were already committed to class that evening, and making Rain wait in a long line with other dogs present seemed unwise. Ultimately we decided to head up to The ‘Couve the following evening after work.

Our trip up to Vantucky was relatively uneventful, and everyone was visiting the WSUV campus for the first time. Atop a hill, the campus is still relatively small but growing, with rolling grassy fields between school buildings and parking lots. Those fields looked like the perfect thing for Rain to enjoy before heading home.

Corpse Flower at WSU Vancouver

As it turned out, the flower was well on its way to closing when we arrived: 48 1/2 hours after the official time they determined it was blooming. (Professor Steve Sylvester was keeping track of all sorts of measurements—a true scientist!) The up side was that there were a tiny fraction of the visitors compared with the prior day, the down side was that the funky smell seemed to be completely finished. Even the section of the flower Dr. Sylvester passed around, which had been cut out of it to pollinate the flower more than 24 hours prior, had no smell whatsoever. Even when we held the cut section up for Rain to smell, she seemed largely uninterested.

Rain Visits the WSUV Corpse Flower

Rain was getting antsy having all the people around her (a couple of which were also holding small dogs) so we retreated to a large boulder in the corner of this small courtyard.

Rain on a Boulder

Eventually though, we had all finished with our corpse flower visit—time to explore some of the undeveloped grassy fields! We made our way to an adjacent hillside where there was no risk of disturbing the corpse flower visitors. Rain got to poke her nose into rodent holes, trot through the sweet-smelling dried grass, and smell the warm summer air. We played some fetch, then after drinking some water we headed back uphill.

At times I let go of Rain’s leash, waiting for her to get a certain distance from me, then calling her back to practice her recall. I am particularly glad that I had her leash firmly in hand, then, when she saw the bunny.

She was very interested in the bunny, and pulled me toward where she saw it maneuver between a building and a shrub. Stopping to sniff the ground, I indicated we would be heading in a different direction, and she clearly indicated “NO! I wanna go chase that bunny!” I coaxed her out of it, but a few steps later we both saw the frozen bunny in a patch of grass beyond the bushes.

Seeing the bunny gave her a second wind though, and she cheerfully walked back to the car with us, clearly checking for bunnies in nooks and crannies along the way.

An unfortunate postscript: that grassy field apparently had some sort of a sticky weed, and when we got home I discovered that Rain was covered in a thin layer of whatever liquid it produced to stick to things. Imagine a dog that has had a good layer of Aqua Net applied. It didn’t take much brushing to realize that it wasn’t going to help, but I wouldn’t have time to give her a bath until the following evening. She just got a bath last weekend! She looked and felt so nice—and now this. Hopefully she won’t melt after having two baths in the course of one week.

See more photos of the WSU Corpse Flower on Flickr, and check out this FAQ about Titan VanCoug (that’s its name) from Washington State University.

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Switch Sniffer: Nosework Report

Rain Sits Proudly in the Grass

At long last, it was time to go back to nosework class!

We hadn’t been to nosework in four weeks, so Rain was excited to see the familiar grassy field as we turned off of the main road. As for me, I did not miss the gun club smell that hit me just seconds after we rounded the bend to the large target shooting area. Gun clubs have had some environmental issues in recent years, and I spent a few moments rethinking whether I could take Rain to a different location to avoid the trace metals we were surely breathing in.

Once Rain got a bathroom break and I put her back in holding, I discovered the first class was a bit behind. Nothing new there, but there was a dog that looked strangely familiar. Kristina mentioned that the dog was the result of a rebreeding by the same dogs that made her dog, and suddenly it made sense. Kristina’s dogs are smaller German shepherds with a non-traditional German shepherd look. While I don’t know them well enough to pick them out of a lineup, this dog definitely looked very similar.

Once our class got going I noticed we had a couple of new people. One had a standard poodle named Taura. The other, I later learned, had a Pyrenan shepherd named Wyatt—his head looked like Benji and its body appeared to be a bit shaved. Desodo’s person was in class, and the Pharoah hounds’ person came late (as per ushe).

