Sunday, July 26, 2009

back to the drawing board

Quinn and I ran our FH yesterday and did not pass. Initially I wrote that we were "unsuccessful" but that isn't true. Quinn approached his track in a happy state of mind and the judge commented that he was a "dog who likes his handler". He did not pay any attention to the cross track which was layed to cross the first and third legs, apparently contrary to the rules but that was the best location. Jessica Levin, who is a waif of a thing, laid the cross track so it is entirely possible Quinn dismissed it as a bird walking across the track! I also experimented with feeding him prior to tracking (Science Diet ID, since he tends to get "loose") in the hopes having something on his stomach would prevent grass grazing, and that apparently was a good choice as we had none of that occur.

Tracking was held at a sod farm near Sun Prairie. The area we were in was a harvested area, with strips of weeds and bare, hard ground and then strips of grass. The other schutzhund dogs had tracked in the lush, squishy grass. darn!!

None of the three FH dogs passed, but frankly, that doesn't make me feel any better about our own failure. It just means none of us were properly prepared. One of the other competitors dismissed her dog's performance to the fact that he had been bred the previous night. But unless it ruined his sense of smell, that is a silly argument. If I say "track" then we "track". I have trained my dogs around bitches in heat and they understand that a snootfull of girl is no excuse not to work.

At any rate, I had high hopes for our track. Quinn started nicely, and crossed the expanse of harvested sod and onto the next piece of grass. However, the track made a right turn in that hard soil and continued and I had not trained properly for this. I had practiced crossing stuff like that, so of course, Quinn continued straight ahead and then check back and forth on the grass as if to say "okay, so where did it go??". He completely missed the turn. Judge Nikki Banfield was extremely patient and granted me more time and help than I probably would have given someone else. Quinn searched and searched and finally came back to me. My heart sank there as that is one of my biggest pet peeves; a dog who quits. But I could tell, he was totally lost. Risking the consequences, I took a couple steps in the direction of the turn and encouraged him to keep working. He did!! He followed that track but although I could see it, he did not seem to be committed to the scent as I was keeping him more on track than his nose was. He then missed the next right turn. He gave no acknowledgement and just did not pick it up on his search, once he recognized he had no scent. It totally surprised me.

I had made arcs in the deep, plowed dirt where I practiced but never turned on the harvested area. Contrary to my instinct to rest Quinn for a day before the event, I ran one last track on Friday because I was worried about the dirt. I made it very rewarding and figured he would certainly be able to work his way across it in the trial. arrgghhhh.... poor planning= poor training.

The judge called the track at that point, which I absolutely understood. She said that I could finish the track if I wanted, for the experience, and I did that. That was very nice of her. I kept a close line and offered alot of verbal encouragement and we worked our way to the end, where he got a well deserved belly rub! I had opened his can of sardines for our ending and although I had intended it as a celebration, he still earned it, and so he was treated for his hard work when we got back to the van.

So it's back to the drawing board for us. Accomplishing the FH and FH2 is my goal, and Quinn is a good tracker. I do need to work on making his corners more precise, and making turns in difficult cover or surfaces. He has ignored cross tracks, but I won't neglect that aspect. One thing that I like to do when I have other people along is to have them walk 5-7 feet to the side of my track and cross it randomly. I know where it goes straight ahead and so there isn't a question and especially if I have them walk up-wind of us, it teaches him to always follow the scent he is started on and not just follow a wind borne scent. I also have people walk with me when I run the track BUT this judge walked almost next to the dog and that did throw some of them. Quinn rolled his eyes at her once at the start but after that didn't seem concerned, but it is one more thing to add to our tracking regiment. With consistency and practice, we WILL earn our title. But Quinn is already a success, in my eyes. After all, he puts up with me!!