Curt & Mo

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    Alana McGee

    Welcome to class Curt!  This is the forum topic where you will post your questions and homework videos for feedback from the instructors.  Please take a moment to tell us about yourself, your dog and your interest in truffle hunting (and what you have been working on during the break).

    Class begins August 9th but you already have access to the first lesson so go ahead and check that out!  You can begin posting video homework and questions August 9th.


    Hello Kristin and Alana,

    Mo and I have been very busy during the break, but not particularly so with mushroom work. Mo has spent a week in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area camping with us, I’ve worked a little bit with him on quail, I’ve opportunistically put him on a covey of wild grouse, and he’s accompanied me on several mushroom hunts in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Things here were setting up for a great season for summer mushrooms in my area, but then we hit a dry spell and the early flush of chanterelles and boletes (mostly kings and scaber stalks) shut down. Rain this past weekend should get things going again.

    I had a chance to get out in the field for some black trumpets, and it was the same story–an early flush that all but shut down. We did find a reasonable amount of trumpets, though, and I had my first chance to start working with Mo using fresh shrooms instead of last year’s dried. Definitely a transition, but Mo seemed to quickly generalize–or more likely, add fresh trumpet scent to his library. I worked with him a bit during the break on fairly simple outdoor box hides, and I’ve also eliminated the boxes and hid targets in stainless steel tea balls. Mo seems very ready for the upcoming course.

    Alana McGee

    Sounds like you and Mo had a very busy and FUN break. Welcome back!


    Week 1 Homework: training area photos

    Here are the three photos that I submitted, analyzed, and got feedback on during the first course. I plan to use some or all of these during this course.

    At the moment, I am only using the area close to my home, at the top of the hill in the prairie photo. (The middle photo below.) This is the simplest environment on that hillside, and Mo is more familiar with it than the other two areas. I have worked on outdoor box hides in multiple places of varying types, but for this course’s homework I’m starting with this area. It is less smaller and less complex than the full hillside, and is the closest thing to a traditional “yard” that we have on our property. Video forthcoming!

    • This reply was modified 8 years, 9 months ago by Curt.

    OK, below is my week one video homework. This trial was atypically long: four minutes. I’m hoping that since I’m only posting one video a week it’s ok that this one ran over the three minute guideline. I think there might be some useful lessons for me in there, since Mo was quite inefficient!

    Here’s some context for what you’ll see:

    I’ve been a little concerned this past week that Mo, while workmanlike and effective finding the targets, lacked enthusiasm. In this session, though, Mo showed a ton of enthusiasm–the kind of spunk that recently he’s exhibited mostly while doing scent work on the live quail I’m raising in the back yard.

    Several times during this session I wondered if Mo was actually keying on quail scent and not the black trumpets I’m using here; that could explain both his wild enthusiasm and his lack of efficiency finding the targets. The morning before I shot this video, I released a quail for Mo to track down. He pointed, I flushed it, and it flew away; later, though, it returned to the pen and probably walked through the area in which we’re now hunting for mushrooms.

    I’m wondering if I should only work quail in this area, and mushrooms somewhere else . . .

    • This reply was modified 8 years, 9 months ago by Curt.
    Alana McGee

    Ah Quail!

    If you have a space you can separate out that doesn’t have (known) quail trails running through it, then yes, we would suggest that for some of the practice sessions, for now. You won’t always need to work there but it will give you a good indication of his mental state and how engaged he is via his enthusiasm when working with targets. The quail could be a distraction- and you see it at several points in the video when they are. He likes to do both activities and in this situation (if you had quail trails) the previous day, he may think it is that game you are playing here as well.

    It is a matter of shifting his mental state so he starts to realize both things can happen in this space.

    Dogs will associate a space with an acitivity, but it doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive.

    Prior to coming into this scene what were you doing? Did you Prime Mo? The beginning behaviors or running all over that scenario are not abnormal. Excited, yes, absolutely. It is great big outside, and Quail are here too!

