Up High, Down Low: Nosework Report

Sabia looks at her person to say, “well, I found it—aren’t you going to feed me?”

Nosework this week was fairly quiet, which I was pretty thankful for. We saw some familiar faces, but apparently some others had a schedule change leading them to choosing a new class night. Works for us! I really appreciate a smaller crew. We’re able to get more runs in, I’m able to ask more questions, and it increases the likelihood that we leave the place before 10pm!

This week I asked Kristina about whether she takes a holiday break, as I know our holiday break from agility is coming up. She does take a shorter break, but it also depends on when the holidays fall. We won’t have class next week for an unknown reason—my guess is that she’s headed out of state for a trial or class of some sort.

Next, I realized that once the holidays are over, it will be January! AKA the beginning of truffle season! Kristina said that we would do a private lesson or two to get going on truffling, and she doesn’t think it’ll take long for Rain to pick it up since she has done all this work the last several months. WAHOO!!!!

We worked exclusively in the side room this week. When class began it was pretty chilly! During our first run a gun club maintenance worker came in and put some pellets in the pellet stove, after which it got better. The heat from the stove does interesting things to odor (as does air flow and/or wind) so Kristina thought it would be interesting to observe how the dogs did in relation to the class before ours.

The first two hides were placed at or above head level for all the dogs.

There were three hides in the second round, once again placed at tricky places at or above the dog’s head level. She made everyone laugh when she maneuvered herself to her beloved hot dog treats in an unusual way (1:44)…

At home we’ve been needing to hide Rain’s morning Kong up high (to keep Mindy from stealing it) and I’m pretty sure that Rain tends to do better at high hides compared to things that are on the floor. So when it was time to do our third and final round, I had a feeling she’d be challenged. And she was! Kristina said that this round was more like what we’ll experience when doing truffle searches.

Apparently the way many of the dogs had been behaving during this search, in our class and the class before ours, was to search in a sort of “starfish” pattern, in and out, in, and back out. The tricky part of this hide is that the odor is sort of going everywhere, so locating the source (especially when it’s concealed, and out of character with the prior two searches you just did!) can be tough. Rain did great though, and she even got a bonus treat that I know she enjoyed!

When I went out to fetch Rain before this last turn, I noticed a light and a person moving around down in the forested ditch next to where I usually put my car during class. After class, it was clear there was a group and they had started a sizable fire. There was at least one woman shouting angrily about some other person. It was a bit of a surprise! In prior months I had heard mention that random things sometimes appear in that forested ditch, but frankly I was expecting to have a wildlife encounter—or evidence that Rain spotted some wildlife—before seeing people. Since we were out of class at a decent time I wasn’t about to stand around, so within a few minutes Rain and I were high-tailing it home to get to bed.


Rain Opts Outside and Explores “The Stairs”

Rain isn’t nearly as easy to take on adventures as her Uncle Atticus was, but the day after Thanksgiving I managed to get her out to explore an urban area near our home. I’m a fan of Buy Nothing Day and a certain outdoor retailer’s related Opt Outside promotion, so each year I try to observe one or both.

Rain and I had already had our morning visit to the park but I thought it might be a good day to explore someplace new. After a bit of pondering I remembered a route of public staircases on the hill near our house. They’re relatively obscure—partly because the route is fairly short and partly because they begin and end in a residential area. And not just any residential area—it’s an area that according to some sources has the highest median income in the state.

Technically “the hill near our house” is an extinct volcano, a mountain, but it seems like overkill to describe it as “the mountain near our house.”

It took a little more research to find some more details, but before long we set out and hoped we wouldn’t have any negative encounters with the locals.

We didn’t! It probably helped that it was raining most of the time we were out there but we didn’t see another human besides some cars going by the start/end point.

As we ascended, Rain’s instinct was to ascend a whole block of stairs in one burst, but many times the block was just a little longer than the leash we were using. On the way down, Rain wanted to move fast, but I needed her to slow down so I wouldn’t trip, slip, or otherwise fall. She did remarkably well most of the times I asked for her to take it sloooooowww—but then she started seeing the squirrels.

