Bobbing for Apples
Updated: May 30, 2019
This past Spring the American Kennel Club announced there will be some changes to their Scent Work Elements, namely Buried hides. Responding to input from judges and competitors, the organization became aware of issues with buried hides experienced by many.
At the Novice and Advanced level, Buried Element is 8 or 10 containers of soil with one or two sources of odor placed in a vessel and buried 4 to 6 inches in dirt with a screened type covering resting on the soil. Winnie and I started practicing buried hides without incident. We had trouble with Winnie using her paw to indicate she had found odor and this resulted in faults but we still managed to get 3 qualifying scores for her Novice Element title. When we started Advanced Level, the trials had begun using sand instead of soil and this threw a momentary wrench in Winnie's success. I was told there was concern that the soil being used had chemicals that could be harmful when inhaled. Ok. Winnie practiced with sand and got quickly got used to it. Soon she had earned 3 Qs for her Advanced Element title but many others had begun to experience frustrations with dogs false alerting resulting in No Qualify.
Speculation about search area contamination developed when some dogs like Winnie used their paws on the surface of the sand containing the odor, lots of theories floated around and many small alterations in container size and screened coverings were tried with little satisfaction. The number of dogs with qualifying scores continued to plummet. Worst part was the inability for competitors to predict how the judge and trial host were going to present the search.
One trial used a spray bottle to wet the tops of the containers of sand. The judge said it helped bring out the odor. Some felt the layer of wet sand had more of a sealing effect. The first time Winnie searched the containers where the spray bottle method was used, she found one odor but I misread her and we false alerted when searching for the second hide. The next day, they used the same method of spritzing the surface of the sand and Winnie found two hides in 21 seconds! Obviously, she figured it out fairly quickly. #NoseWithFeet
So, AKC has decide to change the Buried Element to Submerged Element: same concept but instead of soil or sand, the odor vessel is submerged in buckets of water. Winnie and I got to experience a submerged search last weekend at the Chris Oliver seminar hosted by Unleashed Dog Training and it went well. We did about 5 searches of 6 buckets of water with one containing odor.
All the handlers knew which bucket contained odor. All the dogs who ran the search hit odor with relative consistency by the 2nd or 3rd search. None of us tipped a bucket over although I can foresee that happening and oh, what a mess that will be. Talk about search area contamination! Only one dog stuck his whole head into the water as if he was bobbing for apples thus spreading the odor which was now all over and dripping from his face and onto the pavement surface. This will be another possible issue of search area contamination and dogs who follow may hit odor in the puddles on the ground. Some dogs drank from the buckets. The essential oils are toxic to dogs when ingested. That seems like a problem to me.
It'll be interesting when Submerged Element rolls out to the trial environment in October and I am looking forward to watching the evolution. Fortunate to have a highly adaptable sniffing dog, I don't see any of this bothering Winnie. And being that I never place a lot of emphasis on outcome, it won't bother me either. Winnie and I will watch it like a movie looking forward to the next scene.