Saturday, May 29, 2010

Introduction to K-9 Nosework, Week 1

I'd been interested in the new dogsport of K9 Nosework ever since I read the recent article about it in the Whole Dog Journal. Given that Chandler is often busy tracking whatever walked through the backyard the previous night, it seemed to be a perfect low impact activity that would let him use some of his working abilities and have some fun. (Ok...I have a confession to make...given his tendency to occasionally zone out while nose down on a track, one of his nicknames is Snufflefluffugus.)

Therefore, I was quite excited to see that our local training center, Tails U Win, was offering K-9 nosework classes at a time that did not interfere with my work. Chandler and I attended our first class on Thursday, after two weeks of delays while they tried to get enough people for a morning class. Because of this, one of the two instructors was absent on a trip, but we did well with just one.

The class consists of two sibling Whippets, male and female, owned by different families, a female black Labrador, a gigantic male Leonberger, and Chandler. Hopefully I'll get everyone's names in the next week or so. I need to thank the owner of the male Whippet who brought enough wonderful smelly treats that all of us could use them. I hadn't had time to go shopping, and thus had just come with Solid Gold Tiny tots. But chopped up cheese, meatballs, and chicken hearts were a much better reward. Everyone except the Leo was set up in a corner of the room in crates. They ended up getting an exercise pen for the Leo. I hadn't had Chandler in his canvas crate in ages because we really don't need it at home, so I left the top flap unzipped so he could peek out and feel more secure that he could see me. I did have to remind him twice that he should not attempt to climb out the top, but he soon settled in. He did bark once at the Leo when he loomed for a long while over Chandler to sniff; I think it was a "get out of my face, buddy!" demand. That was partially my fault for overestimating Chandler's confidence when he was stuck in a crate with a huge dog looming over him; Chan is generally dog friendly and not interested in starting arguments.

After everyone got settled, the instructor gave a short introduction and we then started on our first exercise. We placed the treats in a metal bowl, which the instructor placed in a box that had a small hole punched in it to let scent out. For the first run, the boxes were open, and I don't recall anyone having trouble.

One difference in our instruction and "traditional" K9 Nosework instruction was that we were told to praise our dogs as we left the course, instead of just quietly leading them off. Apparently a lot of the original Nosework curriculum had used shelter dogs that were a bit untrained and deprived. Our instructors were of the opinion that our dogs might find a lack of interaction at that point to be punishment, as they were used to a lot of reinforcement and praise in their other classes. The last thing we wanted to do was make them think that going back to their crates was a punishment. I made sure to toss some crunchies into Chan's crate every time he entered it, and actually spent a lot of time standing next to it, as Chan hasn't been crated recently.

The second run was tougher, as the boxes were closed. Chandler was a bit confused, as he has done box work in the past where he was supposed to step on the box. He tried that a few times, and also spent some time looking at me for help. I was told to just keep him walking. He did finally catch the scent, although the instructor had to point out to me how his head had moved to indicate he had gotten it.

He looked at me once during the third run, but then seemed to catch on. Unfortunately he also seemed to be of the opinion that he should open the box himself, and I had to laughingly rescue it and open it for him. Of course, at the beginning of that run he had risen up on his hind legs and quickly gulped down all the treats I had just placed into the bowl when the instructor had shown the bowl to him so he could see and smell the treats. The class laughed over it, I told him to sit, and we refilled the bowl.

By the fifth run, Chandler had decided that his purpose in life was to find pieces of meatball in boxes. Unfortunately, he also seemed to have decided that he would be the class hooligan. The only times I have ever seen him more excited were when we have been at herding clinics. Chandler whined and cried, he yipped little barks, he strained toward the boxes, and he also did his utter best to launch both of us straight into action. I know we were told that Nosework class was an obedience free zone because polite heeling tends to inhibit sniffing, but I felt like I should reassure people that he really had passed his family dog classes. At least by the last run he only pawed the box once, and seemed willing to let me open it for him.

In contrast, the Whippets were quite refined. They would trot up to the box, sniff the hole, perhaps paw it once, and look up to their owner as if to say "Excuse me, but would you please open this box for me?" I think the Leo was more interested in the other dogs and new surroundings, although he got a good "hit" on the last run. I wonder if his sheer height is a factor? The Labrador went after Chandler, so I unfortunately missed watching most of her runs while I was getting him into his crate.

Overall, the class was a lot of fun, and everyone agreed it was great for both us and the dogs. I'm looking forward to next Thursday, but I also need to find some sturdy boxes so we can practice at home.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


I think Rowan missed her calling as a barn cat on a farm.