Regular RitF readers know how Rain behaves around SKWERLS. Her fierce tugs meant we needed more stops during part of our descent, but everybody made it in one piece and had a pretty good time. We were both wet, but it was infinitely better than staying indoors for the rest of the day.

Of course it wasn’t until we were heading home that the rainclouds started breaking up a little, no doubt bringing beautiful scenic views to where we had just been hiking. We did get to see some good views even with the gray mist, but I’m sure if we had gone just a half-hour later we would have seen some very beautiful views indeed.

A Real-life Nosework Win

There’s no nosework or agility class this week because of Thanksgiving.

Earlier this week Rain and I had a tiny win that just about made my morning. It was so tiny, in fact, even my dad didn’t catch it, sitting mere feet away.

Let’s get real: Rain has plenty of nosework wins, mostly at the park when she catches a faint whiff of a solitary Flamin’ Hot Cheeto on the playground, navigates there, and slurps it up before I even know what has happened.

Each morning I take Rain next door to my parents’ house before I go to work. My mom hides a Kong stuffed with goodies and texts me to tell me where it is, just in case. When it’s time to go next door Rain knows it’s time to find the Kong and get the treat. I time the search—mostly for fun, but also to help us figure out which hiding places are more or less challenging.

When we started doing nosework class with Kristina I talked to her about this and we’re keeping food searches restricted to home only. Except as noted above, when Rain manages her own bandit nosework search for food in the real world.

On Monday morning Rain entered the house and she was clearly working the odor, mostly on the opposite side of the room from where the Kong sat on their woodstove. Before long she “gained elevation”—she hopped up on the futon and could recognize that the Kong was up a bit.

Kristina tends to narrate dogs as they do their searches in class, and I’ve always guessed that the knowledge she’s observing would eventually sink in. I realized I was standing still, as was Rain on the front of the futon. I decided to take a step back to get her moving again, her nose held aloft and twitching.

Immediately after she started moving again, she went almost directly straight to where the Kong was placed—on the (cold) woodstove! I was amazed at this little victory and asked my dad if he caught what had happened. He hadn’t.

Later on I realized, again based on discussions in class, that the most likely reason Rain was catching most of the odor on the opposite side of the room was because there was enough wind coming down the chimney that the Kong odor was being pushed over to the opposite side of the room. It had been a windy morning and

I’m still nowhere near being able to read odor movements and dogs doing nosework like Kristina can, but it was a nice little way of showing that we are actually learning in class! And that we definitely includes me.

If They Raise the Jump, Just Crash Through It: Weekly Agility Report

Rain had a rollicking time at agility this week. The park was looking lovely, a relatively warm November afternoon with sun with less wind than much of the week. Rain was amped up and ran plenty, but didn’t seem to tire out too much. She was less barky getting to class compared with last week, but unlike last week she was arguably quiet in class, which was nice. Especially since the neighbors’ hound dog was once again keeping watch over the house on the property.

Jackie and Linda are in the class before ours, and often Molly will have Rain go first to a) give them a break after running in the prior class, and b) to get Rain focused and working. Molly has also been adjusting how she runs class with each little change that has happened over the last couple of years: when Aria joined us as a puppy; when other dogs have come to class at different levels; and so on. When we joined the class I think all the dogs were at roughly the same ability level, but now we’re all over the map again.

Molly asked us before we ran the first time, as she often does, what jump height we should use. Jumps have to get set to a certain height for each dog. A while back I was aware of an agility event offering “official” measuring to determine ideal jump height, but we didn’t attend that event to take advantage of the offer. Depending on whether Rain is hot, full of extra energy, or other factors, we’ve usually been setting her jumps at 16 or 18 inches. During this class though, Molly thought we should put her next to a jump and eyeball it. That is how Rain got to have her jumps set at 20” for the first time in MONTHS.

