The warm spell has begun. Temperatures jumped from below zero to about forty degrees on Saturday, and our accumulated snow (over a foot at my house) began to melt. This meant Saturday was our last chance for snow tracking!
I planned my track in advance. I've been working on getting strict focus right from the start of the track, instead of Laev's usual "Ooh, tracking!" launch at high speed. One thing that works well is to approach the track from an angle, so that the track could run in any direction from the flag (not straight out); jumping forward means she loses the track. So we'd do that. We'd also have an article just a few paces in; she's not used to finding articles that quickly, so that might surprise her and prompt her to think instead of rushing the track.
When I arrived at the tracking field, much of it was already tracked. No problem -- we'd use a crosstrack, too, so that Laev had to concentrate on her track.
Well, I just kind of ignored the rest of the conditions. Not entirely, of course -- when, while I was pondering how to cross a running stream of melt, the deceptively safe ground I stood upon turned out to be a melting ice bridge which collapsed and dropped me calf-deep into running snowmelt, I didn't entirely ignore that. (I spent the next 6 hours with cold, sodden socks and boots.) But I hadn't taken the melt into account while I laid track. I put down six articles in all. About 45 minutes later, I brought Laev to the start.
Laev was eager to track and rushed straight from the flag, going right off the track (which actually started to the left). She self-corrected and went down the track to the first article. "Eh?! What's this doing here?" She backed away from the article, looked at me, and said clearly, "I'm not lying down in this slush."
She had a point; my footsteps were filled with water. Snow was floating on the field. Her slick Doberman coat wouldn't be much protection.
But I couldn't let her be reinforced by continuing the track without performing the previous behavior in the chain. So I held her collar, gently insisted on at least a crouch, threw some hot dog down and released her to track. Right into the cross track.
Oh, my. How could I have missed that this crosstrack was baited with hot dogs?! Laev hesitated, sniffed both tracks, and then started eating. Reinforcement for exactly the wrong thing, and who can blame her? Bad tracklayer!
We got through that somehow -- "No, no, track! Your track! Track! Good girl!" -- and went on. Now the snow was no longer floating on the field, but every footstep was full of about 3" of water; it had started seeping in after I made prints. Laev didn't bother eating most of the treats I'd left occasionally. She did NOT like the articles, however. She offered me alternate indications -- "Look, lady, I'll point at it with my nose, or paw at it, but let's NOT do the down, okay?" -- and I had to again take her collar and insist. The track is just too powerful a reinforcer for her; she can't have it unless she performs the previous behavior in the chain. If I had predicted the awful cold, wet conditions, I could have used fewer articles and avoided this conflict.
The serpentine again proved to be the best device for forcing Laev to pay close attention to each footstep. At the final article, she pawed it, backed away, got distracted by something in the distance (pure displacement!), pawed it again when I prompted, backed away, and downed. Big hot dog party! And I kicked myself again, because there was a big pile of dog poop just a foot away from my article, which I had totally missed in laying the track. Bad tracklayer -- and bad dog owner, whoever that may be.
So, we'll have some cleanup work to do.
In other news, I really, really need to work on getting and reinforcing the sit before the blind search. Laev is happy to heel for bitework, but she hates sitting at heel. Boring! Let's just straight to the fun parts! So I need to do more there.