Lois & Monza (DRTDT)

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    Alana McGee
    Alana McGee

    Hi this is Lois & Monza from Oak Ridge, Tennessee, USA. Monza is a 3-yr old Lagotto Romagnolo. We will continue to work with the summer truffles that we used in FE510. I’m very excited about continuing this course.

    I look forward to seeing students from TR510 and meeting new students too!

    Alana McGee

    Hi from your West Coast classmates! We have loved watching sweet little Monza working her way to become the great truffle hunter! My brother, his cat, Tippet and I are currently in Ashland Oregon for two plays and then head home after being away three weeks. We are eagerly waiting for class to begin next week!

    Alana McGee

    Welcome back! And happy belated birthday to Monza!

    Alana McGee

    Here is Monza’s 1st outdoor box hide with summer truffles. I did 2 basic outdoor box hides today. She was on leash in both. I’m using my tracking long line.

    On 1st hunt she needed a ‘bio-break’ so I edited out our entry to the area. In the first 25 secs I can’t tell if she’s checking out the area or working. This reminds me of her early tracking days when she would sniff here/there and then do a little tracking. To me, I see this attitude of ‘yeah, I know there’s a truffle out there but I’m going to do a little window shopping before I get to work.’ After she’s done ‘shopping’ she alerts to the correct box and her tail is wagging. The ‘shopping’ reminds me so much of our early tracking days and it took a loooong time to build value for the track so I spent time hanging out with her and the hide, opening it up and checking it out to build value for the truffle in this new environment. Maybe I’m misreading her and am too impatient with the 1st 25 seconds of sniffing. It just seems so obvious that there are boxes out there, so why else is she sniffing the ground except to just explore.

    On the 2nd hide, she gets busy right away. I didn’t immediately mark her paw touch on the box because I wanted to make sure she wasn’t just interacting with the box and was a little more committed. She looks away for a second because some neighbor child was playing an instrument and he/she hit a bad note…we spent more time hanging out with the truffle again.

    I look forward to your observations on her sniffing and whether she’s really working in the 1st 25 seconds. For me, the take away is I need to take my time with her and build that value like in tracking because the outdoors are very interesting to her. When I think about her indoor hides in the 1st class, she explored the room before alerting to boxes so why am I so worried about her sniffing the ground before working the boxes?

    This week my plan for Monza is the same as for Speed: 2 sessions of multiple indoor hides and 1 more day like today using the other 2 outdoor areas with boxes to get an idea of where we are with endurance versus distraction. Photos of areas will be posted under Speed’s thread.

    Alana McGee

    Your plan for Monza is great! Nice planning and thinking ahead about building value for this game!

    Long video so take notes 😉
    I made a couple of observations about your working dynamic with Monza in this environment. Monza is very sensitive to your energy and the connection between you so you will need to be very aware of the non-verbal communication you are having with her. She senses hesitation on your part and mirrors it. The training for this phase is as much about you as it is Monza so, yes, take your time and progress slowly so you are progressing TOGETHER. I explain more in the analysis.

    Really nice work! Now comes some of the hard stuff. The relationship dynamic is often the most challenging aspect of hunting for truffles as a team and staying connected. It is no longer a behavior/ reward relationship. Truffle hunting and training is now going to be heavily focused on working in partnership, reading each other and responding to each other’s needs. Listen to her and trust your gut feelings. The rest will evolve as you gain more experience. You are going to be a lovely truffle dog team together!!!!

    Alana McGee

    I totally agree with Kristin’s comments. She’s spot on. I recall worrying a little bit about choosing this location because new neighbor’s moved in next door while I was on vacation. I had a cold, felt badly about not going to meet them, a little concerned that their kids might come bolting over to see what I was doing. so Monza was probably thinking “what’s up with Lois?” I’ve been really worried about her drive/motivation when we go outside to hunt.

    I will do the exercise that Kristin suggested in her voice-over comments on Monday when we work outside again. We track tomorrow morning.

    Here’s our baseline indoor multiple hides – 3 hides in the bedroom and 1 in the adjoining bathroom. This is the 1st time I used our bedroom/bathroom. We have 15+year old carpet that will be replaced this next year. It looks a lot worse on video and makes me want to replace it tomorrow, but we need to paint too.

