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Musings and anecdotes of a nosework nutter

Bobby Search Dog

Back in the game

23rd June 2022

This is Tic.

Tic was trained by me as a Proactive Drugs Detection Dog and was licensed in March of this year but we knew when we undertook the training that work would be scarce and as with all things for this little dog, I have dithered and faffed about what she will do.

Last week I made the decision that she will enjoy a competition career and began teaching her a new odour, which is no real challenge but combine that with a new search style and a new indication and you have a busy week!

As she has been the subject of my indecision since the moment she came home - What will she do? - What will her indication be? - Blah, blah, blah - I didn't want to faff about starting her in competition and when on Friday a space came up for a Level 1 Scentwork UK Trial in Peterborough with a Level 7 in the afternoon for Ehren, it seemed like fate had spoken!

I have to say I wasn't expecting much from this little weirdo as she hadn't had much training but she done me proud by qualifying and getting her Clean Sweep Rosette but that is not what this post is about.

This is about how much I love nosework!!

This is about how amazing this sport is!!

This is a shout out to all those who love the game!!

For the past few years I have been a Judge or a Trials Manager for the lower levels and though its good to be part of people journey from that side of the fence, it was just wonderful to be on the other side this weekend and be reminded how inclusive and supportive this sport is.

The atmosphere at Level 1 Trials is always full of nerves and excitement, fear and anticipation.  There are wishes of 'good luck' and 'have fun' echoing around the car park as teams head off to the search areas followed by congratulations or commiserations on their return.

Nosework as a sport is more about competing against yourself than about winning and that comes from someone who is very competitive.  I am sure everyone at these trials wants to win but most of all they all want to do the right thing for their dog and beat their last time or their last score, the rosettes and trophies are an added bonus but not the reason for going.

As Tic and I headed out we received the same support that everyone else did and there was no added pressure from the judges or competitors because I am a trainer or a handler.

I watched a 3 legged GSD head out for her search full of excitement, a lab get a huge hug and cuddle for his 'best search ever' and I saw nervous dogs calmed and cared for not only by their handlers but by the rest of the competitors as they quieted as the dog passed, gave them space that they needed and just wished them well.

In all the years I have been doing this (and it is more than a few) I have never seen judgement and in the dog world that is a rare thing.  Now I am not knocking other sports I am just shouting about how epic nosework is for all!!

I love competing but with Ehren heading to the end of her SWUK journey each trial is tinged with a little sadness as it will soon be over and though she will continue her competition career with The National Nosework Associaton, this part of our lives was coming to an end so bringing Tic out for her first trial was a ray of sunshine and a reminder of how much I love this sport!!

Bobby Search Dog

The Clever Hans Effect

13th April 2020

In 1904 Wilhelm von Osten claimed that he had taught his horse, Hans to count. Von Osten, a mathematics teacher and amateur horse trainer said that Hans could add and subtract, multiply and divide, and even work out fractions. Huge claims for the capabilities of understanding of a horse and there were more, he claimed Hans could read, spell and keep track of calendar dates and tell the time. Outlandish claims but initial demonstrations by Von Osten proved that what he was saying appeared to be true.

These amazing claims drew a lot of attention, Clever Hans was getting famous.

In 1907 a formal investigation by psychologist, Oskar Pfungst showed that Hans was not actually performing the mental challenges that were being set but was in fact responding to very subtle changes in Von Ostens body language. Von osten was unaware of the cues he was giving Hans and I dare say a bit disappointed that his Clever Hans was not clever in the way he thought he was.

Pfunst proved his research by studying the relationship with Von Osten and Clever Hans and then imitating the gestures, pressures and movements himself to achieve the same effect.

Today we refer to this as the Clever Hans effect and all dog trainers and handlers should know and understand it. They should understand that even the most subtle of movements, placement or focus can influence our dog’s performance. A minor adjustment to posture can have a big impact and even a handler’s mental focus can influence their dogs behaviour for better or worse. I am sure I am not the only person who has set out to train their dog with the wrong mindset and everything goes wrong. A lot of handlers get great results in training scenarios, but nerves affect their performance at competition or assessment.

Our dogs are so in tune with us, it really is no wonder we have such an impact on their performance and with nosework it is just as much a consideration as any other sport, especially if we have to train alone.

Working known hides is a part of training, we need to learn how to read our dogs and read them well and the only way to do that is to lay known hides BUT so much of the time we are influencing our dogs with the Clever Hans Effect, our body placement, movement and focus are drawing the dogs to a behaviour that they may come to rely on.

A scentwork handler can so easily ‘talk’ a dog in to or out of an indication without saying a word or moving a step and even the most confident of search dogs can make mistakes if their handlers think that all of the ‘game’ is on the dogs shoulders.

So whilst we are in lockdown and working alone, and every other time we lay a hide, look at what you are doing. Video yourself in the shot, not just the dog and assess your movements, foot placement, eye focus and even your breath. Learn to fully evaluate your role and not just keep working the dog.

Bobby Search Dog

A Competitors View.  

28th October 2019

Kerry & Bobby only started their scentwork journey in July and they have really got the bug.

Read Kerry's view on how a trial makes you feel.

