It Was a Dark and Rainy Night: Nosework Report

Hector Searches Side Room

At long last, it was time to return to nosework after our holiday break—and the weather was treacherous. Long-time readers may recall Rain is not a big fan of getting in the car when it’s raining, I believe because of the noise rain makes on the metal roof. She has been better about this the last couple of years but it was raining hard enough that she did have a bit of reticence getting in the car to go to class…and to be honest, I did too.

Visibility was poor on our way to class. You know things are rough when your lane is ending and the driver in the next lane hangs back in a “no, you go first!” sort of gesture. Yes, I could go first, in order to navigate everyone behind me along the darkened back roads, and to find the places with standing water on the road. Thanks, buddy!

(Fortunately there was only one spot with standing water, and I saw it in plenty of time to adjust my trajectory and avoid disaster.)

Wyatt Finds Chair Hides
Hector Finds Hide in Stacked Chairs

After everyone snorkeled their way inside to class, Kristina set our run order and we began. Our first round was grouped, with two hides in the side room, two hides in the great room, then a third inside the kitchen/dining area.

Sabia Finds Stacked Chair Hide

Once it was Rain’s turn, she was raring to go!

Immediately after the first search, we opened the door to the dining area and did our next search:

Izzy really pinpointed the odor source in the kitchen really fast!

Izzy Searches Kitchen

When everyone had made it through by 9 PM, Kristina added a quick search in the great room that included a tricky under-couch hide.

When it was Rain’s turn to come in for this last round, she got distracted by our human classmate Tabitha working to portion out some special treats called Papa Psuka. Rain stopped her search to wait patiently for a treat, and Tabitha had to resort to the open-handed “look, I’ve got nothing” before Rain would resume her search. (Maybe we ought to try some of them, eh? This is precisely how we found out about Happy Howie’s, which are now Rain’s go-to nosework rewards!)

Overall Rain did a great job in class! When we come back to class after a couple of weeks off she seems to be a more efficient searcher, even if she gets a little extra excited (barky) about everything when she’s not searching. Kristina pointed out that despite being asked to stay in the car in the rain, she was searching in a focused manner, suggesting she wasn’t too stressed about things.

The rain petered out significantly before it was time to head home. But before we broke for the evening, I shared with everyone that Rain had found some truffles on a hike we did a few days prior. It lead to some conversation about what kind of places we can do truffle searches, and how to keep our doggos moving on when they find truffles on places that aren’t those places.

Rain and I were both quite glad to be back in class after the holiday break! We headed home on wet streets, less concerned about the treacherous rainfall and more concerned about getting nestled in bed and off to dreamland.

Playing with Expectations: Nosework Report

Odor Tube Placed in Side Room of Gun Club

It was another chilly night at nosework this week, but the pellet stove was roaring and I parked my buns in front of it as much as I could. We had mostly regulars, but there were enough newish dogs it felt a little different than normal. There was Hector and Izzy (no Two Bird!), Wyatt and his newish sister Finley, Baron the German shepherd, Sabia and Rei the pharoah hounds, and Rain.

While we waited for everyone to show up, I asked Kristina whether Zelda had died—she had. 😢 I inquired about how our classmates had done at the ORTs in Lacey over the weekend—Rei passed everything, Wyatt got the odor he missed last time, and Finley (who is quite new to this) passed two of three tests.

Wyatt Searches Room for Odor Source

Once everyone had gathered, Kristina explained the evening’s theme before we began: she was going to set the dogs’ expectations in the first round by placing some fairly simple hides, then mess with those expectations afterward.

In the first round, the dogs searched for what I’ll call the baseline odor locations. Once Rain got a few excited barks out and focused in, she did fairly well. She focused more quickly during the subsequent rounds.

In the second round, Kristina moved the hides between one and three feet away from their former location. This meant that the dogs would come in, pick up on odor in the same general vicinity, then assume the odor was in the same place as the first round. We wouldn’t reward them until they had located the new odor source.

Baron Searches for Odor in Side Room

Kristina advised us that if they alerted on the spot from Round 1, to just pause a moment and not give their search cue again. I tried to keep the idea in my head as we worked, but in the end I relied more on some body cues Kristina taught me back when we were doing our truffle training. If I move just slightly, a turn or a sidestep, Rain tends to go back to searching.

Before the third round, Kristina placed a single odor box underneath a freestanding chair toward the back of the room. She showed us how it was actually a suspended hide, as she was placing it in a way where odor would drift anywhere and everywhere around it.

In this round, many of the dogs I watched did end up going to the areas with the previous two hides (perhaps there was enough lingering odor to draw them in, perhaps it was their expectations from the prior two rounds) but Rain went to the chair almost straightaway! Kristina and I both were impressed by her work.

