Lois and Monza (August 2014)

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    Alana McGee

    TDC Instructor:

    Hi Lois.

    Just so you are aware, Kristin and I are conversing before we respond collectively to try to keep the threads uncluttered with comments from both of us.

    First we want to point out (especially to other students following this thread) that this is a complex intermediate to advanced hide you have set up for Monza, with lots of distractions for proofing. Other students will not want to attempt similar scenarios until week four or five, or later depending on your own situation. For some teams this would be far too much at this stage.

    We do want to commend you on your idea of practicing “digging” with all your tools indoors and that you took the initiative to do so! It is fantastic! What a good idea! Just be cautious to not over stimulate with all the tools in your box. It is great (!) to practice this, and again, very clever use when lengthening the reward sequence and getting Monza accustomed to waiting, but we don’t want Monza to get bored while we “dig”, or too distracted by the box (aka the simulated backpack) plopped down next to her.

    We realize this was the first time you tried this (and we really do think it is a fabulous idea) but be cognizant of where you drop the box in proximity to Monza. In the first scenario it was close to her and did act as a distraction. We would say do this kind of scenario maybe every two or three out of ten times you practice. Build value. Perhaps don’t have the box with you always, but do have the tool and gently lay that aside sometimes while practicing digging. Also, if you have a backpack, use that instead so you can stay engaged with Monza while you ‘dig’.

    We think that you should vary the dig time (some very short!) and make sure you maintain a high number of FAST finds combined with high reward repetitions. Fast and massive party after those finds. We don’t want Monza getting bored with how long it takes mom to dig truffles all the time. If you are quick sometimes (on the digging), Monza will perhaps get a bit more pushy with the nose targets, which we actually would like to see.

    Monza does do a fantastic job of staying at source while you are digging. Really nice to see.

    We think you are doing a great job reading Monza and using your own judgment on when to add motion or not. Monza is responding appropriately and you both are in sync with one another.

    As for talking: This is completely alright, and you actually are doing a fantastic job when she finds it. It actually is good to keep a dialogue up and staying engaged with Monza while you “dig” is fantastic. When we tend to not want as much vocalization is during the initial searching sequence as it can act as a distraction. Once Monza has initially alerted, you communication with her is keeping her engaged with you. Keep that up. It looks really good! She’s very pushy on the nose targeting in the first scenario once you get her into the down, and we LOVE that.

    In Session 2 we really really like this. You do a great job dragging out the dig sequence while staying engaged AND Monza was happy the entire time. Monza does a great job with physical obstacles here as well as she basically sits down on top of another box and seems unfazed by the physical stimuli. At the end of the sequence you do lose connection a tad with Monza as you gather supplies in the box and as you exit, but still, looks good! Some of that will just take time to figure out how to handle all the gear and maintain connection through trial and error, but it is great to practice it.

    Also in regards to the frozen truffle pieces. You said something that slightly concerned me and I want to make sure you are aware. DO NOT “thaw” the pieces that were previously frozen and keep them in the fridge. The frozen pieces should only be used during the training sessions and then put RIGHT BACK in the freezer. Otherwise they will decay rapidly. In and out! Make sure the truffle pieces are chopped up small. You don’t need much!

    Looks very very good overall Lois. Keep up the good work.

    • This reply was modified 9 years, 1 month ago by Alana McGee. Reason: typos
    Alana McGee


    Great feedback! Yes, Monza has advanced quickly with the summer truffle. We did12 weeks of Noseworks with truffle oil and she’s picked up quickly on the fresh truffle.

    I will incorporate your comments about the tools, not letting her get bored etc. I think we’re at a good point to settle in and practice at this level for a while.

    And thanks for telling me to not thaw the frozen truffles….I would have done so! 🙂

    Alana McGee


    I left the room with the same boxes/clutter out as last week’s training.

    This is our 2nd and 3rd session with adding a cue. She was very efficient in the 1st session so I’m leaving it out of video.

    In the 2nd session (in video) I was quite surprised at how inefficient Monza was and I’m not able to pinpoint why. I worked my other dog 1st and he did quite well. I set the hot box back down in the same location. It’s interesting that she checks out the saw horses. We used those for hides in our NW class months ago and it’s as if she remembers. At one point it’s as if she gets caught in a scent swirl, almost spinning near the source. That search took so long I started feeling anxious at ~30 secs. I was starting to worry she was going to just give up and be disappointed. After she found it, I decided to some addition rewarding at source to reinforce the scent. Today was the 1st time we used frozen truffles. They sat out for ~15 minutes.