    “Several times during this session I wondered if Mo was actually keying on quail scent and not the black trumpets I’m using here”

    If you can, video your “quail” sessions and watch them for self analysis. This may help in learning the subtle differences in his behavior from sport to sport. The first step (and you’re doing it here) is to start to notice the shift in behavior. The subtle differences wherein Mo is telling you he is on either Quail or mushrooms. The signs are there we all just need to practice learning to recognize and read them. We haven’t seen him on Quail so we can’t compare for a baseline analysis, but our suspicion is you are correct here.

    Also often times when first realeased into an area (and by first we mean first time that day, or during the session) dogs need to spend time getting more comfortable with that environment. We sometimes call it ‘getting the wiggles out’. This does appear to be a facet of what Mo is doing here. It can including exploring other odors in and environment.
    The more often you use this space for these purposes, and the more familiar he becomes with it, the duration of “wiggles” will decrease.

    0:33 GREAT on vocal praising his recall. Not truffle related- but well done.

    0:37- Yes, quail could have. So could have bunnies, or many other distractions. Our guess is you have a lot of wildlife in that area.

    Also was the ground wet/ damp at all? It doesn’t look it, but that can impact how scent moves & clings. Where was the wind coming from? Mushroom odor could be lingering in a small trough created by the depressed grasses.

    More likely it is animal distraction odor.

    When you run Quail for him, does Mo wear different gear? Different cues?

    1:00- great body positioning Curt. You are really giving Mo a nice space to work and not crowding while still being supportive and not blocking. Well done.You’re very sensitive to his area of work focus, and that is to your advantage. Well done.

    1:06 was great timing and delivery! If possible we would have draw out that reward a little longer. Granted you will be looking for mushrooms so it isn’t as important as it is with truffle hunting, but still we would encourage you to do so.

    1:12- Whether he was on odor or not, you are correct, in this situation that is pulling him off odor. He didn’t appear to necessarily be in a scent column and on odor, but he was interrupted right at about the moment when he would have shifted from air scenting to ground scenting. You are aware of it though as a handler now, so that is a valuable lesson.

    What we would suggest in this situation is after the last find you cued him to go find more Houby. Great. Allow him an opportunity to explore a bit again. After a bit more time- 10-20 seconds— if he’s running around that area, obviously not scenting, then re direct. He is very responsive and sensitive to you.

    Great reward again on that second find. Again, we would recommend drawing out that reward sequence. Make it more of a party!

    2:11- what you can do when he is distracted is redirect him. Use your body and move! Point your body in the direction you plan on going and start to move there. Look over at him and encourage him to come with you, drawing his attention away from whatever other interesting odors are going on and redirect to an area where you know the target is hidden. In this case he was right near it, but yes, he was distracted. The same principle works however. Move away so you can move back into that space again. It is a bit like a field- reset.

    2:48- Good. When you do this, shift your direction of your body to point the way you want him to focus. While you are backing up your ‘intention’ is still infront of you, which is a direct block for what you want him to do. Pivot 180 degrees. After he runs past you at 2:50 you do a good job. You also were using your hand as a directional tool here to indicate which area you wanted him to search. That is perfectly alright (we talk about it later in the course), and great he picks up on that already. Be conscious when you do it, and make sure when you do, you are doing so purposefully. Pay attention to how accurate he is and the motion of your arm. It may surprise you 😉

    2:56- this is better with your body in terms of intention on where you want him to search.

    Overall, this was good. Preparing the jackpot was a very wise idea. 3:53- GOOD re-laert and very nice genuine praise and delivery. This is the kind of enthusiasm and more drawn out rewards we would like to see after each find. Really PUMP UP that confidence.

    We would encourage you to work in a smaller space on occasion so the successes can happen in rapid succession. This is a pretty big complex area for him in this video, and that will effect the perceived enthusiasm and enjoyment you can see in him in the/ and for the game.

