Since my wee Spaniel is always so busy, I'm always trying to find ways to keep her business more productive. I've toyed with the idea of agility because she is, well, quite agile, but I haven't quite figured out how I would do that without some sighted assistance. I've done basic obedience with her, but she gets bored quickly and quite frankly, so do I. That's not to say I shouldn't work with her on the basics because we all know that she needs some work. However, I needed to find a way to work basic obedience into a fun activity we could do together. Not to mention, it needed to be an activity that would burn off some of her excess energy. My "ahah!" moment came when my mom was telling me a sad story about a woman whose dog had been hit by a car and run away. The woman was doing everything in her power, including calling in a "sniffer" dog to try and track down her beloved pooch. I don't know the outcome, but it got me thinking: "why not try that with Hermione?" I'm not saying she would ever be good enough to find someone's missing dog, or child for that matter, but she's got the hunting instincts and it would be a way to put her nosiness to good use.
So, after searching ceaselessly for hours on this beautiful thing we call the internet, I found an article that explains how to get started in nose work in a very straight forward, easy to understand manner. It took some digging because a lot of the information is held by a specific organisation that oversees nose work competitions. They give you options of holding workshops or hiring a trainer, but I'm just trying to get started and needed an inexpensive way to do so. I'm not sure I did it properly, but we tried it for the first time today and it was a lot of fun.
The article instructs you to find a desirable object and hide it in a box for your dog to find. There are variations of this step, all involving leaving the box open, letting the dog see the object, only having one box out, always using the same box Etc. So, I thought of the smelliest thing that Hermione loves most and came up with peanut butter. I took four boxes of varying sizes down into our basement and put the peanut butter into one of them. I left the lid open on the box as well as the peanut butter to help Hermione smell the tasty goodness. I hooked her leash over a door knob so she could watch me set everything up. I also placed the treasure box the furthest on the left so that she would not have to wade through the other boxes to find the one I wanted. The article says you can do this activity on and/or off leash, but I chose on leash to ensure I knew exactly where she was so I could praise appropriately.
I had her sit and then gave her release cue. She sprang to her feet, but wasn't exactly sure what I wanted. Rufio was playing with a ball in the same room and she was initially distracted by the toy. The article tells you not to "show" or "lead" your dog; you want them to figure it out on their own. This was a challenge for me as all I wanted to do was point at the box or take her over and tap it for her. But, really that's not training, that's patterning; not useful in this situation. She put it very well when she said,
"you want the dog to think you need them to do the work."
That makes sense. In sniffing trials or in search and rescue, the handler doesn't direct the dog-the dog does all of the work. That said, since the cat was an unexpected distraction, I slowly wandered myself towards the line of boxes and it only took her a split second to realise that the boxes were interesting. She pulled without hesitation to the box housing the coveted prize. I praised her and stuffed one of my home made treats into her mouth. we did this five more times, me having her sit and wait in an opposite corner to the box and then releasing her, before I moved the box. I only mixed it up a bit and she found it without hesitation again. I then took the box over to the mini trampoline that I have in the room and put it up on top; all the while letting her watch me. The article says that letting the dog watch in the beginning is good. You want to make it easy for them to succeed; as with any training activity.
She almost missed the box on the trampoline, but spun quickly and circled back. I haven't quite decided if she's using her nose yet or just her eyes, but I guess time will tell.
We went through the whole cookie I had been breaking off as reward and I gave her a bit of peanut butter at the end. I was really impressed with her problem solving skills. When she went to a box that wasn't the one I wanted, she started searching for the right one. I didn't say "no" or point or anything; just stood quietly until she dashed off to the right spot. She only got a reaction from me if she found what I wanted. Eventually, we'll put a word to this behaviour, but for now, it's all about letting her think for herself and being comfortable and confident to do so.
Tomorrow, we'll continue; probably running through the same sequences as today. It's better to make sure she gets it right and build up her confidence before moving on.
I'm not sure if the activity wore her out or if she has food coma from eating her reward cookie, but she's currently curled up beside me, snoozing away.
Since the "nose work" was such a success with Hermione I decided to try Roscoe. It would be interesting, I thought, to go from a young dog who realistically has no training to a dog who was taught to think for himself from puppyhood.
The difference was definitely there.
I only did the box in the corner with Roscoe twice instead of five times because he nearly dragged me there. He also nearly destroyed the box in his enthusiasm. I moved the box around, hiding it in the middle of other boxes and he found it. I put it up on the trampoline and he found it. I even placed another box beside it on the trampoline, crowding the treasure box, and although he stopped to examine the "dud" box, he moved quickly on to the right one. I then took the peanut butter out of the original box and stuck it into another one and put the lid on to the peanut butter jar. Apparently, you're not supposed to do this in the beginning because you don't want to contaminate all of your boxes with your scent, but it seemed too easy for him. I didn't need to worry: he found that one as well. As his last challenge, I tucked the box away from the others into a kind of makeshift closet. I let him watch me as I had with everything else. This one was the only one that made him stop to think. He started sniffing about then started hopping about when I didn't react to his investigations. Then, quite suddenly, he hurtled, me attached by the leash, to the closet and shoved his head in, his whole body wagging.
It was so amazing watching how each dog worked out problems differently, progressed differently, and yet they both seemed to enjoy it so much. I will repeat our routine tomorrow with Roscoe as well and only change things up when he seems to be ready to move on.
I really enjoyed myself and the dogs seemed to as well. I think it's something we'll stick with. I can't wait to see what I will eventually be able to hide and where.
Who knows, maybe one day, I'll be able to send Roscoe off from the basement up to the top floor to find Mr. K. If we get to that point, I'm putting him in a competition.