The Awaited Return...

Bailey finally got to track today.  I've either been too busy or it's been dark since we were given clearance to track that the poor dog had to wait until today to track for the first time since June.  Part of me was terrified to take her, for fear she'd be a complete nut job... and part of me was so darn excited to be able to work my dog again.

First surprise.  She offered loose leash walking, despite wearing her tracking harness.  I rewarded that heavily with hot dogs (hot dogs are not a common treat around here, so they're like... better than cheese).

Second surprise.  When I switched her lead from collar to harness, she didn't immediately lurch forward like I expected.  She was interested and started checking the ground out but there was no distinct "WHEE!" behavior I'm accustomed to.

Third surprise.  She indicated and STAYED while I picked up the first article (see, we all have our faults, I've not trained that piece of the chain very well... I'm lazy and normally wing it).

Her track was aged 3.5 hours, had 2 ninety degree corners, and 4 articles.  It started on short grass then went into tall grass and on into a wooded area.  I sent her over some downed trees and her first corner was just past a pine tree with no low hanging branches.  From there we headed onto a hayed path and into a hay field.  Here she really shocked me by turning to check in (she NEVER does that) and then getting off the track and finding deer poop to eat. I was seriously peeved because I've worked so hard (in the past) to keep her ON the track and not allow extraneous sniffing and crittering.  After we had a discussion (that was more aimed at me about laying shorter tracks to start back with... duh), she moved into the final leg where we had  a lot of fun.

The track exited the hay field, into a lightly wooded ditch, across the driveway, back up a lightly wooded ditch on the other side, and her end article was about 15 yards in the field.

She worked the exit from the field nicely.  Checked both ways before committing to heading down, moved quickly across the road (head down, YAY), then checked left and right before heading up the other side.  She was rewarded with her final article not far in.

I was really surprised by her relaxed working style.  I'm not overly concerned about today's session.  She hasn't done much of anything in over 3 months, so I'm sure there's a lot of other factors playing into this.  I do plan on laying tracks at least once a week though, and hoping for twice.  My biggest stumbling area is aging them.  I don't have a lot of daylight now and I'm not fond of tracking in a field in the dark...  Hopefully I can set aside some time one day of the weekend though and we can prepare for a TDX test in the spring!

TCOTC's Fall TD Test

I used my weekend wisely and laid tracks for TCOTC's Fall Tracking Test.  I always have another motive for attending events as a spectator and this was no exception.  I love hearing the feedback from experienced judges and I love watching handlers work with their dogs.

This time though, the best conversations were had outside of the field.

1} Article Indications
I don't pretend to know everything about tracking, my dog has only passed a TD so far.  Her indication is accurate (she places the article between her front feet), easy to read (lies down), and is incredibly solid (she has not indicated articles twice in her two years of tracking).  From the conversation today, very few people think it's important... yet it's essential to passing a test!  Most are taught by experienced professionals that the dog will just learn to indicate as they progress.  Yet, the handlers I was talking with all said they wish the indication was stronger... they just weren't sure how to do that.

A) Use a behavior the dog does easily... I usually ask "what is your dog likely to do" when discussing article indications.
-Bailey does a down--she will lie down in/on just about anything... she likes wet and gross.
-Buzz does a pick up and stand--I started asking him for a down but he just does not like laying in wet grass and he gets cold easily.  It changed into a stand then I added in the pick up so I can have exact feedback when he stops.
One handler today said he was going to try a paw target because his dog likes to use his feet... great!

B) Train the behavior away from the track.  You can still track while training the indication, but DO create a training plan for how to get that desired result.

C) When you start asking for the indication on a track, use a familiar article on a very short track.  Let the dog work it out.  Most make the connection very quickly.  If not, go back to doing indications.

2} Long Walk Ins
One handler let his dog run down the road to the place of their walk in.  They then walked for about 400 yards to the actual start flag.  By the time he and his dog reached the start flag, his dog was flying so high that he never really settled into his track.  The dog almost completed the track, but per the handler, he was difficult to handle.

