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.