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?

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