As many of you know, Will has a bad shoulder and he can’t play fetch or flying disc without problems. If I just work him on sheep and take him on long walks we can keep it under control, but the “short stopping” associated with fetching aggravates whatever is wrong with his shoulder. (I haven’t discounted surgery completely, but we are still in the ‘gather information’ mode.) That means that most of his exercise is working sheep, which works great when I’m home and feel like scrambling up the hill. But when I’m gone? You can’t just have anyone go work your dog on sheep, that would be a disaster, so it is important to find ways to keep Willie exercised when I travel.
Here are 2 videos of the game I’ve talked about in earlier posts. It’s really not that new, just another version of the inside “Go find it!” game that Karen London and I talk about in Play Together, Stay Together. However, being just as dense at generalizing from one context to another as any dog, it took awhile for me to think of playing the game outside. Now we do it every morning and I’m not sure who enjoys it more, me or Will.
I put Will on a stay, and then move to where he can’t see me and hide a toy. One week when we first started, I hid a stick I had handled in a huge pile of brush in the orchard pasture. It was fascinating to watching Will switch from using his eyes to using his nose–all sticks looking pretty much alike after all, and an entirely different proposition outdoors in a breeze. It took him a good 3 minutes to find the stick, but when he did I’m not sure who was thrilled the most, him or me. Playing this game with your dog will teach you more about how dogs perceive the world than anything I can think of. Susannah gives the best analogy of dogs searching out a scent that I’ve ever heard in The Scent of the Missing, in which she asks you to imagine walking down a quiet street at night and hearing the faint sound of music, coming from… where? Dogs track down scent much the way we track down sound.. moving toward it, playing the “louder, softer, louder” game of localizing sound by moving toward the area where the sound (or smell) is strongest. But although sound can move through space differently depending on the environment, it is no where near as plastic as scent, which wafts on the breeze and flows this way and that like a smoke. How scent travels is affected by temperature, humidity and a butterfly in China for all I know.
I can illustrate far better than describe: This first video is of Willie finding the toy in a ditch. The toy is completely out of sight, and I thought this would be a hard ‘find’ because I’ve never hidden toys in this area before and it seemed to me that the scent would stay in the ditch and not rise above the vegetation. More proof of what a total novice I am at scent work….
Here’s Willie searching for a toy that a novice to dog training (of any kind) might think is an easy find. After all, the toy is in full view (for us! It’s the blue disc in the shrub about 3 feet up). But, it’s above Willie’s head and dogs don’t tend to look up until they’ve been trained, as most trainers well know. Will’s first hidden object that was over his head was last week, and it took him three times as long a time to find the toy. He followed his nose all the way to it. In this video, it seems to me that he actually does see the toy as he’s turning back toward the scent. Trackers? Trailers? SAR experts? I’d love to hear any comments from experts on scent work about what Will is doing. I am LOVING learning about the world of scent (beyond my personal girlie obsession with lavendar and myrrh!)