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.

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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

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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!

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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!

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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.