Thursday, June 18, 2009

Train For What You Want

There are a few deceptively simple rules of dog training. The one that seems to be easiest to unintentionally mess up is "Don't teach the dog something that isn't what you want her to do." Some of it is that you have an active little brain sitting beside your left foot, soaking up all sorts of information you don't even realize you're telegraphing. Some of it is that we're working on pretty complex tasks without realizing that, either. Some of it is simply that we don't sit down and define our goals before we start.

For instance, we may have the goal, "I want a tracking championship from the AKC for this dog." This is laudible. We trot out the door, tracking articles tucked into armpit, tracking flags clutched in grubby little fists, and -- now what? We have the dog, the harness, the long line, and probably four contradictory books to work from. We have a buddy or two who's managed to teach a dog something at some point. We have a dog sitting nicely saying, "You want me to do what?"

Now it's time to clarify the goals. The tracking champion has to complete a TD, a TDX, and a VST title to get the overall title. Each requires a few different skills. For the TD, the dog needs to be able to work a quarter-mile of track with three to five changes of direction, aged 30 minutes to 2 hours. The track is laid by a stranger. The dog must find the article (a glove or wallet) at the end without going too far from the actual line of footprints, working on a long leash, with the handler able to say encouraging things. The TDX is longer, with up to seven changes of direction, and older -- three to five hours -- with cross tracks by other humans. Both are primarily on vegetation, though the TDX may have obstacles such as street crossings. The VST is a different sort of problem altogether. It may run down sidewalks or streets, through buildings, and into other terrain with no vegetation, and it contains scent articles of several different materials.

Full information may be found at, but the PDF files with the details are currently balking at working with my computer -- go figure.

Remember, according to Syrotuck's research and to most dogs's behavior, a track on vegetation at one to four hours is a very different thing from a trail at thirty minutes, or, oddly enough, five hours. To earn the title, your dog will have to work both sorts of scent. Dogs who start with trail scent tend to have problems switching to track scent (though not all of them do), so you will probably want to start with track scent. Since it's primarly crushed-vegetation scent, you will then have to work out a system for getting your dog to care about it.

Likewise, you're going to have to get your dog to care about articles. This is different from police and SAR searches; your dog doesn't get the person at the end, just a glove. For a shy dog, this is great. For a person-oriented dog, a glove is nothing worth a quarter-mile of sniffing unless you make it so, and he's probably not going to feel any need to show it to you if you don't teach him that's what you want. To pass the VST, he's going to have to find all sorts of peculiar objects that smell of the tracklayer, possibly including a water bottle or soda can, and he's going to have to distinguish those in a way that makes you stop to pick them up. After all, the person on the end of the leash also has to pass the test. A rewarded down on the article, trained in early, is essential.

So what do you need? You need your dog to know the difference in reliability between ground scent and blown scent. You need her to have a strategy when the scent changes direction. You need a good solid indication on an article, keeping in mind that dogs tend to revert to their first training -- and if it's that tracks don't have articles on them, she may not remember to stop later when they do. You need her focused on the act of tracking, not the person at the end, because there won't be a person at the end. You need her socialized to different terrains before she has to work tracks in them, because asking her to track in a city before she's seen one simply isn't fair to her powers of observation.

Nope, I don't have the CT of my dreams yet. We're working on it, one article and turn at a time, one trip to the city for sniffies at a time, one change of altitude or crossing of driveway at a time. My last dog probably could have earned one, if I'd been able to take three or more weekends to quest after it, but those were the SAR days, and we stayed available for missing-persons calls instead. She worked with a low nose; she worked in the tracking-scent window; she did very well on VST-style problems. In one exercise we tried, she had to find gum wrappers rolled up to the size of toothpicks and planted in sidewalk cracks -- and she did, once she realized that was the goal. This also solved the Law of Custodians, which is that one will come along and clean up your tracking articles as your problem ages even if nobody has done so in the previous week.

For the next few posts: details!

No comments:

Post a Comment