The following is my interpretation of some of the topics covered in a short (2.5hour) lecture delivered by John (Jack) Wilhelm after our tracking test last Sunday. I am posting them, like I have for other seminars in the past, because writing helps me process things. I’ll add my thoughts/comments at another time.
Training vs. Practice
When working with dogs, we need to remember to have an objective for each training session. The objective could be training (teaching) a certain skill or practicing (testing) a skill.
Praise & Corrections
- According to Jack correcting a dog by yanking on the line/harness is not something a person should ever do but there is a place for correction in tracking. The examples he gave were of a verbal correction “hey get back to work” from the end of the line or dropping the line, marching to the dog and getting in their face. He also mentioned that when dogs make the proper choice after correction – copious praise is due.
- On the subject of praise it is his opinion that praise is often offered when dogs are not performing the desired behavior and then it becomes meaningless to the dog.
- What is not okay in tracking is to remove the dog from the track if they are acting up. If the dog is not into it, this is when having an article on hand for the dog to discover is appropriate before ending the training session. The dog should always find something.
Training vs, Test Day
- Do in practice what you plan do to the day of the test.
- Do not change your handling on test day – this will only confuse your dog.
Corners & Cross tracks
- When working with dogs on corners and cross tracks, use back pressure to slow them down at the corner and praise/release line tension when dog locates and commits to corner/appropriate track.
- Many cross track problems are the result of training which has not challenged the dog. Examples of challenges include cross tracks at very tight angles, walking a cross track carrying weight, even laying the cross track by riding a bicycle.
- Below is one method suggested for starting to train cross tracks. Using the same field lay a track – do your work – and the next day, lay another track your track across it. You can increase difficulty by decreasing the hours between tracks.
If dogs are distracted by something and recover, allow the dog to investigate distractions after track is done and harness is removed – ideally off leash. This allows the dog to ‘be a dog’ while maintaining a clear distinction between work and ‘free time’.
- Practice plotting tracks using landmarks.
- Practice at different times of the day
- Practice in different ground cover.
- Practice with someone following you in rain gear or a hat/sunglasses.
- Practice driving to a test site and having the dog go to work right out of the car.
When dog is off track and looking, stay in one place and let line out as they go farther, pull in as they come nearer. In a blind track, the handler does not know where the track is – having the dog circle the same path is ineffective because the track may be 30 feet behind you.
Common causes of team failure
- Guiding by the handler– all examples were of handlers guiding with the tracking line by pulling the dog to perform a circle or corner.
- Handler accidentally corrects the dog– usually when the tracking line gets tangled or the dog takes a hard fast turn and the handler is not ready. The dog is essentially corrected for following the track and may be less likely to seek it out after this.
- Handlers pull the dog off of track before they have officially started– When start lines are a distance from the road, the track layer will be walking through the exact same area you have. Handlers who punish dogs for sniffing before they get to the track may not be able to get past the start line because the dog is hesitant to continue tracking.
- Handlers expecting the picture perfect indication they see in practice – Some handlers wait for the “perfect” indication rather they have seen in practice when the dog has obviously found the article and indicated it in an other way. Waiting too long may encourage the dog to resume tracking and follow the tracklayer’s path off the track.
Dogs that appear to be on track, and working…but aren’t
Someone asked a question about what to do with a dog that appears to be on track but that overshoot corners consistently always moving in a straight line with the impression the dog would go straight forever.
This brought up a shot discussion about reinforcing the effort vs. reinforcing the behavior you want. Jack suggested that this dog had learned that ‘assuming’ the position meant he would be allowed to continue forward. The solution – lay known tracks and use back pressure to slow him at corners – only releasing pressure when he is on the track.
One person asked if there were any books on tracking that he could recommend – he did not as he said he hadn’t really read much in the past few years.