AKC tracking dogs tend to fall into one of two categories: Track-focused (Milo) or Article-focused (Pip). A track focused dog loves tracking for tracking sake, blissfully blowing over articles as if they are so much junk littering the track. The job with them is to make the articles relevant.
The majority of the dogs I have trained have tended to this.
Pip is cut from a different cloth. She loves the articles. For her, the track is something that may or may not help her on the way to her goal: the article. My job with her is to make the track an interesting place. My first thought was to use food - freeze-dried lung. But lung was too strongly scented, it caused her to duck downwind and then cone back up to the food.
Okay... so I moved to clicker work - tossing food in front of her. And that helped - it usually does - but it didn't seem to change her mind about the track much and, left to her own devices, she would stand, nose up, air scenting for the article and then head for it in a straight line - track or no track under her feet.
Back to the drawing board we go.
Now, the good news about my girl is that she is both fabulously food-focused and delightfully play-driven. I decided to use both forces in my new approach.
I shortened the track way down. I used two small tupperware containers with her breakfast in them. And I dug out Pip's all-time, bar-none, best-thing-in-the-world toy - a floating kong on a rope. I stuffed it in a glove with a bit of the rope sticking out of it. I laid the track with short steps, I left the tupperware lid downward in the track, tucked into the grass so nothing was exposed. Along the way I dropped single pieces of kibble. At the end, I deposited the glovekong.
With Pip on a short lead, I worked her down the track. Gently refocusing her onto the track with a movement of my fingers should she start to work the airwaves nose up. It took two tracks (and two meals) and two games of fetch that kong for her to suddenly begin to grasp the THRILL that is staying on the track.
That was 10 days ago. Yesterday, when she lost a turn at the crest of a knoll, she cast around and barked her frustration. Excellent! She also pulled so hard she had her front feet off the ground for a few steps. Not ideal but I like the commitment. NOW I can start working on details of the work. As with all training, it is a balance between motivation and precision. Without motivation, you cannot ask for (or get) more precision. I never know what is ahead in this sport, but I know now that we are better equipped as a team to move forward, now that she sees the point of both the track and the articles.