    Keeping him in a more contained area will keep success rates high and limit the amount of distractions he is exposed to. This was actually a very difficult scenario. Quail and this big space and tall grass. Try to eliminate some of the complexity. By doing so you’ll build the confidence and excitement back as well as laying really strong foundations. One of the easier ways to do that would be to limit the search area size to 1/2 or a 1/3 of what he is covering here (use the long line if you need to). Also doing it in an area without the quail will be easier as they add odor & noise distractions. Eventually this would be just fine, but start right now by limiting the factors he has to compete with & against for a successful outcome.


    Wow, Alana, thanks so much for all the constructive criticism. I learned a lot watching the video again after reading your comments!

    This morning we did our first training session in a different area, about half the size and simpler in terms of plant structure. (It’s a small section of the area in the third picture above.) Mo had nice enthusiasm that does indeed look different than his quail enthusiasm, and he nailed all three targets in about 90 seconds.

    You asked if I primed Mo before this video began. I did–I try to run through the same ritual before every houby session, and it’s similar to but a bit different than our quail session priming. The primary differences are that Mo wears a harness during a mushroom session vs. an orange collar during a hunting session, and in my cue word: “houby” vs. “bird.” Do you think I should try to make each priming ritual more distinct from the other? Or maybe you were thinking that I should tailor my priming to his enthusiasm and focus–either pumping him up more, or keeping things more subdued, depending on his mental state?

    Finally, I have a quick harness question that I’ll post for you or Kristin in the chat thread, since I think it could be relevant or of interest to other students. Thanks!

    Alana McGee

    Running through the same ritual is great. That is what we call part of the Hunt sequence. The gear difference is good. You don’t necessarily have to add more complexity to the hunt sequence, but it can take time for it to become a different established associated behavior.

    Notice what you are wearing too. Do you wear the same thing for each sport?

    As for the priming- good and you are right on the money with this: ” Or maybe you were thinking that I should tailor my priming to his enthusiasm and focus–either pumping him up more, or keeping things more subdued, depending on his mental state?”

    We simply wanted to know if you performed the priming prior. Doing so, as you stated above tailoring it to Mo’s current emotional state, is great. For many dogs it provides information to a dog of what game is about to be played. And you are correct that you can affect Mo’s emotional state based on how you do that priming. We think at this stage it is good to prime prior to going into any area, but especially new scenarios.

    Some dogs (for example one of my own) I do it every single time we go out. Again, it is about conveying information to your dog.


    Good points all around–and I had to chuckle about your point about what I’m wearing. By next season, I’m pretty sure Mo will know exactly what game we’re playing based on whether I pull out blaze orange. But at the moment the poor guy is confused by my hodgepodge of gym shorts, water sandals, and mismatched t-shirts!

    Alana McGee

    The Orange I’m sure he’ll know.

    The point was it isn’t always what the dog is wearing in terms of gear, but what the human is too! Once you start more mushroom hunting he may start to think that the mushroom basket next to the door means Hobby hunting! 😉

    I worked with a Sicilian year ago, who the dog knew it was “truffle” time when the tartufaio put on his truffle vest. Ritual can be our friend!


    OK, at last here is my week 2 homework video–late because we had another trip canoe camping in the Boundary Waters. Some important context:

    After weeks of seemingly rocking the training, Mo and I have been stumbling lately. He has had numerous sessions that were very successful in both the backyard setting that we used in week one, and in this setting, which is just across the street. After the troubles we had in the yard (which I documented in the week one video), Mo did great across the street working on this week’s homework. Two sessions ago, though, Mo entered this training site, raised his nose to the breeze, and promptly ran through the site up the hill, where he chased a deer out of its bed. I eventually refocused him and he did OK finding the mushroom targets.