You know when you’re used to a certain thing being a certain way, and then it’s not that certain way anymore? Like if you usually drink from a lidded cup and then have an open cup and spill it all over your front*? It was pretty clear from our first run that Rain wasn’t quite adjusting to the 20” jump height…because she knocked over a bunch of bars! Everything after that first run was fine, but now that it’s not summer and I’m not as concerned about Rain being too hot, I guess we’ll have to go to 20” or get her legitimately measured. It amused me to think of her as the Kool Aid Man busting through brick walls, but I think it counts against you in official agility rules.

*=I have no personal experience with this. NONE. NOPE, NOT ME.. <towels off shirt>

Our course was pretty uncomplicated, Rain and I ran it well, and thus I will call it fun. 😉 The course was 14 obstacles long and included a panel jump at the very beginning and a broad jump. The A-frame was set pretty low—Rain flew over it so fast that she wasn’t able to stop herself quickly enough at the bottom to do her “feet” command (two on, two off). A moment later she lightly Dukes-of-Hazzarded off the end of the teeter the first time.

Come to think of it, maybe Rain was just feeling really good and running really strong that afternoon!

Aria ran as much of the course as she was able, for a younger dog that hasn’t been introduced to all the equipment yet. Later on she worked on starting the very early stages of learning teeter—and initial indication suggests that she’s a little more timid about the sound it makes as it lands. Her packmate Rudy the Papillon had no trouble whatsoever with that aspect of the teeter process.

Poppy is about the same size as Rain, and one of the reasons I hadn’t been too eager to change our jump height was because Poppy was also using a 16” or 18” height. She ran the course fairly well, but as a deaf dog Jackie is frequently challenged communicating with her. Some days she can be exceptionally responsive to a signal, and other days almost completely unresponsive. Lately she has been doing really well at her weave poles, which is what they worked on before the end of class after everyone had a chance to run the course (or a section thereof).

Ruben was in class too, and because Rain was pretty settled there were no barkfests. Ruben even sat pretty close to us and besides making noises to try and prompt his people to give him treats, he was doing pretty well too! He started learning broad jump after running the portion of the course he was able to do during class.

Full disclosure, the components that went into my personal feeling that we had a good week in class were as follows: Rain was quieter and more focused, and we ran the full course without big issues, whereas our classmates could only run part of the course and/or had some larger issues. If Flute had been there, running everything perfectly the first time while looking cute, I probably would have come away feeling less positive about our class time. Recently I listened to an interview with Control Unleashed author Leslie McDevitt who pondered why people keep coming to class, paying for class, struggling, if they’re not getting any enjoyment out of the activity. I felt the question deeply, but after agility this week I can say that little wins can give you just enough energy to keep working on the larger, more daunting challenges.


Barky and Bouncy: Nosework Report

In preparation for nosework on Tuesday, I got a fairly decent amount of sleep the prior night. Even so, that evening when it was time to go to class I felt like I wanted to hole myself up at home rather than leave the house. Class policy is that we can reschedule/duck out of class without financial ramifications if it’s over 24 hours before class starts. I never think of that though, so lately I’ve needed to push myself to keep moving.

Most of our chatting happened at the beginning of class this week as we waited for the pharoah hounds who were running a little late. When we come to class some weeks it seems like everyone has heard about/is signed up for some nosework trial and they talk about it, so I had asked where people find out about these things. As usual, I felt very in the dark, which is probably at least partly the result of the fact that I am a newbie to this group. I got a few suggestions: first from our agility classmate Jackie (who is in the class before us), then from Kristina.

We also have had a class visitor the last couple of weeks who doesn’t bring any dogs—Kristina said that one of her dogs recently died and the other is retired—but will then run other dogs. Terri is apparently quite the experienced handler and has been teaching nosework herself for a couple of years.

Remember how I recently made comment about how accomplished our classmates are? This proves it once again. Even though I often feel like Rain and I are behind everyone in terms of knowledge and experience, I suppose it’s a good thing that we’re in class with not one, not two, but up to four nosework teachers at a time! We’re taking the class that nosework teachers take! And we’re able to handle searches that these more experienced dogs are doing as well? To be honest I still don’t feel confident but I figure that being with more advanced students has worked for me in the past, so I’m just going to go with it.

