Sunday, February 18, 2024

First Impressions of Scentwork

I have been wanting to get into scentwork for years. I took a couple of private lessons a decade ago, but couldn't continue for various reasons. I have been actively attempting to get into a scentwork class either in person or online for the past two years with no success. I now own a book on getting myself started and am working through it, but I'm not really enjoying the process and so far I am massively underwhelmed by this sport. Here are my impressions of scentwork as a completely inexperienced outsider attempting to get into the sport:

Patiently waiting to be released to eat treats off the floor.
1. We don't want newbies. Scentwork as a whole is trying to keep new people out. This seems weird at first, both online and in person training programs for scentwork are everywhere. My local kennel club has half a dozen different classes every session. There are clinics and seminars everywhere all the time. BUT, the prerequisite for all of these things is to have taken the intro beginner class. The beginner class is only offered once a year. The class at my local kennel club only has space for six dogs and has filled up in under 15 seconds one year and under 26 seconds the other year I tried to get in. I know this because that's how long it took me to fill in my information and hit the submit button when registration opened. So I started looking for an online class and found a great website for a great trainer with all sorts of online classes. BUT, she only offers her intro class once a year and it was last month so tough luck. This is proudly announced both at the kennel club and with this online trainer, they are very open about how few people they introduce the sport each year.

2. Odor is a sidequest. Scentwork is mostly just sniffing around for treats. My outsider impression is that scentwork is almost entirely about finding food. I had originally believed it was modeled after narcotics detection rather than foraging around on the floor for crumbs. A friend who managed to make it into the kennel club class reported that after a year of classes they were still hunting for food with no plans to look for anything else. My book teaches searching behavior entirely with food and says you don't ever need to teach them to look for anything else unless you want to compete. Another training website I looked at had a bunch of different exercises and said they could all be done with food and even if the dog can search for a specific odor they should mostly still be searching for food.

3. There is surprisingly little sniffing involved. I am working my way through the book with Sisci right now, and three weeks into it the "searches" consist entirely of scattering food on the ground around various objects. The dog is supposed to learn to carefully sniff around the object to find the treats, but Sis just cannonballs over and slurps them all up as if the object isn't even there. She can clear the room in seconds even when there are several objects to be searched. We can use up her entire daily ration of kibble in five minutes of "searching" and it takes less time than if I just threw it out on the lawn. I'm probably doing something wrong here, but so far I'm not seeing the fascinating searching behavior and puzzle-solving that I keep hearing about from scentwork fans. Maybe at some point the book will instruct me to start hiding the treats instead of just scattering them on the ground around boxes and bags. But then, having had multiple completely food-obsessed dogs in the past, I'm also not entirely comfortable encouraging my dog to forage everywhere for potential food. 

So there's the current state of our scentwork journey. I am throwing treats on the floor for my dog to eat while ruminating on why the sport doesn't want new people to get involved and wondering how this is even a sport in the first place. I am currently looking for an online class or program that isn't entirely about searching for food in the hopes that eventually I will discover why so many people like scentwork. Feel free to set me straight in the comments if your opinion differs.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

My Dog is Always Wet

 This is Puff. Puff likes water. We live on a farm. There is lots of water on the farm. There are stock tanks and water tubs all over the place. There is also a pond. It rains a lot, so there are also puddles. Lots of puddles. Puff loves puddles. 

When we lived in the desert, rain wasn't a thing most of the year. There wasn't ambient water just laying around. Puff would jump in stocks tanks and water tubs, and then dry off very quickly in the single-digit humidity. Now she is perpetually wet. This has caused some unexpected issues. The first is her collar. 

Obviously biothane was the obvious choice for Puff's collar. It's waterproof,  non-permeable, doesn't soak up nasty swamp water, and lasts forever, right? I usually see it touted as an analog to leather for dog gear and horse tack, and I have leather tack that's older than I am. In practice, I keep seeing people say that a couple of years is a good lifespan for a biothane collar. However, a lot of websites that sell biothane collars say they will last a lifetime with proper care. The biothane collars I have on my sheep tend to get stiff after a while, but that probably doesn't count as proper biothane care. 

Puff has been wearing a Farm Diggity Farm-Proof collar for three years, and it has been wet for three
years. The biothane material itself is still going strong, but the rivets are rusting out. This is not a dig at Farm Diggity, almost all my dogs are wearing their collars and they are incredible. I also have several of their dog tie-outs and some farm-proof crooks. I have nothing but good things to say about the company and their products. But farm-proof is apparently not Puff-proof.

I could just replace the rivets and wait for them to rust out again, but I am also exploring other collar options for the perpetually damp dog. Maybe stitched biothane from a company that makes horse tack. Maybe I'll have a go at making my own biothane collars. Maybe I'll have Puff DNA tested to see if she's all dog and not part seal or otter. (Just kidding, the DNA test said 100% border collie without any fun surprises.)

Sunday, February 4, 2024

The Changing Landscape of Dog Products

 Since I started this blog almost a decade ago (it will be a decade this March) the world of dog products has changed dramatically. There used to be a relative handful of companies and makers, making distinctive products. I purchased many of the products featured on this blog in secondhand stores, but they generally came from identifiable companies with an online presence that I could link to. Often those companies had their own stories, and I have loved researching them as I go along, finding out who merged with who and which products they kept in the lineup (spoiler alert: Outward Hound buys everything) post acquisition. 

When I started this blog, there were two manufacturers of inflatable donut cones. Today there are dozens of different products available from dozens of different manufacturers. There was one recovery suit, and it was not available for sale but had to be purchased from a veterinarian. Today you can find hundreds of different products in all sorts of designs. They are easier to find, less expensive, and becoming more common and popular because they get shared a lot through word of mouth. 

As the products become more commonplace and widespread, the companies behind them are all sort of blurring together. In writing up my recent posts on dog pants and recovery collars, I found that several of the products I had purchased or screenshotted were no longer available on Amazon. In fact, some of the companies were nowhere to be found. The current trend I am seeing is lots of similar or identical products offered from various different companies, with a slightly different brand logo or no logo at all. Obviously they are all coming from the same overseas manufacturers. 

Imported products are nothing new. What has changed is the quality of some of those products. Our familiar and beloved manufacturers like Ruffwear and Lupine and Hurtta haven't gone anywhere, and nobody matches their quality and customer service. But there used to be those guys, and the affordable pet store stuff, and then stuff from unfamiliar overseas manufacturers. That stuff was reliably poor quality. I know most of the dog products I buy from familiar and well-established brands are also manufactured overseas, but those had the security of being from a familiar company with a reputation to uphold. 

Today, I can buy a recovery suit, cone, collar, leash, bowl, toy, etc from an unfamiliar foreign brand on Amazon and be relatively certain it will hold up at least as well as the affordable pet store option. My no-name dog pajamas do not have a familiar company standing behind them, and they don't have the design consideration or quality found in my Medical Pet Shirt. I may not be able to find that company or product again when I want to share it with a friend or write about it here, but there will be ten more just like it waiting for me. Maybe even more, in even more different styles.

So what am I paying for when I buy a RuffWear Front Range harness instead of a RabbitGoo harness from Amazon or  a no-name harness from Temu? I am not only paying for quality and customer service. I am also paying for innovation. Companies like RuffWear are the ones creating not only new products, but new kinds of products. We didn't have mass marketed, high-quality escape-proof harnesses or structured, padded walking harnesses until RuffWear showed us how great they are. Everyone else is copying.