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...

Equipment

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.

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