I've experimented with this one a little bit.  I was so lucky that Bailey's TD track had a VERY short walk in.  I knew if we had a long walk in, I hadn't appropriately trained her for that, and we would have a much slimmer chance of passing.  It's something I've worked on a little since then.  Since the beginning, I've tried to make a distinction and ordeal about switching her lead from collar to harness.  This is a big clue to her that she's supposed to lean into her harness and track.  Sample training sessions included rewarding with treats for checking in while attached to collar and letting her move quickly when the lead was changed to harness.  I have not switched back and forth when approaching a start flag, though it's something I plan to do.
Example: today we got the last dog out of the car and "ready" too early.  The dog was headed toward it's start and needed to come back and wait.  If I asked Bailey to do that currently, I may have trouble getting her to settle and wait.  I plan to help her understand that we may not always get to approach the flag and it's not something she did to cause that.

Some people attach the lead to harness and let the dog work the whole walk in.  If your dog is physically and mentally able to do that, then go for it.  I know mine is not and it's not something I will do, nor suggest very often.  Even if my dog was two years old and physically able, I'd be afraid of mentally tiring at that point.  I like to stack the deck in my favor, so I want the dog at peak working ability when it comes time for the judging to start.

Tracking is definitely my favorite sport.  It's so much fun to watch the dogs work, and when you see a team that's just on, it's awe inspiring.  It's also not as easy as people tend to think.  I know some get by on sheer luck and dog ability, but it does require some training complete with training plans, to prepare each team to the best of their abilities, as with any competitive sport.


Tomorrow is Special

Bailey gets to go tracking.  I don't think she understands exactly what's in store for her.  She's going to be thrilled.

YAY rehab.  YAY Bailey.

That's about all I have energy for.  Bedtime, more exciting details tomorrow and hopefully pictures of the happy event.


Bettering Me

I've had so much stress and stuff on the brain lately that I've neglected to train my dogs mostly.  I've also neglected their stretching quite a bit.  This is not smart, I know this but... it is what it is.

I'm creating a calendar with a checklist for each day, right now (or, I will when I think about how to do this... maybe a checklist will be better?).  Three goals for each category should help me be successful.

Dog Goals:
Walk for at least 45 minutes on leash, off property, three times weekly.
Stretches twice daily, as directed.
Food toys at least 5 times weekly.  (Stuffed Kongs count as food toys.)

Me Goals:
30 minutes of cardio 3-5 times each week
Eat a real breakfast and pack lunch the night before (so I'm not tempted to just "grab food from the store")
Be a better and more understanding friend (TAG people, I know that's so vague and unclear but... it's all I've got right now, I need to think about ways to BE better and this is a start)



I had big plans for tonight.  HUGE plans in fact.  It involved a lot of sleeping.  I had specifically hoped for about 12 hours.  The dogs did not think that was a good idea when I got home.  Bailey rooooed at me.  Buzz nosed me and I gave in pretty quickly.

We have a "normal" route in town used frequently in the winter and/or at night.  Today I decided to branch out and use part of the Ice Age Trail to bring us there.

Overlooking the St. Croix River Valley

We had some nice hills and trees and leaves and scents to enjoy before hitting "town" and sidewalks.  It was about a half hour-long and enough for them to get the sillies out.  Then we hit up our normal sidewalk path with a twist!  Since it was still light out, we detoured through the state park and then headed towards a favorite coffee shop (they allow dogs inside... that is truly what makes the awesomeness that is).  I got the usual Mocha and tried to take a rest. They were not interested.  So off we headed for the car.

We walked by a football game and a "scary guy" that Bailey only looked at.  He emerged from the dark and had a very low voice, but I have to give him major kudos!!  He approached slowly and talked the whole time.  She just glanced at him and kept walking... yay girlie!

By the time we got back to the car, nearly two hours had elapsed and we were READY to be headed home.

The problem though is that now I'm quite awake.  They're full and sleeping.  Lazy dogs!


Scent Articles

They will be the death of me.  Today Bailey reverted to doing a tracking indication (again) and bringing me every article, except the one I scented.

Less petting, more tracking food-mom-lady!

My dog loves tracking.  She's good at tracking.  She wants to know why I keep screwing with her brain.  I clearly don't understand this game.

I give up.

The end.


