Monday, April 1, 2013

Easter "Hunting"

Instructor, Barb Davenport loads the mason jars along the fence-line
On Easter Sunday, a couple of Northwest Briards participated in a different kind of  "hunt" that did not involve colored eggs. Gabrielle LaRoche & Nash and Carol Wolfram & Demi attended a one-day seminar on "A practical approach to scent work".  It was an unseasonably warm and sunny day for March in the pacific,northwest and a great day to develop a new skill with our Briards.

Basic scent work does not require any fancy equipment.  Although you can invest in a scent box, a dozen plastic flower pots, a new paint can, cotton balls, glass mason jars and essential oil (we used clove) should do the trick.  Tongs and and surgical gloves are also helpful to avoid contamination.

To begin with, each dog was evaluated for ball/toy drive (read ball/toy crazed).  Working detection dogs need to have a great deal of drive to endure long, potentially boring searches all for the love of a ball or toy reward.  Food can also be used but can be less practical for use in certain situations in the the field. There were Briards, Border Collies, German shepherds, and cattle dogs participating in the class and all passed this initial test. 

Our instructor had prepared the scent in advance by treating cotton balls with several drops of clove oil and allowing the scent to permeate the cotton balls in a sealed new paint can over night.  Unscented cotton balls were placed in each of five mason jars, the scented cotton balls in the sixth.  Then each mason jar was placed in a flower pot and weighted with rocks so the dogs could not easily tip them over.  In addition to securing the mason jars, the flower pots help to direct or "chimney" the scent and also provide a visual "marker" to help see when the dog's nose dips below the rim. The goal of this setup is to have all six pot-n-jars to look identical so that smell is the only sense that the dogs can use to detect.

At first several pots are lined up along a fence or wall including the scented pot.  Since the exercise is done on leash, having the pots against a fence or wall helps to keep the dog from wrapping around the pot and knocking it over.  The handler then leads the dog down the line of pots, "presenting" or inviting the dog to smell each pot and telling the dog to "find it" or "search it".  When the dog reaches the scented pot, the ball or toy is immediately deployed as a reward.  In subsequent tries, additional "blank" pots are added up to a total of five plus the one scented pot.  The scented pot is also moved to a different place in the sequence. Each time the handler "presents" each pot and the dog is immediately rewarded for indicating the scented pot with the ball or toy. Clear indication is determined by the nose dipping below the rim of the correct pot. It is important to wait for the dog to clearly indicate so that the dog learns to pinpoint the source of the odor.  Whether you want your dog to be employed in law enforcement or search for truffles, pinpointing the source is essential.

In the next exercise, the pots were moved to a new location, still in a line but no longer against a fence. Again the handler "presents" each of six pots and the dog is rewarded for indicating the correct pot.  In the third exercise, the pots are placed randomly in an area roughly 100' x 100' and again the same presentation, indication and reward sequence is followed.  By this point in the seminar, Demi and Nash have worked through each exercise a couple of times and are clearly indicating the odor.

Demi is in the scent cone working to the source
The final exercise for the day was performed off leash in an open field in an area about 2 acres.  The field we used was actually the lower half of the c course field where Nash and Demi had been training for a herding trial.  This time we hid six scented pots at the base of trees and in and among the leaves on the ground. There were also numerous empty pots around the field.  Each dog-handler team took a turn at searching the field.  And this was also the exercise that showed which dogs had the most solid grasp,of the concept.  When asked to Search it", Demi, as well as several of the other dogs began to work back and forth until they worked into the scent cone where a clear change in body posture was exhibited. They then worked to the source and pinpointed the source of the odor in the pot. Nash was somewhat more distracted, perhaps because he was used to working sheep,on the field or perhaps because he's a goofy boy. But for whatever reason, although he could pick up the odor, he had trouble working to the source and was easily distracted.
Nash finally makes it to the source!

Neither Nash nor Demi have plans to pursue a career in detection work.  It was however a great way to spend a sunny day and pick up some new skills and techniques that will hopefully carry-over to training article discrimination for obedience competition.