A journey of 1000 miles is started with a single step. Becoming a successful Tracking team, whether for competition or real world application, involves well in excess of a few thousand foot steps. Buy a pair of high quality, supportive, hiking boots…and if you don’t already walk daily, get started. Trust me on this.
If you and your dog choose to pursue this fascinating and exciting discipline, you will quickly form a bond that can only be built by working with your dog. You will both gradually move beyond a Master and Pet relationship, into one where you trust each other, and learn from each other every time you interact. Describing this bond is very difficult without anthropomorphizing or waxing poetic, (look it up! This training program is going to be ALL ABOUT Learning.) and I’m going to bore you with that type of information. Believe me, you’ll come to understand in time. But take this to heart, You WILL develop a TEAM ATTITUDE.
I started this competitive tracking group with Omorrow Pack members exclusively for a very good reason. Most of you are at approximately the same experience level in Tracking and scentwork. You all have at least a curiousity about learning to track, if not a full blown ‘Let’s get to it!” attitude. Secondly, 99% of this first group will be dogs from Omorrow, dogs that I personally know have the genetic background to be great tracking dogs, just as their ancestors were before them. The Omorrow line is also blessed with a temperament that enhances the dogs ability to TEACH YOU HOW TO TRACK WITH THEM. (Did I mention that YOU, as the handler, have a lot more to learn than your dog?) He works on God-given instinct and Desire. You, conversely, as a human being, have probably the sorriest Nose in the entire mammal population of the earth, and no instinct for what your dog does naturally! You have other natural abilities that your dog doesn’t have, so don’t feel bad!
Until we can assemble in the Spring for Paws On Training, I want to start with information that can help you and your dog prepare to learn. Even if you have experience in Tracking, (such as AKC events, or a bit of Schutzhund,) everything here will be useful, even if it sounds like canine kindergarten. Later on, we will leave behind the techniques of both AKC and Schutzhund style tracking for the real world of “Tracking in Drive”, as practiced by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police canines. These are unarguably the most consistent, successful trackers in the World, bar none. This is our long term goal…Lets begin right there, talking about “DRIVE”.
“I was told that my dog didn’t have the DRIVE for Tracking (or Schutzhund, or agility, or Flyball, or whatever).”
Mule Muffins! (interesting way to start…I wonder if Papa Hemingway ever used that intro?) You need not ever listen to anyone that tells you that your dog CAN’T. If you’ve ever been told that, kick it out of your brain right now, and don’t let it back in…Ever. DRIVE can be developed, encouraged, and enhanced by proper training! YOU can turn on your dogs drive by play, by reward, and by your own attitude. Will every dog be a World Champion? Perhaps not, but NOT trying is the surest way to failure.
Let me be plain. Many books, and many Trainers will make the blanket statement that, most dogs DO NOT have sufficient Drive to be anything other than “Pets”. One trainer that I otherwise respect, has written that “No dog bred in the United States is fit to be a Tracker, Police Service Dog, or trained in Schutzhund. These dogs should be neutered or spayed as soon as possible.” – Not coincidentally, this gentleman imports, breeds, and sells GSD’s, Malinois’, and other dogs from Eastern Europe. He is very successful Trainer and Author. How dare I question his 35 years of experience? I offer the following experience as evidence:
On the facility where we train, there is a little mixed breed Jack Russell/Something Else. He has observed the GSD’s and Malinois being trained in Tracking for a couple of years. He has learned, on his own, to retrace the Tracking Courses and pick up the bait that the “Pedigreed” dogs missed while they were working. They ALWAYS miss several pieces on these sometimes complicated flights. Little Jake cleans up what Trained dogs have MISSED. He is a “Food Driven canine”, with huge overtones of “Couch Potato” in his personality. Will he ever be a Schutzhund III dog with an FH (tracking) designation? No. Could he track down a person or item successfully? He already DOES, and nobody taught him so much as “Sit”. Don’t tell me he couldn’t learn.
Important Statement following!!
The real linchpin here is NOT does the dog have Drive to perform, but does the dog have enough Drive/Enthusiasm to persist at his task to the finish? Is he easily distracted by other influences outside his task? THAT is what must be developed. Feel free to disagree…The only thing 3 dog trainers can agree on is that 2 of them are absolutely wrong in their methods.
I must interject here, an often overlooked detail in training to be a Tracking Team. TRACKING is a Master Class in OBEDIENCE. SIT, STAY, DOWN, and LONG DOWN commands are imperative for your dog to obey. Conquer these as early as you can.
So, How DO I develop my dogs Longevity in Drive?
