E333: Julie Symons - Lost Item Recovery

Come learn all about this new nosework game! Julie and I chat about what's involved, how to get started, and answer some of the most frequently asked questions about the new sport! 


Melissa Breau: This is Melissa bro, and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast, brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports, using only the most current and progressive training methods. Today I have Julie Symons here with me to talk about Lost Item Recovery. Hi Julie, welcome back to the podcast!

Julie Symons: Hi Melissa. Thanks for having me again.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. To start us out, you want just to refresh everybody's memory with a little bit about you and your current canine crew?

Julie Symons: I live in Rochester, New York. I teach a lot of local classes and agility and nosework and some pet classes, puppy pet classes. And for Fenzi, I am primarily teaching nosework, do a little bit of obedience and just, just really into the areas of the scent sports as well as a lot of my, my training and trailing is as well. My crew of dogs seems to be the same 'cause my dogs live for such a long time. My old girl is gonna be 16 in a few months. Savvy. She has done it all.

You know, tracking, nosework, has a utility title and then my younger dogs, Drac, who's my Maliois just turned eight. And Moxie, who is five and they all keep me really, really busy and, and you know, they're pretty active and they're, and they're just really nice dogs to train and trial with.

Melissa Breau: Gee, your youngest dog is five. I wonder if a puppy's starting to, I know. Starting out puppy thoughts Julie.

Julie Symons: Three is my limit, so I…

Melissa Breau: Okay, fair enough. Alright, so I wanted to have you on to talk about lost item recovery stuff. So let's start kinda right at the beginning. What is Lost Item Recovery?

Julie Symons: Yeah, Lost Item Recovery is a trial class that they have in the North American Sport Dog Association, which stands for NASDA. And it was formed to offer various games to utilize our dog's amazing olfactory ability. And the specific class for loss item recovery is, there's two parts to it. First you're finding your own scent and then the other part of it is you are finding a stranger scent.

And so one of them is simulating, you know, finding your lost personal item. And the other one is finding, you know, simulating like you're finding a lost person. So you're using an article of theirs to go find them and your, your dog will in some of the levels have to discriminate between other human sensed items. So it adds a little bit of challenge there.

Melissa Breau: Very cool. So can you talk a little bit more about the competition piece of it? So obviously you can compete in it. Is NASDA the only competition venue available? Kind of what do those early levels look like?

Julie Symons: Yeah, as far as I know, NASDA is the only organization that's offering these types of trials. They are available in the US and in Canada and it's making its way across the country a lot of, on the west, Western states and southern states. And it's moving into the Midwest. And the one part that it actually hasn't come to is in my area of the Northeast, but it is growing and you know, I, every time I look at their, their dashboard of events, I see more and more states that are adding to it.

So, you know, by bringing this visible to more people, then more people will think about, you know, hosting trials.

Melissa Breau: Maybe myself also in my area, you're gonna bring it single handedly to the northeast.

Julie Symons: Maybe, maybe. We'll see. I have a lot. They also have online titling options for lost item recovery, which is really nice. It almost seems to be the standard now for any organization that they offer something in, you know, in those, in that realm of online options. And they also just, just a touch on it, the NASDA organization that has other classes, the loss item recovery is just a small part of it. They have trailing and locating, which is tracking wildlife scents.

They have a shed antler class, which is finding deer antlers and they have an urban class which is similar to barn hunt. So it's, it's in a, it's not in in a field, it's in a, you know, you know, human environment originating from where they used to have dogs trying to find the rats, you know, in the cities and stuff to, to, you know, to get rid, to get rid of the rat population. So those are some of the other scent sports that they're offering under the whole umbrella of really, you know, highlighting our dog's ability to, to scent and use olfactory skills.

Melissa Breau: Very cool. You mentioned you kind of start with handler scent. So when training this, is it problematic if we train at home? How does that work? Since our scent is kind of presumably everywhere?

Julie Symons: Yeah, we definitely start with our scent to teach the concept of finding human odor. It's what's used in AKC handler scent discrimination as well as the obedience scent article exercise that we often compare this to a little bit, right? We, it comes up a lot with the, with the same skills are needed for that.

And this is a question that I get a lot about, you know, how do you do this when our scent is all over the house? And I definitely experienced that, you know, concern when I, when the AKC came out with their handler sent discrimination class, which is first locating a scent of glove in a box and then eventually cotton balls scented in the interior and exterior areas.

