Catching up with Ben’s 2017 UTDX training

Ben end of track
Ben poses at the end of the track on January 21 – Lethbridge University (end of this post)

Ben has been doing so well this winter! It was a cold winter, and we had a long spell with no tracking – brutal! We picked up our training again in mid-February. This area has a lot of chinooks which give us warm enough weather to get out. I have been doing a LOT of long hard tracks which are described below.

Today I did a short 30 minute old urban serpentine. My goal was to give Ben an easier track after a very challenging one yesterday.

However…

It is very apparent when you have an advanced dog that their sense of smell is so acute that a 30 minute old track almost has too much scent, especially as it was on moist yellow grass. I had to remind Ben to stay on track a few times as I think there was residual in the air, but he was a good boy and focused on his primary track.

Here is the map

Map

These videos show three little problems I gave him to resolve on this short track:

Start with a little serpentine to article one. He tries to cut a corner and I say “uh-uh” and he is a good boy.

A road cross with a little challenge: I leave the boulevard – walk down the road – and walk up on the next boulevard about 20 m to the left. I call this an offset scuff. Sometimes dogs just cross without really following scent. I put in scuffs here with treats, but again, the scent seems to be hanging and he is not as veg-oriented as I’d have liked. Still a good effort. I ask for a down and he is distracted so it’s delayed. He usually retrieves these days but today, I actually think he is still a bit tired from his long track yesterday!

A curb turn – rather than going out into the parking lot I step down into the curb and turn left. Ben does great! He trots out about 15 m, looks at Judy, has a shake, then circles back to find the track. It is amazing to see how aware they are of scent even on hard surfaces. I loved this moment!

What I love about this curb turn is to see how Ben circles back to me after he loses scent. He shakes and gives a very clear negative. He has been taught to circle back. Love it!

Tricky turn in a turn circle rather than on a parking lot. But what happens is Ben seems to cut straight to the glove. AND I STOPPED HIM! I got so carried away with MY idea that he should follow the primary track that I forgot it was only 30 minutes old and the wind was bringing the scent of leather straight to him. You can see him look to see if I am coming. At that moment, I stopped him, and he ended up not very happy with me.

I ran it again and we finished it well. I had Ben lie down and baited the leg leading to the turn circle, then ran him again, but I did not feel very happy with myself. I am very sure Ben forgot about it quickly as we took lots of time to play. It was a good reminder that his nose is a GREAT UTDX nose. I’ve been working on his articles. And I blew it. Sometimes it happens. We carry on! I like to share these things because training is not always perfect but since we usually have very good tracks and lots of positive moments, this will pass 🙂

Read on to see the other tracks we’ve done since February!

March 18: 850 m – 5 hour old track

Yesterday, I laid an 820 m long track for Ben. It was an easy pattern (linear) with moist, yellow spring grass. I aged it for 5 hours, with my goal being to challenge him a bit as we prepare for UTDX.

820 m 5 hours UTDX
March 18 – 820 metres and 5 hours old

I laid this track at 10:30 and when we ran it at 3:30, we were in the middle of a WIND WARNING and one of his articles had blown 30 m off track. Winds were gusting up to 60 kph. On top of this, it was 22 C.

This is a big switch and Ben was visibly working very hard but he persevered and ran a great, challenging track – nailing his non-veg turn at the end! The entire track is 20 minutes long and I ended up with camera issues. Here is the non-veg turn. 

March 11: Residence Serpentine

Last weekend we ran a short track in -11 C. It was a serpentine around the college residence buildings. I could hardly keep up with Ben. I am using a new light line and he is moving very freely on it. My old line was 30 feet, and this one is 35 feet. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but he seems to like the distance better. I could hardly keep up with him, but it was really fun even though my fingers were frozen by the end!

March 4: 670 m in a new place – 4 hours old

Map
March 4 650 m in a new place – Lions Park and Strathcona Senior Centre

The first time I tried the new line, which is mountain climbing cord, was a few weeks ago when we had another chinook – it was about 15C. We did a lovely UTDX track in a new location I discovered, having only lived in Medicine Hat for one year. My friend hid in some shadows to give Ben some ‘lurker’ experience as Ben has had some discomfort at times around residence areas which are commonly used for ran tracks.

