I know, I know, I have books piled by my bed glaring at me waiting to be read. But here’s the good news: These two new books on Treat Search Tracking and Trick Training are the kind of books you can read a little or a lot, and take out what you want.
I have to keep this short, given getting ready for the first sheepdog trials of the season, my novel (2/3 to 3/4 done!), and oh yeah, spring and a gazillion weeds attempting a garden take over. But I couldn’t resist talking about these two books that I’m already loving, even when I haven’t come close to reading them from start to finish.
First, Super Dog Tricks by Sara Carson is a wonderful addition to all of our libraries. Sara and the Super Collies have blown us all away with her amazing stunt dog tricks, like balancing her dog on her feet as she lays on her back. I’ll tell you right now that’s never gonna happen at my house. My middle name is Clumsy, and I’d never trust myself enough to put my dog in that position. But I loved reading about how easy it is to play “footsies” with your dog and have them come through your legs and put their paws on your feet. Adorsable.
Here’s what I am doing, however: Looking through the book reminded me how good it is for a dog’s core to “sit up,” and Skip very much needs that kind of work. Right now I’m working him on balance board, but because of his bad heart and crummy hind end, the more I can strengthen his core the better he’ll be. We’re just getting started, but here’s a video of lesson #3:
I’m pleased with his progress, because his first session (which of course I wish I’d recorded) was soooo hard for him. Caution, though on this one: Not many reps please, it could be too hard on your dog.
Next, A Dog’s Fabulous Sense of Smell by Anne Lill Kvam makes me wish I had another hour in the day. She makes the best case I’ve seen on the value of teaching dogs to track a specific scent, as they would do in the wild. In her own words: “Many of the activities we have with our dogs include speed, excitement, precision and control but very little calmness and concentration.” I’m not sure about the concentration part, seems to me that agility and sheepdogs, for example, have to concentrate completely when working. But concentration and calm both together? Nope, not that.
She emphasizes that sniffing freely on walks is good, but not the same as “being in a search on a specific mission.” I love that she writes about the value for our dogs of “situational leadership,” in which whoever has the skill takes charge for that particular situation. I thought instantly of Skip’s work yesterday at a small “training” trial, in which he took charge of getting three wild-ass yearlings back into a pen when they were determined to fly across the field to their friends. I sent him to get them and bring them to the pen. He knew they needed to go inside without me saying anything, and in every way except with language, he told me, “I got this.” And he did. Nobody can read sheep as fast and as well as a dog, and if they can’t be allowed to do it on their own sometimes, you have no more chance of succeeding than if you are asked to sniff out a piece of kibble in a hay stack while blindfolded. “Situational leadership” as something good for dogs. Love it.
I’d love to do this kind of scent work with Skip, I think it would be good for him to focus in a quiet, calm manner. Regrettably, he does some of this when he sniffs out sheep poop to eat, which he absolutely seems to adore. It’s not really bad for him in small quantities, but . . . So I think what I’d do with him is use toys rather than food. He’s not that crazy about objects when outside (unless playing tug with Maggie, which is still off limits as they get back into condition from their injuries), so I think I’ll get the smallest Kong there is and stuff food inside. After, that is, the sheepdog training and the novel and the garden . . . But I love this book, and am going to settle down and read more of the text the rest of this week.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: As noted, sheepdog trial season is coming up, and last Saturday we were at Big Yellow Boots farm for a “Training Trial,” in which you were allowed to leave the post and help your dog if he or she got into trouble. And trouble was the name of the game, because the sheep were yearlings who hadn’t been worked much, and the field was full of sweet, spring grass that the lambs seemed to believe was worth being taken down by a pack of wolves, if they could just get in one more mouthful. They were also set out with grain, and many a dog couldn’t even get them to lift their heads up much less come down the field to their handler.
Skip and I ran twice, and it was good practice for the real trials coming up this summer. Our scores were nothing special (I don’t even know what they were); I was slow to respond, and he wasn’t perfect BUT he did some absolutely gorgeous work and made me all gooey because he showed as much heart and commitment as a dog possibly could. Maggie got to work too, although she thought the sheep were just ridiculous and told me so in no uncertain times when we helped do a little of the setting out. No one does side eye better than a dog.
Here’s a shot of Skip, hanging out and waiting for his turn:
Skip and Maggie are sound now (well, I’m sure with Skip, not 100% sure about Maggie), but out of condition. So we’re working on that as best we can.
Forgive my brevity, there’s a murder mystery to solve and some Creeping Charlies (that’s a weed to any non-gardeners, not a stalker) attempting to grow through the cracks in the windows and take over the living room.
