The Manipulator

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At Nose Work class on Saturday, my suspicions were confirmed: our dog is too damn smart (or at least he thinks so)!  We are in week four of our Nose Work 2 Trial prep class. While he’s already earned his Nose Work 2 title, we are trying to keep his skills sharp in case we decide to travel to the Lower 48 this summer to attempt a Nose Work 3 trial.

Over the past several weeks at class, I’ve noticed Pongo run full throttle into the training facility with his usual enthusiasm he has when we are about ready to “work.”  I give him the “go find” command and I immediately see the wheels starting to spin.  He does his usual parameter check while he catalogs where all the hides are.  He shows interest in the hide spots but refuses to alert on any of them.  Instead, he runs around “looking” for the hides. The dog that loves nose work and can be a speed demon at times, is slow as molasses (we’re talking 15 minutes to find 3 hides!).  He doesn’t want the game to end.  Game over means-go back to the car and kennel up.  Pongo, clearly does not like that ending.  So, he manipulates the situation by stalling for time.

He’s no dummy.  He knows where they are, and I know he knows where they are.  He thinks he’s being smart but I catch the sideward glances he gives me and the smirk on his face as he pretends to search.

So, here’s my plan for next class:

WAYS TO OUTSMART PONGO PLAN

1) Use über yummy treats: pork chops, steak, cheese…whatever it takes.

2) Follow the advice of some serious nose work experts and pair food with the hides to increase drive.

3) Have a Kong filled with peanut butter ready for him in the car as a “surprise” treat for finishing a search area, which equals back-to-the-kennel.

4) Hope and pray that he falls for this plan and doesn’t turn this behavior into a major problem situation we are going to have to work through.

Please keep your fingers crossed for us!

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Bring It On Again: Nose Work 2 Trial

Last May, Pongo and I experienced our first Nose Work 2 trial.  We learned a lot at that trial and hoped our lessons learned would benefit us the next trial.  So 4 weeks ago,  Pongo and I traveled down to Ninilchik to compete in the Nose Work 2 trial.  I realize I am only now blogging about it–very sad when life gets in the way of blogging!

Several months before the trial, I had made reservations at Ninilchik 132.6 Cabins and RV Park in hopes that we could take the Airstream down and camp overnight as the trial was on Saturday.  Life is never certain when you’re married to a surveyor and there was always the chance that Steve would be out of town that weekend.  So, I knew that Pongo and I may be car camping that Friday night.  A couple days before the trial, Steve realized, with great disappointment, that he was not going to be able to make the trial due to work.  I emailed the owner of the RV Park asking if he would mind if I car camped in the RV spot we had reserved.  He was fine with that so, Pongo and I drove down to Ninilchik Friday evening all geared up to car camp.

As I came out of the mountains, my voicemail beeps.  It’s the owner of Ninilchik Cabins and RV Park saying that he just wasn’t comfortable with me sleeping in my car and they had opened a bunkhouse for me to use.  I was very touched by the gesture.  I called the owner back letting him know that I very much appreciated the offer but I had my dog with me and I knew their pet policy: no pets in the cabins or bunkhouses.  He told me that he would make an exception for me and allow Pongo to stay in the bunkhouse also.  I was so grateful to have a warm place to stay that night so we could get a good night’s rest and be ready for the trial.

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Saturday morning we woke up to brilliant blue skies and sunshine.  It was going to be a fantastic day!  We arrived at the State Fairgrounds, found Miss Sue who came down to support us (thank you, Miss Sue!), and signed in.  The official briefed us and then we started our walk-throughs for that morning’s elements.

The first building we walked into, met us with a scattering of luggage, plastic containers, and metal tin containers.  It looked like a bomb had gone off!  Holy crap!  The Container search was going to be our first element.  I tried to reframe it in my mind: at least we’ll have the hardest element done first and we’ll know if we’re still in the running for titling or if it’s all for fun and practice.

The official then gave us even more of a shocker: we were going to do the two elements back-to-back.  We would go right from Containers to the Interior search.  Now, that was different and a little concerning as there would be a minimal mind-clearing break between elements.  But, it worked with the flow of the building and we just had to roll with it.

