This trial was definitely not our strongest performance. 10 out of 31 titled and we were 8th overall. And when I say we got through by the skin our teeth I really mean it! It was a tough day for team Smith, with a lot of stress and a couple longer searches. In the end we got everything but it really felt like we were fighting for every hide.
We were down in Florida again, so we made the long drive down and spent the night with my friend Lisa again. Then we rode over together to trial. We have come along way from the nerves and anxiety of settling in for our NW1. Going to the workshop really helped. Also Reyna is an even less anxious this year than she was last year so she ate all her dinner the night before and all her breakfast the morning of the trial. I still packed a lunch for her, but I was much less concerned about her energy levels this time since she ate well ahead of time.
Also I took very rare steak as a food reward for her along with her standard toy rewards. Sine I was going to use an unusually high value food reward at the trial I made sure to practice with it for the week leading up to the trial. It didn't decrease the value of the reward in any way, and it ensured that Reyna wouldn't get distracted by the reward and behave unexpectedly in a trial.
The reasons I chose food reward for most of the trial searches was...it drained less energy from Reyna on a long day, it was easy to deliver, and it was faster on multiple hides since I didn't have to try and get the toy back. I may change that strategy in the future if I can get better at delivering a toy in a trial environment, but the food worked fine for this one.
On the walk through I sketched out the areas as best as possible so I could work on a strategy later. At first I was trying to draw out the whole area, but it really wasn't practical and I felt like I was missing a lot. So for the couple areas I just wrote out a VERY rough sketch with areas of note.
Four vehicles close together, running boards on that truck might be productive, next to a building so air current may be weird.
Reyna may have trouble if it's on the porch, but don't get psyched out. Only half that bench is in. That cluster of trees may be difficult for line handling.
Welcome mat and fire extinguisher make a threshold likely. It's a cabin so expect less confidence in Reyna's alert. LOTS of bunks and almost no air movement.
No welcome mat this time but two speakers and a chair with some clutter may be productive search areas. There is a broom and trashcan at the threshold so don't dismiss those.
So many containers! That suitcase is against the wall, make we hit it. Don't lose track of all those little coffee thermos things, that colorful suitcase makes a good anchor point to make sure I've covered that. That 5 gallon bucket is an unusual container, remember what Jacy Kelley said about those, COs can put hides ANYWHERE!
My strategy for all the areas was to give Reyna her head for the first minute. After that we would begin a pattern to make sure we covered everything. After one minute my plan for each area varied. For vehicles we would circle each vehicle, for exteriors we would walk the perimeter then zigzag through, for containers we would cover quadrants and for interiors we would crisscross the area from back to front to hopefully get a different scent scenario than when we first entered.
I was first up in Group B and we started vehicles while group A did exteriors. Here is the hide by hide report:
Vehicles - 2 hides - 3:30min
I sent Reyna in to search and immediately my heart sank. She was not focused, she kept wandering from the vehicles. For better or worse I deviated from our plan and asked her to pattern search the vehicles. We search the first two, nothing...time was ticking away and I realized we were going to time out on the first search of the day. Suddenly she showed interest in the left front corner of the third vehicle. She stuck her head high and to the right in the wheel well but seemed to still be working the plume. She started to walk off, to find an easier one, but I remember what I learned in the seminar and held my ground, I knew it was here and she needed to finish this one. She came in from the left this time and tucked her head behind the wheel, based on her earlier interest in the top right I figured it was on the bottom left so we called it...yes! Okay find more...she quickly ruled out the rest of the vehicle and we moved to the fourth and final one, the truck with the running boards. Sure enough there was a hide on the outside running board that she nailed confidently to end the search!
Time: 2:25 Place: 15th
Lessons: I was glad I made her stick with the first hide. I wish I had stuck with my plan of letting her go for the first minute, we might not have wasted so much time on the first two vehicles.
