Friday, May 4, 2012
54 degrees and a wind of 21 mph and I thought "tracking!!" When the wind is blowing, I get going, so to speak. In tracking, the best attitude is to greet distractions and seeming difficulties as opportunities to learn.
Especially when I am teaching the fundamentals of staying at the source of the odor, I like to make long legs cross-wise to the wind direction. There is no reward where there is no human scent, and the dog learns to get themselves back to the source of the odor. In these windy day tracks the cross-wise legs are baited at random but quite heavily so that if the dog does leave the track there is reward when he returns.
Today we were doubly "blessed" by vehicle tracks across the area. If you have ruts, grain-cuts from lawn mowing, trails or other, laying your track "cross-wise" to those is also helpful. The dog is not rewarded for following those areas of heavy disturbance that do not contain the scent that he was started on, and he learns to negotiate those unrelated scent profiles. I do not bait through those, leading the dog with food; I bait before and after the distraction. If the dog is drawn off onto the rut/tire impression or whatnot, he very quickly recognizes there is no human scent there, and moves back to the track... where he finds reward.
I should note here that this is not a trailing exercise. By the time tracks such as this are run, the dog understands the scent circle exercise and knows that where there is no human scent there is no reward, and if he makes one step outside that area, knows to return to the area of human scent. He has likely seen serpentine tracks as well as had unrelated people walking near the track layer when the tracks were laid. He is beginning to understand that anything that does not contain the scent of the tracklayer is unimportant. I stay close to the dog and if he does step off the track to explore another scent, I say nothing. I do not physically or verbally correct him. It is up to the dog to find the track and be successful. However, he does not have 30 feet or even 10 feet to run around and air scent. As I said, I stay close on the line and give him one or two steps before he feels back pressure on the line. He needs to convince me that his direction is correct. He pulls against the pressure to get back to the track... and the reward.
On the track, I also start to give some gentle back-pressure on the line as the dog moves to a piece of food, building the same "convince me" pull. Just as soon as he gives me resistance, I release the pressure, he finds reward and I say soothingly "good."
In the photo below, taken with my cell phone as I was tracking with Buzz, you can see the track at an angle to the vehicle tracks, moving right. You can see it just at Buzz's right shoulder.
Any time you track, be grateful for distractions and challenges. Just be sure to provide an opportunity for reward equal to the difficulty. Once the dog understands articles, you can also alternate legs with bait, and legs with articles and use the articles to reward a successful movement through difficulty. Create confidence for yourself and your dog and have fun with tracking!
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