    Then, in the session prior to this one (and immediately prior to our canoe trip), he was completely unfocused on the task at hand. I’d hoped to shoot video and submit it but captured nothing that reflected what I’d seen in the previous days. I bagged the effort, we went camping, and I vowed to return to the site after our trip. This was the first time that I’ve ever planned or tried to video and then not posted exactly what transpired, unedited.

    Upon our return Mo and I went back to the site to video. He ranged widely, far beyond the area that we’ve been using for our training, and he didn’t seem to be trying to find the targets. He paid attention to songbirds, he found and sniffed up several deer beds, he paid attention to dogs being walked on the street below, and at one point he took off up the hill and into the woods. I suspect deer were the distraction again, but when I went to retrieve him I did see either a raccoon or a fat porcupine slink off through the brush. Fortunately Mo wasn’t aware of that critter, and fortunately he came back to me. (I did give him a nice reward for coming back on his own, even though he’d gone on a several minute walkabout.)

    This had occurred with Mo trailing a short check cord, which I hadn’t been holding. I stepped on it when he started watching the dog being walked across the street, but he never bolted that way.

    I decided to give it one last try, which resulted in the video posted here. After the previous fiasco, I held the check cord but tried hard not to put pressure on him with it (especially since at the moment I’ve been dithering over what harness to buy). He did find the targets, but not nearly as efficiently or enthusiastically as he had been a few sessions prior to this one.

    I suspect that either the neighborhood whitetails have changed their movement patterns somewhat and are now passing through our training space, or that Mo has suddenly become aware of them and is now intensely distracted by them. Maybe we need to give this space a break and take it back a step or two into simpler environments, maybe even inside? He’s been doing well outside for a couple months now, first with box finds and then with partially obscured targets, both in sites he’s familiar with and at novel sites. (The sites he’s unfamiliar with have been very simple–for example, mowed grassy areas adjacent to softball fields where my daughters have had games, or highway rest stops when we’ve been traveling. I haven’t done anything when we’ve been camped in the forest in the Boundary Waters.)

    I do keep reminding myself that he’s still very young (five months), that he’s done very well already, and that I’ve complicated things by doing some bird training in parallel with his mushroom training. I have confidence we’ll get back on track, but this has been a challenging week or so.

    Thanks in advance for your feedback!


    The sky is not falling. In his first training session today, Mo did very well. We worked in a new area adjacent to our yard, one that is similar but a bit simpler botanically than the other two we’ve been working in, and one that I do not believe is criscrossed by so much wildlife!

    Alana McGee

    Hi Curt.

    Sorry for delay- it has been a crazy week for Kristin & I. Comments coming shortly. We apologize for the inconvenience.

    Alana McGee

    Remember that often “bad truffling days” are great learning experiences, so please don’t be hesitant to share!

    Sometimes these are the best teaching and learning moments and where we learn the most about our own behavior as handlers and about our dog’s relationship to us and the game.

    We commend you for thus far sending unedited video. It is along the journey that we learn the most, not necessarily at the final destination 🙂

    Fantastic for giving him a NICE BIG reward on the recall off of distraction.

    You said it yourself, but remember, Mo is a puppy. You are doing wonderfully, but he is still a puppy. There will be days where this may be more common.

    Again, we commend you for being sensitive to not applying pressure on the line to Mo. Yes he is sensitive to it but it can also act as a perimeter guide to keep him inside a certain area. Use it as a tool. It is one thing too pull him off of odor (aka he is tracking target odor and you steer him aside) and very different to set boundaries on range of motion in a geographic area. Use the line as tool and guide.

    Don’t worry about efficiency for efficiency sake in Mo finding Houby. It’s about the fun factor!

    I’ll be quite honest, I had a very similar circumstance with Lolo in outdoor wooded settings her first year. Only for us it was Elk/ deer poop. She loved it (gross I know), and would follow it above anything else. So we changed the game, and brought the distractions TO us, in order to proof against them. We do cover proofing at some point in the course, but below is a training method to try.