I was so happy with how he did! The camera did a better job of filming this one (compared with yesterday).

Full Track – 15 minutes

If you don’t have 15 minutes, here are two highlights:

Two nice turns leading to the intermediate article
End of the track and non-veg turn

This was one of the funnest tracks I’ve done in a long time!

February 19: Brooks UTDX training – 610 m

My friend Judy and I drove an hour west to this beautiful government property in Brooks Alberta. We walked together and did this track for Ben. I have been trying to find him new places.

Ben's Track 610 m

On this track, I gave him as much loose line as possible to let him make his own decisions. I had a very sore leg, and at one point, he stops on a roadway to look back and make sure I can climb the embankment, just like Lassie! (you do know, the Rough Collie and Border Collie were once the same dog, right? But that is another story)

Here is the video of this track. I can’t wait to go back here. Below Ben poses at the start, after completing the track. Lovely grounds!

Ben end of track

February 11: 580 m – 3 hour old track in a huge, contaminated parking lot

Map

On February 11 we got back to tracking after a very cold spell. It was wonderful to be out again! February 11 I found another new place – Holy Family Church. The parking lot is HUGE!

Here is the track. It was beautiful!

I loved being behind Ben on this one. 4 hours old and 580 m. I ran it an hour after church ended. When I laid it the parking lot was filled with cars. Just imagine the contamination. He aced it. Dogs are amazing.

Good boy Ben!

End of track

 

And on one warm weekend in January, we drove to Lethbridge!

The January 21 track ended up being 850 meters due to unexpected obstacles but this is roughly what we did there. I hoped to find a new location and track around students. Before the track we walked around the campus too, while it aged. Ben did a fantastic job. I feel like I keep saying this – – and he does. He is a good boy and loves to work. I feel very blessed.

The map is below. The video can be viewed here (11 minutes but the end is missing due to camera issues. The end of the track is below)

You can see the end and his non-veg turn here.  I love his little leap when he smells the article!

Google Earth image

Ben poses at Lethbridge University with the coulee in the background! The photo at the top of the page is also taken at the end of this track. You can see the big drop-offs in the google map above.

lethbridge u arch

 

 

 

 

12-year old Ted’s Training Continues

Ted is almost 12. One of my goals is to enter a tracking test with him this year to see if we can pass a TD. I am NOT using my usual method to train him. He loves articles and will not take food at all. Even if I try offering him liver from my hand he averts his head in favour of the article. Ted is everyone’s favourite whenever they meet my dogs. He is a comedian but under that goofy exterior is a brilliant dog and I am amazed how quickly he is learning.

Ted play.jpg
Ted gives me “the look” while he shows off and plays with one of his prize gloves after the January 29 training session. Ted is all about the play so I am using that to train him. He will be 12 years old in April and is very healthy and agile. Thanks to Scott for the matchmaking.

So footstep trackers – (of which I am usually one) – avert your eyes! Or, perhaps you might also be interested in other ways to motivate a dog. My belief is that I can begin to add in more precision over time, as we work to get Ted test ready and doing an entire 50 minute old blind track that is roughly 420 meters. It is a personal challenge and will be fun to carry through.

Glen Johnson (author of the well known book Tracking Dog) founded his methods in early Schutzhund (IPO)- style training making use of food and play drive. He wrote that a dog must retrieve a ball and tug to have the right drive to track. He used straight lines to build behaviour and teach dogs, before moving on. Over the years we moved to motivational methods that will work for dogs that do not have the same kind of drive as a working German Shepherd, which was what he trained. As Ted is a working dog, from strong working bloodlines, I can see his strong drive for balls and for the leather gloves. In a way, I feel I am going back to some original methods – but tweaking them for Ted. Stay tuned here!

