Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A worthwhile adventure K9 Nose Work for your Shiba Inu

Are you wondering if your Shiba has the ability, capacity or desire to participate in nose work? K9 Nose Work©  created by the National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW™ www.nacsw.net ), is a detection style game where dogs learn to get excited about using their nose to seek out a favorite toy or treat reward placed in one of several boxes. Your Shiba will benefit from the way the game of K9 Nose Work® is designed from the beginning to give the dog the choice and independence to hunt for a primary reward. We start with a primary reward to build drive and the desire to hunt with all types of dogs no matter their physical abilities, ages or level of training. The great thing about starting nose work as a game is that it provides the most flexibility for all levels of dog owners no matter their dog’s sport background. Each dog and handler progresses at their own pace as the dog solves puzzles and learns their own way, best for each dog; fast, slow, blind, deaf, old, young or retired champion.
Every description of the Shiba breed includes the words “independent”. The game is well suited for this trait and as I discovered with my Shibas, once exposed to the fun and independent nature of hunting in nose work, they were much more willing to work with me in other training situations. It’s been a great compliment to the Shiba’s hunting desire in a controlled environment and they have thanked me for it with a stronger bond and wonderful relationship. As each dog grows more confident with the puzzles, the game expands to entire rooms, exterior areas and vehicles. The challenges can grow to resemble much more of the detection style searching and for those interested in training more advanced skills; target odors (birch, anise, etc) are added to the search, and much more! Competition is available for teams that enjoy the challenges and opportunities to Title under the NACSW™.

Starting with just a few boxes, an inexpensive piece of equipment, my Shiba; Atlas searched for his treats placed in the boxes. It expanded the searching for treats with more boxes, folded into puzzles, mazes, stacked, hidden, nested, scattered, in every imaginable way. Other objects were added too, like cones, chairs, tables, carts and bins of all sorts. Then the boxes went with us, searching these puzzles in training rooms, garages, houses, parks, backyards, barns, and fields. The nose work game is only limited by your imagination. If you need some ideas on how the game starts and where it can go, check out the Parker Videos (https://www.dogwise.com/ItemDetails.cfm?ID=DGT280). Part of the fun is thinking up new searches for all teams, it’s an interactive game for both dog and handlers.

I started with a particularly challenging Shiba, a resource guarder, sensitive about his space, super high energy and when he became an adolescent I was not very successful training him to have good manners. He got plenty of exercise but the physical exercise lacked mental stimulation. K9 Nose work® changed that and gave him a job to do. Instead of letting the Shiba intelligence free to devise all manner of ways to play their games, many times at our expense, put those Shiba skills to work. Nose work provided a wealth of puzzles for him to solve and exhausted his energy faster than any 10 mile hike. Motivation via food worked in my favor, but it was the desire and instinct to hunt, seek and problem solve in the nose work environment that saved him. It was extremely rewarding for me to see him hunt happily every time the boxes appeared. The best part was giving him the freedom to choose his own path and for me to learn by watching him work out all the puzzles. K9 Nose work® became my passion because of the wonderful changes in the relationship with my Shiba Inu.

The sport of K9 Nose Work® had just started growing across the country in 2011 when I started playing the game with my Shiba, Atlas. I had no plans to compete, no desire and no idea what to expect. After about 9 months of having fun, I had advanced to working with the first target odor; Birch (an essential oil on several q-tips in a small tin container). I drove 16 hours (one way) to attend my first Odor Recognition Test (ORT), a requirement to compete in a trial. This is a test which consists of 12 identical boxes normally in 2 rows where one box has the target odor placed inside. The challenge of the ORT is to test if the dog recognizes the odor in a box and then can the handler recognize their dog working the odor to call “Alert” on the correct box. I had never competed with a dog and was very nervous.  With my novice skills reading my dog’s communication working the birch odor, Atlas and I, missed, when I called “Alert” on the wrong box. It was disappointing but just seeing him navigate the environment and hunt was enough for me to be hooked on the sport. I now compete with all three of my Shiba’s, each has a different search style.  Of course, they have Shiba similarities but each is an individual and part of the fun is learning how to grow my skills as a handler and be the best teammate possible when competing in nose work.

