Monday, June 29, 2009

Returning after a Dry Spell

How much does a dog forget? Some of that depends on the exercise, some on how often the command has been used before. It's been three weeks exactly since I last tracked with Bruce and Dustin, but we tried it this morning.

Sometimes health concerns (in this case, a strained muscle in me) interfere, and sometimes weather (in this case, highs in the high 90s, which is Too Darned Hot) interferes. The nice thing about scent training is that it's so instinct-based the dog is unlikely to forget altogether. He may not remember what your words mean, but he will probably remember something of line-of-scent and find-the-thing on his own terms. For you, it's largely a matter of re-attaching the labels.

To my surprise, Bruce jogged over to his tracking flag, discovered there was an article beside it, and lay down on it. He'd worked five little puzzles before this, downing on an article a grand total of twenty-five times before. For whatever reason, though, he remembered this was the way to earn cheese. He also sniffed out the first two articles on the track very nicely. The last two were less nice. It turned out I'd laid his track right through Pee-and-Poo Central without realizing it, and his distraction threshold is still very low. He's not quite five months old, so we just plodded on through with lots of "Look! There's one!" and cheese and belly rubs. On a long track, this would have been dreadfully frustrating for both of us. On a forty-short-step track, it's not a big deal. On the next one, he'll probably be a more focused boy, as now he knows the reward for getting to the end is so much cheese even he's not sure he can eat it all.

Dustin, too, did pretty well. He had eight articles, missed one plastic one -- and that for the excellent reason that he was too enthusiastic to stop for it. He still has a slight tendency to zigzag to read the news, but that's fading as his fondness for the puzzle is growing. He actually worked better after the layoff than he did when we've worked every day for a week, and there's probably a lesson for me in that. I had him do an air-scent search for the missing article, which puzzled him a little but which we did get sorted out, and then we did some agility-type fun. Now that I know he can get there, I'll have to get a picture of him on the roof of the outbuilding. This time I didn't have the camera handy and only asked if he wanted to get the stick that was up there. From the right angle, this could be a rather impressive shot.

Perhaps I can teach him to clean the gutters...

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