If you’ve been following this blog, you will know that I’ve decided to try again, but this time, I am harnessing Ted’s love of play with his smarts to motivate him. It is not a method I have ever used and it is more of a challenge for me to come up with the right ideas and let him go, than for him to find the scent and get to his prize. In the past I have been training so many other dogs. With Caden’s untimely passing, I won’t be working towards his Master TCH, and find myself only training Ben. Ted’s time has come!

This is unlike any tracking training I have ever done! And I love it because although I have a preferred method and behaviour, I love to learn so that I have more ideas to help others. I never try ideas out on others – I always try them on myself first. I still prefer my regular method (starting with trenches and footsteps, and using food). But it is always good to be open-minded and make every dog the best that it can be.

On January 21 in Lethbridge I laid 3 straight lines for Ted with a glove at the end of each. Child’s play, said Ted! These legs were 30 minutes old on a warm winter Chinook day.

Last Sunday, January 29 I upped the game and laid one straight leg, then two with turns going right, and left. As I added complexity, I took away aging and ran them at 10 minutes.

Leg 1 follows a natural dip that holds scent to keep Ted on a straight line, which is the behaviour I want.

View Leg One – Straight Line – Here (1 minute 30 seconds)

Leg 2 – I am walking alongside the white soccer field lines so that when I run Ted I see the line. My goal is for him to learn to be ‘straight’ but I am using a new method. He is 12 so it is all play drive. This leg starts into the wind which is optimal for a negative as he will realize quickly there is no scent ahead. He curves, and finds the turn (I will work on this!) and gets to his prize glove. Good boy! *One of the hardest things here for me is to let go, and not interfere – that trust thing again – and also observing to see if he truly is on the scent.

View Leg Two – Into the wind, then right turn to the glove (1 minute 50 seconds)

What do I see in this second video? He needs a bit of help to start (next time, a flag as a cue – duh – he is not ready to cut the track). My leg follows the white line – to one side of it (the left side). I wanted an accurate read of how straight Ted is truly moving. Into the wind is harder as it will lift a dog’s head. At 55 seconds, he gives a very strong negative, veering suddenly left, then right. He parallels the leg (still along the white line) but I go with him. At about 1:15 he hits the scent pool of the article and veers right, then finds it!

Leg 3 – Into the wind then a left turn to follow a chain link fence for a long 120 meter leg. Leg 1 was 50 m. Leg 2 was almost 1oo m. So in total Ted did about 260 meters. That is more than half of a TD which is our goal for the end of May.

Video of Leg Three (3 minutes 50 seconds)

What do I see in this third video? Ted first turns a bit early (due to the high winds that really picked up here) and then overshoots a bit at the tree line. Of course, trees will be causing scent to swirl a bit more. I give him line, and make the comment “As we say in herding, he created this problem, so I will let him solve it.” I am sure I heard the wonderful, late Bob Vest say this a hundred times over the years at clinics. Ted does solve it and the chain link helps!

Chain link attracts and holds scent. I wanted to make sure we ended on a positive note and this last leg was in a crosswind again – with winds that day gusting up to 60 kph. Once Ted hits the chain link, he works along it, traversing over soccer goals and other items stored along the fence (once it causes him to leave the line and get tangled, and I help. As you can hear throughout this track, I am cheerleading and encouraging him, and putting the slightest pressure on the line when he quarters a bit. His tail wags throughout.

He handily finds his hidden article – I HID that last glove and it posed no issue for Mr. T! I had so much fun doing this. I think it is a doable goal this time, using this method.

Pictures of the wonderful Ted doing what he truly loves

Some background – I’ve provided this before but for new readers here is Ted’s story. 

I bought Ted at age 2 as a ‘started’ sheepdog from Scott Glen. He is the son of a dog named Pleat who is world renowned, with unbroken records in sheep herding. His mother was a working cattle farm dog in Big Valley Alberta.

In the past I’ve tried to train him to track and it’s always ended with him telling me he doesn’t care for it. Once, he tried to pull me across a field to the glove rather than ..follow the track, and when I wouldn’t go with him, he decided to lie down and not budge – glaring at me in a way only Ted can.