    3rd session I place scent box under a basket in the same area as the 2nd session and she had an easy time. Sliding the tin around was another spontaneous idea. It was an ‘in the moment’ fun thing to do. Watching the video, I wished I had not said the cue so frequently. It wasn’t necessary.

    In both sessions, I’m still not smooth with my ending transition. I will work on that.

    Alana McGee

    TDC Instructor:

    Hi Lois.

    You are now working with frozen truffles as opposed to fresh. They will share the same VOCs, but not ‘exactly’. So my question to you is prior to the scenario you describe where you were surprised by the amount of time it took monza to find it, had you done any review such as an easy touch/ imprinting game?

    If not, I would suggest you do that prior to setting up new scenarios so she is familiar with source odor.

    This video was great. I actually love to see Monza checking out the saw horses. She is very dedicated to finding the source and is checking other possible locations and making inferences based on previous experience in her attempts to pick up odor. That’s not a bad thing! She is narrowing criteria for success before she offers an alert. Don’t know if you noticed but she also checked the kayak. Love that she is exploring boundaries for odor.

    As for the spinning in circles near the odor, her own movement previously could have spread the odor, but it dissipates and so she is trying to pinpoint direction of origin.

    I love that we can hear her inhaling. She works very hard for you! When she is sure, she is confident however, and that is good to see! I think you made an excellent choice in regards to additional rewarding.

    In the 2nd one where she is found it in the basket rather quickly, notice that she doesn’t offer you the full alert you have been using. It is an identifiable alert, and great response to it and improvisation on the game of sliding for more pinpoint accuracy, but I just wanted to point it out in case you are building towards a down/ nose target.

    You guys are doing great! Keep it up! I would even encourage you to spread out the boxes/ clutter more so she is covering more space. The 1st scenario was great where she had to really search to find it. We completely understand the tension you must feel, and if it had gone on too much longer and you read Monza as being in distress you would want to offer encouragement and/or success, but she pushed through what was a more difficult hide. You are doing an excellent job of reading Monza and responding to her.

    Alana McGee



    First, I would teleport Alana or Kristin to the site to coach me where to start hunting!

    SCENE 1:

    I would face the wind and traverse from right to left and avoid the slope/trough. 50-degrees is comfortable. I’d be carrying water though. 1:00pm is the equivalent of the middle of the night for Monza. It’s when I’m at work and for my dogs, it’s a snoozy time of day.

    I’d probably go sit down on the log on the right and use my trusty plastic grocery sack to sit on so my butt doesn’t get wet. I’d leave any extra rain gear at the log and if Monza looked snoozy, I might tether her to a tree and take my other dog out first to check the area. If successful, and she was whining for her turn to hunt, I’d switch dogs after about 10 minutes and if successful with Monza, I might work each dog once more to double check the area.

    I think I’d walk the dogs making figure 8s around the trees and not bother with the grassy areas.

    SCENE 2:

    If it’s 40 degrees, I’m not terribly worried about ticks and definitely not mosquitoes. Although I have found ticks on my dogs in the dead of winter after being off trail in the woods. The Seresto tick/flea collar has been a life saver. I lost a dog to ehrlichia ~14 years ago. Both my dogs have tested positive for tick antibodies and I had titers done when they were in the best of condition to use a benchmark. If not feeling well and we’re suspicious of tick-borne illness then we can compare titers. Ticks are tricky business.

    This is my dog’s kind of weather and a better time of day -higher energy. They’ll be wild, running around to keep warm. With my older dog Speed, he’s mature enough to work off leash. Monza is another story. I might tether her to a tree with something for her to lay on and even put a little cover over her while I worked with Speed first. The tomboy princess may be in peak spirits at 10:00am though, barking and whining “my turn, My Turn!”

    I’d make our ‘base camp’ somewhere at the bottom of the hill out of the wind. Then I’d slowly hike up the hill with Speed traversing left to right (facing up the hill) as we move up. I’d move left to right assuming the 25 mph winds are whipping over from the right side (looking up hill) and that there’s something blocking the wind a bit on the left.

