Saturday, April 3, 2010

Tracking Answers

Barb asks excellent questions about the tracking video. The track was blind, which means I did not know where it went because Kim laid it. I did not even know the direction that it started and so you can see that I stayed at the start flag until she committed to the track and therefore indicated it's direction. The track was over three hours old and it was very windy.

Asia has been tracking since she was a very small puppy -- she will be three in July so has a good 2.5 years under her harness, so to speak. I still use food on the track but not much -- this track was quite long (close to 1/2 mile) with eight turns and it had four food drops on it. I give her a cookie after most articles so finding articles is reinforcing as well -- on the track yesterday she found five articles, including a plastic lid and an old cell phone! And at the end of the track was a plastic container with a special meat loaf that I made just for the end of tracks -- I like to always use something really special.

When I start a puppy I use the Hansel and Gretel method of dropping food in a straight line every 8 - 12 inches; the "line" or track is about 20 - 25 feet long. At the end is a glove stuffed with some other yummy treat (on the track I only use soft food that can be easily chewed -- cheese, banana, pasta, etc.). At first I might silently point to the food but it does not take long for a dog to figure it out! I quickly add length and also space out the food drops as typically by the second session the puppy is blasting past some of the food drops and that is a clue to space that food out. I do not add turns until the puppy is reliably doing a long straight track with just a few food drops, and then I add very gentle, open turns.

In the first week I might track 4 - 5 times with 2 - 3 short tracks, but by the second week we usually just track twice a week and I quickly move to just one track per session. Tracking has to be fun and I think when we get all scientific and serious about it it takes away the fun :)

Something else -- I do not talk on a track except when she finds an article, and then I praise and tell her to, "find more". When I am getting on her harness I ask if she wants to play and she is SO excited -- all my dogs love tracking :) But then I shut up and let her nose go to work -- I do not even give a command at the start anymore.

Joan was the one who observed that a tracking dog seems to close off the other senses -- food would be obviously right in front of the dog but instead of noticing it visually, the dog continued to sniff and search for it through the sense of smell -- even when the sense of sight would have been "easier". Since Joan pointed that out, I have minimized my communication to the tracking dog because I think it distracts her. When we were trying to pick up the corner we blew past yesterday, I said nothing the whole time Asia worked it through -- but really, what did I need to say anyway? I think we talk for ourselves more than the dog.

I wanted to mention something about Asia. When I did her preliminary x-rays at 10 months and learned she would not clear, I was heartbroken. She is really a lovely girl with a fantastic temperament and I wanted to make more just like her, but obviously I could not breed her. It was suggested to me that I place her in another home since I could not breed her, but that was not an option for me.

Asia reminds me to trust and have faith that things are somehow going as they should. If she would have cleared, I would not have repeated the breeding and Terri Z. would not have Zed, who was sent to her to heal a very broken spirit and heart (which he has done). And I would not have Zoey, who is amazing. And even more -- because I honored Asia's path with me, which does not involve puppies, I have the most amazing working dog who lives only to do what I ask her to do. In a household of superb working dogs, this is a very high compliment to Asia -- she is exceptional.

Once again I am reminded that I do not always know what is best, and that if I walk the path that is presented instead of trying to force my will -- good things will happen. And we need to also remember that what seems "broken" is just an opportunity...

Good friend to all puppies and me, Elizabethanne, has learned this lesson well and her excellent poodles do what their callings seem to be, which is not necessarily what Elizabethanne had originally in mind. This is how we should all be with our dogs and with each other -- embracing what is, finding strengths, and letting go of our notions of what "should" be -- check out this video she did of her youngest poodle learning to track on pavement using the Hansel and Gretel method:

And now, follow those little clues of your own to something really wonderful :)

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