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.