Tracking at any level requires consideration of the following:
Distance (length of track)
Cover (snow, grass, snow, stubble, snow, etc.)
Articles (i.e., all the odd socks and gloves you own)
Age (time since track was laid)
Turns (nothing fancy — that just means turns)
Weather (since hypothermia makes for a bad day)
Claire earned her TD (Tracking Dog) last Spring and is currently training to be ready for Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX) tests — it is a big leap between the two levels. (Note: If you are interested in starting a dog in tracking, please send me an email and I will forward you a brief article about that).
Before I started training Claire for TDX tests, I did an assessment of both our strengths and the new skills that will need to be mastered. For example, Claire typically has solid article indication since I train that early and often when my dogs are puppies. However, TDX requires increased difficulty and new elements that make it a very challenging test; Claire and I have some work to do in order to be ready.
Here is a summary of TDX test elements:
Distance: 800 - 1000 yards
Cover: Varies and includes obstacles
Age: 3+ hours
Turns: 5 - 7
CROSS TRACKS! Yikes. Two people cross the track at two points; dog must ignore these, of course.
Age does not concern me with TDX training — in fact, I went directly to three-hour tracks with Claire this season. Once you have had a dog pass a VST, you know that a three-hour field track is piece of cake for a dog. I do not fret about a track’s age at all.
I am not training Cross Tracks yet — I will introduce those in March. Why March? Why not?! Real reason: They take time and not good to introduce too much at once. Baby Steps.
It is winter in Montana — not much to be done about Cover. As the snow melts, we naturally transition to other surfaces.
That leaves Distance, Articles, and Turns.
I track with Claire twice a week. The tracks are always aged at least three hours but once a week I do a long and complicated track (5 - 7 turns), and once a week I do a shorter, easier track. I do not have any scientific plan for increasing distance — I just add length to that once-a-week long track, and that seems to work. Claire will also be very well-conditioned by the Spring TDX tests — that is also important for the length of a TDX track.
I use Articles as reinforcers on the track. In other words, Claire is well rewarded for finding articles, and I always have at least four articles on the track. My tracks ALWAYS end with a covered food bowl — that is a super reinforcer.
Earlier this week Claire ran a track that was three hours old BUT it had consistently snowed since the track was laid, and so all of the articles were buried. She worked hard on that track but we missed some (okay — most) articles. I could have been bummed about that but instead I was pretty thrilled that she ran the track, made the turns, and found her lunch at the end.
Since that track was so hard, I wanted today’s session to be easy with successful article indication. The track was aged the usual three hours, had five articles, was maybe 300 yards, included only three turns, and it crossed an easy ditch and an unused road. The cover was hard snow and field grass. The end of the track was her lunch in a covered bowl — as usual.
Claire ran her track well but needed help locating two of the five articles, which means I spotted the article after she had passed it and asked her, “What did you find?” That question clues her into the fact that there is something to find (and trade for a cookie) and she then initiates a search.
She passed the articles because she was tracking slightly off to one side of the actual track, which is not unusual but yes — it risks the articles.
Things that go imperfectly — like missing articles — are not a Big Deal. Rather, they are just information for future training session. Nobody loses a birthday when there is a misstep in training — or competition.
We track again on Monday. Based on today’s track, I will include 8 - 10 super smelly articles on Monday’s track and have exceptionally amazing treats for trading.
Experience has taught me that someday I will yearn to miss articles again with this dog. When you really know that — like know it in your soul — all that matters is the privilege of this dog on this day.
Life with Dogs — an Invitation to Perspective.