(Please visit Dino's on-going blog at: http://dinostraining.blogspot.com/)

(Please visit Dino's on-going blog at: http://dinostraining.blogspot.com/)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Friday, March 20, 2009


The previous afternoon I received an email flyer from Lost and Pound regarding a lost cat in San Francisco. I had signed up to receive notices that get posted within the Bay Area. I sent the owner an email and told him about Dino and that I would come out for no charge to his area and help him look for his cat.

I got a phone call from him in a couple of hours and he said he was interested in me coming out with Dino to do a search. I said I could come out by 10 AM on Friday. I told him to put up as many flyers in his neighborhood around his block as possible and to have more flyer available for him to take with us as we walked around.

When I got there I saw the neighborhood. The front and the back are two totally different environments. The front was all concrete and very little vegetation. Very high vehicle traffic and high pedestrian traffic. The front doors opened directly out onto the sidewalks. The backyard was a mini jungle with high weeds and trees and lots of vegetation. The back fence was falling down. The two side fences were high and solid. We checked the backyard and garage for any cats or scent, but nothing. We went out to the front and I gave Dino scent from two spots in the apartment where, according to the person, Jamal, only Choco lays.

For over the next two and a half hours we walked all over the neighborhood that was very similar to Jamal's front. Only sidewalks, no or very little vegetation, high pedestrian and vehicle traffic. Also, all the buildings are right up next to each other with no spaces for cats to crawl into. Absolutely no crawl spaces under the buildings. Everything is closed up. We maybe saw two tiny holes where cats could get into and maybe two small spaces between buildings in the area of four to five blocks. There was a community garden that we walked through that had several hiding spots, but basically even that was open and kept clean and clear. Even the small green house was clean with an open door.

We walked up to GG Park, but even there was high pedestrian traffic with cleared out brush and bulldozer traffic. There were a couple of open homeless pads that Dino seemed interested in. In the entire area, there were no cats, no squirrels, and barely even a bird. Everybody we talked to had not seen a cat in the neighborhood. If there was a cat anywhere there, they would be in the backyards where they could travel safely from yard to yard.

On Sunday morning, I got a call from Jamal that Choco had been spotted by the tenant below him that lives behind the garage. He had seen the cat as it was traveling into or out of the garage which leads to the backyard. Jamal said he had noticed food was being eaten from the bowl of food he had left out just outside his back kitchen door on the second story. He also noticed cat paw prints in the garage in one of the storage areas. That would be almost one week that decides to come back to figures a way back. I said to get a trap just in case, but first try to put the food just inside the back door and see if she will run in. If she doesn't, then get a trap and see if that would work.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Castro Valley, Ca - This track was 48 hours old. Time was around 7 PM. Clear and cold. No rain over the last couple of days. Sunny and warm during those days. Neighborhood is suburban with 80% sidewalks, medium car and light foot traffic. Some small mom/pop stores along the way. Some churches on blvd. No map.

I have been practicing letting him go along a way even if I know he is going in the wrong direction. I want him to figure out when he is along the same way. A couple of times he went the wrong way, and I let him go about a half a block, and he was still full tilt that the scent was there even after checking him a couple of times. I found this odd. I figured that either the scent was there and had blown, or he was following the Cocker Spaniel that had just walked before us. Either way, after half a block down, I stopped him and said "Wrong" which he is very sensitive too. I have been reading a VST training book and the current section is about "magic words" to give along the track to ask or guide the dog. I am working on getting those words that are meaningful to him. After a couple of minutes of standing there and figuring out what to do, he turned and walked behind me and went back to the corner where we turned and continued down the correct way. I think it was the Cocker Spaniel that he was keying in on, and I have also noticed that in the beginning of tracks, he is more distracted. He definitely becomes more focused as we move along the track.

After that first time, he got all the turns and street crossings dead on! I was thrilled. Another thing tried was to gently guide him to a stop at various parts of the track to have him confirm if he is on the right track and going in the right direction. The VST book says to ask something at this point for either to confirm they are in the right direction and give a sign like pushing harder in the harness. I thought about saying something like "Tell Me" to let him know I am asking him if he is sure about his direction. Another "magic word" would be if you know/think he has overshot the turn because he indicating loss of scent, and to tell him to go back to the last place he knows where the scent is. I thought of "go back." I haven't tried that yet, but that would also come in handy.

