I have had it on my to-do list to respond to Ron’s reminder about keeping Mock Trials fun and that is certainly what we have tried to do up here in Massachusetts in all our Mock Trials. We want everyone to leave our Mock Trials feeling good about their dogs, feeling good about their handling skills and reveling in the camaraderie that is such a trade-mark of this sport. With that said, the pass rate has not been good at our last two Mock Trials and I’d like to share my thoughts about that.
First, each of the hides in NW1 were sourceable – meaning that the dog could put his/her nose right on the hide. As such, the judges (Jean McCord, Anne Steciw and myself) decided that a NW1 dog would only pass an element if they “went to source.” With regard to NW2, we continued to agree that sourceable hides required that the dog go to source. Diffuse hides would pass if the dog made a decision somewhere along the edges of the area where the hide was placed. So, I believe the hides in both of our most recent Mock Trials were eminently fair and passable – so why the low pass rate??? Well, though it is hard to do a mind-dump in a nutshell, this is what I think happened…..
1) Weather: All handlers had a TERRIFIC attitude given that it was POURING for most of the morning runs. I had the good fortune of being the exterior judge :):) and my chair was literally sitting in three inches of water . . . with ice still all around . . . all of which frankly limited where we could set up the exterior search location as we wanted to stay out of the icy areas and where the deep water was. So, handlers were GREAT to bring their dogs out in such weather, but it certainly added a “dampening” effect on many of the dogs.
2) Duration: I also was judging the last element and all of the dogs had gone straight through vehicles, interior, containers in that order before me. And I think some dogs were simply pooped out by the time they got to me. I know folks up here in New England want the elements offered back to back in a Mock Trial, but there were many dogs that just trudged around in my element and were not actively hunting for source, and many even walked the odor when the passed through the plume.
3) Fringing: From speaking with the other judges, dogs were fringing on the hides and not going to source. Remember, heavy reinforcement at source creates a dog that WANTS to find source, so don’t be cheap with your rewards!!! Be in the double digits when rewarding pieces of treats!!!!
4) Intensity to do the work: A dog does NOT have to be racing around, franticly hunting for source to be a good search dog. NOT AT ALL!! They can move at whatever speed is unique to them. But they do need to be focused on the task at hand and they must WANT to find the hide because the hide HAS VALUE to them. However, my instincts tell me that when I see so many dogs trudging around in a search area — and even walking scent — that folks have not built enough value into the odor. Or that folks are doing too many complex problems and they are not maintaining a good strong foundation of easy quick problems.
The way our K9NW dogs are trained results in dogs that are THRILLED to make the find – I actually see dogs light up when they get to source. The training we give our dogs makes them HAPPY to get to source. Even my reactive dog’s tail starts to sweep back and forth when she is at source – because she is happy and she has learned to trust The Game! So, what happened to that joy that I am so used to seeing in all the dogs???
Well, most of the handlers I saw at the Mock Trials have been training for at least one year, if not two years. And that probably means folks are out there doing those nifty high hides, or those glitzy exciting hides that channel or pool, or the hides that the dog has to work for some time before they can get to source. Those problems make us all hold our breath in anticipation, don’t they!! :):):) But, all those nifty exciting hides that are fun for us humans, one after another after another, just burn the good dog right out.
So, when was the last time you set out an easy row of boxes for your dog? Or, when was the last time you brought your dog into a room with a strong hide blowing right into his face that he could nail in seconds?? Or, when was the last time you did the Dumpster Drills I wrote about over a year ago? Those are your foundation hides — and I believe that there should be a much, MUCH, MUCH (can I say MUCH again??) higher ratio of easy quick hides to those glitzy ones when you work your seasoned dog. And you CERTAINLY need to build that energy and confidence into the young dogs with quick easy hides so that they do not learn the awful, gut-twisting (in us humans) option of “wandering around” the search area (what I call “dinking”).
Easy quick problems ARE NOT BORING to the dog – they EMPOWER your dog. As Ron Gaunt told me once, “Dogs never get tired of success.” So, help your dog stay strong, confident and energized by maintaining that high ratio of easy quick problems!
At any rate, those were the things I saw – I saw happy hopeful and eager handlers with dogs that were just a little jaded. So bring those boxes and other fun easy hides back out, don’t be cheap with the rewards AND reward OVER source – delivering reward 1″-2″-3″-4″-5″-6″ and even 12 inches away from source (which is what I saw at the Mock Trial) means that you are putting value on scent at that distance!!! You are teaching your dog to fringe!! Yikes!
Well, happy trialing and hopefully all this makes sense!