We were released to our cars to get ready for the first dog.  Pongo was number 3 in a line of 13 dogs.  I pottied him and we took our place in line waiting for the go-ahead to enter the Container search.  As we were waiting, I had a heart-to heart with Pongo; I let him know we were about to do Nose Work and “go work.”  I looked him in the eyes (or least tried) and I told him how important it was that he leave those food distractions alone: leave it! PLEASE!!!  I’m not too sure he was listening because as soon as I said, “we’re here to work” he was in work mode; his nose was searching for that odor and we hadn’t even stepped foot in the building yet.  This was a good sign!

It was our turn.  As soon as Pongo heard the “OK” to come into the building, he took off at Mach 3 for the 50 feet we had between the staging area and the building entrance.  This dog was ready to work!  We walked inside and I took a deep breath to calm my nerves. Pongo’s nose was already working.  I gave him the “go find” command and off he went. He was all over the place-how was I going to keep track of what we had covered and what we hadn’t?!?  I just had to trust my dog.  He became interested in a plastic tub sitting on the ground but I could tell from his interest that it wasn’t source.  Maybe, just maybe, Mama’s words of wisdom were running through his head when he smelled that sausage, egg, and potato container…”Pongo, leave the food; leave it!”  He quickly moved on, making a wide swing around the outside of the search area and stuck his nose on a suitcase.  This sign of interest was different.  He sniffed the top of the suitcase putting his paws on it, knocking it over.  He whipped around to where the zipper lay face up-“Alert!”  I waited with bated breath for that single word of confirmation.  “Yes.”  I praised Pongo and gave him his cheese reward.  I couldn’t stop telling him what a good boy he was and what a good job he did!

We had a very short wait before entering the Interior search area.  It was two rooms: one with one hide and one with two hides.  Pongo loves interior searches so I let him do his job. He found the first hide quickly and we moved on to the second room.  He circled the room without really taking interest in any one place.  I thought to myself, Alright, he’s just categorizing where they are so he can go back.  He finally took some interest in a big, plastic tub full of rubber duckies and before I could stop him (he was off-leash), he dove into the tub, grabbed the hide and threw it at me.  Thankfully, I had alerted while his head was still in the plastic tub.  Oh, boy.  That’s definitely a fault-throwing the hide at your handler.  We had one more hide to find.  I gave him the “go find” cue and he was off and running.  He sniffed around the room for a few moments, which actually felt like an eternity, and hit on the bottom of a book rounder.  I knew he had found source, so I called alert and immediately yelled, “Don’t eat it, Pongo!”  He sat his butt down and got his reward. Whew! That was over but I was worried about that fault.  You can only get 3 faults and still title.

Our next two elements, after a lunch break, were the Vehicle search going immediately into the Exterior search.  We did our walk-through once again.  The Vehicle search didn’t look too bad: a car, an ATV, and a tractor with a small trailer.  Then, we walked into the Exterior search area…it wasn’t looking good.  It was a huge barn with 3-4 stalls made out of metal. Our search area was the whole barn.  What made it worse was the wind was blowing across the start line into the barn.  The odor was going to blow straight out the exit!  All we could do was try our best.

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They reversed the order for the second set of elements.  Pongo was now 11th in line. Pongo was ready to work but the anticipation and nervousness was killing me!  When it finally was our turn to move to the staging area, Pongo was in full on work mode.  His nose was working even though the Vehicle search area was a good 100 feet away.  He was catching something and I just hoped it was revving up his drive to work.  We entered the Vehicle search area, once again at full throttle.  Behind the start line, I allowed Pongo a moment to focus on the task at hand.  He was ready!  I gave the command and he was off and running to the vehicle.  He circled it once and then hit on the wheel-well closest to the start line.  Alert!  “Yes.”  One more to find.  Pongo worked his way toward the back of the tractor and inched his nose along the hitch that connected the trailer to the tractor.  He alerted right in the middle.  “Yes!”

One more element to go.  Pongo was on a roll.  The Exterior search was where we had timed out in our last trial.  I had to believe that he could find the one and only hide in two and a half minutes.  We crossed that start line and he immediately went to the right side of the barn.  He became very interested in a metal U that was attached to the side of the barn.  I could only guess that it was a place to tie up livestock.  He wore a look of animal scent interest so I waited patiently to see what he would do.

