Sunday, February 13, 2011

Graduation Day...

What an exciting truffle hunting lesson!  ALL THREE pups got to go to today's scent lesson.  This batch of truffles would be our last for the season so we had a lot on the agenda.  We needed to progress the dogs to the next level before we lost access to fresh truffles and we wanted to test out some truffle oil during an extensive search session to determine if it would be an appropriate training tool.  Ideally we will train with actual truffles, but the oil would give us something to use for maintaining skills when we don't have access to the real thing.  We wanted to see how Da Vinci would handle moving away from scent boxes and continue to develop Cash's indicating skills.  We also really wanted to get Callie some practical experience before the season came to a close too...the challenge there being that she still has to be on leash and her activity carefully monitored.  She continues to rehab and is making very nice progress, but her environment must be controlled and activity limited.

We started by placing the truffles in two fields.  One larger field would be for Cash to search with several truffles tossed into the grass.  The smaller field had buried truffles as well as a cotton ball with truffle oil on it...this would be for Callie to search, allowing us to keep her search area small and introduce the challenge of uncovering the truffle.  And it would also show us if the oil was an effective training tool.  It was going to be a challenging day because of the wind, but the pups were up for it!

First we got Callie out.  This was her first time searching outside of the house/ yard...NO PROBLEM!  She was amazing!  She searched with such focus and intensity (not that any of us were surprised).  She would catch a scent and her head would whip around ("change of behavior") and lead us right to the truffle.  Then she would proceed to dig it up and toss it at me.  Excellent!  She dug up the oil coated cotton ball too!  I can't wait to see how she does off leash eventually...that will certainly be easier on me too!  She did so well, our instructor decided we would take her to a nearby park to "clear an area" of truffles or find any that might actually be growing.  That felt really good to hear :D

Next it was Cash's turn.  We went to the big field and sent him to work.  He is a softer dog, not as confident or driven, but he is very smart.  What that means is that we need to show him all of the behaviors he is responsible for when we hunt for truffles.  He needs to learn his responsibilities in smaller steps.  Find the truffle, tell me he found it and then show me where it is.  Each of these components has to be taught so he understands the activity as a whole.  Today's search was going to be a bit more challenging than past sessions because he would need to negotiate barriers like fences between him and the truffle and figure out how to work in the wind...problem solving!  At our last session he learned to bark at me and then re-find the truffle to "show me" where it was.  Today, our instructor wanted him to take the initiative to bark and get my attention...demanding that I look where he wants.  So off we went and slowly faded the guidance from me to alert when he found the truffle.  He got it.  We then took him to the smaller field with the buried truffles and cotton ball.  The wind was much higher here and he was overwhelmed with scent.  Silly boy was a barking fool!  "They are here!  They are here!  They are everywhere!"  He had to work really hard to locate the source with all that truffle scent swirling about, but he did it!  Bark bark bark..."show me"...and he would proceed to run to the truffle and lay down on it.  I'd dig it up and give him his treat.  Good boy!

It was Da Vinci's turn but the wind was going to make it too hard for him at this point.  So our instructor decided to head to the park nearby.  Callie would "clear" the area of truffles and find one that we placed at the end of the search area.  Then, once cleared, Da Vinci would get to work the area to find truffles we had placed.  Callie went straight to work and did great.  She worked the terrain for about 10 minutes before we allowed her access the area where we had placed a find.  Woohooo!  Way to go Sweet Callie.  Our instructor even said...and I quote..."I feel confident that if there were truffles out here, she would have found them."  Music to my ears (especially coming from her)!!!!