    When it’s Monza’s turn, she will want to walk down the fallen tree and look for chipmunks if not on leash. She started tree walking at 10 weeks old, because I thought I might do agility with her. She’s a tree walker and even climbs leaning trees and has no fear of height. So she’ll be walking down that tree. If Speed can’t find any truffles, he’ll be grabbing a fallen stick and wanting to tug. If Monza is off leash as well, she will want in on the game of tug, which will lead to a wild game of chase with Monza leading the effort, cutting in/out of trees. When the game of chase is over, critter hunting and rolling in stinky stuff will be next on her To Do List.

    I’m assuming I’m ignoring grass, and focusing on the mossy areas at the base of the trees and work out to the trees drip lines….this is a wild guess…I honestly would not think this was truffle territory at all.

    My descriptions are just a hint of my concerns about working in the woods. We hike frequently off leash and being in the woods means “free dog”, do what you want, have fun, play hard.

    I just have to trust the training process and not think about transitioning to the woods. I lack confidence in believing I can make truffle hunting as rewarding as being a free dog. However, I’ll be patient and put all my trust in your coaching/instruction!

    Alana McGee

    TDC Instructor:

    I am oh so incredibly glad we included this exercise as we think it will prove extremely useful for all! Thank you for your excellent and detailed response! This is fantastic to see, as it really gives us an idea of what you are thinking, how you may operate in the field, and how we can nudge you to think about your environment and how you interact from a different perspective.

    To note (although this may be giving away some info before others have completed it!), both of these photos are of producing summer truffle sites I visited just last week. Notice how different they are. They are wild sites, but everything from ground cover, to slope, to leaf litter, to host tree is different! Same species of truffle, different environments.

    I like how you talk about sitting on your plastic bag so your bum doesn’t get wet. It is the little things like this that really give us a good indication of how you work in the field. And yes, the environments are almost always wet. For where you will be hunting eventually, slightly less so.

    You mention tethering Monza while you work your other dog. We are not saying ‘don’t’ do that (and we know this is just an exercise in how to approach environments), and we have no way of knowing yet if Monza would be comfortable in that situation, but be cautious with the expectation of having two dogs in the field at once.

    This area is not that large, but consider the stress you might be adding to Monza (or your other dog) if you are working your other dog in her vicinity but are not engaging Monza herself. This may then manifest when it is her turn to work. It may also be a distraction to your other dog. Your attention is also split in such a scenario.

    Some handlers can hunt with more than one dog at a time, but in general we do not recommend it as your attention and intention is also split between the two dogs. You will miss cues, subtle responses, hazards, etc.
    Monza being tethered would likely be a distraction for you and Speed. In some environments it may also not be safe to have her tethered.

    As you mentioned the extra gear, great, always be prepared! We cover this topic in FE 530 when we are going over practical application and hazards teams encounter in the wild. Also EXCELLENT on your use of working the dogs for about 10 minutes at a time and switching. Eventually you will be able to build much longer duration, but we think it is fantastic you are thinking about taking this approach of rest.

    Great on the mention of carrying water! Truffle hunting is thirsty work, and we always encourage teams to have plenty of water for themselves and their dogs!

    You say you would walk figure 8s around the trees and avoid the grass. In truffle producing environments (especially wild ones) truffles are not necessarily fruiting within any kind of distance from the tree. Doing a figure 8 does allow you and monza to attempt to hit a scent column effectively covering much of the ground, but ideally you would be following Monza as she executes a search pattern cutting across the wind, like you were suggesting.

    Grass is not necessarily bad, and many a truffle are found under grass, quite far from the tree on which they are connected via their mycelial network. Harvesting truffles from under grass can be complicated depending on the type of grass and soil conditions, but don’t avoid those areas. Odor will actually travel up the wet blades of grass and give off odor higher up closer to Monza’s nose in a relaxed posture.

    Scene 2:
    GREAT you know what the conditions of buggies are like in your area. Some places even in cold temps can be overrun with ticks (I’m looking at you California and Parts of England), and it is good to be protected and be aware! Again, we cover much of this later, but it is always good when coming back from being in the field to check over yourself and your canine for bugs, wounds, etc. GREAT suggestion on the the Seresto tick/flea collar.

    Again, great description. Really fantastic and gives us so much to work with. Again, we would likely suggest that one dog is left in the vehicle during this, however, making a centralized based out of the wind is a good idea. If it is a large area you will be searching, bigger than the picture indicates, I would mark it, or you may not find it again!

