A “Tail” of Two Tracks

You just never know. It’s sort of like a test. One day everything goes right and on another, things don’t add up as you hoped. This pretty much sums up my weekend! Yesterday’s “hard track” went very well, and today’s “restful, fun and easy track” was a challenge! But both days had great wins and we learned a lot.

We are about 5 weeks out from our next try at UTDX. Last fall Ben did a “half-UTDX” (is that like a half-marathon?) and I identified some things to work on this winter. His tracking is great; articles are good; tolerance of distraction needed work. He soldiered through his track last fall but he and I had some holes in our bucket that we’ve been trying to plug – particularly his sensitivity to lurking students! We’ve done very well on this.

You can’t really change a dog’s personality, but what you can do is make sure he knows he’s supported and work through things together, positively. I worked a lot on MY handling and how I let Ben know I am with him, and that he is not up there on his own when things happen!

Ben’s tail was like a flag both days when we passed students. But yesterday he was cocky and today he was stressed. Yesterday, he did a beautiful, challenging track. Today he did a beautiful track that ended in a bit of a mess but in the end – we learned a lot and we are far enough from the test that pushing him, and pushing myself this way had a ton of value that I will process as we now begin to ease off and make things positive and fun sliding into test motivation mode.

MY FAVOURITE THING ABOUT BOTH TRACKS

1. When Ben is ON, I love his Border Collie crouch and intensity

2. His elimination of directions (which is something I teach):

Yesterday near the end, on the road – he checks the boulevard, then returns to find the track on the road. Video link HERE to view this in action.

 

And today in our first parking lot, turn at the centre median curb – he crosses the curb and says “Hey, no scent here!” Then comes back, finds it, and at a break in the curb quickly determines that he should stay on the correct side, to get to his light switch just ahead on the boulevard! Video link HERE to view this in action.

 

3. We always have fun and I enjoy his company, plus I take Jet and Ted the oldsters out for a walk at the same time. Tracking is FUN and enjoyable! 

April 22 Earth Day Track – the “hard” track

Yesterday, I planned a hard track, with the goal of following up with an easy, restful track today. As they say – best laid plans!

Yesterday’s track was 1030 meters and aged 6 hours – which is older than the average UTDX which should be 3-5 hours. It was also far longer than the average UTDX which would probably come in under 700 m and maybe even closer to 630 metres. I laid it around a student residence in hopes of some opportunities to interact and practice our teamwork. Prior to the track I did an article game (previous post on this blog). To boot, when we ran this track, the winds had picked up and were gusting!

Map

The track went very, very well! I am so proud of how Ben did, even when a student appeared by surprise from between two residence buildings. Ben’s tail went up like a flag but he carried on bravely! He was dead on the track and completed it with a beautiful non-veg turn.

Ben tail
Student’s shadow can be seen and Ben’s special tail is UP but he carried on beautifully yesterday

You can see this part of the track on VIDEO HERE

Right after the incident of the student lurker I made sure Ben calmed down and he did some lovely tracking – note the difference here in his tail immediately after passing the student:

Ben went on to complete this track with a long leg and open angle turn, then another long leg to a metal article, near a chain link fence.

VIDEO of the open angle turn to an article HERE

VIDEO of the leg to the metal article (feature image at the top) – made me so happy as this article was placed off track deliberately! And he did a beautiful turn in gusting winds!

APRIL 23 “EASY” TRACK

TODAY I laid a 710 m track. Yes – longer than it was meant to be because I got a bit ‘lost’ trying to approach things in a different way. It is a lovely humid and cool day with damp veg. I only aged the track for one hour.

This should have been an easy track. What happened? 

First of all – I am really sick today. I forced myself out, with ringing ears, and I believe, a fever and body ache. “Must practice….,” I said to myself. I made it to church (of course – if I am going to track, I darn well better make it to church first!) and then called off friends saying I planned a short track, then home to recover from a bug.

Track too long! Why didn’t I approach from the normal end? I ran out of parking lots and went into a parking lot I have never used which was covered with geese, and surrounded by geese. I usually end in the parking lot at the bottom – but it is always good to try new things (maybe NOT when you wanted something easy though…)

Map

Geese. Everywhere. And their droppings.

Jet Ted geese
12 year olds Jet and Ted helped gently persuade geese to leave the roadway where cars were trying to get by. It was really sweet to let them do this, but the geese are annoying!

Students – two more appeared out of nowhere today. That is NOT what I wanted for this track. Today, Ben’s tolerance level was lower. His tail was UP UP UP twice on this track. It is “funny” but not funny, as mostly I just want him to soldier by. I am reminded of my own advice to people to not overtrain cross tracks, because you inadvertently can make them an issue. Have I over trained ‘students?’ EEEK!

