Monday, February 28, 2011

Sniffing with a purpose

I'm always trying to find new things and challenges for Bugsy to do. He just isn't the type of dog who is going to be happy going for gentle walks and lying around day after day.
So with the help of someone who is active in Search & Rescue work I've been experimenting with some of the exercises they use to train cadaver dogs.
Yes I said cadaver dogs.

For now we are starting with some nail clippings in a glass jar that has holes on the top. I'll be getting some hair clippings this week from the salon to use as well.

We've done a few exercises with the nail clippings and its truly fascinating stuff.
I've taken the cap off a few times and just let him smell them. I did this several times on a walk to the fields we run in.
After which I hid the glass jar in the field and sent him to 'find'
He went off with vigor and had the scent but there were so many wonderful scents (he always finds plenty of rabbit poop in this field) and he was clearly working hard to find the scent.
I thought I'd stretched him too far on the first one, but fortunately he has lots of drive so he kept working until he found it!!
We had a party when he did LOL
The party is with a toy that we only use as a reward for finding - we do some tug or some fetch whichever he prefers.

We did a few more finds that day and I even got him to sit when he found it instead of picking it up. This is a significant change in what I ask of him - our usual game of 'find it' is completed by him bringing the object to me.

A few days later I decided to up the ante. I placed the jar in our yard and left it for 15 minutes. It was a windy day so I thought that this would be a good warm up challenge. At this point I am wanting him to succeed so that he enjoys the game and wants it to get tougher.
I sent him to 'find' and due to the wind it was interesting to watch him hone in on the scent. You can tell when it gets strong for him, his pace quickens and you can see the light bulb moment!

Finally on that day I hid the jar in our yard and we went for a long walk. We were gone for about 90 minutes when we came back I told him to 'find'. He looked at me like huh?
I told him again and he seemed to go 'oh I remember' (since the moles are active at this time of the year he usually follows his walk by hunting moles in the yard so he had headed off to do his mole hunting)
The wind had really dispersed the scent and you could see him struggling but working hard.
After making me nervous that he wasn't up to this challenge he caught the scent and was on the jar immediately!
great job Bugsy!!!!

It absolutely amazes me that a few nail clippings in a glass jar with a perforated top give off enough scent for him to find it after sitting out for 90 minutes on a windy day. And I haven't given him a quick whiff to remind him what he's looking for!
Ain't no doubt about it - dogs are amazing and I am lucky to have a willing partner in Bugsy, he makes it pretty easy to get excited LOL

Saturday, February 26, 2011

he's a crazy beast

LOL he really is
He's calmer than he's ever been which I attribute to age but he is still one funny, crazy dog

I just gave him a huge knuckle bone to chew because he was being a pain while we prepped our meal and he continued to chew through our meal and after it. You would think that after 90 minutes of chewing a frozen knuckle bone he'd be ready to settle down.
You would be wrong.
First he needed to go out exploring. This included playing in the sprinkler
Then he came in and stole some socks, then he went and bothered my husband who was on the computer, then he stole some papers from the desk, then he opened the hall closet.
Having opened the hall closet he decided to take out the kibble nibble toy.
I caved and put a few Charlie Bear treats in it, sigh.
He then rolled and rolled it until all the treats were out and promptly went into his crate.
No goodbyes.
No nothing.
Just one minute rolling the next minute tucked up in the back of his crate.
'night Bugsy

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bugsy's trip to the Duke Canine Cognition Center

It all started with classic Bugsy - well Bugs-a-duke. The road into the campus is very wooded the further along we went the more excited he got. Sniffing like a madman. So when we arrived on the campus he was fully charged and whining/spinning in the back of the car. I was getting worried, but doing my best to keep a calm demeanor.
A nice young man met us in the parking lot just in time to see Bugsy fly out of the back of the car in full hunt/frenetic/new place mode. The guy looked worried as Bugsy literally pulled me to and fro. At times like this he appears to be a feral animal not a domesticated dog. I gave a strong 'sit' command and without changing his orientation (away from me and the tester) he sat. The young man said, "oh good he knows sit." There was a sense of relief from him but also I could hear the holy crap this dog is untrained and a freak.
Having lept up onto a ledge and headed up some steps Bugsy seemed to know where he was going. Unfortunately he didn't need to go up the fire escape so I called him to me and we entered the building as if shot from a cannon and into an office.
We went through the office to the room where the testing would take place. It was adjoining to a small sitting room that was set up for owners to view the test as it took place.
Bugsy was VERY excited to be in a new place and meet new people. [:|] There were many 'things' in these rooms. None went unnoticed.
It all happened so fast I really have to try and recall how it played out.
The two students looked overwhelmed as Bugsy found treats, both the bags of treats up on a windowsill that was eye height for me and the ones that others had left behind, the male tester was scrambling to collect the treat remnants faster than Bugsy found them which only seemed to spur Bugsy to go faster!

