Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Sarah: Indoor Airscenting Fun

Playing with Pip this AM up in one of the guest rooms, I put the anise-scented cotton ball against the corner of a closed door. Returning to my eager teammate, I told her to "Find!"  Zipping in, she went first to the location of her last find. Nothing. Then she went to the location of the find before that. Nothing. Then, having used all her memory had to suggest, I heard her turn her nose on. She started snuffling her typical pattern, circle out a bit from one "last seen location" and then the other. Checking a few spots out as she went back and forth, one to the other.

When this came up dry, she worked the perimeter going right past the cotton ball several times. I realized then that the scent was probably being pulled under the door into the other area, much like water might seep from one room, under a door, to another. And, with the scent being pulled away, it was largely "invisible" in the room we were in.

After about five minutes, Pip returned to me, sat and stared. I did not move, I did not make eye contact. Usually she breaks off in a few seconds and gets back to work, this time she did not.

We're new to this particular scenting game and my job is to protect her desire to try above all things. So, still without making eye contact, I took a few steps into the center of the room and told her enthusiastically to "Find!" From there she spun and went directly to the cotton ball. Click/toss a major treat.

Did I somehow orient her to the find? Not that I am aware of but much of the most interesting stuff in scent work handling happens well outside our conscious awareness. I'll certainly watch for it in the future.

Ms. Pip is picking up this game quickly, stay tuned for more reports on this fun canine activity.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Melissa: Back on Track

The snow is gone, the sun is shining, and it’s starting to feel like spring, so, even though it’s cool and windy today, it is time to TRACK again! It’s been a few months, so I decided to start the season off with a fairly easy, warm-up track. Four legs of moderate length and two articles, which for Milo is just enough to whet his appetite.

My 12 year old nephew was helping me by gathering clips and carrying items for me, and his younger brother and father were following along, so this was a family occasion, rather than my usual solitary time in the field. I laid the track, drawing my map, as usual, then let the track age while we had some lunch. After lunch I showed the map to my nephews and brother, explaining the two-points-make-a-line principle, and explaining cross tracks to my helper-nephew (next time he will lay some cross tracks for me),then we let Milo out of the car. He had already figured out what we were up to, and he was bouncing in the car as if on a pogo stick. I imagine the ticker tape in his Beagle brain was reading “SCENT-nose, tracking, scent-NOSE, tracking, scent- nose- TRACKING! LET’S GET GOING!!!

We headed up the hill to the start flag, harnessed a dancing Milo, and off we went! Milo sniffed around briefly and headed straight up the track, with me explaining what he and I were doing over my shoulder to my nephews and brother (I know Milo can handle me doing this, especially on such an easy track). I stopped a couple of times, as I often do, so that Milo will be comfortable and confident if I stop for any reason during a test. The first time I stopped, he sniffed around to make sure he was on track, then kept going with confidence. The next time he seemed to realize I was just asking if he was sure, and he surged ahead confidently. I love the communication we have as we track together!

Turns were not only not a problem for Milo; he clearly enjoyed the variety and wagged his long tail happily as he moved on with the confidence of an experienced tracking dog. In the past, Milo has sometimes seemed to view articles as insignificant detritus on the track and he has sometimes been inclined to skip over them. Not so today. Today he stopped abruptly for both articles, waiting eagerly for me to reward him and pick them up, then he quickly moved on down the track, tail wagging joyfully. A great start to a season that I hope will be filled with tracking adventures.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Melissa: Fall in a Field

I grumbled a bit as I grabbed my keys and headed out the door. Why, oh why does some neighbor have to play a saxophone by an open window starting at 6:30 every morning? I didn’t really feel like going out, but I wanted to find out who was so inconsiderate, so we could ask them to please shut their window before practicing.

Well, I didn’t figure out who our morning musician is, but I did decide that, since I was already out anyway, I might as well go lay a track for Milo. In theory I love going out to lay a track first thing in the morning. In practice, it’s hard to get dressed to leave the house, when I’m usually still padding around in pajamas and bathrobe with a steaming mug of tea. Actually, I scarcely qualified as “dressed” this morning, which I realized when I got back home and looked in the mirror to see my hair unbrushed, my shirt askew, with the collar cockeyed, and my nice blazer now covered with stick-tights. I don’t normally wear a blazer to lay a track. In fact, I don’t normally wear a blazer at all. It just happened to be the nearest thing when I grabbed for something to keep me warm in my not-quite-awake state. I was also wearing crocs, not my hiking boots, because that was what was by the door as I hurried out. Did you know that laying a track on a dewy morning in crocs is akin to taking a foot bath?

