Bear Tracks! Week Three

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.

Track Details

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.

Article Indication

This week we’ve been working on the indication separately.

Bear indicating the article....or is he taking a nap?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Next Week…

  • We start tracks with 2 (!!) corners.
  • We continue building the indication behavior.

Rally Course of the Week – August 1, 2011

Course Details

Level: Novice (CARO)

Space Required: 50’x50′

Designer: Ayoka Bubar

Comments: This is what I like to call a ‘moving’ course! This course features only 5 stationary stations which means limited opportunities to reward your dog. This is a great course to try if you need to figure out how to keep your dog motivated during longer heeling stretches. This course will also test how well your dog understands heel position and how well you handle your dog’s leash: Dogs that tend to forge (or lag) and humans who forget to give their dogs some slack will incur lots of deductions.

Download this Course: CARO 50′x50′ Course – Novice 2 (T10-55)

Bear Tracks! Week Two

This was a gruelling tracking week as the plan we are following had six tracks a day! Now this might not sound like a lot when you imagine doing six 20 foot tracks but we gradually moved from a 5 meter track to 400 meter tracks which, takes a LOT of time! From a training perspective though, this means we’ve had lots of repetition, lots of terrain, and lots of learning hours. One thing I love about all this tracking is that it’s a nice way to unwind after work. We are both getting some decent physical exercise and Bear is getting a real brain work out. When we come home after tracking, Bear retires to a cool spot for the remainder of the evening and sometimes he even finds a soft, cool spot!

One tired dog....

The one concern I have about all the tracking is that is means a lot of food drops and a lot of food – I’m talking 1-2 cups a session. early on I discovered that kibble wasn’t going to work as he spent a lot of time trying to ferret out kibble from under creeping cedar, tall grass, etc. I’m not concerned about the volume so much as the fact that 2 cups of sausage (or cheese or liver) a day cannot be good long-term – especially if I adjust Bear’s regular meal allotment accordingly. So spent some time in the kitchen last week trying to concoct a tracking reward that has more nutritional value AND something that I can make easily – I’m still working on it but when it’s perfect, I’ll post it.

Track Details

This week Bear and I worked through about 4,170 meters of track, which brings our total this year to 5,080 meters.

We’ve been working single tracks with the wind and stretching out our food drops to about every 10 feet now. We’ve also aged our tracks up to 15 minutes. None of these things seems overly problematic for Bear however; I have noticed this week that he seems to have trouble working through the last track or two. I am not sure what this is about but I do know that food drops are the same on the last track as the first. It could be a stamina issue, a sustained effort issue OR a mechanical issue. I have noticed that by the end of the last track he’s usually panting quite a bit and I wonder if all that panting interferes with his ability to use his nose properly. Next week I am going to pay special attention to panting as it relates to how much circling and restarting goes on during tracks to see if maybe we need to split our daily work into
shorter sessions.

Article Indication

In CKC tracking tests, a dog must find and article left by the tracklayer at the end of the track. This article must be leather and about 4 x 6 inches…like a glove or wallet. During the test, the dog must find said article and ‘indicate’ it which means Bear needs to perform a specific behaviour to alert me to the article’s location. A dog can indicate the article in any way but the handler must tell the judge what the dog’s indication behaviour is before the test so the judge can determine whether the dog actually pointed it out. I’m guessing that “sniffing” and article won’t fly here…so we had better think about training a specific behaviour.

According to the Try Tracking book, this is where our clicker training is going to come in handy. But before I decide on a behaviour, I wanted to see what Bear would spontaneously offer if I brought the glove out. I have used shaping and target training to teach Bear tricks so I figured we would have a little fun. I tossed out the glove on the floor for the first time and Bear offered the following behaviours:

  1. Nose touch
  2. Bow with his chin on the glove
  3. Paw at the glove
  4. Flipping the glove around the floor with his nose
  5. Picking up the glove and spitting it at me
  6. Looming over the glove and looking at me expectantly

These are all good – he ‘gets’ that the glove is a Very Important Thing (VIT)! Now my challenge is to work any of these into something that I will be able to see from a fair distance away! The common denominator amongst most of the behaviours listed above is that he is offering interaction with his nose (always good – we ARE tracking after all) I don’t think I will see him pawing at the glove from far, nor will I see a simple nose touch from afar. Flipping the glove is fine and good but if he flips it around so much that we can’t find it, I’m outta luck! Of all of these behaviours I like
#2 and #6 the best and both can be shaped into a behaviour Bear already knows very well which we call “mat”. To Bear, ‘mat’ means “go to your mat and lay down facing me and I’ll bring you a cookie. And so, in the end our indication behaviour will essentially be a down on the article.

Body Language & Handling

This week, on longer tracks with fewer food drops, I had the opportunity to really see Bear lose the track. In fact I temporarily lost some tracks as my flags are shorter than the grass in some areas! Everything I read says to stop when you notice the dog lose track and only start moving forward when you are sure they are back on. I did this most times but sometimes Bear actually circled behind me. when he starts back tracking, I have just ben reeled in my line and restarting him further along the track. Not sure if that’s what I’m supposed to do but it seemed more productive to keep moving than to have him staring into never-never land or searching the field for prairie dogs.

Bear...either lost or losing it...


I’m having more issues with the tracking line…it’s even heavier when it gets wet so I’m going to dig out the line we’ve used in the past for swimming. The swimming line is not fancy but it’s long, light and it will do until we can get a decent line.

Next Week…

  • We start corners.
  • We begin working with cross winds.
  • We continue building the indication behaviour.

