Containers are the bedrock....
Nosework and containers. Love them or hate them, container searches are the bedrock upon which is built everything pertaining to this hobby. Winnie’s relationship with containers has been an interesting journey complete with ebbs and flows, successes and frustrations. Our initial introduction to the nose work game was at the hands of a trainer who really didn’t have much understanding of the Nose Work sport, his background was Schutzhundt. Treats placed under overturned cups where the dogs knocked over the cup to get the treat was our first lesson. There wasn’t a second lesson with that trainer because even though I knew nothing about nose work, I had an instinctive feeling the guy was kinda faking it. Though we didn't return, the damage was done, Winnie’s propensity to use her paw was born on that day and has impacted Winnie’s searching career ever since. Winnie and I have had the good fortune to work with many great trainers who have all been very helpful with advice, practice routines, and reprogramming techniques. And like I say, we have had much success and some frustration as we navigate the unpredictable currents, eddies and rip tides of the rivers upon which flow the concepts of the containers search.
From the most recent Webinar on paying or not at previously found hides hosted by Dana Zinn and Sue Sternberg, I got a tidbit of info that gave me an avenue for thought about Winnie’s and my current containers search condition. When explaining what she believes to be true about nose work, Dana professes that what is working for any of us now in any situation won’t always work, “it changes as we go.” That is the best description of Winnie’s and my relationship with container searches, “it changes as we go.”
The first fix for the pawing was getting in fast to pay Winnie at the initial COB which kept her from having time to get up the paw. That worked at the beginning levels until the introduction of distractors. I couldn’t pay at the mere sign of interest in a container, Winnie most definitely is interested in the container with roast beef. We worked through this phase with lots of distractors and one odor where Winnie could keep getting paid at source as many times as she left roast beef or cheddar cheese and went to odor. Next came the level with unknown number of hides which blew up our system to smithereens. Literally! Ask any of our trainers. They will attest to the number of containers Winnie took out of service. And in class Winnie always had to go last. For the next levels our only plan was to pray.
At Master level in AKC and NW3 in NASCSW, it was only by the grace of God we could get through a containers search with no false alerts and it took a miracle to make it without faults for trashing the scene. As is the nature of a search with an unknown number of hides, we need to stay in the search area longer and in containers that only allows more time for accidents. But staying in a search because I didn’t know if we found all the odor sources was a bad option fraught with pit falls.
Up to this point I had learned a lot just by slugging it out with fate. I learned the subtle differences in Winnie from the expression on her face to the tautness of her body when she is at a container with food rather than target odor. Winnie was fairly easy to convince that moving to odor was the best plan even though she knew she could get into the container of food if given the time. But here is where the pawing behavior resurfaced, this time with a vengeance. The smell of food mixed with odor seemed to motivate Winnie and also elevated a sense of frustration that brought out something new; pouncing on every container in the search be it odor, distractor or empty. This new behavior came to full escalation in a container search within the cavernous industrial building that houses among other interesting things the rare WWII Bell P-59 Airacomet fighter aircraft. Like a shaft of light streaming in reflecting off the silvery fuselage of the plane, a path was illuminated for me towards a new view and gave me yet another new direction.
At the Elite Trial at the March Field Air Museum in Riverside, CA hosted by Linda Buchanan of K9s Love to Search, Winnie and I had a container search like we have never had before. All our old ghosts came back, amplified by many degrees, to haunt and taunt us. https://rumble.com/vgxtln-nacsw-elite-riverside-elite-4-26-21-roughing-the-containers.html
We started off nicely, Winnie’s nose was working before we crossed the start line and she took us strait to odor. Winnie enthusiastically moved on and was attracted to another container. The initial pounce was my first missed clue this was not target odor. As Winnie dismissed the interesting container to sniff the big box instead of moving on with her I lead her back and I stayed there so Winnie went back to the initially cast aside container. She “daisy petaled” back after gathering data from the giant box and decided to tell me about the container. “Alert” says I, “no” says the judge. Winnie says, “Sorry, mom. Didn’t you hear me say it had butter in it?” Ugh!
As the video continues, Winnie circles back to the container that had odor she already found. In retrospect I should have paid her. And this is the point at which I hypothesize Winnie's frustration builds. After the false alert, Winnie senses my hesitancy to call on anything she is interested in but really needed me to reinforce odor when she returned to the known hide. We get the next one right but Winnie knows I wasn’t confident. The judge probably knew it and everyone watching knows I am no longer confident. Worst though is that Winnie knows it. We muddle through, leaving odor uncalled as Winnie tries to figure me out and I try to figure her out. Not the time or place for such actions. Another opportunity comes when Winnie hits on a previously found odor and again I should have paid but didn't. I think she now figures containers with food don’t pay nor do containers with odor. “In that case,” says Winnie, “let’s just have fun and jump on these containers willy-nilly.” Behind the apparatus and out of camera view, Winnie is just attacking the boxes, we correctly called a third hide and when I miss a third opportunity to restore Winnie’s faith at a previously found hide, Winnie’s frustration is volcanically clear as she adamantly sticks to the container waiting for payment. At least I finally paid her but I was so out of my mind by this time I couldn’t even think. Thank goodness for video or I may have never picked up what Winnie was putting down.
Link to video on Rumble: https://rumble.com/vgxtln-nacsw-elite-riverside-elite-4-26-21-roughing-the-containers.html
Reviewing this search on video has been hugely helpful. I can see the progression, I can interpret how the false alert changed my energy and therefore affected Winnie. And I can't without shame count how many times I let Winnie down only to have her keep trying. Our dogs are incredibly amazing. It is a painful but integral part of this sport to honestly and fairly critique ourselves.
The moral of the story is we must constantly evaluate where we are together as dog and handler and how we relate, and also how we are going along individually. Winnie’s pouncing on the container with butter in it stirred up my old behavior of single mindedly focusing on the faults for pawing. My old behavior effected Winnie who fell deeper into her old pattern. And so on. The changes from beginning to end during this short video chronically captures our entire containers history backwards.
Among other things I learned, it is very clear that with each next moment we must be ready to change what we did yesterday when it no longer works today. If repaying at a previously found hide is what is needed, do it. In practice and at trials. Don’t be worried you might be teaching the dog to constantly return to the same hide for a guaranteed payday. Instead try to determine why they might need a payday. If at the moment, right now the situation needs you to repay, do it. Be mindful of what precedes a return to known odor. I don’t believe there is any manipulative or calculative thoughts in any single one of our dogs’ minds. Like the river shapes itself to the confinement of it's banks, so is shaped the dogs behavior like the waters within banks provided by us. We may not remember when but there is part of what we did before that manifests into what is happening now. The dogs are always within the parameters of the banks we build.
Another quote from the Sternberg-Zinn Patreon membership group came in their newsletter about wether and when to repay or not at previously found source but I think you can apply this quote to any aspect of nosework.
“The range of repaying or not spans from never to always.” Dana Zinn. I love this quote.
For more info on the Sternberg-Zinn Group forum follow this link: