I learned two very important things this week that will help me on blind tracks. And both items relate to…
Body Language & Handling
- Very Important Thing #1: Bear works better when the track is down wind. I accidentally set a track with a leg up wind and he did lots of drifting back and forth into the wind. I remember this being referred to as a ‘scent cone’ at the seminar last fall and it’s clear to me that there is a LOT to smell and that it’s been spread out!
- Very Important Thing #2: As all the books say, I really do need to trust my dog. The first half of this week Bear was tracking way off track and so I planted my feet and reset him. At first I thought it was because all my subsequent tracks were up wind but when I fixed that error (on my part) I realized he’s just working scent that has blown down wind and apparently scent travels better than I thought. He was easily up to 20 feet off the track, but appeared to be working, so I just let him go…and he found the corners AND the end food drop.
The lesson here is to follow my dog and not the flags. Over time I am also better able to tell when he’s tracking animal scent or my track. Animal tracks get more active sniffing, circling and his body stiffens up like he’s winding up for a pounce – it’s subtle but rather obvious to me now.
Speaking of animals…
One thing that has really blown me over this week is how un-interesting prairie dog holes are to Bear now. This is something that previously I would be anxious about in a ring or near a ring but now it feels like we’ve been tracking over, I dunno – a million and they get a sniff and then Bear moves on. I’m okay with a perfunctory sniff because, quite frankly, if I have stepped over one, my scent has likely dropped into the hole. What does remain Bear’s kryptonite are actual prairie dogs and any other small thing in the grass like a bird – at least until it takes flight – and then it’s boring.
This week we worked the same 3 day set of tracks with corners with 3 days of corners downwind and 3 days of corners up wind. As I mentioned above cross winds and wind have a huge effect on bear tracking and I need to pay close attention to his body language and not the flags.
This week was also a lengthy tracking week (3875 meters) and tracks had to be aged 15 minutes. It worked out that by the time I was finished laying 3 tracks, it was time to start again. I had hoped to get ahead one day by laying 6 tracks over 2 sessions however, just as I finished laying the final track, one of the base maintenance folks came along with what could be called a mower but was really more like a small hay bailer. *silent scream* I pulled up my flags and we resolved to only do one set of tracks that day. The upshot of the mowing is that now we get to practice in shorter grass which is another training and trial variable we’ll need to learn to handle.
This week we’ve been working on the indication separately.
On the track, I have started cuing the article indication as Bear usually acknowledges the article and continues on tracking. I can see that this could be an issue if, in fact, I don’t see the article. I’m also not certain if I am allowed to cue the indication in a test setting. I think I might try a 2 pronged approach to this:
- Making sure that most of Bear’s meals appear in the track and in the glove. Up to now I have been using my finally perfected recipe for Lip Smack’n Trackin’ Treats. But now that the food drops are more spaced out, I am at a point where I need to add a larger reward at the final food drop.
- Teaching Bear Scent discrimination games to help him learn that this whole game is about finding the thing with the most scent.
I finally found my other long line and tried it out. I love that it’s longer and lighter. I hate that it gives me rope burn and has at least 5 million knots in it – the kind that are not coming out. I think I’m just going to have to bite the bullet and get some biking gloves.
- We start tracks with 2 (!!) corners.
- We continue building the indication behavior.