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.
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!