Reply To: Annie & Ashley

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Alana McGee

Hi Alana,

I hope you had a great time at NAMA.

You say “Tracking you for sure”…

I say because we’d like to know more: How do you know that? Does she follow your actual track? If this is the case you need to be extra careful to put your scent all over the dang place and touch lots of things and walk around AFTER you have put the targets out. If this is something she is doing and following it to odor, we want to proof for it- and depending on how strict she follows it, we may suggest other handling practices of odor.

Also- another point about the alert in different environments, because I just made a post to Alyssia on it as well: Some dogs don’t love to push through or under physical stimuli and will offer different alerts based on that in those scenarios.

It makes more sense if you go read that post, as you can then relate it to your specific situation and what you are seeing with Ashley (since we can’t see you)- but different dogs are put off by different stimuli.

As I mention in the post to Alyssia, one of my own dogs is put off by things that touch her back because she has a low head carriage and doesn’t like to be surprised when branches her head fits under then touch her back. It changes her alert in these scenarios. Often times, if she actually ‘sees’ the environment before she follows her nose in, she will offer what I consider to be her less precise distance alert until I ask for a more specific behavior.

Alerts evolve. Remember that too. What you start with now will likely not be your ending chain behavior. We recommend students let the alert evolve naturally, with guidance and encouragement when possible, but like Kristin’s Cash and his ‘bark’ when he is on odor, that evolved because Cash likes to bark to communicate 🙂

The first step is in recognizing when this occurs, perhaps why and then noticing the differences in energy level, and confidence in different scenarios. Then you can begin to pick up on subtle clues and body language that also alert you to this (pun not intended), and then, you can try to alter behaviors to make it more obvious, or you have just succeeded in furthering your own relationship and communication with one another. It truly is a partnership, and each party has to be able to read and understand the other.

Ashley followed my track to the area. I walked all over the area. In one particular place she did go up where I had walked up. So maybe a better description is that she followed part of my track and then searched and during the search she picked up my track breifly.

It appears, I need to touch more, walk more and do it AFTER placing tins (not just during placement). I was not proofing the area enough. Two well proofed hides this weeked showed she was not tracking.
I will set up another smaller hide area and walk around it a bunch including a larger area near it with some definite paths to see if I can get an idea of how much she is tracking. We will video tape both me (or Bill) placing the hides and proofing tracks and Ashley’s search – that should give us a good idea if she is tracking or not.

10/11 outdoor search
70 degrees, light breeze. On leash. New place. 30′ x 20′ area. 3 hot coverd targets.
Today, we were at an outdoor survival skills class at a friends home put on by our mushroom club, (we made our first fires with a bow drill!). Towards the end of class Bill put out a blind hide of 3 targets for us to search. A number of people had walked through this area. Bill walked around a huge wood pile and started placing targets. He walked the entire area and even touched a lot of the ground – double checking where he placed a hide. All tins were hidden under 2-4 inches of oak duff. Then we let the tins cook for at least 5 minutes.

Ashley hit scent and nose down and right to a tin. Then the group, (8 people) unexpectedly, walked past us to get more tinder. Ashley followed the group and we waited. As everyone came back towards the hides, she got right back to search mode, She walked past a tin and as she got 1 ft down wind of it, she turned and got right on it. For 3rd tin, here she might have been following the tracks of the group of people who just walked through – but my impression was she was more in mushroom sniff mode – she was downwind of the hide. She was at least 8 ft to the side and caught the scent and tag!
Consistent Alert sequence: Find tin, paw tin out of the duff (& downed 1 or 2 times), treat, re-alert with a down. I am also changing the reward a bit, to a mix with more praise and petting than treats.

10/12 outdoor search. 85-90 degrees. no real wind.
On Sunday we tried an expanded area.
We had limited time, so she did not get her usually 10-15 minutes get your energy out mode first.
We have never searched there before – this is a big backyard play place.
We spread the targets out. Proofed the area.

I know this is not a great search method for truffles, but for mushrooming this is exactly what we will
be doing. I just walked around like I would do if I were looking for mushrooms. She was a little stressed in the beginning because she wanted to play and I wasn’t engaging with play enough. We let her run around as she wanted. When she caught scent, she found her first hide in just over a minute. Then we had about 5 minute of running and playing. Then she was on it – the next 5 tins took about 7 minutes. I did direct her by where I was walking. Followed by a nice game of tug and fetch!

During her play, she ran around and got general sniff of the area. It seemed like she was getting general ideas for where at least 4 tins were. When she got down to really finding, she was just right on them one after another. She would get within 5-10 ft of the target, then straight to it like she knew where it was. More searches needed to confirm.

What I really liked about this hide is that we were really working together . The walking and/or larger space really changed the dynamic. As she searched, she would look over to check-in occasionally.
Very Nice for both of us.

Observations for this week

If I understand what you are saying:
Ashley alerts, I react to her alert and Ashley is watching how I alert to her alert. Makes perfect sense!

I’ll watch how different environments affect her during searches. Normally, in casual sniff mode, light to meduim brush cover, etc does not bother her.

After watching a video, when the target is in heavy cover, she really works the area gets over the target, then when I come up she moves away. I asked her to show me and she went in and pinpointed it and pawed it. This is more cover than we would normally find mushrooms in. I’ll adapt my hiding place to be more accurate of a real find. I need to practice few more times like this and watch both of our reactions. For me, I’m going to try asking her if she found something and get in with her to find the target.

Overall, when the target is in heavy cover, she finds it and if I alerted then she waits for me to get
it out. If the cover is medium or low, she will paw and down if room. It appears she is just adjusting her alert for the conditions.

Ashley can speak on command. I would like to have her bark for a find. Bill prefers she doesn’t bark. We will be duking it out on this one. 🙂 My other consideration is if I want her to bark for my low sugar alerts. My understanding is that most dogs will automatically up their alerts if you do not respond to the initial low sugar alert – with pawing and barking etc. More research and talk with our trainer in the works. We are not training for sugar until we are done mushroom/truffle training.