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He moved on down the wall and began nosing a beam where the actual source was hidden. I called “alert!”  The judge responded with a “yes” and then a loud, “Don’t eat it, Pongo!” Well, that was embarrassing but I also had to laugh out loud wondering if the story of him throwing the hide at me had entertained the judges at lunch?

1239136_435473663236331_915493802_oWe did it!  Pongo had earned his Nose Work 2 title!  I was so very proud of our boy!  He had this huge smile on as we walked back to the parking lot and was so proud of himself!

At the awards ceremony, I learned that we didn’t fault on him throwing the hide at me in the Interior search but we faulted in the Vehicle search?!?  He had gone around the start line cone while I had gone through.  I had no idea.  I tried really hard not to kick myself for that but upon speaking to the judge, it sounded like Pongo had caught wind of the odor and bee-lined for it (on the vehicle) missing the start line.  Unfortunately, that fault cost us second place overall but we got what we had come for: a Nose Work 2 Title.  Pongo placed 3rd in the Interior Search (1:42.85) and 3rd in the Exterior Search (0:28.02).  We were pronounced in the Interior and Exterior searches.  His overall time was 3:35.50 (click here for complete trial results).  We couldn’t be more proud of Pongo!

As you can see, the little stinker would NOT cooperate with Mama in having his picture taken with his ribbons.

DSC_0254 DSC_0253 DSC_0252 DSC_0251DSC_0249 DSC_0248 This is probably the best one.

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Nose Work 2 Trial: A Learning Experience

With a deep breath and the mantra “Trust your dog” going through my mind, we step up to the Exterior search start line.  I bend down to Pongo telling him, “It’s time to do some Nose Work” and then asking him, “You ready to work?”  I knew even before we got to the start line, this dog was ready to work as he pulled me full throttle down to the search area from the staging area.  With the “Go find” command, we’re off.  He hits the first hide in probably less than 15 seconds.  ALERT!  I get the OK from the judge, reward him and we’re off again.  He checks out the area around the first hide and then moves to the other part of our L-shaped search area.  He’s on to something but can’t quite pinpoint where it’s coming from.  The wind was blowing through the area sending the odor down to the corner where our two search areas converge.  I knew there was no way they would have put the second hide so close to the first so I direct him back to where he was showing some interest.  Then I hear, “30 seconds.”  PANIC sets in.  I give one more, “Go find it, Pongo.”  He’s working so hard and I am just praying he find it in the few seconds we have left…

“Time!”

My heart drops.  I can’t believe we just timed out-something Pongo rarely does.  The judge shows me where the hide was so I can reward Pongo at source.  As soon as I saw where it was, I was kicking myself-it was the one place we passed by several times, without really getting down and dirty with the area.  It was a total handler error.  I was beyond disappointed.  I knew that we were out of contention for our Nose Work 2 title on the very first element.  As much as I tried to reframe it: well, the pressure is off rest of the day, I just couldn’t accept my mistake.  We’ve always let Pongo choose where to go when searching…

Lesson #1: Keep track of where we’ve been and where we haven’t.  Make sure we hit the whole area even if you have to give him some guidance.

I had some time to reset myself and get back into the game before we needed to head to the Interior search.  I needed to be on for Pongo despite my disappointment.  We get to the start line and he is ready and rearing to go.  I think the Interior searches are his favorite; mine, too.  “Pongo, go find” and he’s off.  He quickly moves to a table pushed up against something big and black (I’m not too sure what it was as I wasn’t paying attention to anything but Pongo).  He ducks under the table, nose working 50 miles a minute.  He goes back and forth along the table a couple of times and hits it-ALERT!  Yes!  Pongo gets his reward and is already off, with the “1 more. Go find it” command, before he probably even swallows his piece of cheese.  He starts checking the perimeter of the room working counter-clockwise.  He zips past the judge and videographer making his way back to the start line.  I see him starting to cross the start line, thinking maybe he’s caught the scent coming under the door from our second search room.  There’s no penalty going out of “bounds” but I didn’t want him focusing on that second room yet.  I remind him once more, “Go find it” and he swerves back into our search area.  He starts heading back toward the first hide but makes it only a couple feet before I get this beautiful head turn-he’s caught the odor.  He whips around, sniffs a trash can then starts to move along the baseboards. He stops about 6 inches from the start line and starts pawing and then sits-ALERT!  Yes! He’s found the second hide, stuffed into a small hole in the wall.  Good Boy, Pongo!