    I used the GoPro again. Let me know if it’s annoying. It will be less grainy outside, but if you need to see ME as well, I can set up the tripod.

    Overall I think it went well. I worked on only saying “find it” and not ‘show me’. I look forward to going back outside!

    Alana McGee

    Don?t be concerned about your carpet 🙂 You?re great! That was fabulous. We like how you used a room you have never worked in before, and she is spot on.

    The Go-Pro is fine for right now. There might be situations where we will want to see you, but for now I know it is easier, and will be just fine.

    Your base line looks Fab Lois. You are doing great. I love your commentary to Monza about the forest 🙂

    Excited to see more of you guys working outside. Remember to breathe and just relax outside.

    Alana McGee


    I love the working dynamic in this video! Nicely done. Great enthusiasm and commentary. She likes it when you chatter! Great persistence with the one hide you had to spend time “digging” up!

    Do you have an end cue? If not, now would be a good time to start making that association.

    Alana McGee

    We did a couple more box sessions on Monday. Last night we did minimal visual identification, outside. Only 1 session with 3 hides; it was practically dark. It went well.

    This morning we did 3 hides in same area and then 3 hides in front yard. The video is of the 3 hides in the back and the last hide out front. It went very well too!

    Out back Hide 1 is in grass with a few leaves on top. Hide 2 at the base of moss with a few leaves on top. Hide 3 is in gravel with a few leaves on top. Out front, all 3 were in grass with a few leaves on top.

    I think she does better without the boxes. She has to focus more instead of ?I?ll check out the area and then go look at the boxes.? The backyard vegetation is more mixed, it?s more damp and has more moss. She worked the area for ~30 seconds before honing in on Hide 1 (that part is removed from video). I was proud that she didn?t give any indication/think twice about departing to go frog hunting in the water feature or departing for the house 2 doors down where her dog friends live?and cats. I didn’t use long line when we went out front.

    I practiced scratching around the box, delaying reward a little bit after initial reward. I still don?t have the final behavior chain clear in my head: dog alerts, I mark, move in, treat?, dig, ask ?show me?, keep digging, finf truffle, and then party. I?m sure the lectures will cover that in the coming weeks.

    Out front she walked straight out the front door and went directly to a hide without checking the area. She worked off leash. I was a little concerned she would look for what Sandra calls ?Kitty Truffles?! We have that rare species of truffle too.

    You?ll have to read Speed?s post for an explanation of the James Brown reference. She likes the James Brown voice and it brought out persistence too. I?m not sure I can do that voice in front of an orchard owner?.or maybe I can if we?re successful, who cares what I sound like.

    We?ll head off to the ?enchanted meadow? for more hides in grass on Sunday. And I?ll try to do a blind hide in one of the areas we used today on Sunday. We?ll have no trouble varying weather conditions ? it?s 50-80% chance of rain for several days.

    Thanks Alana and Kristin!

    Alana McGee


    Let’s start fading that first cookie now!

    Alana McGee

    [b]Assignment[/b]: minimal visual identification, outside.
    [b]Location[/b]: ?enchanted meadow? by raised beds . Flat, thick grass, surrounded by forsythia.
    [b]Hides[/b]: Exact same spots as Speed since it was so wet. Three in wet grass with a few wet leaves over the top. Hide 1 was close to some wild green onions. I was a little concerned they might be too smelly. Hide 2 is in thicker/taller grass. Hide 3 is right in front of a forsythia branch. She worked after Speed.
    [b]Conditions[/b]: Wet! Low 60s, no wind, muggy.
    [b]Goal[/b]: start fading 1st cookie.

    [b]Equipment[/b]: I used the long line since some rabbits sometimes inhabit the forsythia and I wasn?t confident Monza would stay on task. She did very well and may have not needed the long line. I don?t mind using the line and I believe we?re far enough along with tracking that she understands the difference. I?ll use it for safety periodically but prefer her to work free.

    I think I faded the cookie correctly, but look forward to your critique. She was very efficient and worked well on Hide 1.