And it really is like no issue at all. The reason this works is because we're asking our dog to find an article in the loss item recovery. And it's, it's kind of a clear cut context, right? It's, it's finding an article and we also use simple setups where it's a selection process where whether it's AKC handler, scent discrimination, it's they're searching boxes for the handler sent, or the steps that I will use is kind of a selection like a pile, kind of like a, like a scent article obedience pile. But we'll start with a scent article pile or just simply searching for one item in a room. I think I only remembered one time that my dog stopped at the handle of a basket that I had moved in there to like create some stuff that they kind of like, oh, you know, and then they just moved right on. So, so it's, it's just convenient to train at home and it, it, it's, it's just gonna make trailing like that much easier because in trials you're not gonna have that issue whatsoever. So it's, it's just not a concern, but it is, it is a question I get asked a lot.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. Can you, can you talk a little more about the process when you start training your dog to search for somebody else's scent? How do you kind of introduce that concept of match to sample? Yeah, and that's something that I played around with earlier this year. It's all about the concepts. So what I, what I laid out was, first you teach your dog to find your scent. 'cause that's usually where I find people get hung up. You know, whether it's for your utility articles, that's usually just just a, a stickler point and sometimes people don't get past that. So we wanna work on that, build value for that. And then we're gonna teach the match to sample with your scent so they understand the process, they know how to find your scent pretty easily like that alone, I find once you get past any, you know, trouble spots, it, it, it's pretty straightforward where you could, your dog could almost, even without a match to sample, they can find your scent. But I'm going to apply the match to sample first so that we can teach that process and then transfer it to a stranger, stranger scent. And what I noticed when I was playing around with this is that the stranger scent really, really pops. I was on a walk with one of my friends and I said, Hey, I I I need you to like send some stuff I brought for you. She goes, oh you know what? My socks have holes in 'em. Let me just take my socks off and stick her socks off and gave me her socks.

And I went literally right home, gathered my dogs, went out to my training building and I just applied this match the sample with a stranger scent. I'd already done the previous stuff 'cause I was working on it and my dogs were like, whoa. Like really, really sniffing, sniffing on my friend's socks. So they were, they were more smelly and they were very different because yeah, they may not be interested to smell my stuff, they smell me all the time. So it just really fell into place nicely with the concept in place, getting a different scent that kind of popped to the dog and, and it just stood out to them and, and it, and it just worked really, really well.

Melissa Breau: We all need that kind of friend.

Julie Symons: They're like, lemme just take off my socks. I was like, you're gonna put your like foot, feet back in your shoes. Okay. You know? Yeah, it was funny.

Melissa Breau: Thinking about all of that, how does training for lost item recovery kind of compare to some of those other nosework sports? For example, you know, searching for nosework odor or handler scent for obedience?

Julie Symons: Yeah. The nosework oils and odors are light and disperse more quickly into the air handler. Scent is heavier and it's gonna fall. So in some ways that can be easier to locate a hand, a human odor because it's gonna stay closer to source, but it won't be as easy to actually pick it up as far away as you can pick up some nosework odor.

So definitely training to find our scent will carry over very well to obedient scent articles. I actually had a lot of people take the, one of the AKC classes that I taught for the handler scent to kind of help people to train for the eventual obedient scent articles. 'cause it's just really about teaching your dog to how to find your scent among other items.

And I, and again, as I said earlier, teaching scent article exercises has historically been tricky or I found that with some teams, you know, dogs are often thinking about retrieving, so they have an arousal for retrieving and they're not using their nose, they're not scenting and they make mistakes because of that. Yeah. So I really, really like the idea of teaching handler sent away from the scent article, you know, for formality and, and to just really help with the process of them understanding to, to use their nose and then they could put the obedience and the retrieve back into that picture. An area that I found the most beneficial to this activity I've been playing around with is tracking. You know, I can look back and say that I mostly taught, or I felt that I was really teaching my dog to follow ground disturbance, you know, to follow crush vegetation and, and crushed insects. You know, there's always a debate about whether, how much is the dog tracking the disturbance or are they tracking, truly tracking, you know, handler odor. And we, and often when doing, when we're, when we're training for tracking, we're laying our own tracks. We don't always have somebody to help us lay our tracks. So we're not even teaching 'em to, to find a stranger scent. They're, they're tracking us. And so here's a little factoid every minute of the day we shed about 30,000 to 40,000 dead skin cells off the surface of our skin.

And I remember sometimes when I've, I was a track layer recently and, and it was like cold and I'm like, oh my God, all my skin is covered. You know, so you try to just like, I'm not gonna wear gloves and you know, I'm not gonna wear a scarf or something. I'm just gonna try to hopefully get my skin cells out there. 'cause they just, they're just dropping by the thousands, you know, when you're laying a track. So there's definitely that disturbance and, and how I've learned about that, this is a little side note, is when you're doing tracking and you're turning on a corner, if you stand there for a little bit, you purposely stand there for a little bit, kind of make more of a disturbance. Your dog will notice that corner a little bit more. Same within like a nosework trial. If a if dog's false in a particular place, you'll get the next five to 10 dogs fault there because they've, there's been a disturbance by, you know, hormones that we put out by our, our smell, whether it's a dog or the handler.