The field was heavy with dew and had a magical feel in the quiet of early morning. Apricot colored clouds piled high in the sky, shimmering in the sunrise. Fortunately, given my atypical garb, I was alone in the field—always a plus for this nature-loving introvert. I found my two points and walked, then looked back to see my path clear and straight, dark green through the light-colored wet grass. Birds called, but otherwise the morning was quiet. Too cool for insects to be on the move yet, but the wildflowers were raising their pretty faces to the sun. I lost myself in the joy of being out alone, and didn’t notice the stick-tights or the wet pant legs and socks until I got back to my car. And I didn’t care then, either; it had been the perfect start to my day.

Three and a half hours later I returned to the field with my happily dancing Beagle, both of us eager to run the track. The fields were now dry in the sunshine, the fragrance of fall-on-a-warm-day filling the air. A fragrance that instantly brings a kaleidoscope of memories to mind—riding my bike through leafy paths as a young child; running through cabbage fields for cross-country practice in high school; toting a heavy bag of apples across campus in college. I paused to relish my memories, then was brought back to the present by my gleeful Milo, who could hardly contain his excitement.

We ran the track, Milo tracking enthusiastically and well, me enjoying the connection with my dog, the connection with nature, and the connection with the part of myself that thrives on the simple pleasure of being outside with my dog. Another simple yet powerful memory added to my kaleidoscope of fall beauty.

Perhaps tomorrow I’ll find our saxophone alarm clock and lay another track.



Thursday, September 9, 2010

Sarah: ARE YOU READY FOR A FALL TEST?

Wondering if you're ready to try for your TD this fall?
Read on and find out...

You and your dog reliably and confidently do “blind tracks.”
This means someone else lays the track, no corner markers of any kind and then your tracklayer walks behind you and says absolutely nothing as you run the entire track.

Your dog confidently starts at all angles of legal approach to the flag.
Dogs learn what we teach them, and if we always approach a track so it is straight in front of the dog, then that’s what the dog thinks will always happen. I start angled approaches from the very beginning so I do not have to unteach something I should not have taught in the first place.

You and your dog reliably and confidently run tracks that are two hours old.
While most TD tracks are run at around 45 minutes, a slow team or two can push the later tracks up in age. You and your dog should be confident at two hours; if you were one of my students, I’d want you confident at 2.5 hours.

You can handle your dog while looking at the ground just in front of you, reading your dog’s behavior through the tracking line.
If it’s hard to get a blind track laid, then try this. Start your dog and look down at the ground. Follow and stop as the tension on the leash tells you to do and see how you do. This can be a very informative game.

Your dog reliably indicates articles in a way you can easily detect.
This means your dog stops himself when he gets to an article. It’s easy, if you lay the track yourself, to slow down or increase tension on the lead or move up the lead a bit or restrain your dog when the article nears. Easy but unhelpful as your dog isn’t learning to stop himself. So work hard not to indicate the article in anyway yourself, so your dog can learn to do his job himself.

Your dog works tracks enthusiastically without any food on the track itself.
Using food too much for too long can mean some dogs really don’t track well, or soon stop tracking, if food doesn’t appear on a regular basis in the track. While food can and should be used throughout training to reward increasingly specific behaviors, it should be used variably so your dog does not come to depend upon it in any way.

You can smoothly and briefly restrain your dog when he is on track or working a corner and he will lean into his harness and give you a good pull in the right direction.
At some point on a tracking test you are bound to get confused, second guess your dog and restrain him when he is correct. Luckily, you can train your dog to handle such moments using what I lovingly refer to as “dumb handler exercises.” This concept should be a part of every team’s development just as soon as the dog understands the task and is working enthusiastically.

You can follow your dog off track and, when he realizes he is off, he can refind the track and start off again with confidence.
Your dog leads and you follow, in tracking. So when your dog takes you off course, how quickly can you recognize his loss of scent signal and then, once you have planted your feet, how quickly can your dog problem-solve himself back to the track? Answer to both should be “quickly.”

Your dog can search for scent for at least three minutes without losing focus or enthusiasm.
This one can be difficult to set up - running acute turns up a hill can set up the situation - but whenever your dog is hunting for scent, relax and smile: this is a great variable for him to work. Try to keep your feet planted and your mouth shut - let him work. If he wanes, you can encourage, but until then, let him be.

