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.

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

 

 

 

 

Article Fun Day!

Since Ben did such a great track yesterday, I decided to have a fun day today and play article games! Articles are so important to tracking that if your dog misses one, it can fail its test. Recently in Ben’s UTDX test the judge complimented Ben for locating his wood article in a busy parking lot with some student garbage sadly strewn in some areas. I have been working with my SAR friend Dan Vas (Canadian Search Dog Association) on articles and give him the credit for Ben’s find.

I love to learn new things from other tracking trainers. And since I am playing around with his SAR methods, I don’t want to over-explain our article games today. You will just have to buy Dan’s book (when he writes it! Sort of like you will have to buy mine too, when I write mine!) What we did today is NOT his game, but it is my amended version just to have some fun.

Yesterday I did a long UTDX training track at my church. Today being Sunday, I was there again. I decided that I would play an article game right there in the parking lot by the seacans. Ben LOVES to play this particular game. Caden was with me for the ride and he has a back injury, so after taking him out for a prayer in the church parking lot, Caden went home to rest and heal.

I then contacted my friend and training partner Judy Wallace and we met at the College to play more. All of the dogs had so much fun. This game has nothing to do with tracking and everything to do with encouraging our dogs to find articles for praise and rewards, making use of the wind or at least observing how they find the scent pool and react to each article. It’s a game shared with me by my SAR friend Dan Vas, so I don’t want to give away too much – but do want to share the credit!

This post simply shares the fun videos and photos of a very fun afternoon. The weather was beautiful but winter is coming, so we made the most of it, with coffee later! When you watch the videos I hope you will see that we encourage the dogs (and sometimes try to help with body language and verbals). But the dogs are working steadily to find each article. The articles have been tossed so there is no “track” the dogs can follow to them and we retrace steps and wander over and over in the same area.

This is the longest video, showing Ben find a series of articles. I am gently trying to reintroduce the down at articles, but mostly happy when he is clear to me that he’s found one!  I have all winter to work at this!

Judy and I let every single dog have a turn, including my two oldsters, Tracking Champion Jet, and TD hopeful Ted, both 11 years old.

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11 year old Ted found his gloves (plus one of Judy’s) so easily. He LOVES gloves! I have been sidelining Ted for many years, and decided today, who knows – TCH? Maybe TD is setting the goals for this brilliant guy too low  🙂 Ted is a son of Scott Glen’s well-known Pleat.

Ted had by far the greatest moment today. I asked him to find a glove, and had placed three out for him. He was running the “WRONG” way in my nose-challenged opinion, and as I was calling him to head out the right way, he indicated Judy’s glove which was up high on a concrete block – jumping up to pull it down! When I placed his gloves, I thought about putting one up high and decided not too, thinking it would be too hard. I am always saying Ted is brilliant. Proof!

This is a very short video. Gotta love Ted! He acts like a puppy.

Jet also had some fun! She is so savvy. I put out three articles for her. One was hidden in some coiled tubing. She went right to it and threw it over the tubing to show me she had it. The second one was a leather glove which I put up high, in the empty drawer space of an old desk clearly heading to the landfill.

I love this video because she does such a body snap – hitting the brakes, then running to pull that glove out of its hiding spot before I can get there! She is truly amazing and always has been. She is a show-off! The third article was a sock put up on the hitch of a trailer. It took her longer to find this one, so thankfully she had a little challenge – which she loves.

This video is 30 seconds long – that’s how fast she found that leather glove!

Here is Jet with the sock – she hates to lie down now so she found the height was just perfect for indicating it with her chin!

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I found it! This is Tracking Champion Alta-Pete Jet, a daughter of Scott Glen’s Maid (later Diane Pagel’s Maid) and daughter of a MacRae dog Risp, son of Ken Arrendale’s Mac

Below are more videos of Ben, Judy’s dogs Riley and Shiloe and Ted. No commentary, just for sheer fun. One of the videos shows Ben’s session at the church this morning. He did better this afternoon at the college and I am sure it is because this is a familiar area. *I am sorry Judy, Lark was too fast, and every photo is blurry.

In both instances however, it is clear that some articles have a great scent pool and others seem to have no scent pool at all. What this tells me is that in an advanced test, a dog would have to be practically on top of the article to successfully indicate it (metal, plastic). Ben is pretty honest so it is not a case of “I don’t like this one” – when he does finally find these, his surprise body snap is really clear, yet he will run over them and past them many times to get to wood, cloth and of course, leather.

Enjoy the videos and as always, have fun with YOUR dogs! If you are interested in lessons, seminars, online classes and lessons or 1:1 coaching please visit my website. Click on the Tracking & Dogs Menu Tab for dog -specific topics. You can also stay in touch with what’s up, or contact me through my Facebook Page “Spiritdance Tracking.”

Each video below is about 30 seconds long.

BEN

Ben finds his wood article

Ben finds a sock!

Ben’s article game at church this morning (4 minutes)

TED

Ted finds a glove – being a stockdog at heart he does a beautiful “‘Way to me” outrun LOL

Ted finds a hidden glove by a curb, in leaves

RILEY AND SHILOE WITH JUDY

Riley runs for the article – 10 seconds – hilarious, he sees the wood but runs for the cloth!

Shiloe retrieves a glove – Shiloe retrieved every article today – wood, plastic and cloth. She is a gem. She’s up there in age too, and a solid, steady tracker who loves this game.

riley-article
Riley is another TD hopeful and he is really doing well! Some people may know him from his Rally days when he won quite a few HIC awards. Judy says he likes tracking even more!

“That’s it!” says Ben. “Treats in the car and let’s blow this popstand!” Ben’s happy face tells you how much he enjoyed this. Every day does not have to be a tracking day to be productive and build skills. But every day should be FUN and always be sure to enjoy each moment, and be in the moment, with your dogs.

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“I had fun, Mama!”

That’ll do Ben.

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Spiritdance Blackthorn Ben TDX UTD, son of Jet and Ted and grandson of Scott Glen’s Pleat and Maid (I add that for the stockdog people. Jet is a Maid daughter and Ted is a Pleat son)