Sunday, May 22, 2016

Find your "Tell"

My dogs know me better than I know myself. Each one of my dogs is student of me, they study me and everything I do. Recently read another blog - by Roger Abrantes - PhD in Evolutionary Biology and a great speaker, trainer of people and animals. Here is the quote from Roger, "If you ask me today, I'll answer you without hesitation that the most powerful tool you have when working with animals is yourself. If you control yourself, your body language, your facial expressions and the little you say, you'll achieve what you pretend and more."

I can imagine playing poker with my dogs, I would loose every time. Why? Because they have the advantage (they are cheating), they read our expressions, movements, body language. It sometimes looks like they read our thoughts being so good at reading the slight deviations we make in our movements. How do they do that when the are not looking at us? Don't forget they have what nears 250 degrees of vision among such a keen senses to read our body language that we might as well have shown them our cards before we even started playing a hand.

So where do this leave us with nose work. Ha, we are doomed, just kidding, but do you know your tell? - Because, I bet your dog has. So here is the test, attached is a video from a trial I did last fall in Oregon, our first Elite trial. I've split it up into 3 parts so you can see my body language for 3 separate hides. Can you read my tell?

It doesn't matter the level you are at, your dog is learning how you work they are studying your every movement and learning all they can. Are you doing the same about their movements? They also have a head start because they are using the language they are fluent in. So you better step up you game. So I'm suggesting you change try to eliminate your tell, maybe. Humans fall into routines, we get comfortable in our patterns, just ask yourself if you could change anything in your life that is routine.

My current hypothesis, our dogs are so good at reading us that our body language, that it's better than any conditioned reinforcer we might use while working with our dogs in nose work, the facial expression of "excitement" when we see our dog complete a scent puzzle is virtually instantaneous. Or the leash adjustments we make in preparation of calling "alert", if you found my "tell" you might imagine the my dog already knew he had solved the problem. In all 3 segments of the video I drop my arm off the leash in anticipation of switching the leash or in order to get the treats out of my back pocket. I now understand why I am a terrible poker player. Find your "tell" and see where it leads you.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Dynamics of the Trial Search

Each search only happens once. You step to the start line maybe with a slight pause and then proceed into the search area with your dog leading the way. The search you have just entered will never be repeated again, you and your dog will gain some bit of learning from that search and if you ran it again and again, it would be different – conditions, pace, knowledge, etc. This is what makes each search a dynamic process. The dynamics are captured in video and it is very exciting to view the video that has started to be taken at trials for purchase by competitors. Most of us don’t have photographic or eidetic memory, and even for those who can remember much of what they do during a search it is unlikely that you would remember everything.

Did you start reaching for a treat before you called alert?

Did you move in such a way to restrict your dog’s path to odor?

Did you allow your dog access to every container?

Did you have a pattern, or did you look like you had a pattern in covering the search area?

In the analysis of each search I often think of what I could change, and the one thing I keep coming back to is that I can only change “me”, well the choices I make the next time. It is not easy, either, replaying the search and thinking about what area I didn’t cover for example is not always a simple question. The video is the best challenge to this hindsight analysis within our minds. It gives us a series of imagines that go far beyond an eidetic memory. What video can’t show is what we are thinking in each moment, but that is probably less important that observing what we are doing in each moment.

Before we get to the deconstruction of the video lets describe a successful search. For NW3 one factor is missing, we are not told the number of hides ahead of time – I would pose that a successful search is any search that we work with our dogs and find 1-3 odors and call finish (or call finish after finding no odor if it is a clear room). Note; I’m not sure it makes the search any more successful if we find all the odor there is to find, that only matters for the possibility of a title at the end of the day for NW3. I’m twisting it a bit but most of us would agree that if we called a “false” then we would immediately feel that would not have been a successful search. Why because we no longer have the opportunity to get a title? It’s only when we are given the knowledge of how many hides were present in each search area at the end of the day that we can determine with 100% confidence that we miss something or found everything. So I would say that if we complete each search, where the handler/dog team find and call correctly as many hides as possible in a given time limit and call finish – we have successfully completed that search. Now don’t get me wrong, come the end of the day if we missed a hide – I might reevaluate the success of that search – but that is in hindsight after being given all the information. Some days we(handler and dog) will be at our best and find all the hides and title and some days we will be not at our best and miss, false and not title or maybe just by chance or maybe our dog carried us that day and we will title anyway.

Your immediate evaluation of the search directly after can be a tough place on the day of trial, if you are doing back to back searches then if you replaying the prior search you might lose focus in the next one. That is something that you might need to change. Working to get ourselves refocused before every search can be important for the outcome we are seeking.

So after about 50 trials with all my dogs I have started to get the trial video on a consistent basis. With just a few videos of Atlas(2 Elite trials) and the first few videos of Bailey and I working(2 NW3s and now our first Elite), I can know start some objective criticisms of the choices I’m making in trials. I’m struck by the snap shot of the video, it’s a narrow focus but not quite as narrow as the trial photos. In the past I would spend time after trial photos were posted looking through all the dogs and wondering if the handler positioned them selves out of choice, pattern or something else in each photo. I would look at how the dogs communicated each hide and sometimes review photos from trials I haven’t even attended to see if I could read when the dog was working odor versus not working odor. Here is the one search (NW3 from February) – if you don’t know the outcome watch and see if you can decide if it is successful, both by your definition and by mine.  Did we find all the hides?

Normally I might ask myself if I covered all the containers although I don't think that is always necessary, or if I pulled my dog off any containers? If you get the chance to get trial video of your runs, I think it can be a very valuable tool as part of our training. Could I have called finish sooner? Did it look like from reading my body language that I knew where the hide was that I didn't call the first time? I have a whole set of questions that I have started to compile for each video I watch. Now the most difficult assessment is not to be to hard on myself of the choices I made in the moment of the trial search. This process is also not meant to distract me from the next trial, but instead to find the success and see if there are opportunities to improve, to see the dynamics of each search and to learn for my choices. In the end the only chance to run that search again is when I press play on the video.