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.

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