I’d love to hear if you’ve read the books I’ve mentioned, the value you’ve found in tracking training, and whether your dog can sit up or not! I’m all ears.
Kelly Keeney says
Patricia, Thanks so much for the recommendation about the treat tracking book tracking book. I am definitely going to pick that up. This is something I have done with all of my dogs in one way or another and I often tell my clients to consider this as a fun way to “exercise” their dog. Treat tracking really helped my prior Gr. Swiss Mountain Dog, Tara to flourish. She came to me as a six-year-old rescue she was anxiety ridden, fearful and dog aggressive. She also had a deep learning history of punishment based training.
Once we moved past the Getting to know you step, treat tracking games were definitely the 1st thing I added to help her find the world a more relaxing place.
Treat tracking/find it games it games of any sort really brought her back to her back too the dog she was she was Meant to be. She even got to have a dog friend of her choosing and was able to relax in public and take naps. Thanks as always.
I taught my lab to sit pretty with peanut butter. It helped her have more duration because she doesn’t loose her balance from chewing 😂. She can only do sit pretty for very short duration but it is still cute. In the beginning I had her in between my legs so my body could help brace her and keep her steady. Sometimes to practice her good form I’ll place my feet right against the back of her hind when sitting, and that helps brace her but a little less that when her whole body is between my legs.
As someone who has been exclusively doing nosework with dogs for many years, I can hardly contain myself here…
I met Anne Lil Kvam at a seminar several years ago – I like the way she works with dogs and she laid the foundation for my dog to become a professional in this field.
He can find any scent that I give him as a “template” to smell. This can be done with any odour (hand cream, tomato stalks, spices of all kinds, etc.). But it is also enormously useful when someone has lost her car keys in the forest or his sunglasses in a meadow.
My dog is really happy, content and balanced when he has had a search task that has challenged him. He completely blocks out everything else when he’s working and is only focused on his mission. This is very valuable for a dog who is constantly watching everything (and me in particular) in everyday life.
He doesn’t really have any other talents than that (searching) – but he does that great and it’s visibly good for him to have this job. It may not seem typical for a cattle dog at first glance, but conservation organisations such as Rogue Detection Teams very successfully deploy heelers and heeler mixes from the shelter for their work (so apparently not so unusual after all).
Nosework just doesn’t come to mind to many people as the first thing to keep their dog occupied, I think. I have seen many dogs who were perfectly content to search for food or their toy (or playing fetch or doing agility or obedience – whatever suits them). The range of other opportunities is large and awareness of the benefit of scent detection for dogs is only just emerging in the last few years.
My dog doesn’t know how to sit up pretty. She thinks it would be a fun thing to teach her, since food is involved. A few years ago, I took an online nosework class at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy with my then newish dog. She really enjoys searching and is laser focused while working. An added bonus is that it makes her tired. I like that they are being conditioned to the odor; searching for food would not work so well for my dog, she gets too excited about it.
Edie Daigle says
Since we don’t have acreage or animals to herd, all 3 of our border collies, Nuala and Skye of loving memory, and Pip now keeping us on our toes, have done Nosework. It is as much a job to them as herding would be. When they hear “Find it!” they are able to channel all that intelligence and energy into something constructive that they were born to do.
K Jeong says
We are big fans of nose work in our household. Since we adopted our Monty, we have taught him his favorite game Find it. Monty usually finds treats, but we have expanded our repertoire to small toy and ball. When I was unable to walk Monty due to a recovery from operation, his job was to find his food, which I placed all over the house, in various rooms, puzzles on various surfaces and outside. it was messy, but it took him 30 minutes, which was worth it. We are always looking at new scent or trick classes or books, so will be ordering the recommended books. Just need to finish teaching Monty how to paint. We are OK holding the brush, but don’t get the putting the brush on canvas yet lol
and as for Sit Up command, Monty has been doing that since we got him and it is his “go to” pose when wanting treats or when working on a new trick / behavior by free shaping. we call it the squirell pose.
Ursi, I am in the FDSA nosework class! 😍
Just want to chime in and say we’re into nosework here, I have fantastic service and therapy dogs, but I also have fosters and sometimes they can make terrible household pets, because they come from working stock and need a job, not to be in someone’s lap, or on the couch. I participated in a conservation canine camp last year and heard from a number of speakers, Heath Smith, Paul Bunker, Louise Wilson these speakers absolutely left us with amazing insights into just how clued on the canine nose is, and how impactful scenting/tracking exercises have been in reducing many dogs’ fears, therefore reducing reactive behaviour! I feel every trainer should definitely explore scent and teach it to their students… I have always done some scentwork unofficially but now it’s an integral part of my dog training
I learned about the benefits of Sit Pretty from Emily Larlham’s Dog Training by Kikopup video:
NS: LOVE Kikipup and Emily!
