One of the first skills we will learn together is how to ‘slip’ the line in our hands so that our dogs can move forward with enough freedom to get their noses down, heads and throats extended and enough movement to follow the track. AND if we would like to know where we should and shouldn’t follow we’ll need to learn how to do this whilst maintaining enough line tension to receive feedback (interpeting the feedback, we’ll come back to that).
This is something that some of us generally find tricky. We have successfully taught dogs how to pull on leads for centuries by gripping hard and preventing forward motion 😀 …… (and then, rather cleverly, we built an entire industry on trying to get dogs to moderate their forward movement so that we could have the privilege of continuing to hang on to the toy in our hands aka a lead AND have a dog walk beside us!!).
But, if we would like to join our dogs while they are tracking, we’ll need to suspend efforts at external control (the track itself will be an effective control because tracking generates sought after and sustained internal reward). And instead we’ll need to decide to follow the line in our hands. And if we decide to follow the line in our hands, we’ll need to learn how to maintain a connection through it, with the dog, so that s/he can explain clearly where the track goes.
Before we get going, how about practicing some mechanical skills? The ideal situation is that the tracking line can be taken through your fingers as the dog begins to track forward, and that your hands are measured and relaxed enough to feel the line moving, under tension (provided by the dog) and that you generate enough self control (yours) to prevent your hands balling up into fists, gripping too tightly and preventing the line from moving. One of the reasons that we grip too tight is prior experience of our dogs when outside. So, we’re indoors in lock down. Advantage. We KNOW we and our dogs are safe. If needs be, we can simply drop that line (we’ll come back to that). All those external triggers that get us going, are gone.
Another reason some of us grip too tightly is that our vision feeds back to us all the time about an impending loss of control, we can see that busy dog working further and further ahead of us and for some of us, that becomes more and more uncomfortable. In tracking we need to make an exchange. Switch attention between what we feel in our hands, concentrate on the line, still travelling purposefully (and at one speed if we haven’t gripped) in the direction of the track which means that the dogs intention is simply to track (now to persuade ourselves to believe that!) versus our eyes spiking panic “argh, dog is already 10 metres ahead, alarm, alarm, grip, grab, control”. This is a tough one, so, the first exercise will deliberately be designed to disarm your vision and hopefully inform our dogs that they have control (we’ll come back to that with the next post and your design of your first track).
The video shows a line being let out under gentle, sustained tension. But it is defintely being let out and allowed to move away from the hands. Yep. Everytime we let a seat belt retract under tension we are practicing one part of line handling skills. I’ve included the video only as an exmaple. We are in lock down. We are not able to go outside and sit in cars and practice this stuff. And not all of us have access to cars anyway. But I wanted to try and give you a visual representation of what I’m trying to get at. So here it is. Now, your challenge is to find a way, inside your home, and staying safe to replicate and practice that 🙂 You can do it! Be inventive, but please stay indoors, stay safe and for the moment please don’t include your dog.