Kristina was the Certifying Official (CO) at the ORTs on Saturday. I knew she was in the room and her job was to do specific tasks like placing odor, but her workload wasn’t as heavy as the judge or the two co-hosts. I knew she was in the room during our tests, but I didn’t know she was able to take video on her phone of us! So here are our actual ORT tests.
CLOVE (Round 1)
ANISE (Round 2)
BIRCH (Round 3)
We were allowed to have one visitor in the room to film, but I didn’t have anyone available and I had come to terms with not having video to review afterward. It was quite a pleasant surprise when Kristina said she had gotten us when we came to nosework this week! I am ever grateful to her.
Even though I was worried about the ORTs, I knew that agility class would be good for both Rain and me. We’d get to use our brains and bodies, get our minds off of nosework the evening before our big day. It was a cool but sunny afternoon and we had a great time.
Molly had us walk the first half of our course for the day. Since Linda and Jackie had already run the course in the prior class, Rain and I went first. We were missing Hunter again, and I was okay with that since he barks a lot while he runs which gets Rain riled up.
Rain had a bit of trouble on the start of her first run, a jump followed by a perpendicular jump to the left. It took us three or four tries but Molly helped us through it, ultimately successful when we incorporated our fake Lotus Ball and adjusted the line a little bit. After that, I realized a bit too late that I had failed to place one of her touch pads/targets for the A-frame, but Rain descended so fast that she wouldn’t have managed to get it the first time anyway.
After Poppy and Aria had their turns, we all went through the second part of the course which Rain and I sailed through. We had a round of weave pole practice (I had Rain do channel weaves, because reasons…) and then class was over!
Earlier I had told Jackie about how we were about to do our ORTs and at 4 AM I remembered her visual blind idea and said I needed to find a sheet to use over the weekend. Turned out Jackie had a sheet in her car for such things, and she lent it to us, along with window shades for the front window! Borrowing the large sheet to use as a visual blind was an immense relief.
On the way home from class we stopped at Trader Joe’s to refill our Charlee Bear coffers, and once we got home it felt like we were mostly ready for our big day.
Rain passed all three of her odor recognition tests (ORTs) this weekend!
It was an exciting, fun, but ultimately nerve-racking day. We set out from home in the wee hours to make a drive to the suburban hinterlands of Sherwood, OR where the tests were taking place.
Overnight, as well as the prior night, I had lost some sleep thinking through details about this and some other stuff happening in life right now. Thursday morning I realized that not only would the test itself be a challenge for Rain, but the environment outside could prove challenging as well. I recalled that Jackie recently told us the shade cloth she has from Clean Run is also useful as a visual blind when she has Emily, her reactive nosework dog, in the car. I made a mental note at 4 AM to find a sheet to drape over the car as a visual blind. It wouldn’t cover the sounds outside, but it would help.
Rain is what they call a “red bandana dog” in nosework lingo. If you’re at a nosework event and you see a dog with a red bandana, it means they need more space. They may be fearful of other dogs, like the six-month Bernese mountain dog puppy who was in the car beside us, or just prone to overarousal like Rain. The cluster of cars furthest away from the action of the building had visual blinds up over each automobile, and we all checked with each other to see if we were near each other in the run order to avoid issues.
The day opened with a bit of an orientation, the group gathered round to hear from the hosts and officials about how the show would be run. We walked through things quickly and got to briefly see the space where our tests would happen as well as the wait stations leading up to it.
A run order was posted on a board outside, where I discovered that Rain and I would be the second ones up for the morning. GULP.
Here’s the basics of how the test is done: a moderate to large size room is set up with two lines of cardboard boxes, a total of twelve. One of them has the odor in it on a cotton swab, and your dog’s job is to find the box with the odor source. Ideally the dog won’t disturb the boxes, but minor disturbances like bumping them can be fixed by officials between tests.
When it was our turn to do our first test (clove), Rain seemed like she was raring to go. I switched her leash to “activate mode” and made her wait just a moment before letting her enter the room. She bounded ahead and instantly went to searching. Our nosework lead is ten feet long and it was seconds before there was tension on the full length of the leash, and my arm was fully extended. She was pulling me around the room, and I was doing my best to keep up without stepping on any boxes! When she slowed and showed just enough interest in a box I called, “alert,” the judge said “yes,” and I went to treat Rain. It had gone very fast, and to be honest I was a little verklempt for a few minutes after that first run.