Love to hear about Skip taking charge and knowing just what to do. I am always amazed how incredibly smart these animals are!
Nanuk sits pretty on his own accord quite often, but I haven’t put it on cue. He also stands up on his hind feet fairly frequently – usually with his front paws braced against something, but sometimes without holding on to anything. He’ll even take a few steps that way. That isn’t taught behavior either, just a way this fairly small dog has figured out how to sniff and/or interact with things that would otherwise be out of his reach.
Nanuk plays various sniffing for food games every day because he enjoys them so much. He used to run around the house, leaping on and off the furniture, after his walks. Now that I’ve started to toss some kibble in the grass once we’re back home, he comes inside reasonably calm. That helps him fall asleep for his nap, which in turn helps prevent him from becoming hyper from sleep deprivation.
I’d really like to teach him to sniff an indicated item without otherwise interacting with it. In a finished behavior, that will include people as an alternative greeting behavior. So far, I haven’t found any resources on how to teach this trick, and I’m not very good at winging these things. Can anyone tell me how to do this or recommend a book/website/video that gets into this?
I also had a question about the sheep herding trials. Do only border collies take part? Or are there also other herding dogs?
P.S. I hope it’s okay to plug a free online picture book I made last year. It’s about Nanuk searching for treats, so it’s on topic: https://martinnikolausdeyke.itch.io/nanuk-lets-play-treasure-hunt
Sara and her Collies are incredible. I love watching them.
Years ago I saw was a video about dog dancing, and now we have our own mild version. When we do our tricks after breakfast and dinner, included is one where I stand with my feet apart and my back to Olive, and she comes through my legs and does a figure eight around my ankles. Then we face each other a take a deep bow.
Another is she sits and I say, “Two paws,” and she gives me both paws and a kiss! Good core training, and I can tell if she’s too sore to do it some days.
We also hide small treats around the house for her to go find. She is great at sniffing them out.
I started a fairly lengthy trick routine as a way to get Phoebe’s attention so we could eventually progress to sit, stay, come, etc. It did work well as an introduction to listening and focus (another good trick). Now Olive and I just think it’s pretty darn fun.
What’s the difference in terms of completion between 2/3 and 3/4? And either way—yowzer, so exciting.
Chris from Boise says
I can’t wait to get my hands on both these books! (So many books, so little time…!).
One thing I learned about ‘sit pretty’ from the Totofit blog is the importance of your dog having a solid square sit (hips aligned, feet tucked in, as in the video of Skip) before even attempting to sit up. As with all exercise, form really matters, and ‘sit pretty’ requires a lot of core strength. I like Colleen’s method of steadying the dog’s back when they’re still wobbly. Obi at 12 still has a really strong core and can sit up for 30 seconds with ease; Rowan at 4 is still kind of a wet noodle, so we should start some ‘sit pretty’ work with her. Thanks for the nudge!
Also – we are SO into informal nosework and scent games. I’m not sure ‘calm’ is in our vocabulary, but focus on a scent – they have duration on that, especially if searching for ‘sweet curry’ (we use the nearest empty spice jar as the target) in the back yard when the wind is blowing. I would love to find a tracking class (Fenzi Dog Sports Academy offers online classes which I hope to find time for eventually – but not in spring when the weeds here too are taking over).
PS The Kikopup video that NS posted above explains the importance of good form very well. Thanks NS!
Chris from Boise: Thanks so much for the reference to Totofit. I agree completely that form is important, however, it is almost virtually impossible for Skip to sit with his feet “tucked in” most of the time. I’m going to talk more to his PT about his form–his hindquarters are truly awful (as in, weak), always have been. He rarely sits straight. I think it’s part of the reason that he has so little stamina, not just his bad heart. I’m working him on the balance board too; his PT has said to not fuss too much about perfectly aligned hips/feet but do what I can to get close to ideal. I’ve noticed that after Maggie’s knee injury her legs began to splay out; my assumption is that as we progress in her exercises they will align straighter as before. Cart before the horse? All food for thought! Thanks for weighing in!
Chris from Boise says
Trisha – I think you misunderstood. I was saying “notice that Skip has good form in the video” – not perfect, but he had an adequately stable base (as compared to Kikopup’s young dog where Emily demonstrated and talked about bad form). Thanks for explaining about his ‘truly awful’ hindquarters – hope the PT exercises help with both core and hips.
Now, on to that Nippersink or Swim (best name EVER) video!
Ah, thanks Chris. I think I did misunderstand. And yes, I too love the name Nippersink or Swim! Very accurate too, and it was the handlers
who were sinking, not any dogs or sheep!