"He's mental," said my trainer, Lance, about Loki during SAR training on Sunday. Images of Loki's cracker-insane behavior flooded my mind: the motor mouth in class, jumping wildly in the air for a tug or the panic attacks. "Yeah, he's mental," I agreed. "No, not that kind of mental," Lance laughed.
Just moments before, I released Loki down the isle of a warehouse to search for and find a hiding person. This was our first search training inside a building. Since December, we've been training search outside, first in a confined environment, like the training field, then at parks and in forests. At the end of each semester of search class, dogs and handlers are tested to see how much we've learned and are progressing.
"Yah Mom! I'm ready to go find someone! Let me go!!!"
Loki isn't shy about talking when he's excited to work. His tail wags as his mouth motors!
During the first semester, Loki tested very well on the field. He showed to be a very methodical searcher, and did not get confused by planted human objects, such as a jacket. He moved from object to object down the field until he found his target. In the forest, he looked much more random and chaotic in his search, but there were times I observed him making very specific decisions about losing the scent and turning around and choosing a line directly to his target.
Searching inside a building was a whole new ball game for the training dogs. For one thing, there's no wind. For another there's usually some sort of ventilation or air condition that causes the scent to bounce around and confuse the dog. It's a true test of the dog's continued drive to find the target when frustration sets in.
Above, another dog, Rolf makes the same decision most of the dogs including Loki make and follows the scent down the left isle.
When Loki set off down the isle, Lance noticed he was making logical decisions, he went down a left side isle where it was obvious the scent was bouncing off a wall and going down that isle. But he came back and circled some boxes where the scent was heavy. "This dog is a thinker. He's making choices based on what is going on in his brain. He's mental."
"Wait a dog-pickin' minute! Something here doesn't smell like jarred pickles or canned beans. It smells like a bi-ped!"
Just moments before, Loki had circled the boxes to the left. The scent must have been lingering there heavily.
To tell you the truth, it felt really good to hear our trainer say Loki was a thinker. Usually he only observes Loki working obedience where his confidence is low and his anxiety is high and exhibiting a different kind of "mental" behavior. (Not the good kind.) I have always known Loki was a thinker. He loves guessing games and even chaining behaviors together. In fact, I leverage that thinking brain and make him guess whenever I teach him a new behavior.
"Mom! Come on over here and check this out! It's Debbie hiding in these boxes. She sure is weird!"
I made sure to shut my mouth and go to him to praise him this time so he stays with his target.
Unfortunately, Loki's confidence can get the better of him and his biggest issue in Search is being too locked onto me. He relies on me for help when he's uncertain and I've too often caved in to help him. He's also not confident enough to stay with his target until I get to him. If he hears me praise him from a distance he'll unlock from his target and return to me too soon. As his handler, I need to stop helping him make decisions so he can start trusting his nose.
"Good boy Loki! You found the lost person and the day is saved!"
After Search (SAR) class, Loki and I headed to Article Search for an another hour of training. This type of search is searching for human scented objects. The object is generalized and not specific. For example, we're not training him to go find my keys and give them to me, instead I'm training him to go find some human scented object that is probably lost in the woods or on terrain. Loki wagged his tail the entire class and was too happy to play this game.
When I got home, Mr. Wild Dingo, the skeptic, asked why we bothered training in SAR and Article Search. He doubted Loki was any good at either.
“Are you kidding?" I exclaimed. “These are great party tricks! Just think: we can take $5, $10, $50 bets on Loki finding anyone’s keys, wallet or object hidden on our property.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear you finally have a viable business plan,” he replied.