After that first search I had a realization about Rain and nosework. Rain is a morning dog—she’s far fresher and more energetic in the morning. She tends to be done for the day and ready to sleep by 9 PM. Our nosework class doesn’t start until well into the evening and sometimes we’re not wrapping up until 10 PM! So while she was acting unusual during class the last couple of weeks, simply having her search earlier in the day dramatically changed the energy she had available to work. (Fortunately trials tend to start pretty early!)
Later in the day I learned that the officials record times of each run although this isn’t a trial so the times don’t really count for anything. During our first run, Rain found the box with the odor in 12.06 seconds! Hard evidence that it wasn’t just me, she was working at a breakneck pace.
Once everyone had run the first odor, there was a short break, another brief orientation for people who were just arriving, and we were running ahead of schedule. Rain and I were #7 in the run order for anise, and while I still felt a little nervous I knew which dog I was dealing with for the day so I was much more confident. Our second run felt a little slower (I later learned it was 21.55 seconds) but Rain seemed to be moving closer to her normal search rate so it felt more comfortable than that first run. We again passed, and we were now two-thirds done with our day!
After the second odor, I ate the lunch I had brought and we had a while to wait. The morning fog suddenly burned off and the sun started shining on the grounds of the church where the tests were being held. A maple tree with all kinds of fall color shone in the sunlight, and the whole place seemed more enjoyable as we headed toward the last run of the day.
Rain and I were #12 on the last run (birch), and I don’t think I even felt very nervous as we stood at the waiting stations leading to the search area with the test. Rain had performed amazingly inside the test area and really quite well outside as well, considering the environment she was in.
We passed our third test too, although I made a bit of a nervous/unsure face before calling the alert which Tracy, the judge, thought was relatable. (“Ha ha, your face…we’ve all been there!”) But we were done for the day…and WE PASSED ALL OUR ORTs IN ONE GO! Earlier we had heard from some of our nosework classmates who did not pass all of them the first time, so passing all three in one day was really something to be proud of.
When I put Rain back in the car I realized the afternoon sun and the sheet were making the car sort of warm, so I decided to not stick around to see what her time was on the final test. I removed the sheet and headed out with the windows open.
Soon I remembered I had brought some tennis balls in order to take Rain someplace fun to de-stress after being cooped up and “working” most of the day. Since we were in an unfamiliar part of town I needed some online assistance finding a dog park. It still took me two tries but we ended up at Tualatin Community Park, which had two fenced off-leash areas. Unfortunately they had almost no shade, the ground was covered in wood chips, and while Rain was playing fetch she was tired and probably too warm. It had taken us a while to find the place, but we didn’t stay there too long!
Hiking back to the car through a shady forested area, we did spy a boat ramp down to launch on the glorious Tualatin River. A man in a wheelchair and a black lab were down there enjoying the water. Before I could ask Rain, “would you like to go in the water?” she was pulling me down the steep ramp. After asking the man if he’d be okay with Rain being off-leash too, Rain got to do some splishy-splashing and it clearly helped her feel better. A few minutes later we were hiking back up toward the car, one of us feeling much perkier.
Our big day certainly impacted Rain. There was one clear litmus test I noticed after we got home: she saw a squirrel outside our front door, but she didn’t bark at it! (She still got excited, she just didn’t bark.) Rain soon went for a late afternoon snooze. She had one more burst of energy shortly after dinner, but once she settled down she was quiet for the night. And largely quiet the next morning, until she was taken on an outing to the park!
Rain certainly did a great job at her first organized nosework event! We’re on a wait list for a trial taking place in the Portland area in early November, and we’re currently first on the wait list. After these tests may have disqualified others who had signed up, it’s quite possible we might be moved up off the wait list. If that happens, we’ll have another adventure to report on in about a month.
Nosework was a slightly more intense affair this week, as it was the last class before Rain takes her ORT. We had five dogs and three people in class, some of whom were practicing container searches in preparation for this ORT and one of which was just starting to learn how to search an area for treats.
