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.
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!
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!
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.