Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mac Works it Out (Not Wordless Wednesday)

Mac and I have been taking an intro to K9 Nose Work class. We try to take a class every year and this year KD encouraged us to take this class- it's a little different than the basic obedience classes we normally take, because it's a "sport" class, which kind of uses Mac's innate drives to do something fun. If you read Running With Dogs ever, you can see that any dog can do sports (no offense, Abby,) and that it's often really really good for them. I contend it's almost always good for the dog/handler relationship, if done with the right attitude, but I've still steered clear of sports for a variety of reasons. One is sheer laziness. I love Mac, I do almost everything I can to do things with him, but we're both lazy. I spend every workday doing animal stuff, and when I come home, I want to do sort of- low key stuff. Mac is low-key too, which is a good fit. He's also developed from kind of a problem child into a pretty easy dog, which is a HUGE relief. So I've grown kind of lazy in keeping him motivated and drivey. It's great to come home, run him or walk him, or play some games or even do NOTHING with him. He's lazy, I'm lazy, it's great.

Second, he can be a real pill if I'm not on him All The Time around other dogs. Normal 'ole obedience classes have worked just fine for us because the dogs are always on leash all the time. I call ahead to see what the structure of the classes are and go with trainers/places I trust to make sure that they are going to really hold to the "no dog intros" etc. Mac is great in these settings, actually and seems to drop his 'tude towards other dogs. It's other handlers I don't trust. So I usually stick to taking the basic basic obedience over and over, even though Mac knows his stuff, because it doesn't involve any off leash stuff. It's still good for relationship, and it's still good to make his old mind work.

This leads to the third issue that has steered me away to more complex dog sports- lots of the training eventually involves off leash stuff (think agility tunnels or distance stays or whatever) and I'm paranoid about the off chance that a dog will break for Mac or Mac will break for a fluffy. Which leads me to the 4th issue: Mac doesn't crate. He has never crated. I used to think he had separation anxiety after he ate through (literally) 7 crates in a year, injuring himself and soiling the house in the process. I took him everywhere in my car, or to places he could go, or didn't leave. One day I had the genius idea to leave him loose in my bedroom. He was fine. Forever after. So I can't take him to classes that require crating around the training area. No big deal. As I mentioned, we're lazy. I don't have time to trial, and we're not competitive. Mac likes people, I'm not competitive, it's expensive, and I work weekends. No big deal.

But K9 Nose work is cool. Mac doesn't have to see other dogs, they set up the classes for paranoid people like me and some people crate their dogs and some people "car" their dogs. K9 Nose Work uses "hunt" drive, which is kinda like prey drive, which Mac has up the wazoo, and he gets to work for food in the early stages (and for ever more, but later with some other stuff). He thinks that rocks. He runs a tiny bit, so it's low impact for his Veteran Doggy self. And I've learned a ton about my dog. I didn't think he would work for food when separated from me, but he's cool with that, if there's food and prey drive involved. I didn't think he would work at all when we first got to the "classroom"- it's held in the STINKIEST doggy day care I've ever been to- it smells worse than my shelter. Even T held her nose. V put herring dog treats to her nose last night to get away from the smell. If it smells that bad to us, think how bad it smells to the dogs! I thought this was an unreasonable distraction to start training in for any dog, but especially for Mac, who is not used to dog smells at all because he's really not exposed to them in the way some dogs are, dogs that go to dog parks and day care and live with dogs, etc. He's sheltered, you know. But he plowed right through that obstacle. And of course, he loves this place now. He has always loved class, and in Mac style, he is now not only having fun, but hamming it up for the audience, who he is dying to meet. They're not allowed to touch him, because the dogs are supposed to be "working," but they all want to meet him, because of his antics, and he wants to meet them. He's the class clown.

Each dog has a distinct style of working. There are two shepherds who have basically wowed since the get-go. They knew the game before it was explained to them (or us) and methodically search each box, whether they are visually shown where the food is or not, then kind of look at everyone like, "Duh." They wink at us like, "I knew it was there, but I'm just a tiny bit proud of myself anyway." One of them already has an "alert"- he looks at his handler when he knows where the food is. There's a 4 month old Shiba Inu puppy who is cccccccc-rrraaazzzzzyyy which is why he is signed up for the class: his owners need a way to channel his energy. He is a little demon, and has figured out, which amazes me to see a puppy working through the serious challenges. He practically flies into the air while he is waiting to work. Mac is all bully. You imagine your bully style "doo dee dooing" through life- that's how he goes through his boxes.

Until yesterday: yesterday was our first day with "blind hides." In this video you will see Mac working through 12 identical boxes (I think it's 12) where neither of us know where the food is. I think he's actually thinking. I'm not sure, because I don't think Mac thinks much. He's not doing his normal brute drive like usual, but he's USING his skills with his nose to do what he does. He seems to space out a couple times, but he's still with his task (maybe because he's hungry) and comes back to it. When he gets close, he plays with me, and wants me to find the food, and although I was tempted, I didn't do it for him and mark the box too soon. You'll see I talk to him: I ask him where it is, right when he backs up. He is forced to choose the box, and he finds it. This was pretty much my proudest moment ever- my dog DID SOMETHING.

We may have found a sport, even though he's almost nine- I totally got what T gets every week with agility: My dog is DOING something, we're doing something together. (and yes, he's wearing a coat. It was cold and rainy. Even if he's doing a sport, he's still a princess.)

Thanks to KayVee for the video!


Sarah said...

Great video! You and Mac look like you're having fun.

Where are you taking the class? I'd love to try that with Sunny.

ana poe said...

So much fun! I'm doing this class with Xdog and it's been so great. It's the best dog sport for reactive dogs and has so many practical applications (think I'm gonna teach her to find money ;)).

Dognerd said...

so cute! I thought I heard Karen's voice in the background. Mac looks like he is having a great time.