"Too Patterned"

Tonight I was accused of being "too patterned."  I wasn't quite sure what to say to that, so I asked for clarification first.
1) "you walk your dogs in the same place, at the same time"
--That's something I really don't do.  I do tend to walk my dogs in a certain city on Mondays, but that has more to do with Eric working Mondays than anything.  There are days I walk them as soon as I get home from work and days I don't actually get them out for a walk.  Maybe I need to keep better notes, to see if I really follow a pattern more than I think.

2) "you follow the same schedule all the time"
--This one's a stretch.  I have the same basic morning routine, but doesn't everyone?  My "night routine" is completely non-existent.  Monday and Tuesday I have to be to work at 7:30, so I get up about 6am.  Wednesday and Thursday I have to be there at 8, so I get up about 6:45.  Some days I shower in the morning, some days I don't.  Some days I eat breakfast at home, some days I don't.

I don't even have a set schedule for feeding the animals.  It's a "when I feel like it" schedule.

Maybe all this defensive-ness means I AM too patterned though.  Argh!  And I really thought I had escaped that tendency!


Shaping Workshop

We had "training group" today and it's really a get together for us friendly dog-friend/nerds to socialize and kinda train our dogs.  I ended up bringing Buzz today and he was oh-so-happy to go!

Elizabeth and Beckett were there, Brian brought the adorable Ms. Maisy Jane, Jane brought Finn, and Robin had her NEW PUPPY Via!

Buzz and I have been working on crating more than half-heartedly lately, trying to determine if his poor crate behavior is due to a lack of training, or possible cognitive issues.  The last two nights he has settled nicely after a walk and some down-time before bed time.  When we arrived at training group this morning, we took a short walk with Beckett and then he crated up nicely at the training center.  Very few barks and only in one instance.  I'm trying to keep better records of his behavior in general, so this is definitely something I need to pay attention to.  When, why, and for how long does he bark.

After crating adult dogs so we could PLAY WITH THE PUPPY, we actually got to work.

Robin had us do a warm up heeling/loose leash walking on both sides activity.  Three dogs milled around with their handlers and nobody had a collision.  That impressed me.  I thought for sure I'd hit a pole or a dog or someone else, but nope!  (Confession time: I've never been in a group obedience class...)  Buzz had quite a few no-sits and I was trying to work on my clicker mechanics (don't reach for the treat until after clicking) so then we stopped movement exercises and worked on semi-stationary exercises so I could focus on less.  Robin tagged me for remembering to click THEN treat.  Mannn was that challenging for me!  It's something I should work on at home a lot more and just... don't!

Scent Articles
--where we ran into the problem I always have.  How to mark a deaf dog from a distance!  I utilized Robin's expertise and extra hands to try solving this problem.  Buzz was working the "pile" (2 leather, 2 metal, plus my scented leather) nicely but not committing to the correct article, so I wanted to mark when he indicated.  The lights I brought with did not have the distance or direct-ness (I'm sure there's a better word I can't think of right now) it needs.  Robin's going to bring a laser light next week to see if we don't get better results.  I do have to admit to telling him how adorably wrong he was when he got confused one time and just started picking up articles and throwing them at me.  I never know how to handle it when he does that, so I normally call him away and just start over.  I have yet to find a way of preventing the pick up of the wrong article... ideas?

Elizabeth and I traded dogs.  She worked with Buzz on muzzling while Beck and I worked on head turns and paw lifts.

It was grand fun and I'm very sad I missed out on the first session.  I'm going to bring Buzz again next week, and I may actually bring both and trade out--I haven't done THAT in forever either!

Buzz and I miss camp.  Not that this picture has anything to do with dog training, other than it was taken at camp.

Oh, dog training fun... I just wish we could get together more often, then I'd actually have well trained dogs.



I just finished reading The Dog Who Spoke With Gods and The Art of Racing in the Rain.  Both are wonderful books and both made me hug my dogs super tight.  It's easy to get caught up in day to day life, and forget about just how special these creatures are.  Nights like tonight make me unbelievably happy I have the resources available to make Buzz's aging as painless as possible.  It's certainly not the cheapest, and likely not the absolute most effective, but being able to watch him catch a scent and then RUN after it brings me to tears every time.  Watching him dig in gopher holes, because he can, makes me happy.  It does my heart good.

Both books are an enjoyable read, but be prepared to shed some tears.