As I warmed my buns in front of the pellet stove, I also decided to experiment some more with my new phone by creating a time lapse of our second round of searching. If I had had a Gorilla tripod or something I could have taken a video of the entire room, but this shows half the room with two of the three hides. Special thanks to the windowsill that provided an adequately secure spot for my phone to go undisturbed.

At the end of class I overheard Wyatt and Finley’s person asking about truffling, which reminded me to ask Kristina about how I can best do refreshers with Rain. We have a friend who is interested in having Rain look for truffles on her property, and I’d like to do that over the winter if possible. Kristina gave me some marching orders and a few minutes later Rain and I were heading back out into the world, heading home to warm up and get snoozing.

Reindeer Games, We'll Miss You: Weekly Agility Report

Rain at Beavercreek Park with Lens Flare

Reindeer Games has become a tradition at agility class. Held during our last session before the winter break, it’s a fun competition where the dogs get to demonstrate some different skills in Christmas-themed games that Molly makes up. I’ve looked forward to this class session each year since our first Reindeer Games, and I was looking forward to it so much this year that I was prepped for it a week early!

Rain and I went to Beavercreek Park before class, as always. Not only was the weather beautiful and relatively warm, but a day of rain earlier in the week meant that the puddles had finally made their seasonal return! Rain got to splash around the mudhole first, and hit up all the big puddles in the parking lot on our way out.

Rain Splashes in Puddle

When we arrived at class I lead Rain around the side of the barn to get to the pens out back, just so she wouldn’t have any issues with dogs leaving from the earlier class. One of the calves (now dogies) that had been out from time to time on the neighboring property was about two feet from the thin wire fence that served as the property line! The narrow path that leads around this side of the barn is of course directly next to the fence, so I suspected Rain would get excited about the animal, as herding cows was in her DNA. As soon as she did get just the slightest bit excited though, the cow jumped and skittered off more quickly than I’ve ever seen a cow move.

Rain continued to give them a patented Aussie stare now and again until we made it inside the arena for class.

Rain Watches Cows

Whenever there’s food at agility class, we keep it on a table that sits in the hallway area just outside the arena so the dogs can’t get distracted by it. As I set up the goodies I brought—pumpkin cranberry harvest bread, a new batch of brownies, and clementines—I spotted the cutest cookie I think I’ve ever seen.

Squirrel Cookie
Turns out you can get the world’s cutest cookie cutter here!

I passed out the cards I wrote for our classmates and Molly, and gave Molly my special you-won’t-have-to-pack-it goodbye gift. As soon as I passed them out, I too received some gifts from our classmates! Linda gave us each a bag of homemade tuna dog treats complete with instructions on how to make more. The other Linda gave us each a small felt Christmas stocking with some Trader Joe’s dog treats tucked inside. After encouraging everyone to go have some treats out at the table, I put on my reindeer antler headband.

Agility Class Prepares

Back Up Contest

Once the four of us were paired up and came up with team names, Molly started things out with the back-up contest. Linda and Hunter hadn’t done Reindeer Games before so we briefed them on the rules. Complaining that Rain continues to not be very good at this despite our attempts to practice, I volunteered to go first and we established the line to beat.

Jackie and Poppy Back Up Contest

Poppy went second, followed by Aria, who Molly was planning on making accommodations for because of her small size. NOT NECESSARY! Aria beat all the big dogs by several feet.

While we were doing this portion, Molly told a story of an acquaintance who had recently put her dogs’ back up skills to great practical use. In her home, some glass item fell and had shattered all over the floor. The noise made the dogs approach the area, but she was able to get them to back up out of the room with no problem, quick thinking that might have saved their paw pads.

Spin Contest

In the past we’ve done a tail-wagging contest and Poppy usually wins that one, possibly because it’s so hard to see Rain’s tail, especially when the rest of her body is moving all the time too.

Instead, this year Molly did a timed spin contest, where we’d get our dog to spin left and right three times. The only caveat was we couldn’t use food. EASY! As long as I could use hand signals I could nail it with Rain (she sometimes mixes up right and left when I’m only using verbal cues). I volunteered to go first again and our time was something in the nine second range. After we sat down I realized if I hadn’t paused between each cue we probably would have had a much shorter time.

Course with Time Estimate

Molly did have us run a course this year, but the game element came into play with timing. We were to guess how long it would take us to run the course, which had 14 obstacles, before tackling it! I asked her if there would be some Christmas crap on the course and while she said she had some with her, she never got it out to add distractions to the course.