The judge asks me to hold Pongo as they open the door to the second search area.  The judge and videographer walk in to the tiny room and let me know I can move to the start line.  I get Pongo set-up, his nose already working and give him the command.  He runs into the room and immediately becomes interested in a table to our right.  He checks out on top of the table and moves down along the edge of the table.  That’s when I notice the tall garbage can under the table.  Oh, please don’t let him start dumpster diving!  Pongo is really working the garbage can and sticks his nose under the edge of the top lip and immediately sits.  This is where “trust your dog” comes into play…ALERT!  The judge acknowledges his correct find and he gets the biggest piece of cheese I had in my pocket. What a smart boy!  I was so proud of him!  He rocked the Interior search: 1:37.25!

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We even earned a “Pronounced” on this element, which means the judge thought we demonstrated exceptional technique and teamwork.

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The success was bittersweet but after hearing how many people were not able to find all three hides on the Interior search, I knew we had something to be very proud of.  Pongo and one other dog were the only ones to find all three hides in the Interior search!

After a lunch break, our next element was the Container search.  This was the one element I was expecting some difficulty.  We had only one hide to find but it’s a mixture of boxes and luggage AND food and/or toy distractions.  I wasn’t worried if they had toy distractions because Pongo has shown no interest in the toy distractions in our practice runs.  It was the food I was worried about.  In practice, he was about 50/50 when it came to ignoring food distractions: sometimes he would totally leave it alone and other times, he was all over it, especially when cheese was used.

I reviewed in my mind what Pongo’s alerts on food look like compared to his source (odor) alerts: he’s all over the food hide and it’s almost impossible to get him off of it.  We can do this!  I just need to be observant to what he’s interested in, note which containers we’ve searched, and make sure we hit all the corner containers.  We get settled at the start line and I give Pongo the command.  He starts by checking out a few of the first containers we pass and then moves toward a corner container.  He checks out the interior facing side of the piece of luggage but then quickly moves on.  He moves toward the middle of the search area and I think to myself, “How am I going to keep track of what we’ve checked with all this randomness?!?”  Breathe, Jen breathe.  Pongo then beelines for a luggage container on the edge of the search area.  He sniffs very interested, paws at it lightly, then gives me this beautiful sit and looks at me with eyes saying, “This is it, Mama.  I found it.” ALERT!  It seems like forever before I heard the judge say, “No.”  What?!?  Did you not see the absolutely textbook, beautifully gentle alert my dog just gave???  You can’t tell me he gave me that kind of alert for a food distraction!  I was dumbfounded.  The judge walked us over to that corner luggage container he checked out in the beginning, took us to the exterior side of that piece of luggage and had me reward Pongo at the source down in the bottom corner where the wheel meets the bag.  And once I found out what he actually alerted on, all I could do was laugh to myself; I guess he was really in the mood for buttered, wheat toast that day!

Lesson #2: Work both the interior and the exterior of your perimeter containers.  

After talking with a friend who was videographer for the container search, she said that I didn’t give Pongo enough longline and it would have helped if I had walked to the exterior of the search area.  For some reason, my mind went to “boundaries” when we hit the edge of the search area.  There are no boundaries-you can walk out of the search area; I knew that.  I also knew to pay attention to corner containers–I just didn’t pay attention to the outside facing side of that corner container.  It was interesting because ALL the big dogs missed the container with the true hide and almost all of them alerted on the food containers (the other food distraction was Doritos, which we had practiced with and he ignored).

