Post-Test Plans for Tracking

Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.

-Ralph Waldo Emmerson

Oh haven’t you heard? I’m so done with feeling bad about the tracking test.

While I am not over it, I am moving on, negative feelings are – to use a word – exhausting. Between teaching classes, taking agility classes and driving to Winnipeg for herding classes,  I’m a busy lady and unfortunately, there’s no room (or time) left for these horrible feelings to overstay their welcome.

I have come to a few conclusions over the past few days:

  • Corners are not the problem.
  • The problem is distinguishing between ‘looking for corners’ and ‘looking at distractions’.
  • Bear does not have the problem solving skills he needs to find a track after he’s lost it.
  • I have not been handling Bear in such a way as to encourage him to look.
  • I have not been communicating success in way Bear best understands.

My new approach is going to continue from where we were in our training – which was adding more corners and increasing age of the track with the following changes:

  • I am going to take the food off the track.
  • I am going to use articles in place of food.
  • I am going to use my clicker to mark the discovery of every article and reward Bear immediately with a cookie party – therefore making the articles ‘gateways to food’.

So far in my tracking reading and online research, there is very little in the way of discussing the applications of using a clicker or marker in tracking. Where I have found a short discussion on this is when it comes to developing an article indication.

While, I am certain there are people out there with some strong feelings against clickers and tracking, clicker training is the method I have used to teach Bear the foundation behaviors for agility and rally obedience and I do believe tracking bears some similarities to these sports:

  • Just like tracking, these sports involve complex behavior chains and independent behaviors.
  • Just like tracking, no training equipment or food is allowed while you are working so dogs must learn to perform without the use of any training aid, be it  an electronic collar, walking harness, head halter, bait bag or clicker.

The clicker is used to build competence and enthusiasm for specific behaviors and, once a Bear becomes competent and proficient I have gradually increased my expectations requiring more behavior or better performance between clicks and eventually, I have been able to eliminate the clicker all together.

I don’t think the clicker will interfere with what seems to be the method for teaching corners (sadly I don’t think there’s a magic method) which is apply line tension before corners, plant your feet while the dog looks and release tension when the dog commits to the track in a different direction. In fact I am hoping that using our preferred communication tool, the clicker, will make the goal of the game incredibly clear to Bear so that he learns the fastest way to the article (and the cookies) is to use his nose to find the things that smells of the tracklayer.

At least that’s what I hope. Fact is, I don’t have much to lose by trying, do I?

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

-Albert Einstein

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