Hunter Runs Toward a Jump

My recollection was that I guessed Rain and I would take somewhere in the neighborhood of 38 seconds, with a point-something tacked on just as a sort of joke.

Rain failed to take a jump without wings early in the course, but we recovered well for the rest. I think our official time was closer to 45 seconds.

Aria Leaps to the Agility Table

I think the winner of this round was the other team (Hunter and Poppy)—not because they had done the course faster, but because they were collectively closest in run time to their guesses!

Poppy Descends the Dog Walk

Candy Cane Musical Chairs

Once everyone had run the course, Jackie’s husband Marshall showed up and Rain wasn’t a big fan of having a stranger in class. We had unsuccessfully tried to take a class photo with all the dogs and people at the beginning of class but it hadn’t gone well, so we restaged our photo for Marshall to take it. Between the dogs all looking different directions and Rain probably barking at the cameraman, I’m sure it looks like our typical agility class was a real zoo.

Molly Sets Up Candy Cane Musical Chairs

Once some photos were taken Molly started setting up a musical-chairs type game using the weave poles as “candy canes.” She used a pole to draw an oval around the weave poles in the dirt floor. She would have each dog-human pair walk around the candy canes while she played Christmas music using her phone. When she turned the music off, we had to have our dog sit, then go grab one of the candy canes on the weave pole. There were one fewer weave poles than people walking, so the person who was last would be out and the next round would begin.

Unfortunately Rain was too distracted by Marshall, even after we had him feed her a yummy treat! This meant Rain was the first one out, as I could barely walk around the oval and I certainly couldn’t get her to focus on me and sit. Ah well.

Class was running at least as late as it normally does. In the end I think both teams had one two events each, and since people needed to start leaving for family obligations we weren’t able to have a sudden death round. I reminded people to please have some more treats on their way out.

Rain Wearing Holiday Tie

Instead of bandanas, Molly had brought some holiday ties for her furry students. When I packed up the rest of the goodies I grabbed one for Rain and, with Molly’s blessing, I nabbed another one for Roy.

Roy Wearing Holiday Bow Tie

It was time to say goodbye to our agility class, and Molly, as we had to get going too. It’s possible that we all might see each other again, but not guaranteed. Nothing in this life is permanent, but for a few years the Friday afternoons we spent with this group of women and dogs was immensely beneficial for both Rain and I.

We’ll miss everyone.

Rain Waving in Portrait Mode

Blurt Alert: Nosework Report

Gun Club Mantle Lights and Trophies

It was officially the holiday season at the gun club this week, as a tall tree was out in the great room with dozens of ammunition boxes arranged underneath and clay pigeon ornaments hanging off small branches, only broken up by the White Flyer trucker hats tucked between boughs. Unlike last year, nobody had upcycled the thousands of shotgun casings into ornaments. I wasn’t sure whether to be sad about the lack of reuse or glad for, well, the fact there were no bullets on this tree.

Kristina Talks In Front of Containers

We had four people in class this week, for a total of six dogs. Three or four of the dogs were signed up to do their ORTs in Lacey, Washington (near Olympia) that weekend, so there was a good deal of focus on container searches. Rain and Sabia, however, got to do both the container searches and two more searches in different rooms!

Sabia Searches Containers

There were basically two rounds of searches, but for Rain and Sabia each round consisted of three consecutive searches. These were containers, great room, then dining area. Here is our first round, in three parts:

Rain took some time for her brains to kick in during our first container search. She was not only putting her front feet on the right box a la circus elephant, but she even casually walked over a container or two while searching! Kristina advised that if the reward comes on the side of the box she will eventually stop stepping on it when alerting. Let’s hope, eh?

Here’s our second round, in three parts:

I was making plenty of mistakes during class, including nearly pulling Rain away from a hide when Kristina mentioned she was showing interest in an area where another dog had apparently peed. (The gun club has some resident dogs who live in an apartment in the back of the building when we’re having class—I presume the issue started with them.) I also called an alert too soon at least once and arguably two times. Kristina called this a “blurt alert.” I was sure about the table hide, but as I spoke Rain suddenly changed direction! So as usual, I was the weakest link during class.

Sabia Finds Great Room Hide

Toward the end of class I also think I heard our classmate refer to her geriatric pharoah hound Zelda in the past tense. Did Zelda die recently? She had been in class earlier in the fall, but I recall her mentioning that Zelda had been having a hard time with her legs, especially on the slick floor. There was one other geriatric dog, Issy, that I think may have gone to the nosework trial in the sky back when we were doing class at the church in Beavercreek. Since I don’t want to open a fresh emotional wound and I don’t know my classmates that well, I tend to wait before asking directly about the situation. Of course I’ve loved having the distinguished seniors in class just as much as the puppies.