Way back in 2007 – 10 years ago – when I had only had Ted for 6 months, I spent the summer training him to track back in Thunder Bay. He failed his test miserably, but quite happily! We were in a big field and to him that meant lets run wide and deep and look for sheep! I was so humbled as his serious stockdog training kicked in and did an override on any tracking we’d done. He was true to the training ingrained in him and I respected it.

Moving to Alberta, I (stupidly in hindsight) left my home behind in Thunder Bay – a hobby farm of 5 acres where I had sheep. I was never able to give Ted that stockdog life although he did well enough placing 3rd in a Novice trial with very little of my own training on him. 99% Ted and 1% Donna.

Over the years, Ted has always been my “clean up crew” as I leave an article here or there and let him range wide, running, to find it. I now believe Ted probably could have been an amazing SAR dog, but as I once read, “all dog training is regrets.” I read this quote in the fantastic book Eminent Dogs, Dangerous Men.

In this book, American stockdog handler and author Donald McCaig (known for his book Nop’s Trials) interviews the top stockdog trainers in the world as he searches for a new dog. Many of those he interviewed were quite old at the time of their interviews, to capture their wisdom. This quote jumped out at me, as we always wish we could go back to previous dogs with our new knowledge, or wish we could do things differently. Such is the life of a dog trainer!

 I’m hoping for a TD for Ted this year. Why not? No regrets Ted!

The Importance of Trust in Tracking

River’s UTDX training track Olds College 2009 (2 minutes)

Above is a link to a video that I saw in the sidebar menu of YouTube last night as I was working on uploading Ben’s problematic track yesterday. Of course it caught my eye and I watched it and reminisced about how I always felt such joy following River. She was my first urban dog, and a year after this training track she came within 50 m of becoming a TCH but sadly, we missed our very last turn after being DEAD ON for the entire track at the main building area of the U of Calgary!

23 River TDX
River age 11 posing in her TDX field in Thunder Bay

River died in 2014 as a sweet old girl, who helped me lay tracks to her last week. She is my official heart dog and was “Lindau’s Uncharted Course TDX UTD JHD.”

In this year (the video), 2009, I took a YEAR OFF of tests with River. We had driven all the way to BC for a UTDX and failed at the start. It was heart wrenching.  I had met Dan Waters, President of the IPO club in Calgary and someone who has become a friend and mentor. He won the IPO Nationals with his wonderful GSD Ali. Dan gave me some advice for River which I followed before that test in 2010. I decided to follow Dan’s advice and it really paid off.

Fast forward to Ben! Ben is Jet and Ted’s son, and River’s “grand-baby” – she sure loved him. And ironically, he is a lot like her. River never liked pressure and so I learned to track with her on a very long, loose line and saw (as you can see above in the video) that she was very trustworthy.

Ben rocky turn.jpg
In this still from the video you can see the long, loose line as Ben makes this turn with me well behind

Ben has flown through his TD, UTD and TDX in three straight tests. For UTDX we have suffered a bit in our teamwork. Ben stopped indicating articles reliably. And his tracking has become very serious. That is ok – he’s a working dog and his tracking is excellent but I have been trying to bring some joy back into Ben’s tracking for the both of us, and some enthusiasm for articles.

Yesterday he had an off day. It happens. But it was disheartening. This morning I woke up and as is my practice, I started my day with a Bible Study. Part of the message in that Bible study was that we often rely on our own intelligence or intellect to fix problems, when we really should have faith in God’s plan, and trust Him.

Trust. Such a vital element in tracking! And when our dogs are advanced, we need to put this into practice. As usual, tracking is a metaphor for my life and relationship with God. What a lesson today.

Proverbs 3:5 says: Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding

Suddenly I sat back and thought of following River with all of that trust. I remembered how it felt to follow so quietly behind her, just enjoying watching her discover the track. She was a good girl and on that test day, I had that same joy following her – and heard later that I was literally standing on every corner until the end – on that very hot day. I am still so proud of how we did. Age caught up with her and that was the closest she came to passing. But what a TEACHER! As a Christian, I am always humbled by how God cares about these little things, and uses them to teach us – and I believe that tracking is a great dog sport for me, as it always seems to reflect on great lessons that help me to grow.

