Today’s class leads to a change in the pecking order for my dogs. We have decided to have Dynamite work the tracks first and then run Dixie shortly afterwards. This is being done to help both dogs. From Dixie’s side it should give her a well scented track however it will also give her some natural cross tracks anytime that Dynamite may wander off the track on her run. This plan seemed to work well for Dixie as she spent much less time casting. This is also Dixie’s first time working on a harness and longline which is forcing her to take the lead and make decisions without checking in with me.
I expected this track to really challenge her for a couple of reasons. First it has several left turns which can cause Dixie problems due to her casting motion across the track and her tendency to work to the right of the track. I could also see her getting fooled by any Dynamite laid cross track to the right for the same reason. Working on the long line could increase those errors as she could get much further “off” track before knowing it. It will also be interesting to see what the kind of challenge the cover change presents her will at a distance. We have done this at home but I was right there to support her choice.
I was pleasantly surprised with Dixie’s performance this week. First she adapted very good to using the harness and longline. She took charge and headed up the track. It was by far her most serious tracking so far. She did very little casting and instead put her nose to work and pulled me down the track. She nailed the first to dog leg turns without problems only briefly stopping for her treat. The next turn was a 90 degree turn to the left, her weakest turns so far, but this time she was dead on without hesitation or looking back to check with me. She was very happy when she found her reward shortly after that turn. It seemed to be an “I Got IT” moment for her. She moved from the grass to the corn without any problems only briefly moving off the track t the same spot that Dynamite had wandered as well. She quickly recovered leaving that path and returned to work. The next turn was a 90 left just after leaving the corn. Dixie was casting, maybe trying to confirm the change in cover, and missed that turn. She made a quick circle around to the right and picked back up the scent, no barking or scratching as she normally does when confused. Again she was quickly reward for recovering as she found her Food Drop. Then it is a straight leg toward the glove. Just about half way down the leg she jumped off the track about five feet to the left and stuck her head through the snow and into a hole. This only took a second and she was right back up and on the track pulling me to her glove. She was very excited to have finished her job and got rewarded with both the cookies and a quick game of tug with the glove.
This was a very successful track for Dixie, perhaps her best at class. She was much more focused than the last couple weeks and seemed to enjoy being out there leading the team. I am very proud of both my tracking class dogs they are making these cold Monday’s a lot of fun!
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Tracking Homework Week 4 Into the woods we go! 1-10-09
It has been snowing all night and day and I have gone out and laid a very tough track for my dogs. I did practice earlier this week and all of the dogs seemed to be handling some harder turns. I have decided to add some terrain changes. On this track the dog will have to go through an opening in the hedge at location #1. They will then have to go over our old wood pile at location #2. Then it is on to a lightly wooded area for location #3 before crossing back over the wood pile at #4. The track through the woods is very twisty and there are several tough turns on the track.
Dawn has suggested that I track Dixie after some of the other dogs in hopes that it will increase the scent on the track and help her develop her turning skills. It seemed to help in our early training this week, and it also seemed to work today. Dixie did a very good job on this track. The only real issue I had was her cheating and looking ahead to see if she could see her food drops in the snow. Her casting was not nearly as wide today and she performed very well in the wooded area. My son Dustin came with us and picked up the food containers as we worked the track. I was pleasantly surprised at how well she did today.
Tracking Class Week 4 1-5-09
While we are working this track Michelle is working her dogs on the track that Deb and I laid. It is directly across the street from the lower end of our track and proves to be Dixie’s hardest obstacle. She starts of the track very well. She does great as the track turns right but has a little more trouble with the left turns. As I described earlier she tends to cast to the right side of the track which means when we approach a left turn she runs out of scent well off the track. She does work it out with a little stressful barking and scratching. She is not nearly as fast making up her mind as Dynamite was. She continues around the track until she notices Michelle dog in the other field. I think she thinks it is her old friend Biff. She stands starring at them and not even thinking about the track for what seems like forever. But then she remembers what she is doing and goes back to tracking. I am very pleased when she picks up and carries the glove back the cars. She continues to improve every week and really seems to enjoy our outings.
