Monday, March 21, 2011

A tracking we will go....

After stopping off and getting hair cut tonight I took the dogs out tracking. I had thought to take just Leo but Vegas was chomping at the bit when I got home and acting well rested and recovered. So after changing clothes and donning the dogs in their collars and harnesses, we were off. For most after work practices at least until the weather is a little more reliably dry and the days lengthen a bit more, we're mostly using the park three blocks or so down the street. It's convenient and only receives light use which minimizes distracting scents for end of day tracks.

I brought along Vegas' choke chain and some chain lengths with snaps that I have used to secure things in the back of my truck and hooked Vegas up to the step bar on the side of the truck. She gets so worked up in the truck I thought this would work better where she could be outside and see me and the chain prevents her from both pulling and chewing through. Yes, she has that kind of anxiety. She still whined quite a bit except when I was walking the track back toward her, but at least she was secure and non-destructive.

The first track was for Leo. He's the one that got the short end of the stick (pun not intended) over the last few days. The first for both dogs was a double-laid, straight track of approximately 15-20-30 paces. The track traveled along a fairly flat to lightly sloped plane until it dipped slightly downward in the latter 40 paces or so. We were moving toward the river and the air was still.

I can't figure what it is but tracking seems to work the "pee" out of my dogs (and sometimes more). We had barely started the first track and Leo had to make a pit stop. Silly dog. Moving on, he nailed his track in fairly short order with little correction except when he got overzealous and drifted too far left or right. I'm still trying to primarily use neutral colored articles for Leo since I want no opportunity for sight-tracking. So far so good - he's an ambitious and energetic little chipmunk. I had to trot to keep up with him at one point.

After Leo's first track was complete it was time to pick up the flags and articles and lay Vegas' track. She had basically the same track but about 25 feet west of his. She did really well on her first track - after she relieved herself. She didn't dilly-dally and seemed to dig in and "get it."

Leo's next track I upped the ante a bit. I ran it parallel to the road (East > West), double-laid, crossed over some non-grassy sections under a big tree, and plotted the course about 20-30-40 paces. Unfortunately some idiot decided to rev his car and peel out backing out of his drive and then sit and idle for no apparent reason so we had some distraction in close proximity that made Leo more cautious as he regularly looked around to make sure nothing would "get" him. But he still plowed ahead and worked this one out. He really seems to be moving from side to side which our friend, Beth, said is a sign of really following the odor. By then the breeze was picking up a bit, too, and could have been carrying the scent up onto the road where it wasn't as detectable. He ended up getting it though and it didn't take too long either despite the distractions and increased complexity. I was very proud of my little guy!

By then Vegas was chomping at the bit for her turn. Boy does track laying take time in comparison with working the track! Back into the truck with Leo, off to pick up the flags and articles, and back out to lay Vegas' next track. I might as well note something funny here. I tend to wear running pants when I go out with the dogs around home. I don't often wear them elsewhere but they wear well with the dogs and are comfortable. In this case, they also have a nice elastic waistband that makes tucking articles in my pants (around my waist) easy. However, at one point I started feeling like I was losing gloves and debated the wisdom of elastic. I thought they might be slipping down my pants legs and becoming deposited randomly around the park. Plus, I must look funny putting things in my pants all the time. :)

Next track for Vegas was a little lengthier and, like Leo's, ran East to West. I paced approximately 20-20-30 for her until I ran out of grassy surface. This one she nailed the first sections fairly quickly with me only having to stop and back up to redirect her once. The last leg was more difficult, though. The car was still idling with bass thumping, and there was a tree alongside our track. Apparently there were really good smells under the tree and there must have been excrement or something  else equally unsavory on the ground nearby, too, because I had to call her off a couple of spots to prevent rolling her clean self in it. The last leg was difficult. It took more than twice as long as the other track and the first part of this one combined. I had to redirect, and redirect, until I finally moved forward a bit and got her focus about 12 feet from the article. She still found it on her nose through tracking, but she needed some help. I'm not sure if her mind was shutting down or if it was the breeze that had kicked up throwing her off but I think we'll stick with simpler tracks for a while and not move ahead. I want it to be fun and for her to show the enthusiasm she does for nose work and agility.

I really had to debate on continuing for Leo. He certainly still had more "go" in him but the wind was increasing which is made all the more worse coming off the river. However, Leo was really amped up and that made my decision. I tracked diagonally across the park this time in a southwesterly direction, about the only area I had left on that side of the park without moving the truck etc. Same as before, double-laid, four articles, and this time about 20-25-35. I definitely noticed Leo drifting to the sides more on this track but he did well. At the next to last article, he really was struggling and kept turning back up toward where we had come. I think it was the wind carrying the scent and he just couldn't pick it up again. I tried redirecting him a few times and about half dozen tries and just before I had decided I would need to back him up to pick up the scent on an article again, I got him on it and could see him dig in and follow through. He's such a cool little fluff-ball.

And that was about it for the night. We headed home to make dinner and both dogs have been happily snoozing since. We got in just before the rain and enjoyed the fresh air while getting to engage their brains in an activity before relaxing for the evening. Happy Monday!


  1. Sounds like a great tracking day! We went tracking last week too and had a great time. I agree with you though - it takes so much time to lay the tracks, especially compared to how quickly the dogs run them!

  2. Amy - that's great that you guys got out and practiced tracking! What stage is Layla? Are you still laying straight tracks? Does she enjoy it?

  3. Sorry, I never got the email that you'd commented after me!

    Layla's not doing straight tracks, but I often start with a straight, 50 yard track as a motivator for her, just to remind her as to what we're doing. It's probably unnecessary, but it makes me feel better. If she isn't tracking, whether it's due to her coming into season or just being bitchy, I don't force the issue and walk her off. BUT I don't want to do that if it's because she's confused or unsure, so I make an easy, fresh, straight track in the beginning. Then if she doesn't track there, OR doesn't track on the regular track, I don't question taking her home. The "jackpot" on the glove of the short track is usually just a small pile of hotdogs, while the REAL jackpot (a can of wet cat or dog food) will be for the regular track.

    We aren't up to full length tracks, but we're doing about 150-200 yard tracks with 2-3 turns, usually 90 degree turns. Sometimes I'll have a training session where it's just one long serpentine line, so she works slight curves too.

    I haven't reduced the food drops too much. They're not in every step, but maybe ever 5 steps or so. Then after a turn I'll put a little more food down. I always take it as a good sign when she passes over the food, because then I know she's more interested in the tracking than the hot dogs.

    I do think she enjoys it! It's hard to say for certain because it's such a different frame of mind than agility and even obedience. It requires pure concentration, so she has a different personality when she's tracking.