And there's, there's just excretions that we make that our dog are gonna pick up. So our dogs are of course learning to track human scent that's deposited on the track. But the aspect of stranger scent is not always there when our training, so when I started playing around with this loss time in recovery, I found this kind of renewed understanding by my dogs to sniff this article and then track that scent.

'Cause I was using my friend's sock or what, or my husband's or my son's. And I recently earned my dog Drac's TDX title a couple weeks ago actually. And I had, honestly, I went in, I had a cold going into it. I heard the site was very challenging and I looked up last year and nobody had passed. And you know, TDX pass rates are usually pretty low, but I'm like, well, I've done the training, I'm gonna do it. And I had to, you know, pull that start article out. For those who aren't familiar with tracking, I, there's a start article that the, that there is a track layer who lays four articles on the track. And the first article, you pick up or you pick up old articles, but the first article you're gonna use to like, help your dog resent. And I've done that, you know, I've been doing tracking for, gosh, I don't know, 20 years, but across only maybe like four dogs. So it's like, it's like every five years I started again.

You know, so it's not like I'm tracking that long every day, but it's, it's sporadic. And I've always tried to rescent my dogs on that front article and they just look at me like, I don't know, I don't know what you want me to do, whatever. 'cause I think they're, again, I always felt like they're just really following like a crushed trail and of course some sense. But, so I did that with Jack and we had a tough time. It was a tough track, it was raining a lot and it was flooded in the fields. And, and, and then we got through it and we passed. And when I pulled that article out, he sniffed it. He literally sniffed it. And, and I can say that my dogs have never done that before with my, you know, handful of tracking titles I've either been able to get through without having to rescent their article or whatever. So this, this match to sample that I was playing around with for this last item in recovery was just a direct benefit to tracking. And it was just, it just, it, it's just something that I realized I had not properly trained, I had not properly trained that because I relied on the other, you know, parts of a track, right? The other parts of a dog following a track and not that specific part of a kind of a match to sample.

Melissa Breau: So I think the answer here is maybe a little clear at this point, but if somebody is already training for those other sports, right? nosework odor or AKC obedience or tracking even, is there any risk of confusing the dog introducing lost item recovery or any tips? Maybe if somebody wants to kind of do all the things?

Julie Symons: Yeah. You know, it will not confuse the dogs. I might not start them on the same day. I usually tell people don't say, oh, I wanna start nosework today and I wanna go start lost item recovery or, or handler center or whatever. I, I wouldn't do it on the exact same day. And that oddly would just never happen. Right? I just don't think that's, we have enough time in our day to start a new skill in multiple sports. Yeah. Multiple sports on the same day. But I actually have, and I don't do this a lot, and I always felt like if somebody was watching me when they think I was crazy, like I, if you laid a track, it has to age for hours. I'd be like, well, I'm, I'm, I'm bored, what am I gonna do my dogs? So I would go set some nosework searches and they, they just, it wasn't a problem because I find that number one, our dogs thrive off of this work and they can switch gears very, very easily. And our dogs are experts at understanding context.

I mean, you'll hear that a lot. In fact, training multiple scent sports is gonna build a strong, build stronger skills. And your teamwork, the skills transfer very, very nicely. Like problem solving, like scent, there's always scent puzzles in any of these that we've talked about. How a dog indicates that they find something is common across them.

And as handlers, we become better at reading our scenting dogs. And, and that actually is a big, big portion of it. You know, we get 'em to our heads. People who say do tracking. We'll say, I did this with direct, I thought I could, I thought I kept going straight and I almost didn't trust him on a turn.

I also, in nosework we think, oh, there's gotta be a hide over here. And, and we, and we keep our dogs there. So by doing more, whether you call them sports or we call them activities that we do with our dogs, we're gonna learn how our dog works odor and we're gonna kind of stay out of it. You know, we're gonna stay out of it a little bit more. We're gonna observe them, we're gonna be their teammate, but we're gonna rely more heavily on them.

Melissa Breau: Do you use different cues?

Julie Symons: That's a very good question. I do use different cues. Tracking is definitely a different cue, but there's so many contextual cues, right? Environmental cues as well.

But I'm gonna use a different cue for nosework. I use a different cue for nosework searching and for handler odor, I'm gonna use a different cue. So when it came to this Lost Item Recovery, I was like, okay, when my dog is gonna search for my lost personal item in level one, I'm gonna say find mine. And then I'm like,

okay, so now I gotta teach my dog like a different cue to find a stranger scent. And I'm like, maybe that's just cutting that too finely, right? So that's why I am deciding that whether it's my scent for the recovery or for strangers, it's gonna be a match to sample. And I did confirm that with the organization and with the rule book that when they are searching for my scent, I can have another item on me and then have them sample it before they go into the search area. I am kind of a little bit generically right now just using like a find it, whether it's, you know, my, my scent or a stranger scent for the lost Item recovery.