    25 mph is pretty fast. If this was a constant 25 mph wind I would seriously consider not hunting at all, as aggressive winds can making odor location very difficult and frustrating for team members! We want to avoid that! In this scenario you also need to be conscious of the stand of trees you are in. In scene 1 with 25 mph winds, the trees are young and lower to the ground, so there is less likelihood of branches snapping and falling, and if they do, it is a few feet and their weight is not as great. In Pine/ Fir forests, where the trees are taller and often older, this is much more common. You do not want to contend with falling branches due to wind.

    (We know you don’t know this, and we don’t expect you to! But these are the kinds of environmental hazards and challenges you will face)

    As I mentioned, this is a producing forest. The truffles are usually not located right next to the tree as many think. It is rare to find truffles at the actual base of a tree, pushed up against the trunk. They are usually 3- 15 feet away form the trunk, sometimes quite a bit more.

    Don’t worry yet about the actual transitioning and making it fun vs free dog time. By the time you are out in a forest both will be fun and Monza will love all of it! While Monza may love to ‘critter’ as we call it, it is actually great that she has confidence in the woods and knows how to move around and be comfortable on and off leash in wild settings. This will be a significant advantage to you later, when you do get to that stage. It is a gradual process and we build to the behaviors we want.

    This is all very good, and very good to see what you are thinking and your interpretation or assumptions about how Monza may react in forested settings. You’re doing a great job. Keep practicing those hides!

    Alana McGee


    I agree I wouldn’t be out in 25 mph winds either concerned about falling branches. I almost posted “why would I be out there?” but didn’t want to be whimp. LOL

    As for tethering, also agree, it would be best to work 1 dog at a time and switch dogs at the car, which they’re used to for tracking. I don’t know why I dreamed up the tethering scenario. I just always go to the woods with both of them!

    The habitat I’ve seen for wild truffles is very forested, very wet, and thick leaf litter. I saw the Blackberry Farm orchard ~4 years ago and forgot about it being grassy/open. I’m surprised I didn’t remember that, but I’m thinking more about ‘the wild’ and not commercial orchards because the likelihood of being invited to the 2 orchards I know of are slim. BUT, with time and proper networking, who knows. We need a lot more work 1st and foremost.

    Here is this morning’s training session. I’ve been adding ‘stuff’ to the room and this morning, I switched to a different container. She bee-lined to the 1st hide. 2nd hide took longer which I find interesting. Speed goes 1st and he found the 2nd hide immediately. I mention that so you know another dog worked the hide in that location, I pick it up, put Speed in his crate, reset hide/start camera, go get Monza. Don’t know if that movement changes the scent scene.

    Clearly describe your current alert and your desired alert: My current alert is a nose touch, combined with a chin touch/bow/down. My desired alert is nose touch with a paw touch – not digging.

    In today’s session I decided to video with camera and GoPro, wondering which might be better with this much clutter. Two comments about video:

    1st hide, My initial verbal response is a rather loud/high pitched sound and it startled Monza a little, I need to tone it down, I find my voice so annoying on these videos. I just need to take the edge off. LOL

    At 1:56 I added a clip from the GoPro so you can see me rewarding at source. I got a couple nice paw touches (almost a slap) and I was thinking “oh yeahhh, THAT’S what I want!” I’d love to have THAT, as if to say “It’s right HERE!…slap” I am confident that the bow/down/chin touch will fad out when containers are not present and when we’re in the woods. I’d love for my final alert to be a nose touch/paw slap. However, once in the dirt, she may naturally scratch at surface and I will have to be REALLY careful about marking too quickly and accidentally marking scratching vs a paw slap. I would have waited for/rewarded a couple more paw touches, but I was running out of treats. Also want to add, she’s so dang thoughtful/cute when she reorients her position so she is facing me.

    I look forward to your comments about our alert. I will move to a setup in the garage this week.

    Thanks Alana and Kristin!!

    Alana McGee

    TDC Instructor:

    Here you go Lois!

    Alana McGee


    To answer Kristin’s question about why I want a paw touch. I believe that Monza is only doing a chin touch in the presence of a box or tin which she uses as a target. I don’t know if she will do a chin touch/bow at source in the woods. I’m guessing I will get a nose touch. However, I’m open minded to figuring out how to gradually change the hides so that she eventually chin touches the ground. I just don’t think she’ll do that if it’s wet. I will remain open to the idea because the chin touch is great, I agree!