We had one more element to go: the vehicles.  We really have not practiced much on vehicles so I had no expectations for this element.  There were two hides we had to find on a total of four vehicles.  I knew we needed to be meticulous about this search and make sure we search every side of every single vehicle.  The plan was to let Pongo choose which vehicle to start with and then I would be sure we hit all sides before moving on to the next vehicle.  When I gave Pongo the “go find” command, he headed straight for a snow bank that was pushed up against a dumpster.  I couldn’t quite figure out if he was distracted, mentally tired or catching the scent over there.  I let him move that direction before reminding him of what he needed to do: go find it.  He got back on track and moved to the vehicle closest to the start line.  He sniffed the hub cap we came upon first and sat.  Really?!?  I wasn’t even too sure I saw where his nose touched before he sat so I prayed the judge wouldn’t ask me, “Where?” when I called ALERT!  Pongo had hit source correctly!  I rewarded him and it was time to move on.

We walked around another car and once again, he moved out onto a snow bank.  I again couldn’t tell if he was distracted or using it as a way to clear his nose and reset but I went with it.  After giving him another “go find it” command he quickly moved to a blue Toyota 4Runner.  I knew he was on odor but just had to work it out.  Once he gets scent of the odor, I trust he will work it until he is right on source and that is exactly what he did.  He hit source within seconds of catching the odor and gave me a strong alert by trying to get at the source with his mouth (VERY BAD habit we’re trying to break!).  I immediately called ALERT! in hopes he would sit down and stop trying to get to the source.  He did exactly what I was hoping and the judge gave us a “yes.”  Pongo rocked the vehicle search with a time of 1:02.56!  AND, we were also awarded a “Pronounced” on this element!  I was one proud Mama and I think Pongo was one proud boy, too.

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We were DONE!  A sigh of relief and a big hug and kiss to Pongo for all of his hard work!  I knew we didn’t title but also knew that out of the fourteen dogs entered in the Nose Work 2 trial, no titles were going to be awarded that day.  I didn’t expect to place overall because of our one missed element (Exterior) and one false alert in the Containers element but I was hoping that he would place in the Interior and Vehicle individual elements.  Pongo did place in both of the elements: 1st Place Interior and 2nd Place Vehicles!

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At the end of the day, I knew Pongo had done his very best and loved every minute of it.  It was an incredible learning experience for all of us participating in the Nose Work 2 trial for our first time, and it will only get us better prepared for the next Nose Work 2 trial in September.  Click here to view the complete trial results.

I absolutely love this sport, and love the bond and sense of teamwork it instills between us.  Congratulations to Pongo for a job well done!

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Pongo’s Big Day

It’s been some time since I last blogged.  My shortfall in blogging can’t be correlated with a lack of excitement around Pongo because there is still plenty of that!  But, it has to do with my lack of time lately.  Sadly when life gets crazy, blogging is put on the back-burner.  I just couldn’t let today’s success of a day go by without sharing.  Today’s agenda included one of Pongo’s favorite things to do: Nose Work class and then a trip out to the Valley to visit Miss Sue and her crew.

We are in the process of getting ready for the NW2 (Nose Work 2) trial in May.  In NW2, the scent of anise is introduced.  There can be up to 2 hides of either birch or anise or one of each scent.  The dogs also have to work around distractions such as toys and concealed doggie snacks.  After the first couple of practices with toy and food distractions, Pongo has been a rock star about ignoring them and sticking to his job.  He loves his Nose Work job and we love watching the wheels turn as he tracks down those scents!

Photo courtesy of Mike Lewis

But, the biggest event of the day was going to visit Miss Sue and her crew of 5, yes you did read that right, 5 dogs.  Miss Sue and her husband, Ken are going to care for Pongo while we are cruising the Panama Canal later this winter.  Both Steve and I have some anxiety around doggie meet and greets when it comes to Pongo.  It can be hit or miss with him and we really wanted this to work.  We put our trust and faith into Miss Sue and Ken when it came to “the plan.”

When we arrived, there were five furry faces peeking at us from behind a gate.  My first thought was, “Holy crap!  That’s a lot of dogs!  How is this going to work?”  I quickly let that doubt go because I didn’t want Pongo picking up on my anxiety.  Steve and I went in the house, sans Pongo, to meet Ken and hear how they wanted the meet and greet to proceed.  The plan was to bring Pongo in and let him explore the house while the other dogs waited outside.  One by one, the dogs would then come in to meet Pongo.

