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K-9 Prodigy

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Tails from Trials: Sherwood Dog Training Club Rally Trial

Posted on 4 May, 2016 at 15:25 Comments comments (4)
The two-day rally trial was awesome, but it wore me out! It's almost two weeks later that I even have a chance to write about it!

This was my young dog Halo's second show. I was a little concerned about it. She'd been in a long heat last month, so was on "house arrest" and then there were a couple of weeks where I was just so busy with clients that I literally didn't have time to work with my own dog! (Excuses, excuses! But after working with dogs for 6-7 hours, I just don't have much more to give. Especially for competition stuff, if I don't have 100% of myself to offer to Halo, I don't think it's fair to ask for 100% from her.)

So, during the two months leading up to the show, we only had *maybe* two good weeks of practice time. I was really worried about this until the afternoon I took her to the vet for updated vaccinations. We sat in the waiting room for a while, and when it was our turn and I got up to walk her in to the vet...she thought she was walking into a ring! Immediately she got snazzy, moving into heel position, sitting when we halted, etc. Oh, Halo! Ummm... But knowing that she understood to be "on" in the ring made me feel much better (even though obviously she doesn't see the difference between "show ring" and "vet office.")

The trial was held at the Clackamas County Event Center (the fairgrounds) and the rings were set up in the Ely Arena. We always get there early for plenty of time to acclimate and walk around. Halo, who although a purebred Golden retriever is actually almost pure white, sniffed out some horse poop --  and rolled in it! Right before the show! When she got up there was a big green-brown stain all down her shoulder! Oh well -- she's still not more than just a puppy. And luckily Rally Obedience is more about what the dog can DO, not just what it looks like. And...well, aren't Goldens *supposed* to be kind of messy? That's what I told myself anyway, heading finally into the ring for our first run.

This course was incredibly difficult. There were so many 270-degree turns, and a complicated Figure 8. A lot of the handlers got lost on course and disqualified, just like I did at that show in October. But Halo and I managed to get all the turns, and even got called back into the ring for the presentations of awards! We got 2nd place. Great job, Halo!

The second day's course was much easier, and I don't think anybody disqualified. Halo was even more excited to be in the ring this day than yesterday, and in her excitement, kept leaping into the air. She wasn't leaping on me, exactly (she was still technically in heel position, just...airborne) but a few times she brushed against my shoulder and the judge marked that as "Handler interference," as in "The dog is interfering with the handler's ability to move freely" and took off a whopping 18 points. (Handler interference is usually a 2 to 5 point penalty for each occurrence, so you can see how much she was doing it. It was basically every time we turned left.)

With 18 points taken off our score, we were definitely out of the running for actually winning anything. But we did get a qualification score (which is the minimum score needed to earn points toward a title -- for Rally, you need at least 70 points out of a possible 100) so -- good enough!

I still felt great about the second day, even if we didn't win anything. The problem we'd had in the ring (all the jumping during left turns) was fixable. Looking at it critically, I figured out that when we were done with an obedience sequence, I would always turn (left) into Halo, dropping my right shoulder, and praise enthusiastically and allow her to bounce into the air in joy. So she must have confused my regular left turns with "happy praise/we're done" left turns. Totally easy to fix! And there should be plenty of time to clean it up before our next show, which will be in June.

Tails From Trials: Odor Recognition Test

Posted on 3 August, 2015 at 20:01 Comments comments (0)
Sport: K-9 Nosework
Event: Odor Recognition Test
Dog: Halo
Location: Tigard, Oregon
Hosting: Nose Work Detectives & Calvin Presbyterian Church

Result: PASS!!!

The Odor Recognition Test is the preliminary qualification event for the sport of K-9 Nosework. It's presented as a simple container search -- of twelve boxes, one of them contains the odor. (The handler doesn't know which box contains odor.) Each dog searches individually. You have three minutes to call "Alert!"

Halo and I were entered in the test for Sweet Birch, which is the scent used in the first level of competition. You have the option of testing for all three scents (birch, anise and clove) on the same day and many handlers do exactly that -- mostly to just "get it over with" and qualify to work up through all the Nosework 1-3 levels. I was glad that I'd only trained for and entered for the birch, though. Not only is Halo really, really young to be competing, but it was her first day in a competitive environment (the "show scene" can be confusing to dogs at first) so this was a good way to get her feet wet and let her have a good time and experience competition without exhausting her.

We were definitely ready for the actual scent detection and alerting. She's been doing it since she was three months old. Potential problems for us included: 1) Distractions, 2) "Shutting down" in the scent room (where the dog gets nervous and gives up, or 3) Handler error (hey, I get nervous too!) I had a plan for all of those variables, and I'm glad I did, because she did start off the search very distracted.

At this test, when it was your turn to find odor, you were escorted into a large meeting room in the church. I was surprised that it was a very large room with several sofas and tables and large windows. There were multiple other people in the room -- the actual judge, the Certifying Official, and some other people...volunteers? Not sure what their function was. Halo must have assumed that we were just here to meet all the nice people, because she immediately oriented to them. At the start line, I'd tried to orient her towards the boxes -- but unfortunately, they looked nothing like our practice boxes. Our practice boxes are large and flat, and in my small kitchen they're only spaced out a few inches apart. These boxes were squat and small and there were a couple of feet between each box. Just from the visual, there's no way Halo would've known to go sniff at them.

All I could do was use the leash to get her to stick around the area, and walk her back and forth past them. She didn't even give them a glance for the first couple of passes, but suddenly a whiff of scent must've drifted out and "caught" her (scent travels in a cone-shape, and dogs will find or walk into that cone shape and then follow the cone down to the source.) Halo's got true, legitimate odor obedience -- odor obedience is when they always, always go to odor no matter what, no matter the distraction. So she followed it in, and though she wasn't doing her normal alert of lying down with her chin as close to source as possible, it was obviously the right box, so I called it! The judges let you know if you're correct. I was so happy when they asserted that it was the right box. Halo's expression was still a little confused ("How on earth did BIRCH get in here???") but she seemed ultimately pleased with herself, even if she wasn't sure exactly what happened. You are allowed three minutes to call alert; our time was 1:43. Not a great time (in training she's found it in as little as 7 seconds) but not too bad!

That was it; right afterwards we were free to leave. You don't get awards or ribbons in the Odor Recognition Test; it's strictly a pass-fail event. I was so excited that Halo had done so well in her very first event! Now we can start training on interiors, exteriors, and vehicles!

New Blog Series: "Tails from Trials"

Posted on 3 August, 2015 at 19:40 Comments comments (0)
Eight-month-old Halo's first competitive event was this weekend, and I decided I'd start writing little "reviews" of the events we do, both so I can keep them as happy memories, and also so you can get a first-hand of the world of dog sports!

Coming up soon is our report of Halo's first Odor Recognition Test.