    As for Monza looking at me for help. I don’t recall if I saw it ‘in the moment’ but did see it in the video and forgot to comment. It’s ingrained in me to never help the dog in tracking, always set them up for success and if they get frustrated because the environment has caused them to lose the track, simply remove the harness and walk off the track. Never help the dog. The mantra has been to be irrelevant to the dog and to not create a behavior chain where if things get difficult for Monza, she looks to me for help. Cheerleading can be annoying when the dog is really concentrating.

    I know I personally want to throw things at people who start cheering/encouraging when I’m at the peak of concentration/effort. It’s annoying and I can completely lose concentration.

    However, I see your point with the replay/slow motion that if I can identify/read the behavior that occurs BEFORE she gets tense and offer a tiny bit of encouragement, it could help keep her going as long as I offer a little ‘light’ encouragement and not true cheerleading.

    It’s kind of like the whispering you commented on in Week #1 instead of being cheerful/excited while rewarding at the source, again residual from tracking be quiet and irrelevant to the dog. However I have started back to being cheerful (but not cheerleading) when rewarding at the articles and Monza has been a making wonderful progress tracking. She’s doing so well, I’m taking this week off and given us a break.

    This is great feedback! I will move to a new room and should be able to post a short video in 1-2 days.

    Thank you!

    Alana McGee

    TDC Instructor:

    Think of it as encouragement, not cheer leading. Its simply a way of acknowledging… “I see that you can smell a truffle and it is difficult to locate. You are doing great. Take your time.”

    I will often simply say “You can do it. Keep looking.” For dogs who are sensitive to pressure, I will start to look around in the area WITH them. This takes direct pressure off of the dog and helps them relax a bit because you are both looking for the same thing.

    The other reason noting this behavior is important is because you will later see a different change in behavior that will mean “there are no truffles here”. You will understand all of these subtleties before heading into the forest.

    Alana McGee


    As Kristin requested, here are 2 sessions from this morning in a different room – the garage. She mentioned at the end of the last Vimeo feedback about beginning to delay reward if this looked okay.

    As always, we look forward to your comments and thank you!

    Alana McGee

    TDC Instructor:

    This looks FANTASTIC!

    Yes, let’s have you delay the reward no more than 1 in every 5 searches and see how it goes. Only do this in a room you have practiced in previously. You will want to get to Monza quickly and as soon as she offers the alert you want, pick up the truffle tin and have a MASSIVE party as you leave the scenario. The rest of the searches, do exactly what you are doing.

    Nice work!

    Alana McGee


    Instructor quote:
    “You will want to get to Monza quickly and as soon as she offers the alert you want, pick up the truffle tin and have a MASSIVE party as you leave the scenario.”

    let me make sure I understand, I want to go to source, pick up truffle, and walk away treating her like a machine gun delivery of treats? I’m not clear as to how that’s delay of reward/purpose of exercise. I’ll do it no matter what, but just not sure why.


    Alana McGee

    TDC Instructor:

    I apologize for not being clear. Allow her to search as you normally do. When she alerts, get the truffle tin in your hand before rewarding. You will want to move quickly only because Monza currently expects a reward to appear as son as you arrive. Instead, you will be producing the reward (jackpot) after you pick up the truffle.

    It will look like this…
    You arrive, she chin touches or paw targets, you pick up the tin and party. Party at the location AND all the way out of the scenario.

    Alana McGee


    OK, I understand the delayed reward. I didn’t practice the delayed reward on purpose, but managed to be late getting to Monza
    1st hide was under the mesh part of a life vest.
    2nd hide is behind saw horse leg. As I started to transport away, I lost connection and decided to drop the box so we could re-engage. She sits, so I ask her “where did it go?” and she finds it.
    3rd is under the edge of a rag.
    She was on her A game. I need to remember to let her work the room 1st next time. She keeps going 2nd and I want to make sure she’s not somehow using Speed’s scent. Not sure that’s logical. It may affect Speed more than Monza when I swap the order. Besides the delayed reward, I will move to other rooms this week. Is there anything else I should watch for, be aware of as I move rooms? Should I use a smaller tin?

    I’m happy to see her alert is still a down/chin touch without a box!

    Thanks! I’ll post again mid-week. I’m likely out of town next weekend as well.

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