The NACSW™ sanctions K9 Nose Work® Trials that come in two forms; NW1, NW2 and NW3 were rolled out first, Element Specialty Trial (EST) are new since 2014. Once a dog has passed the ORT for the first odor; birch. That dog can be entered into an NW1 trial to find one placed birch hide (hidden from handler view) in four different search areas; containers, interiors, exteriors and vehicles. The dog must subsequently pass an anise ORT and have titled at NW1 to compete in NW2, and must pass a clove ORT and have titled at NW2 to compete in NW3.

Element Specialty trials are half day events where one element is searched; either containers, interiors, exteriors or vehicles. Normally there are at least 4 search areas per half day trial of one element. So each team will search 4 container search areas for the opportunity to title in a Level 1 Container trial, or 4 interiors search areas for a Level 1 Interior trial. For all Level 1 Element Specialty Trials, there will be 1 hide per search area. Element Specialty Trials get more challenging at Level 2 and Level 3 with multiple hides, additional odors, and intentionally placed distractions.

For a dog to title at a NW1 trial they must located one hide in each search area and the handler must call “Alert” correctly for the judge to approve. If the team correctly finds the 4 hides then the dog earns an NW1 Title.

·         1 hide per search area it will be Birch

·         4 search areas (containers, interiors, exteriors and vehicles

·         Handler must correctly call “Alert” once their dog has found each hide

·         The team must find all 4 hides correctly for the dog to title that day

A team is required to find all the hides on one day for NW1, NW2 and NW3, there is no accumulation over multiple trials, so if a team passes 3 out of 4 at one trial then at their next try they still have to pass a four elements to title. It is a significant challenge but well worth the achievement. Each search is timed so there is the additional opportunity to achieve placements (1st, 2nd and 3rd) in each element. NW2 and NW3 are very similar to NW1 with some additional challenges. Each level adds another odor; NW2 adds Anise, and NW3 adds Clove. At NW2 there can be no more than 2 hides in each of the four search areas (containers, interiors, exterior and vehicles) and the number of hides is disclosed to the handler prior to the search. Some additional challenges are added for NW2;

·         No more than 2 hides in each search area for NW2

·         For NW2 the handler is told how many hides in each search are for NW2

·         Interiors at NW2 will include 2 rooms

·         Up to 4 vehicles can be present in the search area


For NW3 the biggest added complication to the trial level is that it will not be known to the handler whether there are 1, 2, or 3 hides in each search area. This increases the challenge to each team significantly, the handler must be able to read when there dog has found all the hides in each search area.

·         Up to 3 hides in each search area for NW3

·         For NW3 the handler doesn’t know how many hides are in each search area

·         The handler must correctly find all the hides and call finish in each search area to title

·         For interiors in NW3 there are 3 rooms and 1 of those rooms MAY be clear of odor

·         A 3rd odor of Clove is added

·         Up to five vehicles can be present in the vehicle search area

·         The handler finds out at the end of the trial if they have successfully by finding all the hides that day and if so receives an NW3 Title.

Video examples of NW1 and NW2 are available via the NACSW™ website.

If a dog can successfully pass 3 different NW3 trials receiving a title then they achieves a NW3 Elite Title. As the NACSW™ organization continues to grow they have added additional trial opportunities. The newest is the Elite Division trials, where all teams need to have achieved the NW3 Elite Title level in-order to trial. The new Elite Division trials no longer have predefined search elements, so an exterior type search may include containers or vehicles. Or an interior type search might include vehicles. In addition there is no longer requirements on the number of hides and the number could be disclosed or not before the search. This new Elite Division level gets very close to real world type of searches environments that professional detection handlers might encounter, show up and work a location with many unknowns. There are additional nuances about trialing; faults, distracters, and limits on hide elevation so if you are looking for more specific trial rules and information check out the NACSW™ website at www.nacsw.net.
(Photo Credits Jason Heng, Blue Amrich, Pawsitive Impressions, Em and Zach Photography)

Opportunities to participate in an ORT and Trials are far more available now. As of 2015 the sport has exploded across the country with trials, instructors, camps, seminars, the NACSW™ National Invitational, and many enthusiastic nose work teams in many states. There will be 31 states in 2015 (http://www.nacsw.net/trial-calendar-information) that will have hosted K9 Nose Work® trial. As of 2015 the UKC is sanctioning nose work competitions. The UKC nose work competition has its own set of rules and challenges, providing an additional opportunity to participate in nose work.  http://www.ukcdogs.com/Web.nsf/WebPages/DogEvents/Nosework There are also several other organizations that have created scent work games each with their own challenges.