Exterior - 1 Hide - 3min
Reyna was in odor from the start on this one. She went over to the front of the cabin and showed interest on the porch but didn't go up. I couldn't tell if she didn't go up because she doesn't like wooden decks, or because there was no odor. I made a decision and asked her to search it. She did and came back down, nothing there. Then she went back to work and tracked the odor over to the benches where she quickly made a decision on the leg of one. Alert...yes! Two elements down.
Time: 41.89sec Place: 20th
Lessons: I need to work more on decks and porches (and any other areas where she lacks confidence) so I don't waste time asking her to search nonproductive areas. This was a very easy, very competitive element and we probably spent at least 20 seconds with the porch thing.
Container - 1 Hide - 2:30min
There is not much to say about this one. Reyna was ready to rock from back at the on deck spot and I had to turn a circle To keep her from crossing the start line before I was ready. I sent her over the start line. She passed three or four containers in her intense drive straight for the 5 gallon bucket. She alerted on the handle and we got the yes!
Time: 8.71sec Place: 1st Pronounced
Lessons: Trust your dog, and train containers other than suitcases. This was also affirmation that giving her the lead at first is the way to go.
Interior 1 - 1 Hide - 2:30min
We came in slow instead of letting her blast in. She caught odor as she entered the room and turned around back to the threshold. It took her a couple seconds of detailing to make a decision, but she decided it was behind the fire extinguisher. Yes.
Lessons: Work more thresholds so she doesn't have to hit the end of the cone to turn around and hold at the threshold and watch her for a couple seconds before sending instead of just walking slow across it.
Interior 2 - 2 Hides - 3:00min
This one was tough. We came through and she went right for the speakers but was sort of all over that area. We moved away and came back, but she still couldn't make a decision. I knew we were burning a lot of time so I asked her to find the other one. I knew that one was there so we would come back and finish it later. She quickly nailed the floor hide and I sent her back to the speaker area. She was all over the top up onto the windowsill, down on the left along the baseboard and all along the right where the chair was, and on the front where the actual speakers were. She would not commit to any one spot though and I was starting to panic. They called 30 second warning. I was running out of time and the title was fading quickly from my grasp. I remembered the seminar and the advice on Nosework math. She had paid attention to all the areas around the speaker, even the front, but if had been inside the speaker directly behind one of the panels she would have alerted on that so it is probably behind the speaker with only small amounts of odor coming through the front. She also hit all three sides which also meant it was probably behind the speaker. But where behind? Her strongest behaviors were on the left side so probably there. I knew we were running out of time and I had to get her back there to call it so I used a little body pressure to push her back into that alcove and as soon as she sniffed at the left side again I called alert....... YES! I almost cried that was so close, I had no idea how close until later.
Time: 2:57 (that's right, we had three seconds left!
Lessons: The reason this was so difficult for us was because the odor was actually smack in the middle behind the speaker so it was coming out pretty equally everywhere. Reyna has done a lot of inaccessible, but there is always a point of strongest odor. In this case there wasn't so she was all over the speaker but couldn't decide where to commit. I need to get better at reading those hides and also teach her how to communicate when we are in a situation like that. I am glad I had her go find that second one so we could focus on the hard one. I wish I had done some deduction a little earlier so we weren't so close to the wire. I should maybe take a stopwatch into searches...not really sure how to work that, but I need to be able to keep better track of my time.
Total Interior Time: 3:13
Place: 25th aka last place out of everybody who got that element
All I knew as I left the cabin though was that we had titled...holy freakin birch oil, we had titled!!! It wasn't pretty and it wasn't flashy, but we did it! The vehicle search was exhausting and stressful, the interiors just about gave me a heart attack. We have a lot to learn before trying for NW3, that was very VERY close.
Total trial time: 6:29
Place: 8th overall
I am looking forward to being able to take what I have learned from this experience and apply it to our NW3 prep. I have a lot to learn about reading my dog and managing search areas. Especially with an unknown number of hides. Good thing there will probably not be an NW3 in the southeast for at least a year...it's going to take at least that long to even begin to be ready for the next level!