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Dog Blog: Friday training talk

Here's Jillie investigating the box. In a trial, there won't be the word "birch" on it, so she'll have to tell me which one it is.
Mike Lewis
Here's Jillie's "look" when she identifies the correct box. It's like a kid who found the golden egg on an easter egg hunt.
Mike Lewis

Use this space to discuss training issues -- brag about successes, lament setbacks, or bounce a question off the group.

I feel like I'm back in college: My pack is cramming for finals today. Tomorrow, Eddie and Jillie will try to pass their ORT -- Odor Recognition Test. It's a big deal in the nosework world, as they don't happen often up here. Fail this one, and, who knows, it could be a year before I have a chance to retest them. And fail this and they can't compete in a nosework trial.

I'm not too worried about Eddie. He passed his Birch ORT with flying colors a couple years ago. He's testing this time to see if he can identify anise. In practices at home, he's 100 percent. Although I do notice his motivation seems to be lower than with birch. It's almost like he searches the area for birch, then comes back to the anise and says, 'OK, this must be what you want me to find."

Jillie, on the other hand, is testing for her birch ORT for the first time. And she has everything working against her: I trained her from home and didn't put her in any nosework classes. In doing so, I cut a lot of corners. Her motivation isn't as good as Eddie's. And, while she knows what I want her to find and can successfully identify birch, she will often try to trick me by false alerting.

I swear I can tell the difference between a real alert and a false alert. When she alerts for real, it's sort of the look of sheer glee the moment a kid finds the golden $5 egg on an Easter egg hunt. When she false alerts, it's more tentative. It's more like she's asking me if that's it instead of telling me. It remains to be seen whether I can distinguish those looks when I don't know where the odor is myself.

In the ORT, a series of about 20 boxes will be placed out in a large indoor area, 3 feet apart and usually in parallel lines. The handler leads the dog through the boxes, and the dog must alert on the one-and-only box with the odor. The handler must then shout "Alert" within a time frame which I believe is a couple minutes.

When Eddie took his first ORT, he'd passed the same drill in practice probably a hundred times. Jillie has never worked a "regulation" ORT layout. The only box training she's done is in the house, with 5 boxes max. More often, we free-lance on searches. I'll hide a tin in the snow on our walks and she'll find it. She does pretty well there.

Anyhow, wish us luck. We do nosework just for fun, a way to keep their attention on walks and to brighten their day around the house. For us, the competitions are secondary. But I'd STILL like to see them pass ;)

What's up with your pack?