Desodo Finds an Outdoor Hide

We had two rounds of back-to-back searches during class. The general premise required that the hides be placed on movable objects. In one search area the hides were close together, and in the other search area they were far apart. During the second round, the hides got switched: the ones that had been close were far apart and the ones that were further apart were close together. Detailing and working through converging odor would be important with the closer hides, and outside would be tougher depending on the evening breeze.

Sabia Gets Rewarded at an Outdoor Hide

Wouldn’t you know it—it had been so long since our last class I forgot to give someone my camera for taping the first search!

So here’s the first (inside) part of our second search:

And the second (outside) portion of our second search:

Wyatt the Benji dog is just starting nosework, so when it was his turn he worked using containers.

Wyatt Searching Containers

He’s not on odor yet but Kristina seems to think he’s catching on fast enough (and I think his person is doing exercises with him at home, too) that he’ll be introduced to odor in just another couple of class sessions.

After everyone had done their second round, the others started standing around outside for a chat, and I was feeling pretty ready to go home. Since it was already past our class time I confirmed we weren’t doing more, and headed out. Rain wasn’t entirely worn out from class, but both of us settled in to sleep pretty soon after arriving home.

Dog Before Cart

Rain Runs Down Slide

During agility class last week, Molly thought that Rain and I did so well on the challenging exercise we were given because of how I work her at the park each morning. She noted that we are living proof that you don’t have to own a bunch of agility equipment at home to be able to practice.

It’s true: I do work Rain every day at the park, and when we don’t have class for a while I do my best to work her more, or differently. Anything to challenge that smart doggy brain of hers! I must have mentioned to Molly that we regularly practice “out” and our bypass cue as we walk next to these lines of trees that ring the park next to pedestrian paths. (Rain being a very smart doggo probably had a lot to do with our success with a new challenge too.)

While we do have some agility items at home (our weave pole set, most notably) our park outing gives us designated time each day to work on things. Over time I’ve used the “furniture” at the park—lines of trees, playground equipment, benches, and the like—to incorporate into different exercises. (If I could easily take our weave pole set to the park, I suspect we’d be further along on those than we are!)

During this conversation at the end of agility class, I pointed out that when we were going to start learning teeter, Molly recommended using shopping carts to acclimate our dog to the sound of metal and being on something that moves. Around the same time we started seeing abandoned shopping carts in the park on a regular basis, which is how Rain learned to love riding around in shopping carts.

As I thought about it, I realized we hadn’t bumped into an abandoned shopping cart in months.

What a delight it was to spot one flopped over next to the playground on Monday morning!

Rain Atop Shopping Cart On Its Side

Rain spotted the cart and anticipated what was next. She instinctively climbed up on it before I even had a chance to turn it right-side up again.

Rain Riding in Shopping Cart

Even though the park presents challenges (dumped food, broken glass, strange visitors) and has gotten more challenging the last couple of years since our neighborhood demographics changed pretty rapidly, we still get a lot of benefit out of going each morning. The mornings when we find a shopping cart to work with are better than the mornings when a strange dog has a barking contest with Rain (it still happens, but less than before). It’s all opportunity for practice of one kind or another.

Pushing Out to the Cones: Weekly Agility Report

Rain Smiling at Beavercreek Park

Rain hadn’t been to class for a couple of weeks, and she was getting more antsy by the day. After a rainy spell, temperatures had risen, so the air was a little more moist than an average July day. Heading to agility class, I felt it was very important to keep all the components in check to avoid a situation where Rain would be neither too hyper nor worn out, sufficiently exercised but not overheated. Fortunately I managed to strike just about the right balance for our return to class this week.

Rain Sniffs Around Independently in Pen

I’ve been experimenting by encouraging Rain to relax when we’re in the pens before class. I might throw the ball once or twice when we arrive, but then I sit on the ground in the shade and encourage her to lie down and catch her breath. Our results have been so-so so far—her inclination is to be busy with something almost all of the time. She busied herself for a few moments by walking elsewhere to sniff the grass, which is a pretty unusual occurrence for this velcro dog.