You and your dog can confidently and successfully work a variety of cover and changes of cover including: sidewalks, bike and jogging paths, through openings between fields and from short to taller grass and back again.
Due to increasingly limited fields for tracking, the AKC loosened the rules around TD cover changes. So now, be ready for everything that is legal, and I would do some training on sand and gravel as well.

Your dog can sit in the car for hours, be taken out for walks and put back and still work the track confidently.
Some dogs are “rules” dogs - they believe what we teach them and are thrown off when things change. So if your dog is always tracked when taken out of the car at the tracking fields, he can be surprised when, at a test, he is taken out and then put back up again. Practicing this periodically can prevent this from causing confusion on test day.

Your dog works confidently in heat, rain and everything in between.

If you are a weather wimp, expect your dog’s tracking to be weather dependent. As my mentor, Judge Lily Mummert, used to say to me when I moaned about tracking in a downpour. “Do you know what the weather will be test day?” And she was right. Again.

Your dog works confidently at all hours of the day.
As per above, if your dog only tracks in the early hours, he may be thrown off by a high noon start time on test day. Mix up tracking times during training so this never becomes an issue.

You know the AKC rules, understand what is and isn’t “guiding” and how you can legally help your dog when he or she loses the scent.
It’s your job, as the human, to know the rules. It’s a heartbreak when a team who is doing well fails because of human error. It happens, but it doesn’t have to. Get a copy of the AKC rules. Read them, then if you don’t understand, ask people who do until you do. You’ll be glad you did on test day.


You can answer a confident YES to all of the above? 
You’re ready to test!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Melissa-- Tracking: A Channel of Communication and Connection

I stepped out into the sunshine, placed my steaming mug of tea and my book on the deck table, then let the dogs out to play. I turned to sit and watch the dogs do their wild morning running... but there was no running. All three dogs were engrossed in sniffing around a Jolly Ball in the yard right in front of the deck.

Clearly someone, most likely a wild canine someone based on the level of interest, had been visiting during the night. The thorough sniffing continued for several minutes, then Milo began to slowly and purposefully move up the yard, obviously following a track footstep by footstep. He paused every yard or so, casting back and forth a few inches until he found what he was looking for, sniffed to verify that this was what he thought it was, then moved on. His tail wagged cheerfully while he moved, slowed when he paused to check his work, then signaled his satisfaction when he started up again.

When Milo reached the crest of the hill, about 60 feet from me, he stopped, one paw raised, tail up and wagging, and stared at me. I smiled at him. He still stood and stared, tail wagging a bit faster. His request was clear-- "Follow me, Mom." As soon as I took a few steps in his direction, Milo turned, put his nose to the ground, and started again to slowly sniff his way along an unseen track, every now and then looking back to be sure I was following.

I love the dance of communication between my dog and me that tracking facilitates. In today's tracking fun, there was no formal tracking; no harness, no flag, no tracking line, and I neither set up nor initiated the situation. Nature laid a track, and Milo initiated our session together. Even though it was in no way formal tracking practice, I learned to read my dog a little better and we both felt the joy of being in sync on a track. I know that will benefit our "real" tracking practice when the snow has melted and we can get out again with harness and line.

I am an observer by nature, but I know I miss much that my dogs try to tell me. Tracking together provides yet another channel of communication, a channel that goes both ways, so that I better learn the language my dogs speak, they gain confidence in their ability to successfully communicate with me and in my responsiveness, and together our connection grows.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sarah: Working Variables: Persistence


 

One of the most important skills your dog can have in the sport of AKC tracking is a calm persistence about seeking the track once it is lost. And in AKC tracking - especially at TDX and VST levels - the track will be lost.

Having a dog who hunts for it independently and happily for five or more minutes makes refinding a lost track much more likely.


The challenge is - how do you create this situation without risking demotivating or stressing your dog? This is one way - play fetch in the snow. The toy disappears from sight making nose use key. Your dog is not in harness so stress is less likely to transfer to tracking and can be addressed away from the tracking fields.

It's pretty simple: When you have snow, toss the toy and let your dog hunt for it. (This can be done in tall grass as well but snow is ideal as visual searching is all but impossible). As long as your dog is happily seeking - be silent. If your dog becomes stressed or gives up - go to the general area and encourage them to look for it by pointing to the area and looking downward yourself.


Even if you see the toy, do not point to it but excitedly encourage searching and then throw a praise party when your dog "discovers" it on their own.

Don't have a toy motoivated dog? Toss a treat.


