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.

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