Today I got out that old, long, orange line. It is 50 feet long. I decided to lay a track in the same area for Ben, mirroring yesterday’s. I aged it for 2.5 hours, not 3.5, as it was quite cold and winds were gusting to 60 kph today.

Here is the video of Ben on that long line today (12 minutes)

It isn’t “pretty” but it is pretty happy! I gave Ben space without pressure to sort things out. He came through for me and was happier about articles with no cues! I think I have something I can work with, to tighten up his precision and achieve my training goal for this spring’s test.

ben-rocky
Play the Rocky theme song!
ben-rocky-play
Yes, it was fun! And tracking should be fun – because… you can’t push a rope!

 

 

Lessons from 11 year old TCH Alta-Pete Jet

Jet finished her Tracking Championship in 2012 earning all four CKC titles, and today, I took her out for fun and it reminded me of a few things that I thought I’d share. As I was aging a UTDX track for Ben, I decided to lay a short urban track for Jet. Yesterday I did a little article game for her, and she so enjoyed it. In her prime, Jet was a formidable tracking dog. She is one of those tough-as-nails stockdog-bred Border Collies who will work her heart out and loves a job. While I meant for this to be fun for Jet, she ran into some interesting problems – though she still enjoyed it and tonight has been sleeping very soundly as I type.

I am very humbled to say she passed her UTDX on her first try. My father had just passed away and I was an emotional mess so just followed Jet with so much trust and she pulled us through, even with two giant hares on her track that I am sure looked like sheep to her – one right before her final non-veg turn! When she finally broke from her trance, she came back to the track, took about 10 steps and turned as if she could ‘see’ the track painted on the asphalt.

Jet had a habit of standing off track to stare into the distance when she assessed the scent picture. I learned to let her do this, and stand neutrally until she “decided” and whirled off the right way. There were times she amazed me as she did this on very aged tracks on huge parking lots.

Here is a video showing this habit. It is a training track, that was well aged and on a huge parking lot. I never get tired of seeing this video!

But remember, the nose needs regular exercise to maintain those connections to the brain, and to discern scent at a very complex level. That is why we need to regularly practice ‘easy, maintenance tracks’ in the same way runners spends most of their training time running easy paces, to keep up that kinetic memory and practice breathing and other things that will make them successful in harder, competitive races.

Today, I could see that Jet is out of practice. The track I put in was in the fold of curbs in a parking lot with a nominal veg start, and a bit of veg at the top end of the square U. I decided to share this for two reasons though. It may be useful for beginners to urban tracking to see how Jet simply believes the scent MUST be on the veg. There was a day she would have raced along that curb. I probably should have placed an article half way or put treats to reinforce this to her. But as this is all for fun, I let her sort it out.

Click here to view Jet’s Track (11 minutes)

Track description
Leg one goes into the wind, which was gusting at 60 kph. At the top end she makes it across “the chasm of the road” between two veg islands. Just imagine how the wind is blowing the scent here! That is not an easy crossing. She is rewarded with a metal article at the top. Leg 3 has a tailwind. She is very careful to check a snowbank before committing forward. At a certain point, I feel a bit bad for her as she keeps finding trace “residual scent” on the veg. I give her a hint by saying YES when she is on the asphalt, and Noooooo when she is on the veg. After this you can see her come and really check out the non-veg. She knows these verbals well.

What is very interesting is her non-veg turn. I thought it would be a no-brainer for her. Her leather glove is literally 40 m to the left. BUT, for the last 4 minutes of the video you can see Jet seem to struggle, stare at ME (not into the distance as she usually does) and look very lost. This really bothered me. I try to stay neutral but realize I better help as I see her losing her determination.