We didn’t have a really clear theme to our searches this week in class, but there was plenty of challenge. Rain was feeling pretty barky that evening—not barky at other dogs, necessarily, but excited and raring to go. Barking because she was happy. Barking because—well, she wants to bark? Rain’s barking is perhaps a discussion for another time.

Here’s our first search, which was in the side room. I had watched Nitro do this search before heading out to get Rain, but I didn’t know exactly where on the wheelbarrow the hide had been placed.

Part B of this search had us transition into the great room for a pretty difficult suspended hide. When Nitro had found the first hide I went outside to fetch Rain to be ready. We were waiting outside for several minutes and I got to experience just how chilly it was that evening! If Nitro takes that long, you know it’s a pretty difficult task.

Here’s Rain doing the same search, which was really challenging for her too. In fact, even I thought the hide was in a different place than it ended up being!

Our final search of the evening was in the dining area/kitchen. Kristina mentioned there would be four hides but I plum forgot until Rain found the first one in a different spot than I saw Nitro getting rewarded at the end of his search. (This area has big windows so I can see more of the activity going on inside while Rain and I are stuck out in the cold.)

The last hide on that search was tricky enough that I didn’t even really know where it was even though I thought I did when I saw Nitro getting rewarded when we were waiting outside. Rain was sufficiently challenged this week, as she wasn’t nearly as bouncy and barky when we headed home as when we started our first search. That is just one of the things I really enjoy so far about doing nosework class.

Back and Barky: Weekly Agility Report

Over the last couple of weeks, Rain had been looking at me like this quite a lot:

It was pretty nice then when it was time to go back to agility class this week! Rain has been increasingly reluctant to get in the car, but I knew once we arrived she’d be happy we went so I pushed through her reticence.

At the park she was super happy but also SUPER BARKY. She ran and ran, with seemingly endless energy. I didn’t want to wear her out and have a pooped out dog at class, yet it was hard to know where to draw the line.

Why didn’t you have class for two weeks? Molly had a scheduled vacation. Judging from the basket full of individually wrapped Hawaiian Host macadamia nut chocolates on the table inside the arena, I’m guessing she went to Hawaii. 🙂

Rain was so barky that I ended up driving around the back roads a bit until she simmered down, as I was afraid of drawing out that darn hound dog who belongs at the farm next door and having another awkward scene. (Later, I saw the hound dog drawn out to chase another person’s mini-van as she left the property. It’s not just us!)

Once at class I was able to inform Molly and our classmates that Rain passed her intermediate trick dog test while we were on hiatus, and everyone was enthusiastic for us. Outside our closest circle, they are the people most familiar with the challenges we have had so they understood what it meant when I told them about the rain on the metal roof, and they thought it was great we were still able to work through it. Hurray us!

Aria and I frequently make eyes at each other during class.

Our first day back included a course broken up in two chunks which included a little serpentine jump navigating and taking tunnels on the non-obvious side. Molly had also set up all 12 weaves—and although it seemed like asking a lot, both Rain and Poppy both took the whole channel just fine! (Aria and Reuben are working on other things.)

After we had a go at the second chunk of the course, Molly worked on an interesting approach to a weave/non-obvious side of a tunnel with us. We had already navigated it just fine, but Molly had us stop and see if we could take the jump, with Rain going around the back of the tunnel and then still take the tunnel (above). We started by a little review with me standing at the midpoint behind the tunnel and cueing from there, then backing up a little and doing it again. Rain tried at one point to do her old trick of jumping on top of the tunnel, but it didn’t take too many tries before we were able to precisely do what Molly had asked of us, which meant we ended class on a nice strong note.

Rain was pretty barky before class, but after our first run she started calming a slight bit—I think because we were using her body and brain. Molly commented that she wasn’t being too loud, but I think it was because she was intensely focused on getting what she wanted from me. (This mostly involves whining.) On a normal evening after class we’ll come home and once dinner is done she settles pretty quickly for the night. On this night—perhaps because she was still happy about having gone to class—she was still pretty squirrelly for another hour or so after dinner. Once she did start calming though, I quickly joined her in dreamland—at about 8:15pm—and proceeded to sleep for the next ten hours.