Today is today, so I'm not even counting it. Which means there is only one day until Quinn's FH. WOW! Now I'm starting to get nervous! Frankly, once the track starts the only thing for me to do is to follow my dog, so I actually have the easy part on trial day! Tracking is going to be on sod and dirt. The conditions we have trained in have been much more difficult than sod and I haven't been able to get him into much dirt, so I hope we negotiate it successfully.
There aren't any lesson plans that I have found on preparing for an FH, but I pieced together other words of wisdom to come up with a plan:
Al Govednik once said to make excessively long legs when training for an FH and head for the next farm.
Greg Doud said to train with more difficulty so that on trial day the dog has a cakewalk in comparison.
From my own trial experience, I have found that when I have trained for standard, regulation-sized tracks, in the national level and even regional trials there are so many entries that the tracks suffer in length and so you have to exercise caution in having the dog *assume* through repetition that a track will actually proceed the regulation length. More than once, I have been surprised by articles not where they should be, by turns just after an article, etc. I think it tends to throw the handler more than the dog, but that can run right down the leash, especially if the handler believes the dog must be wrong!
I find that diagramming your track is critical, so that you can follow your progress and also ensure you don't get lazy with your turns and article placement and become predictable. Mix it up. Right angle turns, scent circles, 5 step, 3 step, serpentines. Place an article after a turn. Make a turn from an article. Linger on the track and create a hot spot where there is no article. Alternate your reward locations and your reward sources.
Despite these "best laid plans" I have found lately that the tracks I intend to be fairly simple, have, through circumstances, become the tracks from hell. I only hope that makes Quinn a stronger tracking dog! I have had to trust him in more instances, and allow him to problem solve to find success. I think that if a dog is taught with force he may not trust himself when he gets into trouble on a track. I want Quinn to think that HE can search and be successful without my help. Anyway, I digress.
Since I am aging Quinn's tracks for 3-4 hours that means I usually lay them, and then go to breakfast. Then Sue returns with me and lays her track and finally I run Quinn's. We returned to run one to discover that someone else had apparently been there while we ate and laid a track across mine. Quinn has been good about ignoring cross tracks, but in this instance he turns onto this superhighway of ground disturbance and I had to encourage him to get back to work on his own track.
Another day, I laid was was intended to be a track with multiple turns and a road crossing, but not aged as long and not challenging other than that. It was at a local county park. I knew there would be plenty of scents from the weekend activities but as I started out, I discovered a hearty game of football or catch had occurred as the grass was smashed and turn with imprints of bodies. I simply baited a little more to make sure Quinn was rewarded for working through all the scent. I found a pair of sunglasses lost in the glass. Then a beanie baby. Clearly, lots of activity had occurred there! Moving out of that area, I crossed the outfield of the baseball field, making a sharp double back turn. At the far end of the park I crossed the main gravel road of the park, crossed some grass, and then crossed the walking path several times.
Well, the track had been down about 1 1/2-2 hours when a family pulled up at the far end of the park near by road crossings. Two children, a dog and a mom got out and proceeded to walk over my track. The children raced each other back and forth across my track. The dog ate his way along the bait left to reward the successful crossings. As if that wasn't enough, the mother decided she had to use the bathroom and walked across the entire remainder of my track to the shelter building and back again. I pointed out that her dog was eating my bait and explained it was for tracking, in case she wondered what it was doing. Even as I explained, she denied that HER dog would eat anything from the ground. REALLY??? I guess when she saw what it was actually doing, she packed up the kids and dog and left!! I was now worried about what ugliness I might encounter, but the tracking gods weren't finished laughing at me. It must have been lunchtime, as a parade of heavy equipment and an ATV made two passes down the gravel road, once again decimating my road crossing. But do you know what? Quinn worked that track like a champ!! I couldn't believe it! He carefully worked through the plethora of other scents, following mine and made all the turns and road crossings! At that moment, I had the greatest confidence in his ability to do an FH.
Yesterday we worked at the sod farm. My goal was to lay a cross country track negotiating multiple terrain changes. Not terribly difficult other than that and road crossings. It moved from short grass to plowed dirt, to harvested sod dirt (REALLY hard and dry) back to grass, crossing the road to grass, then through harvested sod, grass, plowed dirt and back to grass. Naturally, it couldn't be that easy. After I chased the sand hill cranes away, a flock of geese landed on my track. While we at breakfast, it rained. And it ended up being aged much longer than I antipated because Sue needed to get her track run first. Sooooo.... he worked through the first part beautifully. Oh! I forgot to mention that we also tracked through a burned area next to the ditch! Anyway, that was all good but he overshot the turn where I crossed the road. He did come back, search it out and make the crossing. Had some difficulty in the second plowed dirt area because I walked in an arc and the scent was carried down the furrows. I did have to help and encourage him to be successful there, which makes me a little nervous about our FH, but the track was so old and so long at that point that I could see he was pretty tired. We ended with a series of articles where he could get food reward on the grass.
I have tried to alternate complex turns with those long, long conditioning distances. Areas of food, and areas of no food but with opportunity for reward at the articles. I guess we will know on Saturday whether we are on the right track. Today he gets the day off and tomorrow I will do a short, rewarding grass track and be done with it. I WILL resist my impulse to lay some crazy cross country test and leave that for Saturday.
Wish me luck!
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