When I get close and into an alcove where she has been a bit lost – it REEKS of bleach! There is a medical lab in that wing of the school and I fear – what have they dumped here? So I asked my friend Judy to check it out and she confirms, it is bleach, and maybe the windows have been washed and some fell on the brick which retained the scent. In any case, it certainly explains her loss of scent. And it is another great example of why we need to be able to read our dogs. Jet showed me she was lost.

As a judge, I have seen dogs take minutes and minutes – LONG minutes (sometimes 10 or more) to find one turn. These may be dogs that have tracked well to that point. In urban especially there is always a reason. Patience is a virtue in tracking. So is a level head. And, we need to keep those lines of communication open. The usual thing to do is BACK UP away from that area, or FOLLOW FORWARD to pass a problem area. In this case, as I laid my own track, I did back up.

Once Jet is away from the alcove, she stands staring into the distance – a good sign. She seems to clear herself, then SUDDENLY, SHE RACES THE RIGHT WAY TO THAT GLOVE!

Taking out my lovely Tracking Champion was fun and as usual a good lesson. When you train more green dogs, you begin to forget things that only our really experienced dogs can show us. I spent years learning to read Jet and be the partner she deserved. It’s comforting to follow, and in her silence on the track, she spoke volumes to me and we worked together like old partners do.

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The picture at the top of this post is of Jet when she completed her Tracking Championship in 2012. This photo was taken today, and she is still very full of herself! She saw Judy pulling up and refused to look at the camera! How I love my bratty, brilliant girl.

I hope this has helped you with your green dog or to think about things with your advanced dog and if so, please let me know. I will give Jet a cookie of thanks!

Your coach,

Donna Brinkworth and Jet!
Spiritdance Performance & Motivation Coaching

 

 

 

 

 

Article Game in a NEW PLACE!

We are having a Chinook in southeastern Alberta! And the days are getting lighter! When I got home from work I decided to go play with articles at the College which is only 10 minutes away. We went to a new place and Ben LOVED IT again! I am so pleased with his happiness and confidence when playing this game. My goal is to meld this joy into his tracking which is very strong but serious.

Chinooks come over the Rocky Mountains and bring warm air – and wind. Over two days, my yard is almost bare of snow. But we have a wind warning in effect. When I got to the College the Day Care area where I usually go was still busy with staff and idling cars. I circled the college and spotted an area that looked promising.

Not wanting to lose light, and not knowing the area well, I quickly placed 6 articles, making mental notes of their locations.

articles-jan-18
From top to bottom in pairs they were: leather and sock; wood an cotton glove; wool mitten and flannel knot.

I videotaped this session, but things happened so fast that I also created a Photo Album of video stills that show his body snaps and how he discovers each article.

You can see the photo album HERE and the video (5 minutes) HERE

Every time I think he will do this or that, Ben surprises me in this session! High points for me were how he zeroed in on a cloth glove that he couldn’t reach because of chain link – he runs to it three times! When he gets to the other side he is nearly giddy with happiness to get that glove! He also runs straight to a wood square placed near chain link, which can amplify scent.

Here are stills of each area and the article locations:

area-1

area-2

The last two articles are hidden in open spaces in metal beams. I thought they would be tricky and he really nails them – including a wool sock hidden in the end of one beam, which Ben nails in 4 seconds. He also jumps up to collect the leather article.

area-3

In the ‘bad handler’ category, Ben ran straight to his wool mitten when we started. I decide to run the other way thinking he will come through the other side. Later I realize he was retrieving it and he dropped it half way as he comes out and around the way I ran. BAD ME! I should have followed him. Never take your eyes off your dog!

I love learning these lessons.

Check out his discovery of the “Tricky Sock” in 4 seconds!

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A few more great stills (sorry about the low light) – giddy with his cloth glove! Body snap to leather and jumping up to get it out of a well in the metal beam post. Retrieving it!

So happy and proud of my boy. My goal is to combine his joy in this game with his strong ability to track, though quite seriously.

After this fun game, we all went for a walk around Medicine Hat College. Nice evening!

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The little family – Ted, Ben (centre) and Jet on the right. Mother, father and son Ben.
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Ted, Ben and Jet at the Cultural Centre, with the College in the background.