Hunter Pushes the Cones

It was even warmer inside the agility arena, so Molly opened class by saying she wasn’t going to have the dogs run. Instead, she had us do a new exercise using some cones. The point of the exercise was to get our dogs to go out to the cone and remain out for several feet before running back to our side. Of course this was more challenging for some dogs than others: Hunter had a couple of turns before he was able to clear both cones with his person more than a couple of feet away. Meanwhile, Rain largely got the exercise on the first try, even after building distance, but she clearly demonstrated that we had an “ugly side” on this one—it was much more challenging when we did the exercise off my left side.

Aria Pushes the Cones

Once everyone had some time working this interesting new exercise, Aria transitioned to working a bit on her 2×2 weaves while Rain and Hunter ended up running a short course.

Aria Works on Weaves

Molly thought to set our jump height at 14” instead of our “proper” 20”. At first I thought it was in aid of keeping Rain relatively cool, but Molly made a reference that suggested she was helping Rain “really sail” through the course. The course was pretty simple, you see, with some stretches of jumps that would be a “go on” for the dog. (“Go on” is what you tell the dog to keep moving to the next thing, particularly if you’re not going to keep up with them.)

The start of this course was in the same corner Rain doesn’t like to sit in—it tends to be the wettest corner of the arena, and even I can tell it smells kind of funky. So the biggest challenge was just getting her to sit down before we began! Once we got going though, Rain flew through the simple course. That is until all that work and the temperature caught up with her. During our second run as the course gently curved toward a tunnel, she trotted toward me instead of taking a jump. I could tell that she had run out of steam. I had her finish at a slower pace, and we could all see she was done for the day.

Rain Chills in the Shade

After class I thanked Molly for making Rain use her brain and body during class—that I could tell that she was sufficiently exercised. Once we got home and Rain had dinner, she settled right down and I had the quietest evening I’ve had in weeks.

NACSW: Rain is Not Only a Client, but Also a Member

NACSW Booklet and Letter

Holidays sure do mess things up. Rain hasn’t had class for far too long (two weeks?) but we did receive this over the holiday weekend. It’s our National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW) welcome letter and scorebook!

Why did we join NACSW, you ask? It is required in order to participate in any NACSW-sanctioned nosework event, including one’s odor recognition test (ORT). OH, did I not mention it? We’re 100% registered now for an ORT event happening in October!

The booklet cover opens to a blue spread with a single white rectangle indicating DOG PHOTO HERE. Like a passport! Following spreads have several lines for recording ORT results, trial results, and the like.

With any luck, Rain and I will make our first positive entry later this year!

Encouragement from an Unexpected Place

Rain's Interest is Piqued

Rain and I were heading home from our morning jaunt to the park earlier this week, when a car stopped in the street next to us and the driver’s window started to open.

Uh-oh, I thought. I am not a big fan of interacting with strangers, especially in my neighborhood and especially not when accompanied by Rain. Besides Rain’s tendency to bark at things that are new/too close/look too much like a skwerl, we’ve had strange interactions with people.

This woman proceeded to explain that she often passes us on her way out to work and is thoroughly impressed by Rain. It was something so unexpected that my brain didn’t comprehend the details too well. All I heard was “Rain=GOOD” and I was shocked.

Not fully fathoming the situation, my auto-pilot responded by thanking her and telling her how much it means because we’ve been working so hard over the last few years. Gaining my brain back, I told her that Rain still has some behavioral issues like barking at squirrels—pointing up at the tree across the street, as we had stopped there as Rain had lost sight of a skwerl that jumped from the power line onto the tree.

After we parted ways it started sinking in: a random stranger had complimented Rain! It made me happy, if only to balance out the prior negative feedback from a stranger we had gotten.

Later on I realized that this woman was seeing us on the way home from the park, which is when Rain is fairly calm. It’s when she has had both physical and mental exercise for close to 45 minutes, so it stands to reason that she’s fairly well behaved as we head home.

I’m still going to take it though. Yay for us!