    00:59-1:11 Alerting on Hide 3 by forsythia. She alerts by nose touching branches. She?s saying ?I think there?s one here, I need some help.? I?m a little late helping my buddy, but after watching this a few times, this is likely how things will play out. I pulled the branch back and then she does a really nice alert right at source. Too bad I didn?t have the GoPro on for that one. I spent a little time admiring the truffle with her and could have been a little more excited, but in the back of my head I was already thinking about what happened, did I handle that well?

    Hide 2 ? beginning at 2:12-2:17: she starts to look a little frustrated, but then beginning at 2:18 she does some interesting head casting (for lack of a better way to describe it, it?s not full body casting, her nose just keeps dabbing side to side in the slightly taller grass). I interpret this as having hit the scent cone and she?s working in to the source. If I?m reading this correctly, this is sooo cool. She seems to have really honed in on a skill. So I?m not sure she was frustrated or if it?s excitement as if to say ?ooooohhh there?s one close!? and then the head casting is as if she?s saying ?yep, uhhuh, yep, yep, I?m close.? And then a very, very confident down at source. But I may be complete wrong about all of this and look forward to your critique on her work.

    I?ll do blind hides on Monday or Tuesday.

    Alana McGee

    Fist of all, thank your or telling us she worked after speed. It may or may not make a difference in behavior, but gives us more information to work with to analyze the scenario, so thank you.

    In reference to branches and alerts:

    As we mentioned with a couple of other students scenarios, sometimes alerts will be altered by environment. Overhead stimuli (or other), or anticipation of such by your canine, followed by a truncated or altered alert is not uncommon. The key is in understanding your dog?s behavior and how the alert manifests in those scenarios. You have just demonstrated you know what that is by saying you ?see? Monza nose touching the branches! That?s fabulous Lois. Great communication skills! You understood that she was saying, I” smell one, but I am uncomfortable going in there.” This is actually, especially for you, and anyone who wants to work on orchards, a critical skill and communication to understand if you dog offers it–so nicely done 🙂

    It sounds like you handled that perfectly. Don?t stress about it. It is hard not to sometimes, but remember to breathe!

    [quote] I interpret this as having hit the scent cone and she?s working in to the source [/quote]

    You are spot on Lois. That looks like exactly what is going. Monza hit the column and is pushing odor (vocs) in and out of her nose (through those side slits!) trying to isolate desired odors and follow it to source.


    First off- good job on practicing holding the line. We know you do this in Tracking, but it?s still good!

    At 0:09 She exhibits the head casting like you are talking about (which is great!)- likely towards hide 3? but then something AWESOME happens (as a teaching moment for you, Lois, to understanding behavior), she catches another column that is stronger- aka I suspect there was a slight breeze coming from that direction. It?s awesome to watch. This is exactly why we want you to plant multiple hides. It?s not just about finding odor, it?s about picking out one odor column and following that amongst several columns. Dogs will bounce from odor to odor like this, because if odor is stronger in one area, Monza will be preferential to follow that to source first.
    If the slight wind is actually blowing that way as well, it is tougher for Monza to get downwind into the scent cone of Hide 3. Odor is still there and she picks it up, but it isn?t as easily accessible.

    At 0:24 that was much better at Fading the cookie. Monza was rapt with attention for it, but good job.

    (SIDE NOTE: I also REALLY like your hip bag you have- you would mind sharing with the group who makes that?)

    Just around the 1:00 minute mark- notice how monza approaches from (what I perceive to be) downwind to find that target. This is a great example of how directional even slight wind currents play a role in hunting.

    You did a fantastic job with the branches/ bushes. Monza wan?t overly accurate and on point with the first alert (but there was a reason), but as soon as you realized what was going on and helped make the situation more comfortable, there was no question about what she was doing. We also REALLY liked her persistence in that scenario even when you were fading the initial cookie. That took a lot of confidence on her part to stay with it, and that?s FABULOUS. She did a really good job with that, as did you.

    I LOVE your own commentary to Monza about the situation. You are SPOT on. That may be something that happens in the field a decent amount as well. But that is exactly why we also try to teach precision alert behaviors from an early stage, so you can build on all the previous experience and positive success!