He found the box of toys on the table at the other end of the room, took one out and ripped it open, knocked over a board they use as a barrier, stole the mascot (a black lab stuffy) from the waiting area knocking over someone’s left behind water cup, brought a pen, a clipboard, a magazine, carried the buckets around (used for the test), two large buckets mind you stuck together with magnets, gave fly by kangaroo kisses to them (he goes up on his hind legs and gently licks the person’s face), ate a leaf from a plant in the waiting area and generally caused chaos. He even tried to take some of the tape they had on the floor off and eat it. The two students were in shock.

Heck I knew he’d be excited and curious but even I didn’t imagine the havoc he wreaked. It was absolutely insane. He was everywhere and into everything as the three of us struggled to communicate about the testing. Three pairs of eyes watching him and three mouths agape as he furiously investigated his surroundings with extreme scrutiny and mischief.

I was trying not to panic but I was horrified. My worst nightmare was unfolding before me. Then when he was strutting around with the clipboard, wagging his tail and his entire body a display of mischief, we all laughed so hard we had tears in our eyes. That made me feel better but I was still worried about how he'd do in the test.

I told the female tester who was going to be tasked with holding the leash to take some treats and do a few little commands with him, she did and he did as asked. Ah we are turning a corner!!!
From that point he was awesome.
Throughout the testing the female held Bugsy and the male gave commands and performed the testing.
First up was giving a command, first facing him and then with his back facing Bugsy. Bugsy sat on both occasions.
Then they did a series of challenges with the buckets. There were four buckets which were set into two groups of 2 buckets. Each set of two was connected by magnets, with one bucket facing up and the other facing down.

The male tester would put a treat into one bucket but appear to put one in both buckets, Bugsy would then go to the bucket to get the treat. Sometimes the treats would be placed from behind a barrier so Bugsy couldn't see which one he did, and they varied how they blocked his vision, at times with a small board covering the tester’s hand and buckets and others Bugsy couldn’t see the buckets or the tester. Other variations included changing orientation in the room, adding distractions (like pretending that putting their hand in one bucket hurt) and giving him pointing cues.

The dogs are given 15 seconds to make a decision. They stopped timing him because all his decisions were within 2 seconds, most were immediate.

Due to his quickness they asked to do an additional test so we stayed for that too. In between tests he was allowed to wander again and was sticking his head in all buckets and garbage cans and came to see me and was as happy and I might say pleased with himself as I have ever seen him.

For the second test they had to use particular treats and the person would leave to the office room and come back. He would have a treat and odd objects. Not wholly sure what the challenge was but each time B was released he went and ate a treat, again without hesitation or any evidence of confusion. The final run they used two small plastic garbage cans, he ran up to one knocked it over and ate the treat.
All done LOL.

He loved working for them, it was very interesting to see how intent he was to perform. His behavior once working was excellent. He was exceptionally friendly, took the treats nicely, stayed on task, seemed to understand the ‘game’ without instruction, he would have kept at it until they quit, and clearly wasn’t overwhelmed by the surroundings LOL.

During the break between the two tests the testers were gushing at how well he was doing and how well-behaved he was being (this part was clearly a shock for them). We had a bit of a chat about the opening franticness and how that is HIS normal but once given a task he is focused. It was interesting and I was able to see that they, in no way, thought he'd do anything for them and had not had a dog that went from his 'introduction' to his performance level. They also thought he was under 2 years of age due to his high level of energy.
They said that although it’s a 'lottery' to be used in the tests when a dog performs as well as Bugsy they are usually asked back.

I'm proud of the little butthead LOL It was wonderful to see him work and also exceptionally funny to watch him investigate his new surroundings. I suppose that this was an instance where his curiosity and confidence in new surroundings were huge pluses.
It also was an opportunity for me to see that my suspicions are correct: the boy wants to work, always has and always will. It is a shame I didn’t know more from the beginning perhaps I could have found something for us to do, but to my credit at least I recognized it early on and have tried to utilize it.
Love you Bugsy – you are without question a one of a kind!