On some of the intersections, even if I thought he was going in the right direction, I would have him "check" the other corners to practice the indication of no scent and then have him go back to the place where he had it. On each of the intersections he went back to the correct direction.

He was pretty strong on the last leg, but there was grass and weeds and a dirt trail all along and he seemed pretty firm on that.

As we approached the article at the end, he was pulling me toward it even though it was hidden behind a set of stairs. He got his treat bag and rawhide bone.

I was pretty happy with that track, except for the beginning, but there seems to be a routine of the beginning, so I know now more to keep asking him and questioning him more in the beginning until I see he is more focused.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Friday, March 13, 2009

Today was a pretty good day. I met Mary Fisher from the Finding Paws Yahoo group in Palo Alto on the Standord campus. She brought her female Tibetan Mastiff, Chein Mo. I had never been the Standord before and Mary was regular there for many years. In addition to laying a track for Dino, I also got a brief tour and background of the campus.

I was surprised that dogs were even allowed on the campus, since so many colleges don't allow dogs on the campus. In addition to Chein Mo, there were two off leash border collies with their owner.

So, we started at the top of The Oval and then went straight into the campus. We wove all around the campus in and out and in front of buildings and grassy areas. It took us about 45 minutes to walk it.

I have started to do something different to wean myself off looking at and relying on maps. Actually I started this the night before when I did a track with Dino through a neighborhood in Hayward. I had the map when I made the track just in case I needed, and I brought it with me, but I never used it the whole track. Some of the turns I remembered. Many I did not. Some of the landmarks, like particular houses and fences I remembered and then I could tell we were on track, but many I did not. I wanted to start doing this to get myself into the blink track mode, rather than just suddenly jumping into it one day.

I felt that I had provided enough training to Dino at this point to start to see what would happen if I put more responsibility on him and the training I have provided. It was pretty scary to me, and I think pretty scary to Dino. I know that he knows that I am the one setting the trails, and that I have the map. I acted like I didn't know the way or have the map. Sometimes I would follow him down a street for a short distance when I knew the track wasn't there because I wanted to see how it would take for him to indicate he was out of scent. I wanted him to start to tell me he was out of scent rather than just wandering down the street and waiting for me to tell him. Plus, I have noticed that sometimes it does take him a bit longer to get the down the street to tell me there isn't any scent if the scent has blow down that way from the track. So, we have been practicing all these different things.

So, back to the Stanford track, we started the track at 4:30 PM and got finished after 5 PM. We stood at our cars talking to each other for about another half hour. I got scent from Chen Mo and put them into plastic bags and gave Mary three more sets for her other dogs. I then put out one of the scent articles with treats at the end in one of the bushes.

By the time I got Dino in his harness and up into the campus away from the start/finish it was after 5:30 PM. The crowds were starting to thin out compared to when we set the track an hour earlier. He did very well and followed the track for most of the way. I thought it was a very difficult track, though the age was only a couple of hours old. There are a lot of people and a lot of buildings and a lot of bicyclists. Also, there are a lot of squirrels all over the campus. Those and cats are two of Dino's major distractions. He would literally stand still and stare straight up into the palm trees looking at the squirrels. He actually got a couple of people to look up into the trees when they saw him standing still and looking up. I was pretty embarrassed. I had to tell them that he was looking for squirrels 50 feet straight up.

Three different times he had a hard time finding the track, and I am not surprised. These spots had especially high traffic and spots that go off into four, five or six different directions. What we did was to just repeat the areas over and over and over until he made the decision that one direction was better than another (Like going to the eye doctor and they say, "Better one or better two.) Once he found the spot, his attitude went from playing and having a good time to "hunkering down and working." Tail down, nose to the ground and following the scent. During these times I didn't interfere by taking him off and testing other directions. I let him get into working the track and not disturb him. I know he had to really work on this track because of all the distractions of the very friendly people, squirrels, food all over the ground, water fountains and lots of good scents other than what he was supposed to be following.

