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.

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!

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!

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.


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.

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:



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.


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!

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

2017 Training Begins

The game’s afoot!

Training Plan shaping up for Ben’s UTDX test at the end of May

On the Spiritdance Tracking Community Facebook Page the members voted that our first group discussion should be about Goal Setting and developing a Training Plan for spring tests. Perfect! I can always use extra encouragement to work on my training plan.

Yesterday as a bonus I posted a link to a 50-minute presentation about goal setting. It is only part one, as we put foundations in place for a plan with a lot of meaning. When goals are tied to values, people are more likely to commit and follow through. Our values are a deep-seated part of our make-up. When we realize how achieving a goal will satisfy a core value, we want to see our plans through.

Presentation on the Spiritdance Tracking Community Facebook page – How to set goals and reach them!

As I have been leading the group through this exercise, I came up with my own goals and matched them to my values. Of course, one of my big goals for 2017 is to pas UTDX with Ben. We made it through a half-UTDX last fall. I am hoping he will be bomb-proof in May so that we both feel more confident.  Breaking this goal down – something I will be working on is article indications. And these goals tie in well and support my values of Knowledge and Learning; Challenge; Competence and Fun (those are not all of my values, but they are the ones linked to this!)

Last weekend I was fortunate to meet up with Dan Vas, past president of the Canadian Search Dog Association, to do article searches in a heated, empty greenhouse. Ben LOVED it so much he was almost giddy as he located four articles quickly, kicking up dust in the process! And what an honour to see the CSDA dogs work too including Dan’s German Shepherd Cairo and a Chesapeake Bay Retriever owned by another member (Liz). In the photos below, Ben ran up on plant racks trying to zero in on a leather glove. I was so pleased to see his enthusiasm – and his courage in a new place. I have posted a few more photos at the end of this post of that great morning last weekend!

Today I decided to do another article search game with Ben, outside in one of his training areas. I tried to make it as fun for him as last weekend. He LOVED it again! He was all business, trotting and running on the hunt for my articles. Here is a map of the article placement (picture it white with snow!)

This is the search area I used today, at Medicine Hat College and the order in which he round his articles. It also shows the wind direction. In order they were 1) leather 2) wool mitten 3) wood square 4) leather 5) wool sock and 6) flannel knot. I missed another sock which was above #5, and had already rewarded Ben with his toy, so I let Jet and Ted find it and have fun!

I basically walked back and forth to each area without giving hints, and let him tell me with an alert or body snap that he was in the scent pool or got wind of the article.

Click here to watch the video of Ben finding articles

I am not a perfect trainer, but I am a dedicated trainer. I am very goal-focused and I focus on progressing. I do not enter tracking tests unless I KNOW I am ready and I believe this hard training and preparation has increased my personal success rate (as we know, so many other things factor in too – but being ready is very important).

In the video you will see that Ben runs from my van away from the article area. When he turns to run back, at the 10-second in mark, he does a body snap to the leather glove up on a snowbank. He zeros in on it by 40 seconds in. From there and at a fast pace he finds the others at a rate of about one article every one and a half minutes.

The funnest one was a leather glove that I tossed into the snow on top of a random set of concrete steps just sitting in this maintenance yard. Ben knew it was there, but circling at a run. So I encouraged him to come downwind and he zeroed right in. In the stills below, you can see him approach from the downwind side and leap up to get the glove!

The hardest one to find was his flannel knot, which he usually finds very easy. It was thrown behind the tire of a big maintenance truck in the middle of four trucks. Ben ran around them and knew it was there, then finally located it. I was so happy, I think that is why I forgot about the 7th article!

Time to pose, then play!

When I realized I missed a sock, I let Jet and Ted find that sock! Jet is a Tracking Champion and 11 years old. Ted is also 11 years old and he loves finding articles (which he calls toys!). They are Ben’s sire and dam. All in all it was a fun exercise.


This is a small step forward as I start working towards my May UTDX goal. It was colder than I expected today, and I almost cancelled. But the beauty of goal setting is that you become responsible and accountable when you declare your goals to others!

I shared my goals in my presentation to the group on Facebook and told everyone I would be going out today to play at articles. It nagged at me, until I did do it. And you know what? I am so darn proud of myself. It only took an hour to drive there, place the articles, then run Ben. Right now I am looking at him curled in a tight ball on the couch – a happy, tired pup.

This is what coaching can do! It even motivates the coach!

Everyone is welcome to join the Spiritdance Tracking Community by clicking this link and submitting a request. For coaching purposes, I need your permission to add you to this group.

It is a training and coaching focused Facebook Page for trackers. As I grow and expand Spiritdance Motivation & Performance Coaching, this is another way I can reach out to people to share my passion for tracking AND coaching!

More photos of our Greenhouse Article Training session last weekend

Ben and I, plus Judy Wallace and her Border Collie Lark

Dan Vas and Cairo

Liz and Nia – I love this sequence! Nia realized the article was hidden in the next aisle and leaped under the plant racks!