Atlas achieved his NW3 Elite title in July 2015 having successfully titled at three NW3 Trials, becoming the first Shiba to accomplish this and becoming one of about 100 NW3 Elite title holders from NACSW™ trials around the country. It was a 4 year journey! Since the sport was just starting in my region I traveled all over the country to trial in 15 different states, making the journey very rewarding, including the opportunity to meet so many nose work enthusiasts. I’ll steal a comment from a fellow Shiba handler when they told me it is a big accomplishment to title a Shiba in any sport. And its great to see a number of Shiba teams around the country competing in nose work at many levels including NW3. It has been a great experience to meet so many teams, cheer their success and appreciate the great determination and training it takes to compete with a Shiba Inu. Many of the nose work searches I set for my Shibas aren’t about competition. I play the game for fun, giving all my dogs puzzles to engage their minds. K9 Nose work® is a great way to have fun with your dogs!



Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The rest of the story - Paid in Full

Soon after writing about our journey seeking the NW3 Elite title (last blog post Paid in Full ) I had accepted that it would come one day, and super excited for the next trial. Did it happen at the next trial? No. To the contrary the next trial was one of those experiences that left me wondering again if it would. I've had days like that before, fireworks come to mind, an experience I was not looking to repeat. Well we didn't encounter any fireworks, but the roofers across the street using rapid fire nail guns was an added stress that totaled up to it not being our day.
Atlas handled it okay to start, he was concerned for sure, jumping around when the nails starting firing and looking off into the distance in "Alert" mode. Not the kind of alert I was planning for the day. I tried to comfort him and tried to not let my emotions get the better of me, worrying about him.
Into the first interior room and boom, snap called on the first object he showed interest in and got a "No". I was not successful in keeping my emotions in check and I had lost my concentration. It took every bit of me to regain my composer in the hall before going into the second room. The 2nd room was a good search, found 2 hides and was feeling confident we had found everything in the room. The 3rd room however went south, when Atlas stood up on a plastic cabinet and it rocked forward. He did not cope well, jumping back and he seemed very startled. I told him it was okay, but I had trouble getting him to focus. I tried to get him to search in the stalls of the bathroom. Atlas was having none of it and when he started searching high onto the counter I called finish (for a clear room).
All in all the interior search was not the end of the world, I had messed up but I had a lot of searching left for the day, and having some success would mean overcoming a big distraction, the nail guns. Ah but that was not completely the case either. The vehicle search was several minutes of agony for the handler. I had not seen Atlas out for a walk during a search in a long time, poor guy was just not focused on the task at hand. We did our best and around the time of the 30 second call Atlas ran into some odor and worked it out. Two and a half minutes of walking around the vehicles showed that some distractions have an unknowable effect. He recovered on exteriors and solved the puzzles like a champ, a great success for the day. 
Containers was last and once again the handler needed to be reminded of an age old lesson. Proof that when things go sideways it accumulates sometimes. Atlas is the one with the expert nose and when he says we are done finding all the odor, don't try to convince him otherwise. "No, lets go check this corner bag because you haven't check it to my satisfaction." Ok said Atlas, you want me to find the food in this bag and tell you about it, happy to comply Mr. treat dispenser. Handler rewarded with a "No", Doh!
It was a beautiful day, sunny in the mountains of Colorado. I had humble pie for lunch and dinner, Atlas still got lots of treats and a day of searching. He didn't die from the noise of the nail gun and was not crushed by a plastic cabinet. I would later realize that the cabinet reaction was very telling. It seemed at the time like a big overreaction, but if there was odor in the room he probably wouldn't have acted that way. I have had many experiences where Atlas had run into objects, crashing is a better description, but in the presence of odor he didn't react. No odor resulted in a big worried reaction, when not in search mode being concerned about ones surroundings can be all consuming.
I was discouraged, yep no getting around it. Something totally out of my control had distracted me and broke my concentration. Mainly I was irritated with myself for letting it get the best of me. The result, it was time to take a break, focus on having some fun. I pulled from the next trial, which was just before the 4th of July. I didn't wish to have another fireworks experience, not worth the additional stress on Atlas.
A couple months later we tried again, drove 3 days to Oregon to have some fun. It only took 14 - NW3 trials for Atlas and I to get all 3 NW3 titles required for the Elite. And 4 trials for each of NW1 and NW2. Seems like a lot doesn't it? Maybe, I'll steal a comment from a fellow Shiba handler when they told me it is a big accomplishment to title a Shiba in anything. Atlas is the first Shiba to get his Elite title, but that doesn't mean as much as the miles I've traveled with him to get there. More fun to come now the NACSW had Elite trials. Whoo hoo!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Paid in Full - Adapt

