Saturday, 25 October 2014

Sniffity sniffity sniff, or, scent tracking for beginners

A few days ago, Daisy, Cybi and I went for our first tracking lesson with Heather Donnelly, of Tracking Lines. I've been wanting to try tracking training for a while, especially with Daisy, while she's such a "sniffy" little dog, so I was looking forward to our introduction to it - I want eventually to try working trials with my pair while trials seem such a good hybrid of obedience, agility and scent work, but I'm a bit intimidated by the whole sport. It seems like such a small group of people doing it,  there are so few clubs and the dog has to be at such a high standard even to do the basics! My thinking is if I do some sessions that cover the different elements then perhaps I'll have the nerve to take them along to an actual club, and we can see how we get on.

Finding the actual field proved to be the most challenging part of the whole undertaking, as it turned out - I got to the general vicinity without a problem but then took the wrong minor road (there were two to choose from, and the unerring ability to pick the wrong path is a universal in my life - who knows, maybe it's some kind of metaphor?!) But we got there eventually, and got started.

Daisy had eaten her harness a few days earlier. She executed a surgical strike on the clips, leaving the fleece untouched, the the little horror. (Side note: the guys at dog-games-shop deserve an award for their customer service - I emailed them to see if they did repairs: they don't but they sent me replacement clips for nothing) so we had to borrow one from Heather - a beautiful tracking harness made from bridle leather. If tracking was something either of them end up being good at, I'd seriously consider buying one. And then keeping it well out of chewing range.

Teaching the absolute basic track using lots of treats was fairly straightforward for both of them, as both my dogs have quite a lot of confidence in going ahead of me, and enjoy figuring things out for themselves, and so they really quickly got the idea that they could follow a (short, straight) marked track and get lots of lovely treats along the way, as long as they sniffed them out. Even at the very start of their training, it's obvious that Daisy is quite careful and methodical and enjoys actually working her way down the track, where Cybi is motivated to do a job (in this case track) and is rewarded by the praise and treats he gets at the end.

Thanks to Heather's expertise, they learned to do their first corners (apparently tracks that are laid for competition are made of a series of straight legs, linked by 90 degree corners) and also figured that out quickly. Based off our first lesson, it would seem that it's me that is going to be the weak link - I now need to learn about tracking line handling, track setting (including paying attention to wind speed and ground conditions), encouraging the dog at the right moment, knowing when to let them work it out for themselves....fortunately, I have a handout covering the basics, but I'm sure I'm going to be the one screwing it up for a while yet.

Here are the tracks we learned over the course of two hours (the second two also repeated with the corner going the other way):


The dog started from the bottom of the track in each case, and the dotted line marks the "walk in", or where they learn to pick up the scent they're going to be tracking. The triangles are posts with flags on them - first post to indicate the start of the track, and the second to show the end  (or a corner). These later flags will be phased out over time but are there for the moment to give the dog (and me) confidence that they are going in the correct direction.


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