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.


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.