Thursday, July 28, 2005

still tracking, and heeling

Laev is very erratic. She did a horrific puppy square on Tuesday, so bad that I actually took her off it and crated her while I tracked Shakespeare. (A second food drag for him, by the way, and he was so thrilled that a few hours later when I turned him out to run, he ran to the tracking site and ran the track again just to be sure he hadn't missed anything!) Then I brought Laev out to do her puppy square again and then to run a short, straight track. It was hideous -- not unfocused, as the puppy square had been, but high and fast, and if I held her back she became frustrated and just lay down, alternately trying to stretch forward and looking back at me with confusion.

I know, I know, it was also ungodly hot, over 100 degrees and near total humidity. We've been having record heat; a funnel cloud could have formed if someone opened a freezer door. (Yep, we get a lot of tornados in Indiana; we average 20+ touchdowns a year and I don't even know how many funnels that don't touch down!) I'm sure that affected tracking conditions. But it was depressing.

Then Wednesday, yesterday, we tracked again. It was raining lightly -- yippee! a cold front, and no tornado! -- and Laev's tracking was lousy. Any pressure on the line caused her to strain forward with opposition reflex. She ate only two pieces of food on the entire track. I came inside and called Debbie; I didn't want to allow Laev to rehearse bad tracking.

Debbie and I debated and finally decided that I had to be more careful about light pops (half-halts, I think of them instead, from my equestrian days) to slow her rather than steady pressure. I also upped the value of the food, back to using Simon & Huey's, and I put more than one piece of food in a footstep when I baited it.

I laid two short tracks and a puppy square. We ran a short straight track first; she was eager and pulling, but willing to slow when I showed her the good stuff in the footsteps. Then a puppy square, which she did with more focus and presence of mind than she had before. Then the second track, which featured two right turns. Laev started strong and then settled right down, checking for treats and keeping her nose low enough to even dig out crushed treats from the grass. By the end she wasn't dragging at all.

So I'm going to continue using good food at the beginning and fading to mediocre bait at the end of the track, to reduce her desperation to reach the end. And I will start using articles very soon. But at least, as Debbie said, I have an enviable problem of a dog who loves the track more than anything else!

Meanwhile, I bought a hula hoop at a garage sale and have been clicking her for going to stand inside it, sneaking in some distance while we work. She's not nearly as adept at this as Shakespeare would be, but I'm giving her some allowance for being young and inexperienced. :-) We'll get distance work yet.

On the good side, her heeling is looking quite decent for a five-month-old dog. She likes to be a little wide, but I can polish that later. Her shoulder is right beside my leg and she keeps nice eye contact. Good girl!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Whee! Tracking!!

Wow. Today I went down and tracked with my friend Debbie, my tracking guru. It paid off!

It was stinkin' hot today -- when I was driving at 9:30 a.m. it was already 88 degrees and climbing, and while I didn't see an official humidity report that was certainly in the nineties. Hard weather for dogs and handlers. Tell me again why I like outdoor sports?

Laev has been having trouble rushing the track, skipping food and keeping her nose high instead of sniffing deeply into each footprint. Rather than a basic puppy square, I wanted Debbie to troubleshoot a real track, so Debbie laid a track for her in the shade, aged it about 20 minutes, and... Laev demonstrated a perfect track. I was so proud, certain that our Sunday breakthrough was still in effect.

Then we tracked Debbie's dog, and then I laid another track for Laev. Aged about 25 minutes. I brought her out and -- bam! back to old tracking problems. She was frantic on the track, swiveling her head and straining forward, practically tracking on two legs. We struggled through the track and finished badly. Eek.

Debbie and I talk. Aaah.... The second track was laid in the sun. Heat makes it harder for the ground to hold scent, roughly speaking. Laev might have panicked a little at the harder going and wanted to bolt ahead, looking for the scent. Memo to self: be more consistent that she absolutely cannot take a step forward without her nose all the way to the ground and in the footprint.

Then we tracked Debbie's dog again on a track already laid. His first track was great, and he started this one like a machine. When the track passed from shade to sun, though, he visibly lost it for a moment, searching on both sides of the track and really struggling to get back on the footprints. Wow! What a difference the heat made! But after a few seconds he managed to get back on task and finished pretty well.

Laev will be starting articles soon, and then I'll be using those instead of food on the track. I'll still be rewarding articles with food, but I want her tracking human scent and crushed vegetation trather than any food scent. (Today I used Simon & Huey's soft treats in footsteps, which are less stinky than hot dogs but still yummy to the dogs.)

