Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Working The Young Dog

Dustin (above) has now been with me for about a year and a half. I don't work him nearly as hard as I worked Sunny; he doesn't demand it of me, for one thing. At this age, she was deploying on searches. He is still working on formal tracking at a pretty low level and air-scents more or less as he sees fit.

One reason for this aside from his drive (and mine) being lower is that I have no current training partner. For air scent, there's only so far you can go by thanking the dog for pointing out your neighbors -- though it's a great start! Tracking, at least, I can do by myself for quite some time yet.

The method I picked up from Mary Adelman (yes, her again!) with asides from the book by Lue Button is to put out straight lines with articles dropped on them and to teach the dog to find the articles by finding the line. At the articles, the dog should down and take his reward. The chief difference between Adelman and Button is the age of the track suggested. The first recommends working in the one-to-four hour window of track scent, which is primarily crushed vegetation with only traces of human scent. The second suggests working at a full day's age. At this point the crushed-vegetation scent is gone, but a good bit of the human scent is also. Working back from this point apparently worked well for her. With Sunny I did the hour-old tracks first, with very short stretches between articles, and she jumped to day-old tracks easily. However, since human "trail" scent is very strong in the first 45 minutes or so, and in the fourth to tenth hour of the trail or so, when we started running trails with the SAR team which liked to work quickly, she became a little drunk on the scent and followed air currents too easily. She worked well in the tracking window, and once she'd worked a while on the hotter trails, she figured out that if the scent appeared to go one way on the breeze and another on the ground, she should look to the grass.

For now, Dustin is getting articles around every twenty paces -- not too exactly, as while a dog cannot count to twenty as far as I know, they do get a feel for "There ought to be an article around here somewhere." He has to work out turns and some changes of vegetation. I've learned that he doesn't care to work across pine needles and greatly prefers tall grass to short. He's learned that if he works at it he finds the articles and gets cheese. We're getting somewhere.

What's an article for us? I don't lock him in on leather for schutzhund or on gloves and wallets for AKC tracking; someday we may need to find an actual person or run the VST. Real people and VST tracklayers are prone to dropping things like water bottles, soda cans, business cards, and other oddities. He does get some gloves and leather bits. He also has to identify voided credit cards, metal washers, keyrings, and the like. To my surprise, just as Sunny did, he likes metal articles. I like the cloth ones I made from a pair of hot pink sweatpants, as the color is highly visible to me and utterly lost in the grass for the dog.

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