Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Buried Treasures...

It is fascinating to see how quickly dogs learn!  Since our last lesson, all three dogs have been continuing to work on the truffle scent.  I've had to modify training for Callie temporarily while she goes through stem cell treatment and rehab for her knee...she has a pretty short leash right now, but still working the scent successfully.  Hopefully in a month or so, we can go to some off leash or at least long line hunting.  In the meantime, I hide the truffle for her inside or in a designated area outside but make it harder for her to pin point the source. 

The day after our last lesson, I tried taking the older two to a nearby field to hunt for a truffle I had placed.  Poor decision on my part!  One...they weren't ready for that large of an area.  Two...it's the same field we take them to to play ball or frisbee so it's already "charged" with excitement for the game we always play there.  Three...WAY too many distracting smells from the snowman making fun the previous day.  Four...Callie can't have that much freedom yet if we are to get her healthy.  Ooops.  My mistake!  We somehow managed to be successful, but only with a lot of luck!  So, I had to remind myself that I need to make smart decisions when planning out their training sessions and decided to raise criteria in a different way...

With Cash, I stopped using a box or bag to put the truffle in and started hiding a single truffle outside and, after he found it, asking him to "show me" where it was...encouraging him to be specific and then giving him his reward at the source.  He did fantastic so the next step was to remove any sort of track I might be laying that would lead him to the truffle.  Next time, I walked out on the deck, tossed the truffle into the yard (while he was inside so he couldn't peek).  I Brought him outside and he knew what game we were going to play before I even said it..."trovarlo" ("find it" in Italian).  Winner!  Great find, Cash!

Da Vinci has been working the scent boxes, but I started to find that the leash may be giving him mixed signals.  He IS a puppy working on leash manners so I can't be upset that he was paying more attention to me than the boxes.  So, I gave it a try without the leash and he definitely used his nose more.  Made sense after I thought about why he wouldn't sniff the boxes...he was offering me good leash walking and waiting for a reward for THAT behavior, not the searching.  After taking the leash off, the game was a bit more disorganized, but the end result was what I wanted...he used his nose, stayed engaged in the game and worked to find the scent box that would earn his reward.  I think he started to "get it" that day!!!!!  Good puppy!  Not bad for a boy just shy of 5 months!

My goal for Callie this week was to remove her ball reward from the actual truffle site so that it came from me after she found the truffle AND showed me where it was.  Piece of cake.  She figured that out quick.  She even picked up the truffle and tossed it at me!!  Funny girl.

Today we raised criteria for Cash and Callie!  Today, I buried the truffle under a light layer of dirt.  ROCKSTARS!  Both dogs found the truffle and Callie even uncovered it with her nose.  Nicely done!

I'm fascinating at how quickly they learn if I take the time to think about the progression, raise criteria appropriately and take a step back when I've over-faced them.  They really don't train on the truffles a lot....maybe 2-3 hunts (less than 5 minutes).  I honestly spend more time thinking about my next training plan.  And when they get it right, I know I planned well.  I'm learning to be more thoughtful about training, rather than going for repetitions.  I'm so proud of all 3 of them!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Mock Truffle Hunting...

Today marks day 5 since the dogs were introduced to the truffle scent. I've been having them work on the scent source 2-3 times each day and they are all progressing nicely. I spent a couple days working on identifying the scent and pairing their reward with it. Callie is moving along the fastest, but that is to be expected because she is so high drive and ball motivated. Cash seemed to have an "ah-ha" moment yesterday and he all of a sudden was confident that he knew what he was looking for. Da Vinci is still working on identifying the scent and will probably take some time to really make the association between his reward and the truffles. His older brother and sister have played many "find it" games so they are familiar with this game already. Yesterday was the first day I actually hid the truffles for Cash and Callie without using the scent boxes and that seemed to clear up any remaining confusion they had ("ahhh, it's that smell you are looking for...not a scent box!!!! I get it!").

We met with our instructor for a second lesson. This time, they would be searching outside and greater area. This was their first outside hunt. Cash and Da Vinci went to the lesson. Poor Callie is not quite recovered enough to be off leash in such an open area with uneven terrain. Cash worked for most of the lesson and he did REALLY well! He showed us all that he knows the scent source, and by his third hunt, he was totally on task and focused. Way to go, Little Buddy!!!! Da Vinci came out for a shorter session and we worked with the scent boxes. Let's just say he has not quite figured out the game...but, hey, he's 4 months old and never played a "find it" game before. Big brother and sis have an advantage. He's going to catch up in no time! We came home and hid the truffles in the backyard for Callie to work. For the first one, I walked on the outside of the fence, reached through and placed the truffles with her ball under a couple logs...that way I wouldn't lay any tracks inside the yard that she could follow. Wow! did she do great. She was on it from the release and no one had set foot in that side of the yard since last night! Two more hunts for her and she did great.

What a fun day...and the snow just made it even better :D

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New Beginnings...

The grand adventure officially began today!!!!  Our first training truffles arrived, just 30 minutes before our first scent detection lesson...perfect timing!

The lesson went great...after the olfactory assault of opening the box!  The aroma of these gems is intense, offensive, enchanting, euphoric and addicting...and gives me a headache!  I took Cash and Da Vinci to the lesson.  Callie is still on restricted activity and would be TOO excited to focus so she had to stay home.  Cash worked during the lesson and I learned how to introduce each of the dogs to our "scent source", accommodating for their motivational differences.  All three dogs begin with scent boxes...learning to associate their reward with the box containing the truffles.  For Cash, it was a click and hot dog reward for "hitting" on the correct box.  For Callie, the truffles get paired with her squeaky ball.  Da Vinci will start with the clicker & food reward and possibly transition to a toy later.  In these beginning stages, the goal is to get them familiar with the scent, associating the pungent truffles with a reward, learning a verbal cue and possibly finding an "indicator" behavior.  By the end of the session, Cash offered a down, looked back to me or pawed at the box...we will see which he chooses.  After our lesson, we made the 35 minute drive home...which felt much longer being trapped in the car with the foul, yet intoxicating fumes.  I introduced Callie and Da Vinci to the truffle scent at home and they did their first scent box exercise.  Callie initially thought I wanted her to POUNCE on all containers she came across, but eventually realized that they did not all produce praise and her squeaky ball...then started to use her nose.  She is a smart, motivated girl who finds great satisfaction in working.  Her face said it all when we were finished!  We will see how she does tomorrow!  Da Vinci was very thoughtful and a bit too focused on me so the clicks and rewards probably seemed a bit random to him...but I have a suspicion the game will look much different with him tomorrow.  He is a thinker and may show a whole different understanding once he has time to process this new game.  On his last exercise, he really put his nose to work...was it an ah-ha moment or a random coincidence?

While we have the truffles (7-12 days before they deteriorate), we will train hard.  Another lesson is set for Sunday.  Before then, I hope to establish a verbal cue and clear understanding of the scent they are searching for.  Until then, we will celebrate the launch of our grand adventure with a very appropriate selection of wine.