One thing I didn't like was that I had to tell him many times to "get to work" because he was very distracted many times and sniffing here at all kinds bushes and I know he is not following the scent. I am sure that had a lot to do with the environment.

As we moved along in the track, I found him more and more focused and less distracted. He was able to correct himself and get himself back onto the track without much coaxing or direction from me. I have noticed that changing more and getting better.

About half way through the track we took a break, drank some water and had a snake. He definitely was rejuvenated after that and ready to keep going.

The second half was going really well. I would see what he would do if I gently stopped him to have him check what direction and if he was going in the right direction. He is getting used to that, but I know sometimes he thinks I am stopping him to change directions. If he continues to pull in his harness I let him go, if he changes direction, I let him do that. Sometimes he was going in the right direction and we go back to that. It is all a lot of practice, practice, practice in various situations.

We made it almost all the way through the second half, which was tough because we went right through some of the busiest, student centered parts of the campus. LOTS of traffic.

Right near the end, we were on the track and we came out from the middle of the building. We were on the top of a set of stairs that went in front of us, and to the right and then a hallway to the left. Dino immediately took the right stairs and I followed him. We were walking down the walkway. I thought we were in the right direction, but then Dino veered off to the left. Since I was 100% positive where we were I followed him. I knew were near the end somewhere but there were multiple buildings all around us and I couldn't figure out which was the correct building. I had Dino check all the different spots, stairs, hallways and then we headed back up again in the direction I thought we already were. I followed Dino and then we were back in front of the bookstore again. I let Dino find the track again that led away from the bookstore and then he stopped. He didn't take the way again like he took the first time. He definitely was confused where to go. I had him check various directions, and then he headed down toward another building. I let him go that way. We went back to another area where we were that led us out to the stairs again, the same spot. This time we went forward down the stairs into another building. Still nothing. I had Dino check all kinds of areas all around and he indicated nothing. So, we went back to the stairs again. It was getting pretty late (after 9 PM) and there were less and less people around and I couldn't figure out the way out. But I knew it was somewhere and I had a dog that could track, so I figured we would keep looking. We went back to the stairs and had Dino check the directions. He did seem to indicate the right side again but less enthusiastically, so I decided to go that way again. This time he headed straight down the path, with his nose to the ground and then we found our way out to the main street. So we were pretty close by, just about 50 feet from the end. But, since it was dark, there was not way to tell or recognize where we were. That way, I did have to rely on Dino's nose, which got us out.

He found the treats, but the scent pad had been removed. He got all the treats in the bag and then played with the rawhide toy. It was almost 9:30 by the time we got back to the car and I let Scout and Dot out to run around.

That was a very good track and very challenging. I never followed a map and most of the time I didn't know if we were on the track until I recognized a building or fountain. Other than that it was hard to know. I really had to rely on Dino's skills and see where he was at. I was very happy with what he did.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

March 2, 2009

Yesterday Dino did his oldest track at 42 hours. I was totally thrilled, and he was 95% dead on the track. We are still working on corners and teaching him to indicate to me what direction the track goes at each corner. Donna has taught me to anchor him at a corner and have him check which direction. I give him a few seconds at each corner to determine which direction. Then he can either do in that direction or I have been teaching him to stand, bark and face in the direction of the scent. We then go in that direction.

I have also noticed that he will go down the street in the direction of the scent, but sometimes he is on the other side of where we walked. This is fine because after that amount of time the scent can easily be on that side also. I have been trying to show him that sometimes the scent can be stronger in some areas than others. I am trying to show him that means that is the actual spot the animal walked rather than where the scent just blew to.

If he wants to go in a direction, whether it is the right direction, I let him check it out so he can follow through with what he might be smelling and learn that. I think he seems to noticing that the scent can be in a variety of forms, especially as the scent gets older and older.

I know that at the age of 42 hours, the scent can be all over the street and be in different forms. I want to teach Dino how this looks to him and how to determine the direction of the animal with all this going on.

I set another track last night in another neighborhood with a lot of corners and high vehicle and foot traffic.