Now... while your dog is hunting observe yourself. How long can you tolerate this without becoming stressed? ....Relax.... Let your dog work.


Playing this game will increase your dog's searching behaviors and your tolerance for searching behavior - both are valuable assets in tracking.


Now please note two things: One, I thought she was on to the toy early but... I was wrong, oh well, in tracking get used to being wrong....and two, no command was given. This is not a "tracking exercise" but rather just an informal "keep trying" exercise.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Melissa: Restarting a Very Enthusiastic Dog

Ready... Aim... FIRE!!!!!!!

That's how Rowan used to approach tracking. His excitement would mount as we approached the flag, and when I told him "Go Track," he'd throw his head in the air, rear up on his hind legs, and CHARGE down the track... or where he thought the track might be, which was often not where it actually was.

I was tracking on my own and didn't quite realize how unusual Rowan's style was until I tracked with Sarah one day and she handled Rowan. I'll never forget her astonished exclamations as she followed him down the first straight track she'd laid for him. When she got to the end of that track, she scooped him up and tucked him under her arm like a purse to carry him to the next track.

How did this happen? As I said, I was tracking on my own and I was following training suggestions from a tracking book that said to place a flag at each corner. Of course I was enthusiastic with my praise when Rowan got to the article, so my boy quickly picked up that the fastest way to get that enthusiastic response from me was to run at top speed to the next flag. Yikes! Motivation was not his problem, but there was certainly no careful thought, or perhaps any thought.

After a long hiatus, I have just decided to restart Rowan in tracking, mostly because I love the challenge of trying to successfully communicate to him what the game actually is. Sarah always talks about the balance of working on motivation vs. precision. Well, Rowan is clearly not lacking in motivation, so I am focusing on precision.

For now, I want to communicate to Rowan that the start flag is a cue to put his nose down and start carefully - thoughtfully - following the track. I'm trying to figure out a way to separate that as much as possible from all other aspects of tracking, since fixing a problem often is easiest when it is dealt with apart from the context in which it usually appears.

To do this, I laid a simple, straight, short-stepped track with food in every other footstep. No article or even extra food at the end, since I don't want any excitement about an article or the end of the track. I want the track itself to be the most interesting thing for now. I didn't put a harness on Rowan, I didn't talk to him while he was tracking, and I didn't even follow him.

As you can see in the video, by the fourth such track, Rowan's tail stub was at back level at the start of the track (indicating less excitement and more thoughtfulness for him), but went up part way along the track. This is just an experiment I'm doing, and I'll certainly adjust and shift as I go along, but for now my plan is to continue with this sort of tracking until Rowan is thoughtful and careful for the whole length of the track, then I'll add in some other variable-- perhaps following him.

I'll keep you posted - this is absolutely a work in progress.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sarah: Article Indication: Stationary or Retrieve?

Been tracking like mad here in New Hampshire - both enjoying the glorious fall weather and hustling to get as much work done as possible before the heavy snows fall. Since I am developing Pip's article indication now, thought it might be a useful discussion.

There are two main styles of indication in AKC work: Stationary (downing or sitting at the article) or retrieving it. Here are the pluses and minuses of both:

Stationary Indications
Stationary indications are useful because, if you drop the line when your dog indicates, your line is probably lying right on the track itself. You get to move up to the dog, praise there and restart the dog - absolutely confident that the track is right where you are standing.

In training, this is a fairly straight-forward and easy thing to develop. Leave something mildly interesting in the articles  and then reward with something MUCH better from your hand. Since I lure train a down on my pups early, I just walk up to the dog quickly as they nose the article - praising warmly as I come - then put my fist, treat in hand, on the article. I wait. The dogs generally nose the fist for a moment or two and then down. When they down, I smile, praise and open my fist. Yum!

If the dog doesn't offer a down I will gently say the word - as a support - never as a "correction" of any kind. Articles are fun. Articles are easy. We love articles!

As the dog progresses, I take all food out of or off the articles - moving to rubbing them with something prior to placement and then to nothing. Always rewarding with great delicious treats from my hands.

Pluses:
Easy for most handlers to build
Uses behavior most dogs have (or can have quickly)
You know exactly where the track is. 
You get to move up the track to your dog.


Minuses:
Doesn't work if dog isn't food motivated.
Doesn't raise many dogs energy much (which the playful retrieve can).

Retrieving the Article
Here the dog picks up the article and brings it back to the handler, where play or food is given as a reward. The dogs who I have seen do this, seem to really enjoy it. The play that follows revs them up and they go back to work with an excellent attitude.