Our searches went a little better than last week (especially that first one). While Rain was still bouncing around and not terribly focused, offering behavior like using the plastic containers for “circus elephant,” I was able to clue in to things that would help us if that happens during the ORT searches.
Second part of first search:
During the second search, we had clued into how I could take Rain through the area, pause for a moment at the other end, and she’d focus and start searching. Kristina also had us do our second round only once, because she seemed to not do as well if she was asked to do the same containers a second time. This doesn’t surprise me, as Rain doesn’t do very well “drilling” exercises at agility either.
In the interest of really trying to simulate the ORT environment as much as I could, I had Rain wear a red bandana (which signals to other noseworkers that your dog is reactive and should give your dog space). I also asked some other detail questions at the end of class, like how the practice area is run—I was trying to assess whether I could get Rain focused by working the practice area.
Our ORT is this weekend and we’ve got a couple of good things going for us. Kristina will be on site (although she’ll be working the event), and one of our more experienced classmates said she will be there and to come get her if we need help from her at some point. (Given how frenetic Rain has been since the weather cooled off, I may need to take her up on that!)
I’ve been feeling a little frazzled at times this week but I’ve been doing visualization, thinking through how I might prepare—like taking a sheet to drape over the car to act as a visual blind in the parking lot. I even had a dream about our test last night! After class this week I was feeling better about my end of the leash, but to be honest I’m a little nervous about which version of Rain I’m going to get on the day of the test.
Rain was a little extra this week at agility. From the moment we arrived at the park I could tell that she had extra energy to burn…but even after we got home that night she didn’t seem like she had burned it all!
At the park, she barked plenty, and the extra pep in her step was obvious. When she started slowing just a little, I transitioned to walking around instead of fetching. After checking on the status of the deep mud puddle (nope, still no puddle to be seen) she shot off into the secret garden area of the park, where I let her sniff and use her brain before we had to get to class. She still had plenty of energy when it was time to head to our final destination.
When people greeted us at class, I joked, “HOW DID YOU KNOW RAIN WAS HERE?” It was one of those days when she just barks up a storm coming and going. She’d fetch the ball and bark. She’d bring the ball back and bark. It was just a very barky day.
When we were inside the arena I theorized that Rain must be feeling happy because of the cooler temperatures. We were getting a cold front in—one that would continue into the weekend and lead the area to its lowest high in September since 1948! In other words, our fall came really early and only lasted a couple of weeks before winter apparently showed up.
Once we were going in class we ran two halves of a course. Rain now had a second touch pad (she’ll have a third once I finish this week’s tub of cottage cheese). Our big challenge was getting Rain used to using the target/touch pad at the end of the contact obstacles. She’d come off the contact then touch it with her nose, then I’d need to get her back feet back on the obstacle then have her touch the target with her nose. She did considerably better as class wore on, as she was running so fast during our first go that she came off simply due to her own doggy momentum!
At one point I was being indecisive about how to handle two jumps in a turn, slowed, and Rain crashed into me with her nose going up my backside! Molly said “Doggy enema!” We talked through the handling for that turn and it went much better during subsequent attempts.
Since Rain was so crazy it was nice that Hunter wasn’t in class. It was difficult enough keeping her relatively managed when Poppy ran the course, and later when Poppy and Jackie sat near us and I (gasp!) gave Poppy some attention and a couple of Charlee Bears.
After class was over, I scooted Rain back out to the pens because Molly was expecting a couple of new dogs for a private lesson after our class. (One of the dogs was a male blue merle Aussie!) Once they were safely inside I got Rain through the building largely unaware of the strange dogs, and we got back in the car to enjoy the car heater as we traveled home for the evening.
After last week’s great class, I should have figured it’d happen. Especially given I spoke before class, in front of classmates, about all the “bragging juice” I had gotten about Rain’s impressive window hide. Thus, it was the will of the universe to give us a more trying class, especially as we were practicing for our ORT test in a couple of weeks.
We had a new dog in class this week, Ivy, who I believe is an American eskimo mix. Ivy’s handler is no newbie to nosework, and it sounds like they’re going to be coming to our class on the regular now.
Since some of us were preparing for our ORT and some of us were not, Kristina set up a variety of searches for class. We had containers in the side room, a search outside on the patio of the gun club, and a different search in the kitchen. We had super experienced dogs like Hector, but we also had Izzy who is just starting to learn to search an area for treats.