Due to local coyotes, foxes, and the other risks that outdoor cats are exposed to, my cats only go outside under escort. Ashke has always been easy to catch. Occasionally he'll stealthily amble up a neighbor's driveway, but I'm half convinced he only does this so I'll chase after him and pick him up.

Rowan a bit of a free spirit. She'll take off and has led me on a merry chase through the neighbor's bushes. Because of this, she always wears a harness and drags a 15 foot locked Flexi lead behind her. If she disappears into the bushes, I can at least find the end of the flexi.

Today she determinedly dragged the lead across our front lawn and settled into a crouch at the edge of the woods, I had wandered over to check on her and tell Chandler to leave her alone when she suddenly pounced forward making a series of batting motions with her front paws. In less than two seconds she emerged with a chipmunk in her mouth and started making a beeline for the back door. I think she was planning to take it home and eat it...but was stopped by the closed door, and a very curious dog. Perhaps Chan was impressed. After all, his breed is supposed to help eradicate vermin on the farm. He snuffled the little body all over. I'm actually surprised Rowan didn't bop him on the muzzle, as she was hovering over her catch the entire time. She wasn't happy when I wouldn't let her eat it; the cat is a first rate complainer, but I will say she had an excuse this time.

I am somewhat impressed that my 15 year old cat is able to catch rodents while dragging a heavy leash behind her. However, I am glad that she isn't an indoor/outdoor cat with her own cat flap. If she was, I fear she would be dragging everything indoors.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Snapshot Sunday: Herding Clinic

Here's a photo I took at the herding clinic that Chandler and I went to yesterday.
I'll have more to say about the clinic later.
Featured in the photo is Caleb, an English Shepherd.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Return to Roaring Brook

It's tough to be a furry black dog during hot weather.

Today the thermometer was headed over eighty degrees Fahrenheit. Combined with the few clouds it was a recipe for an overheated and exhausted Chandler if I had taken him for the usual two mile walk through the neighborhood.

Instead I opted to take him out to one of the local parks, where he could at least get shade and cool off in the water. Chandler hasn't had any problems with lameness since the last incident, and I had been running him through his strengthening exercises, so I thought it was worth the risk. We ended up in the same preserve where he cut his paw, because it seems to have the cleanest water. I think I've seen trout in one of the large pools, and I know the stream is marked as a trout habitat when it gets closer to the river.

Chandler was delighted to be hiking again, and immediately went wading into Roaring Brook.

There was no sign of whatever he managed to cut his paw on the last time. I really like this preserve because it has a lot of evergreens that keep the undergrowth to a minimum. I've only found poison ivy in one spot near the edge of the preserve, so I don't really have to worry about poison ivy oils rubbing off on Chandler's coat and being passed on to me. In addition all the pines and firs are quite pretty as they edge the trails. The only downside is that this year there was a bumper crop of pine cones and Chandler occasionally gets covered in pitch if he decides to roll.

While Chandler does love to zoom up and down the trails of the preserve, the main attraction for him is always the water. I swear he thinks he is part Labrador. There is one deep pool by the old mill that he really loves. Unfortunately we do have to descend from the ridge to get to it. Usually I opt to gingerly walk down a deer track that follows the ridge instead of the steeper but more open descent that goes straight down to the water. Chandler shoots right along the foot wide trail, leaps the fallen log and heads straight for the water. Then he comes back to see what is taking me so long. I suppose four legs are an advantage when navigating narrow trails; but two hands are necessary to throw sticks for a dog that is patient enough to let his owner catch up.

Hmm...beautiful scenery, interesting scents, cool clear water, and fun. Maybe it isn't so tough to be a furry black dog during hot weather.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


Updates here have been nonexistent because there really has been nothing to write about.
My search for a librarian job is ongoing, but I have returned to work at the environmental laboratory. My 1:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. schedule precludes a lot of activities, so Chandler has been settling for uneventful walks around the neighborhood and the cats only get an outing on the weekend.

Ashke seems to have adjusted the best of all the animals. His constant catnaps are not really affected, and he makes appearances when he is hungry. My only worry is that he will lose some weight because he has to make more of an effort to be noticed and may end up eating less overall.

Chandler and Rowan are less pleased. Chandler spends most of his time near the main house door, waiting for me to come home. He only shows up to mooch treats during lunch and dinner. Rowan apparently starts fussing and searching the house around 5:30 p.m., and is driving my parents crazy with her demands for food, attention, and access to the basement so she can search the entire house.

Unfortunately, telling them that I need to pay for their food is not working. ;)