    We also really like how she checks areas where the target was hidden previous but doesn?t dwell.

    The whole sequence around 2:24 is fabulous. Again, you are spot on with your own analysis of her behavior. It?s fun to watch her figure it out and follow it to source. She?s so persistence with her nose touches there We LOVE LOVE LOVE it. That was a good one to jackpot and also as a final hide, because it was slightly ore difficult for her to locate. Nice delivery of the jackpot as well. excellent mechanics.

    ALSO a very good ?All Done?. We know Monza could do more, but that was an excellent, absolutely excellent place to stop a session. W tell students to err on the side of positive and conservative experiences to a degree when training, because in the long run it makes a big difference. Quit while your ahead, wanting more. That is how you build really solid, reliable teams in the long run. Huge

    Kudos to you guys. That was beautiful set of hides and execution and communication and connection between the two of you.

    Alana McGee


    As always, thank you for the detailed feedback. I’m busy digesting the comments on Monza and Speed as well as all the other students and look forward to reading week 3 homework.

    As for the hip bag, I bought it a few years ago for tracking. I don’t love it because it’s really designed for a man; however, it’s well designed/built and I’m getting use to the fit and it doesn’t bother me like it did at first. I almost returned but am glad I didn’t because it may be very useful for truffle hunting more than tracking!

    http://www.pawmark.com/proddetail.php?prod=TheBag&cat=383 – good description and pictures – it reaches the man’s hips in the picture where it comes down to my knees. The man must be at least 6′ 4″.

    It’s showing as out of stock. Sounds like you may have something to write to Santa Claus about! Maybe the elves can crank out a new inventory.

    Alana McGee

    OK I’m going to feel badly about posting knowing y’all have a lot going on; however, I’m out of pocket the next 2 days, so NO HURRY on feedback. I will only post Monza’s blind hide from Monday, because it was a bit interesting.

    [b]Assignment[/b]: blind hides, outside.
    [b]Location[/b]: backyard ? mixed vegetation and leaves.
    [b]Hides[/b]: 3 blind hides. My assistant lost track of one hide and ended up placing 2 hides fairly close together. She thoroughly enjoyed the task and I know she?ll help again. I will give her some tracking flags so she can flag her hide placements to ensure proper spacing, and then she can pull up the flags when she?s completed the hides.
    [b]Run Order[/b]: Monza was 2nd. Her hides were in different places than Speed?s but the same area was used.
    [b]Conditions[/b]: It was windy when we set out Speed?s hides. I set out a couple tracking flags to see if wind was blowing when we ran.
    [b]Aging[/b]: ~30 minutes.

    What an influence having another person around had on ME. Speed went 1st and then my assistant reset the hides. It was getting dark and I was feeling a little rushed and I completely forgot to use the long line with Monza.

    Monza was brilliant on the 1st find. I realize I forgot the long line, but decided to not disrupt her because she was so efficient on the 1st hide. In the moment, I decided stopping her after she was brilliant, going in the house to get the long line and restarting her with the long line would have been demotivating.
    In hindsight, I could have ended the session after the 1st hide because it was so brilliant, taken a short break and returned with Monza on the long line. I?m still not sure how that would have effected Monza. Having an assistant watching us and running out of daylight for videoing were factors in the on-the-spot decision.

    2-3 times I thought she was either headed to her friend?s house, look for critters in the woods, or look for kitty truffles. Since her safety was not at risk, I decided to try and remain calm and continue. Like in tracking, if things start to go wrong, I simply unclip her from the harness and walk off the track and remain neutral and that?s what I would have done here if things got crazy (except for the unclipping part?.).

    Because it had been windy, there?s no telling what that did to the scent which may be why she was hither and there. What surprises me is this session felt like it took twice as long as normal, but it didn?t. This is good information for me as the handler about that little bit of stress. I can tell I was distracted thinking about what to do because I can?t get the right words out when I?m praising Monza. When I see how distractions affect me, I totally empathize with dogs and the importance of slowly introducing distractions.

    It was a bit unfortunate that this session was off lead and that 2 of the hides were so close together. I got a little lucky that it went so well.

    I look forward to your comments on how Monza worked off lead and how I could have handled it differently.

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