Student tail
Today’s tail. But sadly he was more stressed after this encounter than he was yesterday

Line got tangled: It happens! But what a comedy of errors in a row today! Good it happened today though and we worked it out. Yesterday’s “hard” track looks easier and easier as I type this out though! Although he carried on, he was markedly more stressed with each of these things on the track adding to it.

Tangled

Truck: As we approached the final turn, a truck idled waiting for us. Ben crossed nicely. Not sure if this bothered him, but it made me rush a bit and really – I needed to be handling Ben thinking “the last turn” not “gather up the line and say thank you!”

Truck waits

Finally: Stress became evident at the end when he circled the new parking lot several times as he tested directions. That parking lot – long and narrow and covered with geese – was not our friend.

End of traack
The END of today’s track! Nothing sweeter than this

You can watch a video of the end of the track HERE!  It isn’t our best work (by far!), but I am never one to hide because my goal is always to share and hopefully help others! No one ever has perfect tracks every time, but we can all have perfect practice. 

The good news – is that we did it! This was our last HARD WEEKEND before the test. I always try to peak my training the way runners and elite athletes peak theirs. I gave Ben his line and let him take me on these tracks. He never stops working and on both tracks, made all of the right choices.

The wins – after a track like this one today it is important to tally the good things! 

  • Beautiful start today and lovely dead on turns

VIDEO of the start HERE

  • Beautiful circle and negative as he hits his first parking lot

VIDEO of Ben overshooting his turn, then circling back to find it (I teach this!)

  • Lovely search for the turn around a raised concrete median – identical to how he found his road turn yesterday through elimination (something I teach – as noted above)
  • Great article indications!!!!!!!!!! YEAH!
  • No attention at all to any geese or geese droppings across “goose lawn”

VIDEO of Ben crossing “goose lawn” HERE

  • Crossed a bridge – dead on!
  • Soldiered on past students, though visibly stressed
  • Aside from the final parking lot, dead on the track the whole way

Great observations for me, the biggest being to realize that as his stress builds, he gets less precise and I need to talk more to him positively and shorten my line – I don’t know why I let so much out at the end which you will see in the video and can only blame my fever.

I love training. I love tracking! It is such a process and always leaves me feeling happy, even on the tough days. As I type this, my dogs are all sleeping. Jet and Ted went for a nice walk with me while I laid the track. They are 12 this year and it is hard to believe they are aging so much. Ben is satisfied – as tracking is a great physical and mental activity for our dogs.

This is my last free weekend until the May long weekend! I am off to give a seminar in Regina, then judge a test in Red Deer, and then give another seminar in Olds Alberta!

Happy tracking and as always, have fun and enjoy the journey! I always give thanks to God for the luxury of enjoying this hobby especially in a world filled with strife. We are very lucky and no track should ever leave you feeling sad or unhappy. It is a sport where we can try for personal bests and always treasure the company of our dogs, like-minded friends and for me, there is a closeness to God I feel when I am out alone on days like today.

These are all great experiences! Ben posed at the end as usual!

Donna and Ben
Spiritdance Blackthorn Ben TDX UTD

The Article Game, Seriously

We all think carefully about article composition, wind direction and placement, but I have to think that luck truly does play a much larger factor in article discovery and indication. Much more than we think. And this makes me even more determined to give my dogs the skills to locate articles with or without track layer scent, on or off track, hidden or in plain sight.

Today I played a “serious” article game with Ben in a warm-up as his UTDX track ages (still aging as I write this).

VIDEO #1 Here he is finding the first article which is a soft leather ladie’s glove up on a cement block. He loves this game a lot, and we do it frequently in this area – so I had barely taken him from the van when he went to work and I was not even ready to film! You can see he is already in the scent pool and his body snap to the leather:

 

In the video above, the wind direction is from the west (in the direction of the gravel pile) and the moment he came out of the van he picked up the leather. I put the leather there intentionally to give him a quick easy win to start – using the wind strategically.

The articles Ben found today were sitting for 30 minutes while I laid Ben’s UTDX track, so they had a chance to build up a small scent pool although it is very cold today. I also wanted to remove the potential for Ben to follow my ‘track’ to articles, which we have seen him do! And when we have observed this – we always see Ben track to articles, and pass them consistently by a step or two, then always turning to face me. Is this because he is tracking? Or is it a Border Collie trait as he ‘herds’ them to me (I am serious, not joking! In the same way, one might consider that a terrier may view articles as their “mouse!)

There are a few more videos below, with more comments about my observations today. YOu can find more blog posts about Articles by clicking on the Category “Articles” in the sidebar menu. 