Paid in Full

As summer approaches it will mark four years since we made the decision that if we couldn’t find a way to learn to deal with our adolescent dog; his neurotic energy, dog reactive outbursts, violent resource guarding, the biting me, then we would euthanize him. Little did we know at the time that I had been given a glorious adventure that would send me on a wonderful journey that continues. This all happened because we started K9 Nosework®.

After a couple of months of freeing him to hunt for treats in boxes, he started to be less neurotic which allowed me to be successful with other training. It wasn’t easy; we spent every day for 8 months working through the resource guarding, success was being able to put a bowl of food down in his crate and release him to eat without a violent display. We accomplished a number of things after starting nosework; walking nicely while on a leash was big and not reacting to almost every dog we saw was still over a year away. We had set backs too, I learned to see when he was uncomfortable, the warning signals returned, we adapting to him and this summer will also mark 3 years since last incident with me. Throughout this time the constant was nosework, we played the game a lot; some weeks multiple times per day, everyday, and it worked like a valve on a pressure cooker and relaxed his mind. He became eager to “work” for food in all training situations, and nosework changed him in a way I can’t fully explain. My intense little dog is still in there but it’s channeled into the fun work we do and the weight of the world on his shoulders diminished.

When we started nosework we just wanted a happy home life, and he had so much fun hunting for the treats and then odor, I decided to try the competitive venue. I drove to Colorado, a short 16 hour drive to run him in an ORT for the first odor birch. We didn’t pass the ORT so I drove the long 16 hours home. My dog succeeded by not loosing his cool, being in a venue with many other dogs, and we passed another ORT a few months later only having to drive a short 13 hours (one way). That was just the beginning. In total, I have traveled 100s of thousands of miles for nosework; seminars, camps, trials, training and teaching. I enjoyed handling a dog so much I worked a dog professionally for a pest control company for a year of windshield time, yes more driving. I became an instructor through the NACSW and I thoroughly enjoy spending hours coaching others in classes each week as the sport grows here in Texas.

When I started competing for the first title level NW1, I thought there was a pinnacle to be achieved the NW3 Elite (3 NW3 Titles). If I got there then I would have paid my penance. I know that is not the right word for it, but it has stuck with me over all those miles. I OWE every last hour and every last mile traveled to my dog named Atlas who gave me a path I didn’t even know 4 years ago. And I know I’m not alone, I have met so many other nosework enthusiasts and new friends in traveling all those miles. Atlas and I have competed in over 20 nose work trials together we have earned some title ribbons and I continue to compete yes for the title ribbons because to me it represents the payment I owe Atlas.

It wasn’t until I was competing with another dog that so thoroughly enjoys nosework so much, that it has begun to change my perspective. Bailey is a whirling dervish when it comes to nosework, a little tornado that is a day of entertainment to watch her work; zoomies around a room when she couldn’t work out an odor problem. (And the realization that I couldn’t change it) She has more intensity than Atlas but she isn’t holding the weight of the world upon her shoulders, she always looks like she is having immense fun. I can only imagine a billboard over Bailey in each run “get out the way”!  I saw that in Atlas from the beginning but I think I needed a reminder of that perspective from Bailey. I will strive to "honor" Atlas as a great passionate companion and marvel at all that I have learned from all those miles.

Adapting in nosework is a fundamental truth, if we are lucky we get to marvel at our dogs as they adapt so fast we sometimes don’t even realize it is happening. The conditions change and each dog, each handler changes even if they can’t explain how. It is art in motion, entertainment, and the beauty of a calculus problem in the mind of a focused and passionate puzzle solver.