I was very optimistic when I entered Pre in the AWDF Championship, being held in Kentucky on April 7-10. When we had a nice thaw and I was able to be outside for one day, I was ecstatic. I, of course, imagined it would be followed by many more such days and I would be able to practice on a full field and tune up Pre's tracking skills, as well.
Mother Nature had other plans. 18 inches of snow fell and left a layer of doubt. I attended a seminar with Debbie Zappia and was able to work on some of the finesse of the obedience exercises, but it was held indoors. What was I to do? In Wisconsin, we sit on buckets and fish through the ice. I could certainly adapt, couldn't I?
And adapt I did. Enter: snow tracking. The weather has warmed enough that the snow is wet and leaves a clear footprint, where I can place rewards. The footprints sink into the snow, so the dog cannot see the treats and has to place his nose into the cavity, and the snow is so wet that it does not drift over my track. These are perfect conditions to lay serpentines, turns and sharp angles and let the dog learn to slow himself down.
Some people think that snow tracks are "easy" and that the dog just has to follow a rut. Not so. While it can indeed be helpful for the handler, as you don't need to flag your corners or find landmarks, if a dog does not know how to moderate is own speed and stay on course, he will just run wild across it. The dog, through self discovery, learns that moving more slowly is what finds reward.
While we still haven't been able to practice on a competition field--- no blinds, no full field obedience-- I am watching the thermometer and crossing my fingers. If not, we will just do our best and know there are things to improve.