After working my dogs we head up to watch Deb and Alex do their much harder track. Alex is getting so much better at changing cover and committing to his track. It is interesting to see the struggles Deb has reading him and learning when he is on the track and she needs to go with him and when he is confusing, goofing off or unsure when she needs to wait it out.
Tracking Class Week 3 12-22-08
So it is now time for week three of tracking class. I did train my dogs twice this week at home on a serpentine course and a course with some dog legs (45 degree turns). Dixie has continued the same style of casting over the track but has managed to stay on all the tracks. Today we will be training at Ross Township Walking Park. We have had a fair amount of snow and the ground is completely snow covered. We are scheduled to track at 11 am as one of the last teams to track today. I am heading over early in order to help lay tracks if needed. I am taking Dixie and Dynamite with plans to track both today.
I arrive at the park at a little after 9 am and to my surprise the only people here are Dawn and Deb. It seems most of the class has decided it was just to cold and slippery out to track today. They are expecting a couple people to come but they are not scheduled to track until late. We decide to go ahead and work Dixie and Dynamite on their track. This drag is a series of dog legs (45 degree angle) turns with several food drops.
Dawn is going to follow me on this track and reload the food for Dynamite as we go. So we are off to track through the snow. Dixie is thrilled to be out tracking again. She scents the sock and takes off on the track. She is pulling very hard, yet still casting over the track. It is very windy. We get to the first Food Drop and I reward Dixie and hand the container back to Dawn. She says it is very good that Dixie is starts to take control and pull me forward on the track. As we make the first turn Dixie takes off down the track, no longer casting and quickly moves to the next food drop, so fast in fact that dawn is still pretty far behind us. As I try to replace the food container the wind picks up the empty container and blows it away….I am sure we will find it on some future tracking day. Dixie does over shoot the next turn and it takes a bit but she does work it out and finish the track up nicely. Dawn is pleased with her progress and suggest I start doing more dog leg turns at home and continue to reduce the food. I am also to start getting Dixie to play with the glove more.
Tracking Class Week 2 12-15-08
I really enjoy getting to see the other teams work their tracks. As an observer you get to follow along with the instructor and track layer. It is a great way to learn from other teams and to get a better understanding of how to read a dog and what to do when the dog is struggling to find its way on a track. My favorite part of today was following along as Deb and Alex worked their track. They have their TD and are well on their way to training for a TDX. The tracked they worked is blind (no flags other then the start line) and a couple of articles to find along the way. Alex’s track was pretty hard starting off in Dawn’s front yard, with lots of early cross tracks, and then it headed off through the woods. The goal of this track was to help build Alex’s and Deb’s confidence in working terrain changes (cover). At his point Alex is not real sure of himself when the cover changes and he needs to go into a new area. He wants to be sure and tends to work all around the old cover before finally committing to the new terrain. Deb has to learn how to read his body language and wait for him to commit to a new path and not move forward rushing him past the turn into the new cover. She tend to move forward when Alex is casting back and forth trying to determine where the track goes and by doing this she can push him past the track and into trouble. It is the same issues they can have at cross tracks as Alex can go pretty far off on a cross track, checking it out before returning to the real track. Alex had to work very hard just to find the tracks beginning as again there is no flag marking the direction of the track but the boy worked hard and finally found it. With each change of terrain you could see Deb get more relaxed letting the dog figure things out and the dog begin to believe his nose a little more and commit to the changes in terrain. It was a great learning experience for me.
It is also interesting to see a team work a track that you laid to see if the cover changes and turns you have laid create any problems for the teams. It is also very interesting how each dog works and figures things out.
Dixie’s track was laid behind Dawn’s house and was in some medium length grass and cut corn. It was a serpentine just like we have been working at home. She did an excellent job. Dawn had put out less food than the last class and it really helped Dixie focus on the track. She continues to cast back and forth over the track as she moves down the line. If she runs into trouble and starts to stress while trying to figure things out she will stop and scratch or brag at me, just like she does in agility.
After finishing the days track I introduce Dynamite to everyone there and Deb happened to have a harness that would fit her. We also placed orders with dawn for a longline and Harness for Dixie girl.
