Please watch the following video in which Robyn and Ben run through this entry level exercise to begin your indoor tracking project. Hopefully it will give you an overview of what you are aiming for.
What follows is a written breakdown of the process, here are the main points:
You and your dog are looking for a start point behind the place where either you or your tracklayer placed treats ahead you. This is the point from which you start your track.
From this point, holding your long line fairly close to your dog, you take a step forward towards the treat and concentrate on what your fingers are doing on the line. Remember the line slipping exercise from part two? This is the moment. Hopefully you completed lots of practice to make ‘slipping’ the line feel as natural as possible?
In an ideal situation, you will press your fingers onto the line just enough to sustain a nice connection between your hands and the back of the harness. The dog pulls the line through your hands at a nice even and unimpeded pressure as s/he goes forward to collect the treat. And then s/he will pull the line forward some more when s/he begins tracking.
Until this point one thing we haven’t been able to practice is the impact of you looking down at your dog. In the second part of the project we explained that your vision might cause you to interrupt what your dog is doing. This is one reason why your first track disappears around a corner. As you step forward, the line slips, lift your eyes and look at the corner ahead of you. The corner where your track turns.
When you feel the line moving in your hands, concentrate on it, try not to grab it, let it slide comfortably. Try to keep your eyes up. And as your dog is moving into view ahead of you now you can hold on to that line (so that it doesn’t drop on the floor). The appearance of your dog moving ahead of you is your cue to walk. Start walking forward.
You are aiming to sustain that nice connection between your hands and the back of the harness described above. At the same time you must enable your dog to take the line out in front of you. Your dog needs to be able to keep moving ahead of you. S/he needs to be able to take enough line out from your hands to sniff the track and enough freedom to follow freely where his nose takes him. BUT in order for you to get feedback, a message from your dog (for example telling you where the track goes), through the line, you need to learn from now how to manage the tension GIVEN TO YOU by the dog. Tension which comes from your dog moving NOT from your hands pulling.
Your dog appears in your peripheral vision out in front of you and you start walking. Hold the line and try hard to feel. Is your dog ‘asking’ for more line to slip? Or, is the line feeling a bit soggy? You’ll learn quite quickly over these short, safe tracks how and when you’ve found a nice connection with the harness that feels comfortable for you and enables your dog to move.
You have three things to do:
1. Keep your eyes up and look ahead.
2. Feel and slip the hold the line.
3. Followed by walk and hold the line. Walk and follow. Pretty quickly you will both be around that corner and at the end of your track. We have purposely suggested that your track is about the same length as the length of your long line or only a little longer. this means that whilst you get the hang of the line, your dog will be able to complete the track and avoid frustration.
Come to the point where your dog will hopefully be enjoying the treats left on the track. If your dog enjoys lots of praise, now is the moment, *let him enjoy his treat without interruption and then tell him how brilliant he is and if he likes to be petted that might preferable to throwing a toy about and over exciting your dog (there is more to this but we can cover that another day). If you have a track layer standing quietly behind the treats, if the dog goes on to indicate the track layer too, repeat the praise.
With the description in mind please watch as Jo and Inka run through their track for you. In this video the camera travels with Jo as she lays the track. This particular track begins in the garden outside so that the light helps you to see more clearly the moment the line is picked up
As you can see the shape of the track helps the handlers to let the line and dog move away in the first part and both handlers follow smoothly so that their dogs are able to track and reach the place where they left treats.
I am being very careful not to say “the end of the track” because a track is complete on the recovery of a track layer…… I will share more on that important distinction, the evidence and the science which inform it in our ‘out of lock down’ workshops, courses and clinics.
In the case of a waiting track layer
Although it’s tempting, please encourage your track layer to wait quietly and to definitely not call your dog. Let your dog figure out the value of dropping his nose to the floor rather than responding to a call. It might be that when your dog follows the track s/he will want to go and acknowledge the track layer before attending to the treat pile. That’s actually fine. Don’t worry about it, you can indicate the treats after your dog has ‘found’ your track layer.
On our courses we explain how we utilise the naturally occurring order of ‘indication’ as a measure of confidence in both handler and dog and how this data can be recorded as a developmental part of the partnership.
Have fun with several of these short indoor tracks each day. Use these repetitions to train your hands. Remember it is YOU that is the learner here not your dog. Note how much more confident your dog becomes at taking the line and putting his nose closer and closer to the ground. Consult your plan and try out all the track pattern options that you have available to you. Remember to reverse your pattern (refer to blog number three for guidance) Begin to experiment with doors and windows being open so that you experience tracking with drafts and breezes. Concentrate on developing your skills.
We will be back with guidance on designing more complex track patterns indoors.
Troubleshooting: for the dog who doesn’t spontaneously follow the line of the track: The main reason why this might happen is your dogs prior training history of you. Some dogs will be expecting you to give verbal instruction. It is extremely important that you try hard to resist involving yourself with your dogs part of tracking and concentrate on your own.
As you are standing tall and looking forward, you are in fact giving a cue. It may be that this style of cue is new to both you and your dog. That’s ok. Because your dog is a dog with high level observational skills s/he will pick it up very quickly.
Please try to keep your shape (eyes up, feel the line, leave your hands low) and if your dog hasn’t
spontaneously begun tracking, simply walk forwards, as if you are re-laying the track.
At this moment you will need to make a judgment
• If your dog is generally confident elongate the pause before you decide to walk forward (give him
time to sniff out and follow the track)
• If your dog generally lacks confidence you might want to reduce the length of this pause in order
to reduce any pressure on you both.
When you reach the treats, point them out to your dog. Give lots of praise as your dog enjoys these treats (*as described above, be careful to give your dog space if s/he can be aggressive about food).
Set up the track again (at this stage, you can use the same track plan). And repeat two or three times. Very quickly your dog will begin to track and take you to the final pile of treats. When you come to a new track plan you will find that your dog will be less hesitant.
[The recommendation of this “eyes up-responsive hands lowered” cue is significant for those that might wish to expand their tracking career. I will share more on that extremely important point, the evidence and the science which inform it in our ‘out of lock down’ workshops, courses and clinics.]
*For the dog that is not safe around food treats. Replace them with small articles belonging to the track layer. Articles that you can safely play with, with your dog. But, be aware that we have not covered ‘articles’ in this blog owing to the specific inadvisability of handling items on the outdoor ground during the 2020 pandemic.
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