If you spend much time walking in field and forest with your dogs, you will pretty soon get a sense of which one uses its nose most frequently; and that is the dog to start tracking. If you only have one dog, start anyway, and you will know pretty quickly if you have an apt candidate. At this point, I would scout around on the internet to see if there is a tracking club nearby; find out when they are having a tracking instructing day; enroll you and your dog, and get started with expert advice and supervision. What follows here, however, is a lesson on what you can do before you get started with formal tracking training.
You can begin, in your own yard, teaching the dog to “find it!” Put a buckle collar and a 6’ leash on the dog, but let him drag the lead. When the dog is not looking, walk away a short distance, and place a piece of kibble, or a little piece of cheese a small distance into the grass/weeds; move back to where you were, call the dog over, pick up the lead and tell him to “find it.” Indicate the place in which you put the treat by facing it, but don’t point or otherwise lead the dog. If you have to step closer and point at first, do so, but look at the treat (not the dog). Say as little as possible unless the dog tries to wander away, then just hold the end of the lead gently, and repeat the dog’s name and the command, still looking in the direction of the treat. Be patient and quiet, but when the dog finds the treat go berserk with joy, praise and patting. If you put the treat pretty close to begin with, the dog will get on to the game, and you can begin to lengthen
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the distance over which he has to hunt for it. Never hide more than one treat at a time; you want the dog focused on hunting for one thing.
When the weather is rainy or cold, you can play this game in a room. First of all, clicker train the dog by putting a collar and lead on him, placing a treat on the floor, and telling him to “Find it!”. Click and praise when he does! When he can do this well, at varying distances (even out of sight), place the treat under a glove or a leather wallet (which are the objects he might be asked to find in a tracking test) and tell him again, “Find it!”
Chances are he will paw at the glove or the wallet to see if the treat is there; but, if he doesn’t, walk over and lift the edge of the article to reveal the treat. Either way, click and go crazy with praise and patting when the dog “discovers” the treat under the article. Gradually train the dog to look for the article, and, when he finds it, give him great praise and the treat. Use the clicker and lavish praise to reward the dog for finding whatever you have hidden, always either hiding a treat with the article, or clicking and treating him when he finds the article. Whether you are inside or outside, you area ready to start tracking when the dog understands what you mean when you say, “Find it!”
Formal training to compete in tracking is time-consuming and demanding. You need partners to work with, an understanding of how to lay a track for your dog or someone else’s, lots of practice with good instructors, and persistence in all weathers. It is very rewarding if you can stick with it. Try the preliminary lessons outlined above, and then decide if you are ready to embark upon the pursuit of a TD!
Thanks to Sue for a great introduction to tracking. A comprehensive, book on the subject is William ‘Sil’ Sanders’ Enthusiastic Tracking, which is available through www.dogwise.com.
ANTIC, September, 2009
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