Tracking Homework Week 1 Day 2 12-11-08
As we approach the track Dixie eyes up the sock and pulls me over there. After a nice sniff she is off on the track. Dixie tracking style at the point is to cast over the track, this can end up causing her some confusion as at times she ends up casting to one side of the track and only makes it to the track, hopefully that makes sense. This could also cause her to completely miss an article on the track; today she missed one of the food drops, simply because she was “casting” off the track at that location. I will try to illustrate what I mean.
It is also pretty apparent that Dixie will correct by turning right, much like she does in agility. So when she loses scent she will turn right and come back around that direction until she re-acquires the track. She continues to get better at taking the food from the food drop and moving on and she is also starting to play a little with the glove.
Ok it is off to get the next dog!
Dixie Tracking Homework Week 1 12-9-08
Hey there, it is week one of tracking training and yes I have laid a track at home. It is Tuesday and this is my first track I have laid on my own. I laid a track across the front of my yard. It is the same serpentine type course that we did in class with a very big arc. I would estimate my track to be about 100 yards. The idea of setting the track as a big arc is to help the dogs learn that the track will not always go straight. In most training systems the dog is taught to go straight first and then there are gradually turns added until the turn is a full 90 degrees. We are teaching the dogs to follow the bend in the track from the start and making the bend sharper until we have our 90 degree turns and then making the main track straighter. This plan makes sense to me as it is much like the way I teach my dogs agility. It is a nice but cold day outside with temps in the 30’s. I have decided that if I am going to spend the time it takes to set these tracks then I am going to train several dogs. I will run Dixie on the track first just in case it goes badly with the others. I do not have nearly the number of food drops on my track as we did in class yesterday since I do not have that many containers and I think less food may help Dixie keep her focus on the work at hand.
As I get Dixie out and head toward the front yard she is a little confused, I am pretty sure she thought we were headed out to agility or rally which is down in our backyard. Once she saw the sock she very excitedly pulled me over to it. She paused, sniffed it and headed off on the track. She was very on finding the food drops but each time they caused the focus issues we discussed in the first blog however she did get back to the track quicker each time. I think this problem will go away quickly when we are doing longer tracks and not re-baiting those containers. At this point she still needs those rewards pretty often to help keep her focused on the track so I will just have to be patient will she settles back into things. She also nose touched all the flags along the way. There were several times she seemed to smell something else but worked it out and continued along our track. One thing I will have to work on is getting her to indicate the article a little better at the end of the track. I did her a second time and she continue to get faster recovering from the distraction of the drops. I tried to get her to play with the glove at the end but she had very little interest in it once the food was gone. Ok it is off to get the next dog!
Starting Dixie's Tracking Training 12-8-08
Tracking is something that I have wanted to try to do for a very long time. Several times in the past I have purchased tracking books and other equipment with the intention of starting to train a dog, but have always given up before really starting. There was never anyone I knew that was teaching or training a dog in tracking and it seemed very confusing and required more time than I was willing to give back then. As Dixie ages and heads toward the final years in agility I have been searching for the right things to help keep her happy and healthy for years to come. She has started doing rally and obedience but Tracking looked like a very fun activity for the dogs and should give her some low impact exercise. It will also give me something new to learn about dogs and should help me learn to read dogs better in all activities. While I do want to trial her and finish a VCD1 it is really more about spending some fun times with her out and about and getting some exercise for both of us. Several of my agility students have been training tracking with a local trainer and friend for the last year or so and have been trying to get me to come out and play with them. My agility classes are down to one night and one day a week so I finally decided it was time to make the commitment and start doing some new things with the old girl and joined the classes.
Our first class occurred on December 8, 2008 and those that know me know I am not a cold weather person and living in the northeast this was a pretty big commitment for me. For our first class we headed to Ross Township Walking Park and mere 10 minutes from home and we were very lucky as the temperature was not bad. I went out early so I could see some of the other dogs track before our turn. I have learned from all my other dog activities that watching others may not be real exciting but it is a great way to learn. At this point I do not have a tracking harness and we will only be working on a six foot leash so I can help her figure out the game. My track will be last of the day and will be laid (set) by one of my friends and agility students. I watched several teams working from pretty far away. I was not sure where the tracks were and where I would be allowed to go so I just waited and watched. Once my track layer came back we set a short serpentine (picture a big S turn) track with food in small containers every few yards.