Steve brought Pongo in, past the 5 dogs peeking at him through the gate with absolutely NO reaction, and unleashed him to explore.  And, explore he did!  His nose was working overtime as he took in the all the new smells.  He was very appropriate in meeting one of their two cats but was a little too interested in the parrot squawking at him from underneath a blanket covered cage.

Then it was time to meet the dogs.  The first meet and greet between Pongo and one of Miss Sue’s dogs went well.  He looked a little stressed but held it together.  Another dog was let into the house and that greeting went well too.  Steve and I did notice that Pongo’s stress level was rising some as he moved between greeting the dogs and checking in with us.  Steve and I decided it was best to take ourselves out of the equation so the final three doggie greetings would go smoothly.  We stepped outside and pressed our ears to the door, in hopes of catching tidbits of how things were going inside.  After a good 10 minutes of meeting everyone inside and then some playtime outside, we came to realize that all of our anxiety was unfounded; Pongo was going to be OK.

We learned that we have to trust the process and just do some legwork when it comes to Pongo meeting other dogs.  As much as I would love to be able to have him jump out of the car and walk into a house five dogs full, it just is not going to happen.  What works for some dogs, does not work for Pongo and dwelling on the “what ifs…” is not going to move us forward.  He is a unique little guy who filled our hearts with joy and made us so proud today!

And, all the excitement of today has left our sweet boy beyond exhausted!

May 12th Nose Work Trial Photos

One of the rules at a Nose Work trial is that no one besides the Official Photographers are allowed to take pictures.  While disappointed, not a single photo was snapped until we exited Camp Carlquist. We didn’t want to take any chances of tarnishing Pongo’s Nose Work Trial–a few photos were just not worth it.

After much anticipation, trial photos were finally posted.  With permission from the National Association of Canine Scent Work and our two fabulous photographers Mike Lewis and Donna Quante (©2012HuskyProductions/Donna Quante), I am able to post pictures of Pongo’s Nose Work trial experience.

Vehicle Search (0:47.30)

Coming into the vehicle search area.

Pongo got “lost” for a moment and forgot where he was suppose to be searching.

Now we’re on track.

Almost there…it’s in the wheel well about 6 inches up from his nose.

Exterior Search (0:46.63)

I was a little worried here that he was going to alert on possible left-over picnic goodies.

The exterior search area was dauntingly huge with lots of nooks, crannies, and distractions.

Now we’re on the birch scent trail.

Getting closer…

Found it Mom!  This was one of Pongo’s best alerts: looking up at me and sitting. Here he is mid-sit.

It was a tricky hide: birch scent stuffed into a birch log but what a smart boy!

Container Search (0:14.12)

This is one of my favorite photos.

And Pongo’s favorite part of the search: getting the treat!

We unfortunately don’t have any photos from the Interior Search but we do have some random photos.

Waiting to move into the search areas.

The awards ceremony.

Our Nose Work Champion

Literally.  I really should try and be humble right now but I am one proud Mama and don’t care if I gloat just a little.  Pongo was on today.  I was on today.  And we both rocked Alaska’s first official K9 Nose Work trial!  My goals for today were 1) have fun 2) trust my dog and 3) focus on accuracy not speed.  We accomplished all three goals and so much more…

First Place Overall NW1:

PONGO BUCHANAN!!!   2:09.26

NW1 Title:

PONGO BUCHANAN!!!

Exterior Search: 2nd Place (46.63 seconds)

Interior Search: 2nd Place (21.21 seconds) There was a 0.17 second difference between 1st and 2nd place.

Vehicle Search: 47.30 seconds (12th Place)

Container Search: 14.12 seconds (4th Place)  We could have placed 2nd or 3rd but I didn’t realize that Pongo’s nose had crossed the starting line, which is when the timer starts, and I waited a couple seconds before giving him the “Go find it” cue.

Faults= 0!!!  This was my biggest fear and sweet Pongo gave beautiful alerts today. I thought maybe we had faulted in the container search because he smashed the source box a little but no fault was given.

If you’re interested in seeing Overall Results and Element Results for all trial participants, they can be viewed here.

Steve and I are both beaming and so very proud of Pongo!

Anise and Clove and Records-OH MY!