Sabia Finds Chair Hide in Dining Room

At some point I mentioned agility class, and our classmate Danica asked me who we take agility from, because she was looking for a class. When I explained why I couldn’t refer her to our teacher, I offered to forward the list of other teachers to her that I had received from Molly. Kristina had clearly heard the news, as she marveled about the news having gone out on Thanksgiving. It turns out Danica and her dog Jack (a golden retriever mix or possibly a duck-tolling retriever) do the treiball classes in Gresham that I’ve had my eye on for a while, so we had enough to talk about that we ended up chatting until after others had left class for the evening.

The weather wasn’t as chilly as on some more dry nights, so we were able to stand outside and chat a few minutes before heading our separate ways. Even so, Rain and I were both happy to get back to a warm house and get under the covers to go to sleep after class.

Not Our Last Class After All: Weekly Agility Report

Rain Perched on Chair

Between Thanksgiving and teacher illnesses, Rain was getting restless when it was about time to go to agility again this week. One afternoon she even perched herself at the window, looking for skwerls to bark at.

Rain Barks at Camera

Since it was to be our very last class together before Molly moved to Florida, I had a party prepared. I baked brownies, a mini loaf of pumpkin cranberry harvest bread, and brought a bag of clementines. I wrote up cards for each of our classmates and Molly. I wanted to give Molly a going-away gift but soon realized that someone packing to move across the country does not need more stuff—so I bought her a special chocolate bar to sustain her efforts.

Rain Barks at Camera

When we got to class I pulled out a headband featuring reindeer horns and Santa hat just before starting to pull out baked goods. Expressing my excitement for Reindeer Games (a fun class competition that we do for our last class before the winter break), Molly said “Reindeer games is NEXT WEEK!”

Apparently I had made an error—I thought that we had just one class left after Thanksgiving, when in fact we had two. On the heels of Molly’s big announcement though, I was more than happy to have an extra week before saying goodbye!

Good thing I had brought Rain’s touch pads just in case, huh?

Poppy Takes an Agility Jump

During class we ran a 20 obstacle course, which included a go at the weave poles.

I frequently volunteer to run courses first in class because Rain tends to settle down faster after she’s had a chance to use her brain. We were about 1/3 of the way through the course and reminding Rain about the triple jump when Molly’s husband appeared in the barn walkway outside of the arena. When he spoke, he must have startled Rain because she instantly snapped into alert dog mode, pulling out all the stops to give him the fiercest barky dog show she could muster. He was just there to drop off a hot drink for Molly, and he didn’t stay long since he continued to get the business from Rain. I picked her up in my arms to get her to refocus on me again, and after taking a moment to shake it off, we went back to work without much problem.

This is what life with Rain is like—still. It’s better overall, but she still has moments when she goes over threshold.

It was also one of those days when Rain struggled with the channel weaves. We didn’t spend a lot of time working on it, but it’s still frustrating to be so hit-or-miss with weave poles still.

Agility Class Resetting Obstacles

When Rain and I weren’t running, I was experimenting a bit with the camera on my new phone. That’s right—my technological issues improved markedly a couple of days before class this week! Here’s a photo of Aria:

Aria Portrait

Hunter ran last during class.

Hunter and Linda Run Agility Course
Hunter and Linda Return to Platform

Instead of doing the course again at the end of class, Molly started thinking ahead to her absence and the next step in working with the touch pads. Rain and I had been her guinea pigs for this method after she took a workshop which introduced this way of teaching contacts to dogs, but we hadn’t gotten very far and she was going to be leaving us!

Rain in Contact Box

Molly brought out a specially constructed box and had Rain and I do an exercise that was similar to the exercises we did a while back with the board. The lip of the box, as it turns out, is important to this exercise, as the dog can better tell when they’ve reached the edge of the box rather than just stepping off the end of the board. As Rain hopped a bit out of the box and then started trying to find it again with her back feet, our classmates were highly amused as she looked like a dressage horse. Linda and Molly remarked how you could almost hear the gears grinding inside her head.

After Molly is gone, she says, she and I can correspond to keep working on the next steps of the contact method she was trying to teach us. Once Rain has the box stuff down, the box will actually be placed on the end of the contact obstacles (dog walk, mostly). She also pointed out that some of the other agility teachers we might end up going to were at the same seminar with her so they could be familiar with this way of training the concept as well.

Before we can do any of that by ourselves, though, we need a proper box! Jackie helped me measure and take notes about Molly’s box so we can hopefully get to work making one for ourselves in the coming weeks.

