Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tracking Titan

Meet TITAN, a tiny tracking fool!  This is Rich and his new GSD puppy, Titan, who are new members of Fox Valley Police & Schutzhund Club.  Titan is from the kennel von Gildaf and his sire is Bill Kula's dog, Boy.

Rich came to the club four weeks ago with his 9 week old fuzzball.  So often, I receive calls from people interested in the sport who have wasted a year (or more) with pet dog classes and such, teaching habits we will only have to un-do and then decide they want to try schutzhund. I had been in contact with Rich as he made his search for the right puppy, and was so excited to be able to work with Titan from the beginning.

We began with tracking on his first visit.  Puppies are ruled by their stomachs.  Tracking is much easier to do with a young, small dog rather than trying to manhandle an 80 lb speedster, and if we lay in that foundation when they are young we can always return to it.  I like to go back to tracking when the puppy is teething, too, and then resume biting after that.

We started with scent circles.  Titan showed exceptional focus to the scent.  With the scent circle, the puppy learns to associated the odor of human scent and ground disturbance with food reward.  There is no track initially and if the pup ventures outside that defined area while food remains in the scent circle, the handler does not guide or correct him back, but remains at the leash length (silently) until the pup returns to the scent circle.  While there are one or two pieces of food left, the handler gently pulls the dog back and away, leaving him wanting more.  Learning the lesson that there is no reward to be found where there is no human scent is critical to that initial learning. Without that, the handler is left to force the dog to remain at the source of the odor.

After several series of 3 scent circles (with rest in between!!) with Titan working calmly footstep to footstep, we ended with a short track.  Because Titan was so small, I instructed Rich to carry him to the track and to carry him off when he was done.  This also avoids having to correct the puppy for trying to track before reaching the start.  With puppy just behind the scent pad, Rich takes a piece of food, brings it to Titan's nose and tosses it onto the scent pad with the command  "such".

The track is laid walking one foot in front of the other, with the distance between steps appropriate to the size of the dog. Ideally you want the dog to move smoothly from step to step; if they steps are too close together the dog will skip steps, and if too far apart they will begin to search for the next, possibly moving off the track.  The puppy has the width of your foot to be correct.  There is food in each step when they are learning.  The beginning phase of tracking teaches that every footstep contains information and reward.

The puppy should work footstep to footstep on a loose leash.  The first track we did was only around 15 paces.  The following week, after practicing during the week, I had Rich lay a 75 pace track that made a left turn to 10 paces.  I showed him how to introduce Titan to turns, teaching him to back up if he continued a step and found no human scent. 

I noticed that Titan was moving with more speed and that Rich was holding a tight leash.   You can see in the photo above, Titan is pulling against the leash.  Tension creates speed and speed kills in tracking. 

In our track today, which wound its way around the agility equipment and had many spectators, I instructed Rich to simply walk with Titan slightly in front of him but to hold his hands at Titan's waist instead of using leash pressure and use that method to guide Titan.  My friend, Sam, has used this method successfully with ViVi.  Rich was still using hotdogs as reward in the track, and those are a little too visible in shorter grass so that it encourages the puppy to move too quickly and use his eyes.  Using a treat that matches the color of the material you are tracking on or blends in is a better choice.  I am not suggesting you use "green" hotdogs (yuck!) but something such as soaking the puppy's kibble in water for a half hour and then using that as bait OR burying the hotdogs under the grass will encourage Titan to search it out with his nose.

Until Titan is working each step methodically, we will not introduce articles on the track.  He should drive into each step, and he is, in fact, doing that now.  By concealing the treat there we will develop even more attention to the track.  It is exciting to see how quickly he is progressing!!  Rich and Titan will be so much farther ahead by starting young.