Pluses
Fun for the dog.

Minuses
Relatively few dogs have a reliable retrieve.
Even dogs with a reliable retrieve may not have them on every article used - metal, plastic, etc.

If handler isn't paying attention, can lose the track.

Okay, okay - my bias is showing isn't it? I do a stationary indication for all the reasons above. Mostly because my German Shepherd Dogs just didn't want to play when they tracked. They were w-o-r-k-i-n-g - couldn't I see that? They played long and hard off the track but on the track? Not interested.

Pip, however, is a more open-minded gal - she takes her fun anyway she can find it. So I ask for stationary indications at the midtrack articles that are rewarded with food and then, after the last one, we have a Kong-on-a-rope-fling-a-thon which she adores.

There is no one way and no "right way" - only the way that works for you. As long as you are consistent and relaxed about it, encouraging your dog's every effort, chances are good your dog will develop a decent indication.

There a plenty of games and steps you can take along the way as well as approaches you can take with a track happy dog (Ask Melissa about that one!) I'll cover some in a future blog.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Melissa: A Perfect Day

Cool and sunny, tall straw–colored grass bowing before the breeze--- this kind of day fills me with energy and wakes my mind. Milo and I spent the morning at the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation where there's a huge field by a large, mostly empty parking lot.

I laid a track that went through the field, across the parking lot (rough pavement), and back into the field with a turn in the middle of the parking lot and six turns in the field, some before, some after the parking lot. I love trying to think up a track that's going to be both educational and fun; it's like working on a puzzle but way more exciting.

Milo zipped through the tall grass, checked his work at the first corner by sniffing in each direction, then charged down the next leg. It's so cool to see him disappearing into the tall grass with just his wagging tail in sight.

On the second corner I tried to trick him when I laid the track by walking past the corner about 15 feet, then backing up and making the turn. No problem. He followed the scent to the end, then circled around till he found the next leg. Not only was it not a problem, but it seemed like ordinary business for him. What a dog!

Once Milo paused briefly to look closely at a beautiful, dewy web with a very large Orb Weaver spider hanging in it. Funny thing was, I had paused to look at it (and breathe a sigh of relief that I hadn't run into it) when I laid the track past it. Did he pause because I had and my scent was pooled there? Or did he pause because he saw the spider? I often wonder what goes on in that busy Beagle brain.

Two articles were the ordinary glove or leather piece, one was new and different-- a tube of hand lotion. Milo wasn't expecting that, and he went right past the hand lotion, so I stopped him, showed it to him, then treated him on it as I do with our regular articles. I'll be interested in seeing if he "gets it" next time I use something new.

The transition to pavement was no problem at all. Milo paused briefly, then pulled carefully but confidently along the track, even managing the turn in the parking lot with no difficulty. So much fun!!!! Tracking really is addictive, and all the more so when I can see progress from week to week.

I can hardly wait for tomorrow. I'm not sure where I'll be tracking, but I know I'll work with different articles and probably with different surfaces. Wherever we go and whatever we focus on, it's always such a special time of connecting with my dog in his area of expertise. I've always loved being a student, and it's fascinating being a student of my dog.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Sarah: A Few Tips on Starting a Dog



Here is a tutorial on how I generally start new teams in AKC tracking - from tracking laying to handling the dog. This is Bounce's fourth track, second day in the fields. This is Noelle's first time handling. Both did a fine job as you will see.

Enjoy!

PS: Had some good questions about me always dropping food on the left side of the track. That was a side effect of my filming myself, camera in my right hand.

This would be a "mistake" in schutz training but in AKC things are less formal and it doesn't create any problems I have identified so I did not sweat it. Usually I drop evenly one side and the other.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Melissa: Oh No! Have I Wrecked My Dog?

Milo is an amazingly talented tracking dog; Sarah earned two TD's with him before she gave him to me, and she says he's the most talented dog she's ever tracked with.

I, on the other hand, am a novice at tracking and have been rather unsure of myself. Until recently I mostly tracked on my own, talking about what I was doing with Sarah, but keenly aware that I could be making many mistakes since I had no experienced eyes on me. And with Milo being a very sensitive boy, I was worried that I'd wreck him as a tracking dog.