The day that Anchorage finally broke the 1954-1955 snowfall record, with 133.6 inches recorded as of 4:00 PM today is the day Pongo rocked his Anise and Clove Odor Recognition Tests (ORT).  We drove up to Cook Inlet Kennel Club this morning, in some pretty nasty weather, so that Pongo could participate in the Nose Work ORT.  He passed the Birch ORT back in September and all he needed were the final two scents, Anise and Clove in order to compete in Nose Work II and Nose Work III Trials.  We aren’t even to that point of competition yet, but it was worth getting it done since they brought up a National Association of Canine Scent Work Official to oversee Alaska’s second Odor Recognition Test.

Pongo ready for his ORT

While Pongo had some difficulty with reactivity to other dogs, once we got into the testing facility, he shifted into work mode and knew exactly what he needed to do: “Go find it!”  We are both so proud of him!

Now, our next focus is the Nose Work I Trial on May 12th, in Chugiak, Alaska.

Back In The Game

After a holiday hiatus, we are back into our Nose Work classes.  Pongo has sniffed his way to Advanced Nose Work and is preparing for a trial in May.  Our instructor Liz, at Alaska Dog Sports made today’s class especially challenging for the dogs.  Instead of using the usual small, metal tins to hide the scents, she put the scented q-tips into empty pens.  That means the scent could only travel through the very small opening at the end of the pen.

I love watching Pongo take on a challenge but felt for him today when he struggled a bit to find the hides.

We also had a chance to practice box drills.  Pongo is working really hard on alerting with a sit instead of becoming the Smash-O-Nator and destroying the hide or the box.  All of these small details matter in a trial.  He can find the hide no problem but if he disturbs the hide area, it’s a fault.  So, practice, practice, practice!

Take A Whiff of This Weekend

Pongo spent this past weekend fully immersed in Nose Work.

On Saturday he took his Birch Odor Recognition Test (ORT), which is a test he must pass in order to compete in any Nose Work trial.  The ORT is a basic box drill where there are 12 boxes lined up in two rows of 6.  The dog is on-leash and walks up and down the rows sniffing for the Birch scent that is hidden in one of the boxes.  Pongo is a pro at this drill and we have practiced it many times both in class and at home; nonetheless, I was still very nervous when we entered the training facility to take our test.  As soon as we entered, Pongo knew what he was there to do and targeted the hide within 24 seconds.  I gave a huge sigh of relief because that was all he needed to do to pass his Birch ORT.  Steve came in with us to video his success but  unbeknownst (well, known to us but forgotten-I know, I should have read the rules again the night before the ORT) we were not allowed to videotape or photograph the ORT.  Steve immediately erased the video but it was not clear if that faux pas had disqualified us from the ORT.  We had to wait a good 45 minutes while the entirety of our group finished the ORT before learning that Pongo had in fact passed!  Never, ever again will we go into a competition without first reviewing the rules–lesson learned!

Since I don’t have any footage of his ORT, here’s a picture of what a box drill looks like and his scorebook with the most glorious letter: P.

Then Sunday, we spent 4 hours in an Advanced Nose Work seminar with Jean Richardson, who is a Certified Nose Work Instructor (CNWI) from Oregon; she is also the one who officiated our Odor Recognition Test on Saturday.  We were able to run our dogs for three different types of scenarios and hides: 3 low hides, 3 high hides, and a paint can drill. The guest instructor used both Birch and Anise for her hides. Anise is one of the three target odors that dogs can search for.  What surprised us the most, and really made us proud was Pongo has never smelled nor searched for Anise before and the two rounds that had Anise in them, he found it as his very first find.  We now know we can move on to Anise and can hopefully do the Anise ORT in the Spring.  Pongo loves Nose Work.  It’s his job.  What we love about Nose Work is that he has fun while doing it and is completely tuckered out afterwards.

K9-Nose Work Mock Trial

“Are you ready?” the rather intimidating Anchorage Police officer, who was judging our first search asked me.