There is an article put at the beginning of the track (sock or come other clothing) and a glove or some other article placed at the end. We used surveyor’s flags to mark where the track was so we could see if the dog was on the track. After we laid the track she got out her French bulldog to show me what to do as a handler. Her dog has been tracking for a while but has lost some motivation for tracking so we used a lot of food drops (food in containers) for the dog to find along the way. At this level it is very easy to find the track because you have flags and food containers that are very easy for us to see. As we progress we will work toward blind (unmarked and unknown to us) tracks. At each food drop the dog is rewarded. Then it was Dixie’s turn. Again we used a ton of food drops to help support her first tracking experience. I have always been really confused reading tracking books and articles in the past because no one really ever said how to show the dog the track and get them to understand what you want them to do I think that is the biggest reason I never tried to track on my own before, but now I understand why. The funny thing is Dixie had very little trouble getting started, she saw the sock went and sniffed it then saw the first food drop and headed to it. After that she put her nose to the ground and headed off down the track looking for more food. Normally when you lay a track it is used by one team, we re-use our tracks for several dogs and in Dixie’s case she was to do this track several times. That means that we needed to re-load the food drops as she found them. That seemed to cause us the most problems as Dixie became very focused on the containers she had already found. She also bounces up and down as you try to open the food container to reward her which tended to get her off the track and made completely lose focus on the job at hand. Deb my track layer and coach for the week was helping to remind me to stop when Dixie was being silly and not working or when she would lose the scent. That is my job as the handler to help slow her down when she needs to think things out. She tends to move very fast and can quickly lose the track. Those surveyor’s flags help me know when she is headed off course. Our track was maybe fifty yards long. Dixie found all the food drops and found the glove with food in it at the end. I was very excited to see my dog starting to use her nose to find the cookies along the way. BTW fifty yards may not sound like a lot but it is a lot of work watching what is happening and learning to read what your dog is saying with her body. The next trip through my coach stayed behind so now it was all on me to read the dog and re-load the drops. Dixie pulled much harder this time, already having figured out that there were goodies ahead. I still lost her focus each time she was reward and found that to be very frustrating. She kept trying to get behind me to get back to the cookies she has already found. In the end we got through and she did seem to work harder once refocused each time. The third time would be our last for the day, so I did not have to fill the drops back up but instead just put them in a pocket and Dixie stayed much more focused. She drove me hard from one drop to the other and picked up her pace. My homework for the week would be to do serpentines at home a couple times during the upcoming week, keeping lots of food drops out and a very big arc. I was given flags, drop containers, a sock and a glove by my partner for the week. She has earned her TD (level one title) on her first tracking dog and is learning to lay tracks and help others as she waits for her TDX (level 2) track to age (you have to wait after laying the track to reduce the amount of scent the dog has to find). So I gave Dixie a big hug and put her in the car.
By now the Dawn had returned from working with several dogs preparing for TD’s working longer tracks with harder turns. We spent some time discussing how things went with Dixie while my Deb got her more advance dog out and ready to go. She had laid a very long straight track before any of the other teams had arrived that went across all of their tracks. The object was to teach her dog not to take these cross tracks but to continue to follow his track and make some discrimination at these other crossing tracks. I followed along with the instructor as we followed the team as they worked this long track. It was very interesting to see the dog as he came on each cross track. The first time he struggled to convince himself that he was to continue to go straight. He followed the cross track both directions for a short distance several times before finally deciding to continue on even then backing up a couple times to double check the cross track. At each cross track you could see him can confidence going a shorter distance and fewer times until he finally only paused to sniff both direction and then move on. As a handler I got to see how the handler must stop and allow the dog to check out the different options not moving forward until the dog has figured it out and moved forward on the track. I was able to see some of the signals her dog displayed to her as he worked things out.
So then it was off to home hoping I would stay committed and train my dog a couple times before the next weekly class.