    One training solution is to work with these distractors in a controlled setting, i.e. inside first and then outside in more controlled space. You live in a fantastic spot with lots of fun wildlife. Bring some of that indoors and work with it there. When training outdoor odor sports we work with what we can and manipulate training to suit our needs and manufacture scenarios as best we can. One example brings the distractions inside to you, in a less distracting environment. Example: If you know where a deer bed is (I am assume grass here) when Mo is not with you, go collect some of the grass from where the deer has been sleeping. Bring it inside and set up a scenario indoors with hobby hides. Put that in the environment as well. Practice like this. Try to get different novel odors in his environment to work on some of these things in a more controlled setting wherein you can build value for Houby odor over value for Animal odor.

    For me & Lolo, that required me to go collect lots of deer & elk pellets and hide them in my training area. I can now say, after working on it, I don’t feel the need to have deer poop in my fridge anymore 😉 I didn’t know Elk pellets would be distracting to her until we were presented with it. Once I knew, I brought that distractor inside and worked with it where I could control more things and provide the kinds of rewards & party she needed to have more value in truffle over elk poop.

    Also giving that space a break would be good. Again, take some of those distracting elements and bring them into your more controlled outdoor environment where you can more easily set Mo up for success and more importantly FUN!

    The areas with taller grass are inherently harder than mowed fields for Mo. Partly because of environmental odor movement, and partly because of distractions. See if you can find an intermediate space. The slope infront of your house is a good place that is a bit of a picture of these things.

    you do a great job on line handling and delivery of reward.. At 0:27, because he’s having a harder time on re-alerts, help him here, get down and engage at source. We know he understands Houby, this environment is more stressful. It is OK to help them out and encourage behavior we want through aided example. He already found it, want you are looking for at that moment is re-engagement. You can point it out. Just like teaching a dog to sit. The first few times you’ll reward with food, but for the rest of his life, every time he sits you won’t have to deliver a food reward. Same principle. Help him out more. We understand you are holding out for more concrete and solid criteria, but based on what you said that he has unenthusiastic and distracted in previous settings we would drop your criteria for success WAY down.

    1:21 is a great example of this.

    Really nice genuine rewarding Curt.

    The other thing, do not EVER feel obligated to find all the hides you put out simply because you put them out. Oh the teaballs I have left in forests to be found at later dates!!

    Some days, just finding one target is perfect. We aren’t so worried about endurance yet. There will be a time for that, but right now, again, it’s the FUN that’s the most important. If that is just one repetition of Houby, OK! Totally fine and we encourage that. You can read Mo in the moment very well and you are sensitive to him. We always suggest students err on the side of too little in the earlier stages, rather than too much.

    2:04- In this scenario this is exactly when you would manufacture success by throwing out an easier Hobby for him to find. Always have an extra target on you for this reason. Manufactured success is not the devil. It is your friend and a tool. Just like the ling line is a tool for communication. The key to transitioning from area to area often lies in rapid reward history. Too long between finds and dogs become stressed and distracted. You will see us do it even now. If we aren’t locating anything for a certain period of time, we manufacture success. So we encourage you to do that with him. More than you think necessary. 1 minute in-between finds is too long right now in this complex environment unless he is being really focused working odor and the shift in behavior is noticeable- like we have seen from him inside. We would expect inside he could go for quite a while working. Outside, it is more complicated. He’ll get there, but we use the manufactured success as a stepping stone. Also, the manufactured Houby doesn’t need ot be really hidden. It can be obvious. The point of the game is success and fun when do that, not being a master at pinpointing odor. Make it easy, make it fun.

    Nice video Curt. You’re doing really well the line and giving him really nice working space. Well done.


    Thanks Alana–great advice, which I would never have thought of, on bringing deer bedding into the house. It’s perfectly logical, but I would never have come up with that trick myself!

    I’m packing some manufactured success and loaded for bear . . .

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