Rally Course of the Week – July 25, 2011

Course Details

Level: Excellent (CARO)

Space Required: 50’x50′

Designer: Ayoka Bubar

Comments: This is a pretty straightforward course. Main challenges are a moving stand right off the bat and the fact that teams are only minimum distances required before obstacles. This means you have 10′ to move from an about turn to the weave poles and 10′ to move from a right turn to a jump! The jump itself is 20 feet from the sign however to score full points and qualify, our dog must be sent at least 10′ back from the jump. To perform both obstacles well, your dog needs to see the obstacle and know what to do – you have little time and space to get her lined up and ready to go.

Download this Course: CARO 50′x50′ Course – Excellent (T10-55)

Bear Tracks! Week One

The first week of the rest of our  tracking lives…

Bear and I attended a tracking seminar last fall and  had a lot of fun, learned a lot and really enjoyed watching different dogs  work. We did maybe about 2 weeks of tracking last year before it got cold, I  got busy…you all know how it goes.

This spring has been miserable (way to much water) and we are doing lots of  Rally-O and tricks training work but I decided we should venture outdoors and give tracking a try. This will be the first  time I’ve trained something completely on my own – There are no tracking instructors nearby. I think the journey will be interesting for both of us.

I have two very similar tracking plans – One from the seminar mentioned above with MaryAnn Warren and one from a book I purchased last fall called Try  Tracking by Carolyn Krause. My plan is to use both: I really like Krause’s ideas for teaching the  indication with a clicker but I think Warren’s plan is better suited to  adult dogs and trial preparation with longer tracks and more gradual fading of food on the track. I’ll also be following along on a blog I recently discovered by a Canadian Tracking Judge , Donna Brinkworth called Your Tracking Coach.

Our training goal is to enter a CKC Tracking Test this September in Winnipeg – there are not very many opportunities for such tests so I may not have another chance until next year.

Our First Week of Tracking

Our First week out was very interesting. We worked in warm weather each day – with the coolest being 24 degrees celcius. The fields here  are very dry with varying degrees of vegetation and I had my first and last run  in with Spear grass! We are lucky enough to have slight winds and many, many  fields to practice in Shilo, both on base and off although I need to keep an eye out for shorter cut fields as we know they tend not to hold scenty as well as taller grass.

We got our new Premier Sure Fit Harness which fits much better than the ‘Canadian Tire special’ I had as a leftover from our flyball days. The Sure Fit harnesses are adjustable in 5 places and are very easy to put on – you slide them over your dog’s head and attache them with two girth buckles. I  have been pleased with everything I have purchased from Premier and this is no  exception.

Overall Impressions

I was surprised how well Bear took to getting back into this – we only did a couple of weeks work after the seminar last fall. He’s very diligent about ferreting out every food drop. We have also successfully worked in fields with containing a fair amount of prairie dog holes.  I have to admit that we’ve never actually seen nor heard one! We have flushed birds out of the grass but thankfully, birds are classified as “Nothing of Interest” (NOI) in Bear’s world.

Track Details

This week our tracks have been fresh (to ageing), double layed with lots of food drops. We’ve been to 3 different locations this week in some warm and very dry conditions but Bear has been able to keep it together until the end of the track every time!

Body Language & Handling

I have been really paying attention to Bear’s language while he’s working and it  seems that the biggest indicator that he is “on” the track is that his head drops below his shoulders. He doesn’t work with his nose buried in the ground but maybe 6 inches above it. When he loses the track or is trying to hone in on a food drop he tends to raise his nose and circle round. Occasionally he’ll stop to look at a passing car or person on the road but he’s been able to get back to work.


I used a 10 foot line for the first few days but soon realise I’d need to use my longer line since Bear is easily working 10 feet away from me. I need a lighter line and also some gloves or my hands are going to be ripped to shreds when Bear leans into the harness he really can pull – and in tracking, that’s a good thing!

I  have been using both leather rectangles and leather gloves as articles but right now I don’t think they mean much to Bear.

Next Week

  • I’ll start teaching bear to indicate articles.
  • We move on to longer, single tracks out the advantage of working into the wind…this means we’ll be working with the win and all the scent will be blown AWAY from us…uh oh….

Rally Course of the Week – July 18, 2011

Course Details

Level: Advanced (CARO)

Space Required: 50’x50′

Designer: Ayoka Bubar

Comments: Most people will notice the challenge of having to walk by food bowls before performing them. This is common enough and something both handlers and dogs should be prepared for. What might be less apparent is the fact that this course consist of numerous sits (I count 16!). Some dogs work better though lots of sits because this usually means lots of opportunities to reward your dog ( I count 8)! Courses like this can be difficult for dogs that do not sit promptly or that tend to sit significantly out of front or heel position.

Download this Course: CARO 50′x50′ Course – Advanced 1 (T10-55)

Get Your Rally Courses Here!

One of the reasons I wanted to begin the Rotten Dog Blog was that I want to share some of the courses I have designed as a CARO Rally judge. I know it can sometimes  be difficult to practice Rally-O when you are alone and unlike the sport of Agility, there are very few rally “course books” out there. The Canadian Association of Rally Obedience Recently released a 50 course book which is available online. What I plan to do is start releasing a “course of the week” which I will publish in PDF format. Anyone may use them for training or educational purposes as long as they do not make any changes to the document. Some of the courses are from past trials; some were designed for Fun Matches. The weekly course is perfect if you are teaching a class and just don’t have time to make it up OR if you just want to get together with friends once a week and have some fun!

If you would like to have your course featured as a course of the week, just email it to me and I’ll happily give you credit and provide your personal or business contact info/links.

For our inagural course of the week, I present to you…CARO 50’x50′ Course – Novice 1 (T10-55) 

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