I have learned a lot of different article games in 30 years, and worked on articles many different ways. Since moving to Medicine Hat I’ve had the great fortune of meeting Dan Vas with the Canadian Search Dog Association. Working with Dan I feel as though I have had my eyes opened about articles. And I also feel as though I am one of those very particular people who takes great care with article placement in my training and for tests. Articles and evidence are the bread and butter of SAR.

There are obvious differences between SAR and CKC Tracking. In SAR a dog can be worked on or off line and in broad sweeping arcs, grids and back and forth to clear an area. Of course, this is crucial for the work they do. In CKC tracking, we work a line with some latitude given to left and right, ahead and behind. Because we have to judge dogs in this  ‘sport’ version of tracking, we need criteria. Dogs are given 20 metres or more if in the judge’s opinion it is warranted – such as on windy days. We can encourage or teach dogs to circle, we can back up, and we can try directions gingerly without giving up our position or going too far.

All great strategies. But how many dogs miss articles that are right on the track? How many dogs pass by articles that are only metres away? It’s a heartbreak. As a judge and as an exhibitor I have seen dogs and handlers go right over articles on urban tests. My own dogs have passed articles and thankfully done full body snaps to circle to them thanks to a wind gust… or maybe the scent registered after their feet had taken them steps beyond it.

VIDEO #2 Here, the article is a flannel knot that I tucked into the metal opening a foot above pine shavings. We have a few things going on here. I’ve discovered that flannel is one of Ben’s favourites, leaving quite a scent pool. Ben has pulled me to this flannel knot from 50 metres away. You can see that here, Ben knows there is an article. He is not a nosework dog, so doesn’t understand why it isn’t on the ground. His search pattern demonstrates the scent pool after 30 minutes around the vehicle, even with the horrible, competing smell of pine shavings (which cause a lot of issues in tracking).

In this video a security guard drove by scoping me out which is why I call Ben out of the trailer and ask him to lie down… all good. After Ben found this article, I put it back and let him find it again and he immediately pulled it out – showing that he learned he could look up. Quick study!

When we teach articles, we use treats, have parties, and place articles When we teach articles we use treats, have parties, and place articles in locations we believe make sense. We teach articles off track and make sure our dogs LOVE them (“like chocolate” I heard one exhibitor say at a test!). We don’t all have natural retrievers and many breeds in CKC tracking are not ‘retrieve’ oriented at all. Their repertoire is stronger in other things. But if we don’t find those articles, we fail no matter how well our dogs track!

I had a wonderful article routine with TCH Caden von der KleinenWiese, my late GSD. We worked hard on his down indications, patterned after IPO but with some help from an RCMP trainer-friend. Caden, a working lines GSD, was hardwired to be obedient and to embed commands and routines into his repertoire. I LOVE the down indication! It is a great rest for the dog, clear to the handler and allows a re-orientation to the track, helping with spatial awareness.

But we all move on and as much as my current dog Ben, a Border Collie, has a lie-down embedded in his genes from generations of stockdogs behind him – Ben has abandoned the down. For his TD and UTD his down was offered without hesitation. Moving on to longer, harder tracks, Ben seemed to decide that if I wanted to ask more of him on the track, he would offer less at the articles. I made a rookie trainer mistake (embarrassing because I am not a rookie), expecting Ben to react to the same kind of praise and body language that I used for Caden.

Up to the advanced tracks, he seemed to. But as always, dogs teach us what they need. Even though I like to stay within certain parameters, Ben said he wanted something new at articles. He needed something different. My job was to respect this, and find a new plan. And this is what I love about tracking! Every time I think “aha!” with one dog, the next dog is always a bit different.

This is also the core of my Spiritdance Tracking system. I have never been a cookie cutter trainer. And my method is based on discovering what each dog offers and needs, in the context of the person attached to the line too! Every dog I train and every student I work with helps me to learn as I try to determine how best to help each team.

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Video below shows that Ben worked very hard to find this plastic light switch! Good boy Ben!

I am thankful to Dan Vas who showed me the article game. Heads up, my videos do not represent his method – I am not doing it the way he and the really seasoned SAR people do it – but I have developed a protocol that makes it fun, fun, fun for Ben! I have used every kind of article and multiple fabrics in the past year and wrote another post about them.

This brings me back to things I am taking more to heart about articles.