Da Vinci's turn!  We placed 3 truffles out in the open.  This would be his first time searching for them without scent boxes.  Challenging because as he is learning the scent, he also learns to target the boxes and find the one with a truffle in it.  Now, he had to rely only on his nose.  We had no doubt he could do it, but figuring out the change would be hard.  Even harder with all the distractions of a new location.  When we first got him out, he was wild from being crated for quite some time.  "TrovarloDa Vinci's attention and send him to search, we saw that he had found himself a powder covered doughnut.  He raced off with it but was a very good boy when I called him to me and traded him for a treat.  Then we sent him to search for the truffle...PERFECT!  He ran up the hill, caught the scent and honed in on it.  This time his nose went straight to the truffle!!!!  Yes!  Good puppy!  Lots of praise and a yummy yummy reward.

Success!  Now they are all wiped out and happy.  I think Callie might be in some sort of coma from sensory overload.  That was the most stimulating environment she has been in since her injury in November.  Happy dogs.  Good dogs!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Truffle Puppy...

We received a new shipment of truffles yesterday and I got Da Vinci working the scent right away. He has been off for about a week so I gave him a couple easy ones to remind his puppy brain of the game. Then it was time for some challenge. This time I set the scent box in a not-so-obvious place. He tried to be lazy and walk from box to box waiting for me to mark and reward...when that didn’t work, he decided he might want to use his talented little Terv. nose. Got it! For the next few, he was much quicker to put that sniffer to work! Good Da Vinci!

I'll repeat this exercise again tonight and tomorrow try a larger search area.

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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Confidence Sighting...

Last Sunday, we had another scent lesson working on truffles.  And it was fantastic!  I only took Cash to this lesson.  Callie is continuing rehab for her knee injury and Da Vinci is working scent boxes.  We were going truffle hunting at a local high school!  I arrived and walked with our instructor into the football stadium.  She had me toss 3 truffles outside of the perimeter fencing into the adjacent fields.  Three more were placed within the fencing at various locations...including one very tough one at the edge of some brush.  We went to get Cash and sent him to work...down wind from the first truffle.  I gave him his cue and off he went into his joyful gallop waiting for a waft of truffle scent to hit him and change his behavior into a scent seeking hound.  This was his first working environment with distractions...a dog at a neighboring house and a runner on the track.  I knew it would be hard for him.  Fearful Sheltie + strange dog + runner would usually lead to barking, defense mode and lack of focus.  However, I have seen glimmers of true confidence in him during two activities...herding and scent work.  Every so often, I see it...his face relaxes, the worry just drains from his body and he does what he instinctively knows how to do.  Those moments are few and far between and the most obvious times are when he is working the sheep.  But...when he is working a scent, I see moments of it...he calls off of distractions easier...and he seems to find that continuing to work the search is more rewarding than perusing that runner or barking dog near by.  We walked in a pattern on the fields waiting for him to find the first truffle.  He caught it's scent and zeroed in on it.  Good boy.  Time to teach him an alert/ indicator.  We asked him to "speak" and then sent him off to find another truffle.  He was on it right away.  This time he stood still over the truffle...we asked him to "speak"...he came to us and barked and then I asked him to "show me".  He took me right to it, poking his nose at the ground until I found it, placed it in my pocket and rewarded him.  I believe she called this a "recall re-find".  On to the next truffle...he barked, showed met the truffle and got his reward.  That particular truffle may have gone bad because it's the only one Cash had difficulty finding.  We leashed him up and went into the stadium.  Truffle it!  Truffle #2...Rockstar!!!  Truffle #3 at the edge of the brush...he worked at that one for longer, trying to figure out how to get to it...but he stayed on task and got it in the end.  This time he would bark at me and bark at the truffle...even getting impatient with me when I couldn't locate it!  He nudged it my way so I would pick it up and give him his reward.  Excellent!!!!  We gave him praise for a job well done and he walked next to us back to the car with a calm confidence that oozed with "I did it.  And I did it good!"

I've got more truffles on the way thanks to Oregon Truffle Oil ( and am hoping the season will last long enough for Callie to get out and do some off leash hunting in a couple weeks.  Da Vinci will continue to work on the scent boxes until he really understands the scent he is to hit on.