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!