Dr. Susan Palocsay Enjoys A Different Type of Teaching
Dr. Susan Palocsay, Professor of Computer Information Systems and Business Analytics, loves teaching at JMU. She also loves working with and teaching her dogs new, challenging activities.
After her husband died six years ago, she was at loose ends. She decided to devote her free time to training her two dogs, male and female Vizslas. This breed originated in Hungary and is known for its bird hunting instinct, with a good nose and an above-average energy level. They are also known for being very affectionate, although they can get their feelings hurt easily. As a result, you can’t put too much pressure on them.
Rumli is her male, which is Hungarian for “ruckus”; the female is Sarika, which is Hungarian for “princess.” Dr. Palocsay says the names are misleading—Sarika is the smarter and more devious of the two. She wanted to give herself and the dogs some concrete goals to work towards, so she began to participate in various dog sports.
She started out with agility training, which is very challenging. Both Rumli and Sarika earned American Kennel Club (AKC) novice agility titles, and Sarika achieved several AKC advanced and excellent agility titles. But as the courses got harder, they became stressed in the ring and Dr. Palocsay decided to give them a break from agility.
She has also done some rally obedience with her dogs, which is more relaxed and fun than traditional obedience. This sport consists of a course with ~20 signs designating the sequence of obedience tasks. Unlike formal obedience, the handlers are encouraged to praise their dogs during the performance. In the APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers) venue, both dogs have finished Level 1 (RL1). Sarika has finished Level 2 (RL2) and is progressing towards a rally championship (ARCH), and she was ranked #10 in the RL2 category of the 2012 APDT Rally National Rankings.
K9 Nose Work
Dr. Palocsay is always looking for new challenges for her dogs. She discovered a new activity, K9 Nose Work, last year. Dogs initially train by using their noses to find a favorite toy or treat reward hidden in one of several boxes. Over time, the game expands to rooms, exterior areas, and vehicles. As the dog grows more confident with his sniffing, target odors are introduced and competition-level skills are taught.
Before entering a competition, the dogs must pass an ORT (odor recognition test) which requires them to identify a box with Q-tips that were soaked in birch among a set of 12 boxes. Both Sarika and Rumli passed the birch ORT in the past year, each finding it within 6 seconds. The sport also includes scents of anise and clove at upper levels. Trial competition requires searching of 4 elements: interior, exterior, vehicle, and container. Dr. Palocsay plans to enter Sarika in her first K9 Nose Work competition sometime in the near future.
Dr. Palocsay recently learned of a new dog sport called Treibball. In Treibball, dogs push big exercise balls across fields into soccer nets using only their noses (no paws allowed). It is a combination of agility, obedience, and ball driving/pushing/ skills. This low impact activity is fun yet challenging for the dogs. Treibball also builds confidence and focus in many dogs, and provides a safe way to keep dogs fit and healthy through both mental and physical exercise. She and the Vizslas will be taking a Triebball class this summer.
Working with her dogs has given Dr. Palocsay a new outlet for her teaching skills. She is intrigued by how dogs learn. She enjoys the training and loves watching her dogs participate in different activities. Dr. Palocsay says, “I like the challenge of teaching my dogs different skills. Ribbons are nice but ultimately are not as important as building a strong relationship with your dog. It is your job is to make sure your dog has a good time.”
With almost 10 acres of open land at her home near Singers Glen, Sarika and Rumli love the rural life, sniffing and roaming through the woods, and staying in top shape for their competitions.