Saturday was an absolutely fabulous day. I completed Level 2 of nosework with Bosco in a four hour seminar, and then I took both Maia and Bosco to test their herding instinct.
My friend Dana who was my agility instructor is also my instructor for Nosework. I did Level 1 in August, where we learned to do box searches inside in a controlled environment. I love the fact that it is a dog directed sport, and I love watching the dogs on scent. I wish we could see odour so we could actually follow what the dogs are doing. It sometimes looks like they are just wandering around but actually they are bracketing the scent and honing in on where it is strongest.
Level 2 consisted of outdoor box searches and learning to pattern search a vehicle. We started by doing a search on pavement in the parking lot. Bosco remembered how to do the box search even though we had only practiced a few times (bad Erin!). He was searching for chicken hot dog so he was highly motivated. Then we moved to doing searches scattered between grass and pavement. Some dogs had no problem generalizing that boxes on the ground need to be investigated for noms, no matter the surface the box was on. Other dogs' brains broke trying to figure this out. They were sniffing the boxes on the ground, clearly on the scent, but unable to translate that they needed to step up the curb onto the grass and sniff those boxes too.
Bosco did not have a problem with that, or with problem solving the 'puzzles' (boxes half on top of other boxes, or pushed up against the bushes, or any configuration that makes it harder for the dogs). He did, however, decide to pee on the bushes. At least he didn't pee on a box, the way one of the other dogs did, but still. Because in competition dogs are disqualified if they eliminate during trial, they need to learn to not do that when working. Dana is a positive reinforcement trainer so what we taught was if a dog peed, they didn't get to play anymore. Without leash popping or voice corrections or anything that suggested they had done something wrong, we simply took the dog back to their crate. After we finished that rotation, each of the dogs that peed got to come out and do another small search so that they ended on a positive note.
Teaching the car patterning was amusing. Dana had processed cheese slices and processed ham sandwich meat, and she ripped off pieces of them and stuck them to her van!! The dogs would eat the pieces off the vehicle, learning to keep their noses against the vehicle and sniff their way around the corners and the wheel wells. Thankfully she had wipes so that when we were done the cheesy smears could be removed from her van.
I thought that Bosco would rock doing the vehicle since all it involved was eating free food stuck in a line, but he became very people focused. Dana would get the dog looking at a piece of ham or cheese in her hand and then tap the bumper where the first piece was stuck. All the other dogs bee-lined to the bumper and ate that piece. Bosco followed her hand with his nose right to the bumper and then pulled away when she pulled her hand back, and stared at her expectantly. It took him a few times to realize that there were freebies on the bumper, but then he did quite well.
After the Sniffinar my friend Jen, who had come with her dog Nyx, and I went back to her house to relax for an hour before embarking on our next adventure – herding! I really had no idea what to expect from my two. Maia barks at any and all animals that we pass in the car: squirrels, cows, dogs, horses. She tends to bounce and lunge and bark at, well, everything. Bosco is more dignified although the first time we passed horses in a field he stopped dead and did his deep farm dog WOOF WOOF WOOF at them. Neither has ever shown any particular inclination towards stock animals.
Shelley rents some land out in Abbotsford, a 30ish minute drive from my house. It is gorgeous – I want to live in the country so very badly. There was a herd of about 12 sheep out in the large field so we got to watch Shelley's beautiful border collie gather them up and bring them in. Then as she separated out the three sheep she wanted, I got to see real Border Collie Eye. Wow. So cool! She put those three sheep into a small fenced off area and then we brought out Maia.
Even though we were in a new environment with strange dogs, sheep, and a new person, Maia was very appropriate. She greeted Shelley of her own accord, and then she barked a few times at the sheep. Shelley took her leash and she went into the pen with hardly a backwards look at me. When she was on leash she barked and lunged at the sheep, but in the video which is just after Shelley takes her leash off … she's beautiful. A natural. She reads the sheep, she stays just at the edge of the flight zone, and she responds to Shelley's cues with the flag. In any other place, a person that she had just met waving a flag in her face or putting pressure on her would cause her to lose her shit. But here – here she read the pressure and responded to it. Instinct at work.
I was so proud I thought I would burst.
Jen's Nyx went next and surprised me by being softer than Maia. She was skittish towards the flag, and ran her circles in very close. She didn't have as good a read on the sheep as Maia did. But she certainly enjoyed herself!
And then it was Bosco's turn. I have been steadily falling deeper and deeper in love with Bosco in the almost three years since I adopted him. He is such a sweet dog. I always think of Maia as being my soft dog but in some ways Bosco is softer than her. As you can see in the video, once Shelley dropped his leash he would do one bounce towards the sheep but then run over to the fence where I was and sit. He looked like he was saying, "I'm sorry, Mummy, I know I'm not supposed to chase the sheepies." Shelley was very gentle with him, telling him he wasn't in trouble and asking him to come try again. We wondered if perhaps he had been punished for chasing livestock with his previous owners. When he finally didn't run back to me but trusted that this was okay and he was allowed to chase the sheep, I was so proud of him.
I think I may have the herding bug now. I can't wait to go again! Hailey wants to bring Monster, and our friend Angela wants to bring her Cattle Dog. We're hoping to go in a few weeks. Yay for new fun things to do with the dogs!!