We first met Izzy a few weeks ago at the church, as she was about to be adopted by the woman who brings Hector and Two Bird. Izzy is now officially living in her new home, so her new person is now bringing three dogs to class! Izzy is very mellow for a border collie.
The first search for Rain put me out of sorts. When we came in the room Rain started sniffing the floor instead of going to search the containers. As Kristina mentioned there was “a distractor” I didn’t realize she meant an unintentional one (a dog had thrown up some grass on the floor earlier). Then as Rain progressed she started climbing on boxes instead of searching (circus elephant, anyone?), then when Kristina kept saying “one more box!” I thought she meant there were two hides we needed to find. It felt like an awful run. In the video, it probably looks just fine, because you can’t hear my inner monologue and stacks of confusion throughout the search.
Once we found the container Kristina had us walk the containers again right away, for part two of the search.
Then the other dogs did their first searches, among the containers, in the great room, out on the patio, or in the kitchen.
(Trini found the distractor/vomit area too.)
Once I had put Rain back inside the car and came back in, I eventually pieced together what Kristina had been trying to tell me. Our second run went much more smoothly…
And part two…
Even though we had a better second run, I am now a little more nervous about our upcoming ORT than I was before. We talked about what a difference confident handling (and handling in general) makes in doing a search, but I know the day of we could very well have a distracting odor in the search area from a prior dog, or I could be frantic from other obstacles traveling to the site. Late weekday evenings are not my best for being fresh and alert, and the test will be on a Saturday when I’m more likely to have all my faculties. Everything told I will try to remember some principles specific to container searches, without overthinking them, so we’ll have a great day when the morning comes.
Ever work ahead of time to lay the groundwork for a successful day? That’s what happened this week leading up to agility. I knew Beavercreek Road had some road construction so I emailed Molly to ask in advance about whether it was impacting travel to our class space, along with some research online. At work, which tends to be extra busy in September, I worked extra hard the day before to get things semi-ready so I could be out the door as planned. Not only was there the return to agility to plan for, but another event I was doing in the evening.
Fortunately it all went to plan, and Rain started making happy whiny noises as soon as we turned off of Beavercreek Road toward the park. We did play fetch for a few minutes but she transitioned into sniffing. I put our ball away and we walked and sniffed our way back to the park entrance. Even though Oregon has seen its fall rain return pretty early this year, the ground was not yet saturated enough for the giant puddles to return. I’m sure as soon as they do, Rain will be happy splashing around in them once again.
Rain was happy to be at class again and while she was clearly energetic, she wasn’t quite as frenetic about it as she has been in the past. She was happy to return to her spot on the mat, looking at me happily until it was our turn to run the first half of the course. I decided to have Molly and company set her jump height to 20”, which we had lowered a bit over the summer so Rain wouldn’t overheat.
We had one false start—I say I placed Rain incorrectly behind the first obstacle, Molly says it was because I didn’t cue her for that obstacle so she ran around the tire setup instead of jumping through it. Either way, it was my fault. 🙂
After that false start though, Rain and I went all the way through the course without any errors! This included some jumps that were in strange angles in relation to each other, and one place where I apparently used fancier handling than was actually necessary. We ran that section again with the less fancy handling.
After everyone had done their bit we tackled the second half of the same course. Once again, Rain did super! Molly had us start incorporating our target, as she had me place it at the end of the A-frame. When we got to the dog walk I realized—we all realized—Rain’s going to need more than one target. (I’ve already made her a second one, but I’ll need to eat more cottage cheese before I can get a third.)
Rain even did great with the channel weaves that were part of the course. The only time she popped out was when the bumps of her harness were snagging against the poles so we took her harness off and she ran through them flawlessly the next go around.
It was a triumphant return to agility after such a long break! Rain obviously had a good time and I felt pretty good about it too. Molly and the two Lindas all said we both did great. It likely won’t last, but it’s nice to have good days to counterbalance the challenging ones.
After agility class, Rain is usually pretty quiet the rest of the evening. Given that we hadn’t gone to class in a while I knew she’d be a little extra quiet, tired from the extra mental and physical work. I was remorseful because going to the other event after dropping her off meant I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the quiet fruits of our labors that evening.