Tracking Update – (Re)Learning the Obvious

Well, I have to (sheepishly) admit that haven’t been out tracking much lately. Part of my reluctance has been that:

  • I haven’t been really sure what to do about out corner trouble; and,
  • I’ve been afraid that repeating the same (wrong) thing over and over might only serve to reinforce the bad habits I think I may have inadvertently taught Bear.

Part of me knows I need some outside help but the other part of me enjoys tracking as one of the few things I can pick up and do when I want without waiting for or depending on someone else.

And so, my approach to date has been to stay off the field, keep thinking on it, read some more books, and read every post on tracking lists and training blogs oh, and make some contacts to see about a tracking seminar in the spring. I always feel I need to let problems ‘percolate’ before coming up with a solution and sometimes I think that amounts to procrastination but other times, it seems to pay off.

This week through the perfect storm of circumstances I think I have a plan to address our tracking issues.

Recently on the CKC tracking yahoo group, a few people have been posting about some of their training issues including a woman with a dog that could, at times, track through a flock of geese but often would appear to forget what she was out there to do altogether. One thoughtful reply was that sometimes dogs appear to “lose it” when we have pushed them to far past their current abilities. This means that while a dog may successfully be able to track one 400m track perfectly, three in a row may be too much. I don’t know why this had not occurred to me in my own context. Maybe it was that I was pushing to be ready for the tracking test? Maybe it’s because I’m working alone. Regardless, the point and the lesson to me is to work at a level where Bear can be successful and not to push too far too soon, even if it means I have to go and retrieve unused flags and articles. I know this as a trainer but clearly had not thought about it in the tracking context. Both Tracking plans that I have been using are very track intensive….sometimes tracking over 1k in a session (split into 2 or 3 separate tracks).

I just read a book called Following Ghosts by Suzanne Clother and John W. Rice. Check out my book review over at the Prairie Dog Blog. This book has really filled in a lot of blanks for me especially where handling and corners are concerned. I started wondering if Bear was really tracking or if he was responding to cues I have not realised that I am giving and in Following Ghosts, this is addressed and they call it “appearance tracking”. Combined with what I (re)learned from the CKC tracking list about pushing dogs too far, and what I know about shaping behaviours in dogs, it makes perfect sense. Introducing corners from the beginning challenges a dog’s skills and prevents a dog from thinking that tracking only happens in a straight line. *facepalm*

I have been following the tracking blog Your Tracking Coach and recently the author, Donna Brinkworth discussed the value of training partners and video cameras in training. You all know my reasons for not having (i mean wanting) a tracking partner in the traditional sense of the term. Video recordings are a perfect solution but until now, tracking long tracks meant I would need to convince someone (I mean Sean) to videotape for me. The length/complexity of the track and limitations of my video camera require someone to following me closely so I can see my own body language and Bear’s. If I take into account the wisdom from Following Ghosts and the CKC tracking list) I don’t need to work a long track or multiple corners and I can record our work with a tripod. You can see an example of our work below where I have set the tripod about 15 yards from an article that is the last leg of a 50 yard track. This set up lets me see how Bear works the corners and keep an eye on my handling so that I don’t inadvertently ‘tell’ him where the corner is.

So from now until the snow is too deep to track, we’ll work short tracks with corners and also add some changes of cover which I am pretty fortunate to have within a 2 minute walk of my home.

If any of you are tracking on your own (or training for any other venue without an in-person mentor), how do you solve training problems? What resources do you use?

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