  • Not every article leaves a scent pool and some seem to carry no scent at all meaning a dog has to be tracking almost precisely on track to run across them – and even then dogs may walk over them. In urban tracking, as we know, dogs do not all track precisely due to contamination, air currents and scent spread on non-veg surfaces. And we are constrained in our handling by the rules making this even more tricky, and important
  • We already know that wood, plastic and metal carry less scent so try to place them with care. And we know that different kinds of wood and metal may hold more scent, or give off scent that repels dogs (like cedar). Plastic light switches with holes in them will allow more scent to pool than large flat plastic articles such as blue plastic lids.
  • Man-made fabrics carry less scent than natural fabrics. Wool, flannel and cotton hold more scent than the “poly” and nylon fabrics
  • Many trackers and clubs buy Dollar store articles which are cheaper and made of man-made fabrics (not real leather but plastic, not cotton but nylon or poly material)
  • The slightest shift in wind can cause a dog to miss a great article, well placed.

Video #3 In this video, I placed a plastic light switch against chain link and between metal pipes on gravel. I knew this would be hard, but it turned out to be REALLY hard. Ben continually worked along the chain link, and then broke off to search a vehicle upwind of the article. In a CKC test an article might never be in such a location (but who knows?)

In SAR my observation is that when a dog indicates that something is giving them grief, the handler will work that area and direct the dog using both verbal and physical help such as pointing and calling back. I resort to this with Ben and as you can see, it takes a lot of work for him to find the plastic He virtually stumbles onto it. Even when I try to direct him more closely, he ignores me as he continues to check the fence (chain link holds scent) and check upwind. He even sniffs a nearby rock. I find this so fascinating!

So how do we deal with this information?

So how do we deal with this information? We train well. We make sure our dogs are precise to keep them close to the track. We learn their body language. We observe. We learn about the wind shifts and pay attention when we are working. We use this in our training. We make sure our dogs are motivated. We build up appropriate verbals to encourage our dogs to search, and we learn all we can about how article composition, scent pools, scent drift, shifting wind currents and the affect of the urban environment have on articles.

I know! We all know this! But most of us are far more likely to invest our time in tracking and less on articles. In the past year I have been buying new articles and using articles on track that don’t even match the scent of the track layer. I’ve been challenging Ben to find articles using fun games like the ones I did today. And although I call it a ‘game’ it is very serious!

IMG_1107
Play Play Play!

I want Ben to associate any article, with any scent, anywhere, with a reward. I have given up on this vain idea that my dog should ONLY indicate articles with the track layer’s scent. Articles in our vehicles for months, used over and over, will carry a lot of scent, whether it is ours or someone else’s.

A new work glove or new plastic light switch; even a new cheap Dollar Store item, is going to be leaching all kinds of chemical scents and will not hold the track layer’s scent – even if they do sleep with them or put them in their boots. I’ve been playing with new articles, and articles from ‘Value Village’ mixing them in with things from my article bag – on the same track. Ben has given me some awesome reactions – from leaping backwards to giving me the stink eye. I praise him equally and strongly for everything he finds. I am NOT going to fail a test because of an article!

Video #4 In this video, Ben finds a NEW leather work glove, never used before. At first, he goes to see where the security guard entered a building. Then he finds the glove. In this case, the scent is nicely funneled by the little sheds and held by chain link. “Child’s play” says Ben!

And so, I am building some new awareness in Ben, and in my own  And so I am building some new awareness in Ben, and in my own observation of Ben on track. Last fall he failed his first try at UTDX (after a great try, and got half way!) but I was thrilled with how he searched a parking lot filled with some student food and paper refuse near a residence. Ben methodically searched around vehicles then suddenly stopped at a piece of wood to give me ‘the look!’ When I flew home, I immediately let Dan Vas know I gave him the credit for that indication as he inspired me to work differently on articles.

I am also trying to use my ideas when I plot tracks for tests, and when I judge, all within the rules of course. I feel so lucky to be able to judge and witness so many teams and breeds of dogs in so many areas across Canada – in wind, rain, snow, and dry conditions. It is such an education!

I’ve always worked hard on articles and I am sure you do as well. I am also a firm believer in learning new ideas and am so grateful when others share with me. I’ve been lucky to have mentors in many other varieties of tracking. I’ve also been blessed with my own dogs, since 1989, each of which have taught me what they need and how scent works.

I hope that you enjoyed this and if it has made you think a bit more about articles I’d love to hear from you!

IMG_1108
Into the van at the end – always rewards here after tracking!

Now I am off to run his UTDX track. It will be 51/2 or 6 hours old by the time we run it. I thought about article type and placement for today’s track. The articles are wood on grass, a lady’s leather glove on grass, a cotton towel (his personal favourite) held in place by a metal square in an indentation where there used to be a tree, and off track and finally, a NEW work glove on his non-veg turn. I will let you know how it goes! And what I’ve learned.

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!

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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.

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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!