Does anyone have a yellow yoga mat they could spare to lose a section of, for our box? Get in touch!

Thanksgiving Day Adventure at Gabriel Park

Rain’s doggy classes were looking to be spotty over the course of November, due to illness, trips, and holidays. Her humans were also behaving in a way suggesting some outdoor time was needed, so three of us headed out on a lengthy dog walk on Thanksgiving morning to Gabriel Park in southwest Portland.

When we arrived at Steven’s house, Rain was ready for action. She spent most of her time before our departure barking up a storm inside his little house, driving both of us kind of nuts. Once we hit the road though, her nose found plenty of pee-mails to read along the residential streets on the way.

Gabriel Park is pretty big and well-equipped. There’s a large community garden, forested areas, sports fields, a community center, a skate park, and several large grassy areas. It has two separate dog parks, which I thought were for alternating between winter and summer use, but they were both open! We spent some time at both, watching the other dogs and encouraging Rain to use her mouth to play fetch instead of just barking.

When we entered the second dog area, we walked downhill into an area where the majority of people were congregated. One particularly raucous train of pups was chasing each other, and just as I was getting a ball out for Rain, I heard an “OOF!” and motion in my peripheral vision. One of the large dogs in the chasing train had run into Steven from behind, and he stumbled forward! He was alright, but it reminded me why I generally a) avoid the groups of dogs that play that heavily in dog off-leash areas and b) spend more time on the fringes of the off-leash area, further away from most or all people. As Aussies are “reserved with strangers,” I’ve never had an Aussie that needed to be boisterous or the life of the party in these situations, so it works out for everyone. Steven had a chuckle, brushed off his knees, and we moved toward the periphery.

It became pretty apparent that certain portions of each off-leash area were ball graveyards—nobody was there, and dozens of abandoned balls were laying about. A couple weeks prior a strange woman from our neighborhood park who we’ve had multiple run-ins with at this point took our ball. While I initially believed “it’s just a ball,” Rain apparently liked that ball more than I knew. While we were in one of the Gabriel Park off-leash areas I found the same ball in the ball graveyard, only in a glow in the dark material instead of our original bright blue! I decided that in its place I’d leave an offering in the ball graveyard in order to repay the ball gods for this gift.

Not long after I found the cherished ChuckIt replacement ball, a fight broke out between a small husky mix and a larger retriever. The husky mix was crying loudly, and continued crying even after the fight was broken up. His people carried him out to comfort him, and we thought it’d be as good a time as any to head back.

Once we were back at Steven’s house, Rain settled right down and was soon doin’ a snooze on his futon couch. It was a Tofurky Day miracle! We soon headed home so Rain could do her crucial work of monitoring the food preparation activities at my parents’ house.

But it wasn’t long—perhaps the next morning—before Rain was back to destuffing her toys and bouncing off the walls.

Big News About Agility

Rain at Agility Barn
Rain attends one of her first agility classes in 2016.

At roughly 9 PM on Thanksgiving Eve, I opened an email from Molly that had just recently arrived. In it, she made a wholly unexpected announcement: she would be moving to Tampa, Florida, almost immediately! The end of our current class session would be the end of our time with her, as she’d expect to be moving no later than January.

This was HUGE news, and on Thanksgiving Eve! My mind was caught up in itself the rest of the evening—I even forgot about my kitchen sink and it overflowed onto the floor before I went to bed a short time later.

My mind raced, so I had problems sleeping over the holiday weekend. In my mind, this would effectively spell the end of our agility career, as Molly had been so kind to work with Rain. She understood Rain, as she had had bossy Aussies before her husband got sick of the barking and they switched to border collies.

What were we going to do? The other teachers I was aware of were either working in locations that were much further away, didn’t have any open spots in class, might not be kind about Rain’s barkiness, or all of the above. I didn’t think we had any viable options to continue.

Skye was in agility back in the mid-2000s. She and my mom were asked to leave class because of Skye barked when other dogs were running the course. Rain is way barkier than Skye ever was!

After fretting about it over the whole weekend, it was time to get proactive. I emailed Molly some thoughts and questions, and she responded by forwarding a list of agility teachers to contact, including some in the same geographical area that I wasn’t aware of previously. I emailed a few teachers.

The next day I spoke to a teacher who said the Friday afternoon class before ours was hoping to keep their class together and just move locations and times. That class includes Jackie and Linda running their other two dogs, so perhaps I could get in on that action too! Suddenly I was starting to feel hopeful again.

Our next agility class, reindeer games, would be our last—and a perfect opportunity to give Molly a good send-off. I started prepping for a little party…