Melissa Breau: Super interesting stuff.

Julie Symons: It is.

Melissa Breau: So you've got a class coming up on lost item recovery in December. Do you wanna talk a little bit about kind of what you'll cover in the class and maybe who should consider signing up?

Julie Symons: Yeah, so I do have a class coming up in December. It's actually opening soon. And I am splitting the class up into two halves.

So like the first three weeks I will be focusing on teaching our scent, because that's gonna be more familiar. We can, you know, learn all the processes with, working for our scent. And in troubleshooting, you know, there's going to be some troubleshooting needed for dogs who struggle aren't using their nose or whatever. And then we're gonna teach them match the sample with our own scent before moving into the second half of the class. And, you know, I may split that a little earlier, a little later, depending on how everybody's doing in the class. I don't wanna delay too much of the stranger scent because I think that's what a lot of people are very interested in and, and the match to sample. But the match to sample concept is gonna come very early in that six weeks.

And then near the end of the course, we're gonna touch on the distractions that can be out there. Primarily it's another human scent. So how it works is, let's say a steward is gonna have, we're searching for one of the steward's scented item, then they're gonna have another person's scented item out there and levels two and above. But they also can use the standard later on in the higher levels, you know, like food or toys or other, you know, distractors out there. And so yeah, so that's kind of what I've laid out the class as, as it, as it as it is right now. Of course being a new class, you know, that'll, we'll see how that goes and what might be changed.

Melissa Breau: So do students need any existing kind of nosework knowledge or are there any prereqs maybe they need to kinda take for the class?

Julie Symons: Nope, there isn't. It's very similar to how we would start like nosework 101 for nosework. We start very much from the beginning with the first steps that you need to do to build value for the target odor that we're working on.

Julie Symons: Awesome. And then just because I'm sure you'll get this question at least once, if people want to work on AKC handler sent discrimination,

can they bronze and kind of pick up some of the steps in the early lectures? Is that like a thing? Absolutely. There's definitely some overlap with some of the other material that I have worked on. I think it's going to be advantageous for, you know, people who wanna play around this for tracking people who are working in obedience and, you know, working toward the utility exercises. I've also found there's a lot of interest from some either seasoned or retired nosework dogs that are ready to try something new, right? They've already, they've already kind of done the nosework track, of course, they're still either competing in it or there are dogs who aren't able to go to live trials.

They wanna try something new with their dogs. They may have a newer dog that they're starting on their, you know, nose or track and they wanna have something for their other dog to do. So that's kind of the stuff that I'm finding. And I just think anybody who's looking to expand into more sense sports activities, I, I've got a lot of good feedback and a lot of interest for this class.

Melissa Breau: Cool. Super exciting. So any final thoughts or key points you wanna maybe just leave listeners with? Just that this is a ton of fun for me to play with, you know, I hadn't mentioned earlier, but the items that we're searching for are your, are personal items, you know, their keys, their wallets, their digital items, credit cards.

That's what makes it a little different. Right? I could say that I'm a, in, in my training for whatever I've done so far. I pretty much don't train outside the rules. You know, I got a lot going on if I'm training, you know, scent articles for obedience. I'm just working with those, those, those metal and leather and, and articles and I don't go outside too much of that. But this was just super fun for me to have my dog find my keys and find my wallet and to just know that they can find something as small as a credit card. So to me that's actually very exciting. And, you know, I was able to apply my, you know, past experience across obedience and tracking and nosework to come up with a really fun layout for training on this concept.

Some of it will be already generalized by a lot of teams out there. So teams are coming in with some previous experience, they're gonna be able to generalize this pretty quickly. And for teams, like I said earlier who have struggled with teaching handler scent, you know, the scent articles, this is a really fun new way to play with it and, you know, really can break that down again and, you know, maybe come at it from a different angle and just my last statement will be just, just to see how well our dogs can perform these various kinds of search searches with personal items and match the sample. It's just really amazing. Like I, I really did have more fun than I thought I would have with it.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. So, so cool. And it's such a cool concept. So thank you so much for coming on the podcast to chat about it, Julie.

Julie Symons: You're very welcome.

Melissa Breau: And thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week. Don't miss it. If you haven't already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.

Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast, music provided royalty free by bensound.com. The track featured here is called Body Audio Editing provided by Chris Lang. Thanks again for tuning in and happy training.


Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training! 

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