“Yes.  Pongo, sit. Pongo, watch.  Good boy.  Now, GO FIND.”  Pongo takes off knowing his job at hand.  He lingers at a pile of games on a shelf.  “Could that be the hide?” I ask myself but Pongo is off pulling me around the room.  His sniffing increases as he sticks his nose between the refrigerator and the wall.  He moves around the refrigerator definitely on the birch scent.  Pongo sticks his nose under the hot-water base board heater and not so gracefully, pulls it off it’s hinge.  He’s found the hide.

“Alert!” I call pointing to the heater that Pongo had just destroyed.

The APD officer then completely threw me for a loop by asking, “Where?”  Well…right here where Pongo’s nose is I wanted to say but I point to where Pongo first caught the scent at the heater, which was behind the heater and toward the floor.

“Ahhh…down in there.” I reply with a questioning tone in my voice.  Please let this be it, please let me have identified it correctly as I only have a 4-6″ margin of error.

“Yes.”

My heart leaves my throat with that answer.  I was very fortunate though because the hide was actually in the heater, sitting on the coils.  I lucked out that I pointed within the allotted distance.  We made it through our first search, three more to go.

This is our first K9-Nose Work Trial and while it was a mock trial, I had the nerves of a real competition.  The trial was held out in Palmer at Spring Creek Farm.  It was a gorgeous setting to spend the day working, sitting in the sun, and meeting others who are interested in the same sport.

We knew this was going to be a challenge for Pongo.  Not so much the nose work part but the part where he has to be around 30 other dogs.  We came prepared with the clicker, a bag full of treats, and a reminder to Pongo that we are here to work.  Our latest strategy for handling his reactivity is to encourage Pongo to look at another dog (at a safe, comfortable distance).  When Pongo looks at a dog: click, Pongo orients back to us: treat.  He caught on rather quickly. Even though he had to wear a red bandana, which communicated to others that he needs a little more space than other dogs, he only had 3 reactions to other dogs.  Two of them were my fault because I didn’t give him enough space; the last one, I guess the other dog looked at him funny and he went off.  It was a lot of work to keep his reactivity to a minimum but it was great training for all of us.

I tell myself, “Don’t cry, Jen.  Just don’t cry.” as the tears well up in my eyes.  I felt like I had just failed Pongo.  Pongo caught  the scent during our second search: the vehicle search.  He was showing a lot of interest in the wheel well so I called “alert.”  It was too early.  I was about 8″ off from the hide.  The judge was very kind in showing Pongo where it was so I could reward him at the source but that still didn’t take the sting out of my mistake.  Steve comes over to comfort me, which made the tears behind the dam rise.  I don’t do well when I make mistakes in competitions. I tend to beat myself up and go over and over what I should have done, could have done differently.  We still had two more searches to complete so I needed to suck it up and put my game face back on.

After lunch, we moved on to our final two searches: exterior and container.  The exterior search is the most daunting to me because the hide, which is one Q-Tip end dipped in birch scent could be anywhere in the search area: under rocks, in the grass, in some totally obscure place.  You have to trust your dog.  I could tell right away when Pongo was given the “Go Find” cue, he was not mentally in the game.  His tail wasn’t wagging like it usually does when he’s searching and he seemed highly distracted.  It had been a long day already and a hard day for Pongo trying to keep it together.  He was tired.  I encouraged Pongo to “go find” a couple of times and followed his cues as he made his way around the perimeter of the search area.  He stopped, interestedly sniffed a rock, and pawed at it.  “Alert!” I call.  Once again…too soon.  My heart sinks as I realize I had completely misread his signals again.  As I walk from the search area, I overhear someone say, “It looked like that could have been it.”  I agree but there’s no comfort in those words because I had disappointed not just myself but I felt like I had let Steve and Pongo down because of my lack of patience and my nerves.

Our last search was the container search.  I knew Pongo had this one in the bag.  His alert signals are very obvious: smash the box.  He rocked the container search with a time of 17.9 seconds.  It was a positive way to end our day!

I am so very proud of Pongo for all of his hard work both working the scents and, most importantly, remaining calm around 30 dogs while on leash.  I feel like we made a couple steps forward in our quest to help Pongo overcome his leash reactivity.  Plus, I learned what I need to do at our September 17th Odor Recognition Test (ORT): stay calm, be patient, and work the whole search area before alerting.  Pongo has always come back to a hide if he passed it.  I need to trust him and his nose!