Monday, June 8, 2009

Tracking: "Believe Your Dog"

The chief reason some dogs, and some people, don't do scentwork well has nothing to do with the nose and everything to do with the brain. At some point, the dog has to learn and accept that his handler doesn't know everything so that he can demonstrate what is called "intelligent disobedience." Force-trained dogs are often not good at this because there's always been a penalty for disagreeing with the handler. Certain agreeable-by-nature dogs aren't good at this because the handler is The Reason To Live. Certain handlers aren't good at humility.

If we humans knew everything, of course, we wouldn't need the dog's nose to tell us where to find the quail, the contraband, or the track.

Today's track with Dustin was aged about 1 3/4 hours, started off along the driveway, made a left across the driveway, went down two levels of terracing, and then made a 90-degree right and a roughly-135-degree right.

Today's track, I the boneheaded handler utterly forgot where to go from the starting flag and had to explain this to Dustin. I will put it down to momentary loss of mind, especially since I thought to myself, "Hey, I'll have to remember this one extra-well because I'm short on flags." However, after a few moments of grave doubt, he went and found the articles for me. I would have preferred this to happen a little further along in his training, but now he knows that some of the responsibility is his. He even found the 9-volt battery I was using as the metal article.

The terracing didn't bother him a bit, even the one that went through some nasty screening brush; if anything, he seemed to appreciate the extra amount of scent left behind on all those bushes. I dropped the lead and let him work that out on his own. He bashed right through where I had and waited in a nice down on the business card a few paces beyond. What errors he made were the sort a dog with an excellent nose makes -- he kept finding those miniscule wisps of trail scent, the ones that scent theory says are not there at that age, and veering onto them instead of the track itself. He'll figure out eventually how to find the shortest distance between two points, even on those occasions when his handler has forgotten which two points we're working with. Meanwhile, and this is no bad thing either, his article search is excellent.

Good boy. Intelligent boy. I'm glad to know that he has learned the lesson of fallibility. I, of course, learned plenty of humility training Sunny, my last scent dog, since she was smarter than not only a fifth grader but also a good many college graduates. For that matter, I have my supply of flags to show me that I am fallible. Somehow, mysteriously, I have gone from having a pack of twenty-five to having barely enough to work three dogs on straight lines. My flags have gone where pens and socks go.

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