And then -- and then! -- we worked Shakespeare.

Okay, I'll be honest. I'd almost completely given up on the idea of tracking Shakespeare. He's just not remotely motivated anymore. It's partly my fault; I started him on AKC-style tracking (more trailing, really) and then switched to footstep tracking, and then didn't work consistently, etc. He's confused and bored and just plain doesn't care to do it. And how can I blame him?

Jeremy, a SAR friend, had suggested a food drag, but I'd never done it before and was a little scared to try yet another thing and just annoy the snot out of this poor dog. ;-) But Debbie suggested we try it with some tripe, which of course Shakespeare just loves. I've never yet found anything -- raw chicken, beef, bones, anything -- that could trump tripe.

So we dumped a handful of green tripe into a sock, hooked a leash to it, and I laid a track while dragging it behind me. Then I left the sock at the end as the world's tastiest article and got the dog.

He looked miserable coming out. "Tracking... Oh, sheesh." Then I pointed him to the flag and told him to track. He dropped his nose and lit up like a bulb.

Track, track, trackety track.... He lifted his head once and immediately got back to work when I told him. Track, track. Wanted to cheat at the end and rush to the sock, but I held him back and made him track up to it and down before emptying the sock for him. Yum! Tripe! He even wanted to get up and track the tail away from the tripe!

So now I have a new technique for Shakespeare. I think I'll gradually delay the drag to later and later in the track, so he learns to follow the footprints to get to the drag to get to the article. Comments are welcome! but this is my new plan. Fortunately, I have a lot of canned green tripe at home. :-)

By the way, I have every confidence in Laev's passing Sue Ailsby's Level 1 test (except that Zen one, if she's really amped, but she can do it nearly always). We're far from ready for Level 2, though, and it's really just because I've slacked off on some things and haven't addressed others -- like going around a post, which is part of Sue's distance work and something Laev will need for a revier later. And one minute of loose leash without moving? Are you crazy? :-)

I maybe gotta work some more.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

adolescence begins...?

It was dumping rain in fierce buckets when I woke this morning, but we went tracking anyway. I took my oiled-leather hat, but the rain faded and it was merely muggy and moist during our work. Yay!

Laev's a little too happy to be tracking -- she starts jumping and spinning when I put her harness on -- and she's trying to keep her nose up and rush down the track too quickly, without checking each footprint and attempting to overshoot corners. Basically, she enjoys following the track so much she doesn't pause to eat and therefore doesn't get her head down. Not good. So today I really upped the ante and used shredded hot dog bits, leftovers from the Dobe Club summer picnic. (I took Laev this year, by the way, leaving Shakespeare at home -- I'd been out of town until a couple of hours into the picnic, Jon was out with some friends instead of accompanying me, and didn't feel up to handling multiple dogs. She had fun and we bought a fuzzy squeaky toy at the club auction.)

The hot dogs may have done the trick. I'm still internally opposed to hot dogs on the track (if I can smell 'em, surely the dog can smell 'em!) and I'm a little chagrined that I ended up using them, but by the end of the third track she was no longer straining on the harness and tracking on two feet. Her first task, a puppy square, she was frantic and flailing all over the square. No thought process. Her second track was still kind of messy, and she seemed surprised when I held her back and she found hot dog bits in the prints. I'd tried to drop the bits into the natural pockets of the grass, making her get her nose down low for them.

On the third attempt, though, she started strong and pushy and then slowed down, getting herself under control. By the end, she was actually getting her head down, even on the sections without bait in the steps. So maybe we'll have to stay on this program for a while....

Laev's still teething. I thought she was pretty much done, based on the fact that she's been wanting to tug more and doing less basic teething chewing. But apparently I was wrong, because yesterday we were playing and I was ribbing her verbally about her weaker-than-usual grip, and then she jumped and bit hard and we each tugged, and then the toy slid out of her mouth and something clattered on the floor. Eek.

I quickly let her win a toy and do a victory lap with it around the living room. I kept the tooth. Bad Laura!

Laev still has a remarkably decent recall (and I'm trying to keep it up), but I can tell adolescence is just starting. It's really hard to hold her attention; even playing tug is tough to hold her. She can't keep her mind on chewing or eating! Only the raw bones can lock her brain for more than a few minutes. Silly puppy.