Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Scent dimension – not seen by the handler

We don’t have glasses that can see the scent our dogs are hunting for, and that means our primary sense – vision puts us at a handicap for the analysis of the decisions our dogs make while working odor. I’ve heard several analogies used to describe how the dogs work, trying to relate it to our visual world. Ron Gaunt once (paraphrasing) articulated it as a room where all objects are mirrors, (fun house style). So imagine each chair, table, wall, and door is made out of mirrors reflecting the visual spectrum back as us. How many of use would run into things, as we observe our dogs doing as they work odor. We have all seen it, where out of the blue the dog turns quickly and “smack” into the bottom of a chair or table leg. The dog seeking odor is in an unseen dimension of sorts, and not always the same for each dog. Where one dog runs into objects another leaves the threshold and goes directly to source, without any delay. Each dog is similar and yet different based on that dog, their experience and changes in the environment.

Imagine we could design a scent Rorschach (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rorschach_test) test to give to our dogs.

One dog would see one image and another dog might see the same or the negative image in the test. Sometimes when watching a dog work I see the dog searching all the negative space, the void in-between objects. Yes they encounter corners, edges, stumble over containers and even run into objects, but not always. It’s beautiful to watch the dog moves in this negative dimension from what we can’t see or different from what we initially see. It can be frustrating to the handler when the dog appears to not making progress, i.e. the source is not in the negative space of that image. In fact just this past weekend I watch several handlers call alert and then say were the source was located. It was like they watched the voids and objects the dog evaluated and where able to see what was coming next – the dog would have turned and sourced and therefore knew where the source was.

There was a test as a kid I took once at the optometrist, that tested for dyslexia. It was cube of sorts with several layers of letters, you looked into it and there was a paragraph to read out load. Not sure if I can fully describe its design but if the patient moved then the letters would shift. The optometrist said at the end, that most adults performing the test would give up because it doesn’t make sense what they are reading. But as a kid with dyslexia I just read to the end squirming in my seat and making absolutely no darn sense. What if every time the dog moves while working, that negative space/image of scent they are encountering is altered, either by the handler, dog or some other environmental factors? Imagine the intense work and focus the dog must be under in the moment with so many computations to make.

The Rorschach image or ink blots have a unique property, called reflection symmetry or mirror-image symmetry which happens in nature, and can be described in mathematical terms. I often suggest in my classes with the possibility that the dogs are really doing differential calculus problems to solve a scent problem. Each term of the equation as it is solved by the dog reduces the remaining information or terms required to complete the scent problem and source.

Back to Ron; he encourages us to watch the dog work, to do our best not to interfere, move/not move but use them as our guide in the world of scent because the dog is the expert. It appears to be “magic” sometimes but in a way we are lucky when we see something that can not be seen it can only be observed in how our dogs work the scent problem in that particular environment and search. It can not be repeated later, it only happens once. Or if we observe carefully it happens similarly enough with another dog that is gives us a glimpse into their world of scent. We also encounter experienced handlers, judges, trainers with new observations about the dog’s patterns that we may not have fully understood what we were seeing at the time. Do all of these apply to every dog, maybe not, but it’s these observations that help us understand the vast unseen capabilities of dogs.

My dogs do calculus and I do addition and subtraction, I think the problems they are solving are beautiful to watch.