For the sake of explanation, let’s temporarily replace the word, “Drive”, with the word “Enthusiasm.” Ask yourself, “What makes my dog enthusiastic?” Maybe your dog can hear a rattling bag of dogfood from 50 miles away, and come running before you begin pouring it in his bowl. Maybe your dog tries to jump thru closed doors if he sees a squirrel in his yard, maybe the mere mention of “Walk’, sets him to pacing and fetching your shoes for you. It could be the sight of one of his precious toys that creates the crazy dance of joy that you try to stifle. Whatever does it to him, THAT’S a product of his Drive! Identifying and understanding the types of Drive, will help you develop, not only your dogs level of Enthusiasm, but his ability to Stay in Drive. Here are listed the commonly accepted “Drives” of the canine mind.
Food Drive, or the dogs enthusiasm to find food and eat it, whether or not he’s hungry, is easily identified and utilized in training.
Prey Drive, The dogs enthusiasm to pursue and catch anything that moves.
Play Drive Some dogs would rather play with his toys (whatever they may be) than anything else, not eating, and playing to exhaustion.
Fight Drive involves the dogs enthusiasm for confrontational activities and FINISHING that confrontation.
Pack Drive reflects how much a dog enjoys working WITH his handler as a team.
For the purposes of Tracking and Scentwork, Food and Play Drive will be our Primary focus. The foundation level in Footstep or Schutzhund/AKC tracking is teaching your dog to associate the scent of broken vegetation (grass) with their favorite edible treat. One of the goals of this use of treats, is to teach the dog to keep his big nose on the ground in the scent path. During our Paws On Training seminar, we will show you how to lay down a Bait Pad to start, and then amplify the track you lay with bait properly. Here, we want to emphasize Persisting in Drive, and how to sustain it.
First, it is vital that you identify which food bait your dog would run thru flames for without hesitation. Then use this treat for training purposes exclusively. Make it special. You can determine what to use by gathering a small sampling of 4 or 5 different treats, laying them out in a small area, and observing which the dog takes first consistently. Our overall winner has always been raw Chicken gizzards and hearts cut into small chunks. Cheap and yummy, two of MY favorite things. The second thing, never train your dog on a full stomach. We usually cut off food 12 to 15 hours before a training session. That way, the dog is highly motivated to find each and every morsel, and will ignore every other distracting scent his big nose encounters. Limit the amount of bait to approximately One Pound per session. That way, your dog will probably still be hungry when you finish training. Even if you lay 3 or 4 One hundred yard paths, your dog will still be in FULL Food Drive at the end. Pretty common sense stuff here…
If you have a dog that would rather Play than eat, how do you keep his Drive Alive? This part involves the dog knowing that you, as the handler own the toys and control them. Always stop playing sessions before your dog is ready to quit. Put the toy away, out of sight. Own the toy.
It is also valuable to vary the types of toys you use. He may have a favorite toy that really turns on his play drive, and this will be valuable later on when we are tracking without bait. Try Frisbees, squeaky toys, Kongs’, or even common household items that won’t cause other problems. In other words, don’t teach him to play with an old shoe, or a glove. He will proceed to search out and destroy every other shoe or glove in the house. My dog’ has an obsession with a plastic Coffee can with a handle. He has progressed to tracking down a Runaway Stranger to a distance of 3 miles, with just the knowledge that his beloved coffee can is waiting for him at the end. That’s called Tracking In Drive, and he started out with the simplest of straight line bait tracks. The same as you will do.
Another aspect of teaching Play Drive persistence, is the concept of teasing your dog with the toy. Play Keep Away with him until he is totally focused on the toy. Nothing else matters to him but getting that toy! At this point, make him Sit or Down! Do Not give the dog the toy until he is CALM. This will take practice, practice, practice for both of you! But it will prevent him from being a “Frantic’ tracker. (Lots more info. on preventing “Frantic” behavior in the future)
I am also a big proponent of Tug toys. I fully understand that many are somewhat hesitant to play Tug with their dog, as it is a behavior that they wish to avoid in their pet. Without a properly taught “out” (Let Go of it!) command, it can cause problems. (Again, Obedience is paramount to tracking training.) Playing tug builds drive, and a desire to win the game. We will use a Jute tug toy, tug with great enthusiasm for 2 or 3 minutes, and then Let the Dog Win. It builds confidence as well. It’s important that the dog wins, until the last contest when you take ownership of the toy. There are many details being left out of this Tug Play paragraph, in the interest of informing you about building Drive. Please don’t dismiss this game entirely from your training without learning how to do it properly. It needn’t cause the behavior problems you may have heard happening from others. It is a valuable tool to develop persistence in drive. This will be a subject of demonstration and discussion at Paws on Training.
The final goal of this article is to assure that you AND your dog can learn to Track, and do so confidently. Age, breed, and temperament may affect that ability, but they do not nullify that ability. Never say “My Dog Can’t…”, because you will cause it to be true. Your attitude is very important.