Thoughts on Tracking for 2012

Is Bear tracking or faking it? Right now only he really knows!

Spring sprung many weeks ago here in Manitoba and it’s high time to start thinking about preparing for the fall tracking tests.

I pulled out of the last tracking test we entered because I wasn’t certain we would pass. Actually I wasn’t certain of anything – I followed “the plan” but things did not seem to be coming together for us and, being new to the sport, I am still not sure what to do about it.

What I do know is how to teach many other behaviors and I figure that if I can teach a dog to skateboard, sit pretty and hide his eyes in ‘shame’ – surely I can use the knowledge gained through that experience to teach tracking which is far, far more natural to Bear than any trick he knows.

Typically, when things deteriorate in other training venues, I sit down and think of reasons why  training has not been effective. This is my list for why our tracking training may not have resulted in the performance I wanted.

  • The rewards were not all that fabulous to Bear.
  • I was convinced Bear was tracking and he wasn’t.
  • Bear was tracking and I assumed he was goofing off and ‘corrected’ him but holding on tight to the line and not allowing him to do the job I wanted him to.
  • Food was faded before he understood the behavior.
  • Food drops were used for so long that he assumed that if he didn’t find food within a certain time period or distance, the game was over.
  • The food drops on the track were very rewarding but the final food drop/reward was not because either a) he was full or b) it was the same as he got on the track and not something ‘special’ enough.
  • We progressed through the plan too fast – That is to say we moved on to more difficult work before Bear fully understood the foundation work.

So, either the reward for tracking was not ‘awesome’ enough, I need better skills at observing tracking behavior versus other sniffing behavior or I moved too far too fast.

Now what?

I was hoping to either host or attend a tracking seminar this spring but that does not look like it will come to pass, unless I am able to drive to Saskatchewan or Alberta, and that looks unlikely with my summer schedule.

In the absence of that I am going to have to try an problem solve myself and try to get out to track with some more experienced folks in Winnipeg who might be better able to help me figure things out. At home my plan is to:

  • Start the training plans from scratch.
  • Keep records as I did last year but remember to include notes on Bear’s behavior as it applies to wind direction.
  • Resist temptation to proceed with the plan (increase age, distance etc.) unless I am 100% satisfied with the previous day’s performance.
  • Use flags for a long time so I know where the track is and can (hopefully) start learning to distinguish better between tracking behaviour and non-tracking behaviour.
  • Make the reward for the article on the track huge. I think Bear is a highly food motivated dog so my plan is to use some ‘exotic’ foods and to make sure they are only ever used for tracking, much like I have used tuna loaf exclusively for rally trials. I think I’ll use tuna (out of the can), sardines, liver loaf.

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