Bobby & I took part in Sunday's L1 trial, with almost all those competing from K9sasUK.

We arrived early (anyone that knows me, knows I always arrive at least 30mins early for everything!) and sat drinking my latte and pondering on how the morning may unfold.

I started going through in my mind all of the searches we had practiced in meet ups, and at home, and all the advice and training we had been given from our first trial a month previous (which by the way wasn't very successful but was totally worth entering as it taught me a lot!).

Bobby isn't the most confident spaniel, and I'm very much the sort of person that will jump in at the deep end and see what happens, so poor Bobby does have to put up with me entering him up for things, sometimes before he is really ready.

So after only 3 months since starting our scentwork journey we had already gone through our first trial to which we discovered we had a 'false indication' issue to resolve before we went through another trial.

This Sunday was our second trial, and was going to be a test of nerves & trust.

I was going to have to watch every single detail in Bobby's body language, from the way he moved his head on an indication to the way he air scented, to his tail movements, before I was going to be brave enough to hold my arm up and call it.

This trial was going to be a gauge on whether we had cracked the false indications issue and also if I could confidently watch & differentiate between the minute differences in his body language to work out whether he was giving me a true indication or a false one, whilst under the scrutiny of the judge.

Thankfully the trial was super relaxed with all fellow squaddies going through their own dog & handler issues & worries, and I can honestly say that doing your first couple of trials on home turf really allows you to relax into the whole trial experience & even if your day isn't going to plan, like ours last time, you know you have the support of all the squad keeping your spirits up, and taking your mind off of the next looming search. We were all watching out for each other on the running order and making sure no one missed their slot.

We were fortunate enough that we had 2 judges for this trial, so it kept the time waiting between searches down, not allowing you too much time to ponder or worry, or for the dogs to get bored or zone out.

Both judges Sue & Heather gave great, constructive feedback on each of the 4 searches, which really helps a newbie, as to what went right and what could be improved... this allows you to take this feedback away to work on before your next trial.

2 personal highs from Bobby's searches was his vehicle search, as he went past the hide, then air scented all the way back, to correctly find it, but as the wind was quite strong it had blown the scent across the vehicle, and he caught the scent and worked back. I've never seen him do this so visibly before and without any guidance from me.

His boxes & luggage search was another great search, as he was about to false indicate at one of the boxes, but his body language wasn't quiet right, so I found the confidence to work him on, and fortunately he found the hide on another piece of luggage, so for me it was a small breakthrough that I had understood the difference in his body language, and had the confidence to work him on, which I wouldn't have done a month ago.

I would recommend to everyone that wants to eventually trial, and doesn't feel confident enough or that they aren't quite ready, to give it a go when trials are run at K9sasUK as it is totally relaxed, and although you are being judged, you can kind of pretend it's just another search at one of our regular meets.

Everyone is willing to answer any questions you have and guide you through the whole process.

You can honestly learn so much from entering a trial, from issues you didn't realise you or your dog had, which can sometimes be highlighted in feedback from the judge to even how your dog behaves or copes in between searches whilst waiting in the car/van.

All of these small things really help you develop as a handler and as a team with your dog.. it's all about learning to understand each other during and in between searches.

Nose work has truly cemented a great bond between Bobby & I, as we are now starting to truly understand each other, which I don't think many other activities can do in quite the same way. It's all about teamwork, intuition, and trust.

Well done to everyone that took part, you all made a thoroughly enjoyable day.

Thank you to Jo, judges Sue & Heather and scribes Danielle & Dawn for a wonderful (if a bit chilly) morning.'

Mantrailing - The Dark Art

7th October 2019

Mantrailing is referred to as the dark art and I can totally understand why.  I have worked with dogs for over 20 years, studied their behaviour and their body movements and worked my dogs in lots of different sports over the years yet nothing challenges you more than observing a dog that is trailing.

The micro movements whilst on the move and following a trail you cannot see is challenging but it has it's merits.  The task for both dog and handler is not an easy one but the results are a stronger team feeling and a great game to play.

Keep an eye on the page for new dates coming up for introduction sessions.

Scent Meet

7th May 2019

Last night was meet night for our 'squadies' (those who have attended either our courses or workshops) to practice different searches and work on indications and search patterns.  

I like to make the meets varied and challenging so last night we started our people searches for the first time.  It went down well with both dogs and handlers and helped the handlers understand the way odour moves from a moving hide.

Odour isn't just mobile, it isn't just affected by air temperature and air flow, it swirls and eddies with movement and dances around obstacles making the search a complex challenge.

K9SasUk Blog

The Nose Knows 

12th July 2019

I have been involved in nosework since 2012 and I am still AMAZED by how outstanding the dogs nose is.  

We share our homes with sniffing machines yet spend most of the time deterring them from sniffing things and why?  Because it is not how we think they should behave.  

A new visitor to the home, the dogs natural instinct is to sniff their butt yet this is not socially acceptable so we interrupt them, and many owners do the same when dogs meet other dogs, they interrupt the butt sniff as it is not how we think they should say hello.

By sniffing the anal glands and the hormones and pheromones secreted there, a dog can tell all they need to know about their new acquaintance.

Remember whilst we SEE the world, our dogs SMELL it.

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