I was introduced to tracking a few years ago when I heard about an excellent instructor who had moved into our area and was getting together a class. I chose to use one of my older Norfolks because I thought she was getting bored just sitting around, chasing squirrels and also because I felt my other breed, Labrador Retrievers, would drag me all over the lot and I'm getting too old for that sort of thing. It turned out to be a good choice because "Trolley" perked up and caught on to the game quickly and had a wonderful time every time out.
They say it helps if your dog has had some obedience training, but "Trolley" had not and we made out fine. There is a special harness that the dog wears. We were given a pattern and everyone made their own. It is made of web nylon (the width depends on the size of the dog) and "O" rings at strategic places. Basically, it consists of a cross piece over the back, a breast strap and side pieces that go all the way to the tail in a continuous piece with a floating ring in it. A 30' to 50' web lead is attached to that ring. When working, the pull is distributed equally on the side pieces rather than on the shoulders as a conventional harness would do.
We started training in early evening when there was little dampness on the grass. We used an area with rather short grass and, hopefully, little wind to throw the dog off the scent. We wore leather soled shoes, if possible, and used leather items, either a glove, wallet, or belt, as the items to be found.
In the beginning we put our dogs on sit/stay, or, in my case, staked on a short lead, where they could watch what we were doing. Right in front of the dog we stomped down a circle in the grass and then started in a straight line, into the wind, we scuffed through the grass; you want to leave plenty of scent. Our first lines were quite short so the dog could get the feeling of achieving easily. At first they watched our act with a great deal of curiosity, but when they had done a couple of runs, they would get quite excited and their tails would go as if to say, "let me go, I can do that easy."
Our first tracks were maybe only 25' and were extended only when the dogs were really tracking down the line properly. At the end of the line, we dropped a leather item and a piece of liver or hot dog and planted a stake with a flag on it. We walked straight back to the dog in the same footprints. Halfway back we laid down another piece of bait and planted a flag.
Now back to the dog and snap on your long lead. This lead is not to lead or direct in any way, it's just a means to keep up with your dog. The most important thing to remember in tracking is that there is never a thing said in the negative. No No's. I liked that part. You can say anything to your dog -- you can talk to them all the time you are working them. You tell them how wonderful they are, what a good job they are doing, and how much fun you are both having.
The basic thing to get the dog to do is put their head down to the ground and use their noses. I found that this only comes naturally to a Bloodhound. Everyone else has to work a little harder. but once the dog figures this out the rest is easy.
As you progress, the length of the course is extended and turns are put in it. And finally someone else will lay the course with you and your dog out of sight. You will approach the course with only the flags to assist you in knowing if your dog is on scent.
Everyone should try tracking at least once. You will simply not believe the capabilities your dog possess until they are tried.
ANTIC, Spring, 1988
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