Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Tracking Update 2

Another post about tracking. I’m obsessing about this for 2 reasons. 1) I don’t want to fail in the trial that is a month away. 2) I’ve never trained tracking before so everything is new and it is all very mysterious. For example I learned on Monday when I went dirt tracking with some people from the club that buildings influence wind. I guess that is obvious, but I never took it into consideration before. Fancy was having some trouble on her track (she eventually got it) and I was told the wind coming over the building and trees next to us was doing really strange things to the scent. To me, it looked like Fancy was completely lost or screwing around, but I guess she was just trying to unravel what she was smelling. I didn’t work the Malinois at all. I had done everyone already and lunch and they did well.

Next the group caravaned to some grass tracking for the newest German Shepherd Dog puppy. Last time I saw him he was very nicely following a trail of hot dogs. This time I think there were like 2 hot dogs on his track. He looked great.

Tuesday I tracked again at lunch (Pie went through a small swamp) then more dirt tracking right after work. The all knowing person from the club who has taught me everything I know so far about tracking (K) was there to help. She had me lay a SchH 1 track for each dog. NO food, but extra articles. Some people might think extra articles make it harder, but it is really easier because it reinforces to the dog that they are on the track and you can reward on the article. So, 100 paces out, right turn, 100 paces, right turn 100 paces and the end. The dirt was very soft and deep and I could see my footsteps. In addition to being very long with no food, K also had me stay back at the end of the line- 33 feet. I have NEVER worked that far back. Scary.

The dogs did A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. No, they were not perfect. Fancy got pretty far off track at the corner, Dottie and Pie both skipped the last article (?) but the good parts were they were so far away from me, kept working, did the rest of their articles great (Fancy thought about retrieving one, which is technically allowed but I didn’t teach it,) kept their heads down and looked like real tracking dogs. If you have experience tracking, esp SchH style, and you saw us, I’m sure you would not be impressed. But remember, these are the first dogs I’ve trained to do this, and I just proved to myself they can actually do it! When I got back from school in April, I took time off from tracking for carting, and Dottie’s CD. When I started back up again, Pie refused to track, Fancy sniffed randomly around, and Dottie was too frantic to concentrate. We were in a sorry state. With all of K’s help and my tracking pretty much every day, I still felt like we were not making progress. And yet, in the last week, it has FINALLY started to come together for all three dogs. Can you tell how happy and relieved I am? For me, agility and obedience training has always progressed at a steady and expected pace. Sure, we have problems, but for the most part I can train it and they get better. In tracking, I’ve always felt like I’m stumbling around in the dark with a bag on my head, my hands tied behind my back, and a little yappy bad tempered poodle snapping at my heels then couching pathetically when I try to scare it away. Actually, I don’t know what feeling the poodle is supposed to convey, my old landlady used to watch a dog like that so I threw him in. He was a toy poodle who actually would try to bite. Anyway, I felt frustrated, clueless, like we would never get it and I didn’t know how to fix it. But now that I have proof that we are on the right track and that we CAN do it, I feel great.

I can’t let it go- last week Fancy was pretending like she wasn’t even close to being ready. Like I was going to be wasting the judge’s time trying for her TR1, and then yesterday she ran a track on which she would have passed. Amazing.

So today I’m resting on my laurels, taking my lunch break to take a walk in the sun. I left the dogs at home, pretending I’m a normal person who doesn’t spend every single lunch training my dogs. (Actually most people have no clue that is where I go, although now since I change out of my uniform, people have started wondering what I’m up to.) Tomorrow we’ll be back at it- doing only grass for a while. Too much dirt tracking makes a dog lazy- using their eyes instead of their nose, because they can also see the footsteps in the dirt.

My training motto is still, “I REFUSE to fail tracking.” That will keep me from getting lazy. A failing track could be right around the corner- I guess that is a tracking pun.

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