When I'd head out for a tracking session, I always had some anticipation, some vague idea of what I wanted to do, and a good serving of anxiety. Although I knew there were variables I should train for (remember my list of eighty-two variables?), I felt kind of helpless and like I was shooting in the dark. My dog knew how to track, but I know that tracking is a partnership and I felt like this end of the partnership was sadly unable to contribute in any constructive way.

Because of that anxiety and lack of confidence, any time we ran into a challenge, I immediately fell prey to discouragement. And not surprisingly, I communicated some of that discouragement to Milo, who would then become stressed by such things as the line getting wrapped around tall weeds or me fumbling with the line and getting it under his legs. Or, my mind would go blank and I'd be sure the track went in a different direction and insist to Milo that he was wrong. Oh dear... not a helpful partner at such times.

When Milo would become worried or stressed, I'd immediately take that as proof that I was wrecking his tracking ability and I'd become further discouraged, and so we'd spiral down.

Now, not nearly all our tracks were like this, but enough that it was hindering progress and diminishing my joy in tracking. Fortunately nothing seemed to diminish Milo's enthusiasm for tracking--- he was born to use his nose. I also knew enough to do my best to cheer him on and praise him for every little success, even when we were having trouble, so in the end he always left the field wagging his tail.

So, did I wreck my dog? Well, no, thankfully not, and now I'm learning how to approach our training in a much more constructive way, so we're growing as a team and enjoying the partnership.

What made the difference?

Starting with a plan for each session gives me something concrete to aim for, so I no longer feel like I'm shooting in the dark. I have two or three factors that I want to work on, so I lay my tracks in a way that will help me focus on those variables. Also, I look at "difficulties" that arise as opportunities to learn, and since I know I can address a difficulty we encounter today in tomorrow's tracking session, I don't feel overwhelmed or lost. Knowing that challenges are helpful and even necessary for the learning process enables me to welcome them rather than crumble before them.

Milo's and my communication is growing and so is our trust in each other. I now head out for a tracking session with a lot of anticipation, a fairly clear plan of what I want to address, and a great deal of confidence in my dog's ability to follow the track and to learn.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sarah: What Happened?!

The last workout I did with Pip, just before leaving to teach in Colorado, was a typical day out tracking meaning it made me cock my head and think, "Huh?"

Lately, I've been focusing on building Pip's drive for the game. That particular day the fields were lush and green, it had rained the day before, the air was cool -- it was, in all ways, a perfect day to track.

I had laid out three "L"s which could be clearly seen. As I walked Pip through the knee high cover, she pulled hard along my path. Things looked good!

Pausing near the start flag, as we always do, I harnessed her up and, anticipating what fun we were about to have, happily told her, "Track!" She... ate grass.

Now, grass eating is often a sign of stress in a dog - doubt, confusion. I paused. "Huh?" Add to this that Pip also eats more grass than your average Holstein so maybe a cigar was just a cigar and this was tasty grass.

In a nice, relaxed, happy voice I encouraged her onward. I'd rather risk rewarding the unwanted than stressing her about the sport. Her motivation just wasn't that deep yet (clearly) that I could quibble over details.

After a few moments, she got going and did a fine job. Not stellar but not terrible. What she did seem to enjoy was the hunks of fresh tuna in the tupperware hidden along the track. (And no, don't go out and buy tuna for your dog - Brian had gone fishing with friends and landed one and there is only so much tuna anyone can or should eat in a week. Pip was the happy recipient of the leftovers.)

Then off I went to Colorado, which means there was two weeks between workouts.

Today, I decided to be conservative. The workout was just three starts with straight legs. I had no idea what dog would show up in the fields today but I was concerned that if she had been stressed last time that a break in practice might have set her back a bit.

Pausing near the start flag, as we always do, I harnessed her up and, anticipating that she might stall or be distracted, happily told her, "Track!" She... put her nose down and TOOK OFF!

She worked quickly and confidently down the track to the first article. I rewarded her but before I could get back up she was off again. She tracked the legs between tracks, she hunted those corners briefly and effectively - she was on fire. Normally, I would stop a dog after the article and walk her to the next flag but stop a dog who is JOYFULLY making a giant leap forward? Not on your life!

As she tracked and I laughed, I also shook my head. This is one of the things I just love about tracking. All dog training is really just your best guess applied, assessed and adjusted. But in the sport of tracking that is never more clear.

I have no idea what happened to my dog exactly. Maybe the tuna was truly inspirational. Maybe taking a break helped her. Maybe the brandy new harness and two-tone 40' tracking line I got her had magical powers. ;) Who the heck knows. All I know is, whoever this dog is, can I keep her?