Sunday, June 24, 2012

Theo's first track. Experience and understanding are the basis for good dog handling.

Many thanks to Darren Doran for writing up and sharing a report describing Theo's first tracking exercise. Theo is 11 weeks old, and he has been with Darren for a week. I really value Darren's detailed report that includes his thought process and analysis. It shows how much dog handling experience matters. Theo is Darren's second blood tracking dog, but Darren also used to be a handler of the US Air Force aggression and drug detection dogs.


I did a line with Theo Saturday evening. It was about 85 yds with a left 90 and a right 90 turns. It was aged 4 1/2 hours. I set the line in the woods behind the house in an area close to where we take our nightly walks. There are always deer in here and there was fresh sign from the morning.

Theo hasn't had much leash work and no practice dragging a tracking leash so I ran him off leash. I've gotten a tracking collar I'll use for now and put that on him.

I've elected to start his training right away with tracking shoes and rubber boots. I blooded up the hit sight well and stomped the shoes in the blood. Not used to puppy work, I put a wad of hair at the hit sight. I blooded both hoofs repeatedly, and marched with very close steps and added blood along the line.

Right before I ran the line, I came back on the down wind side and added a pea sized piece of raw deer meat on a leaf under the flags. I put out 6 in all. I placed the tail and left a couple of pieces of meat on the top of the tail.

The goal of this exercise was to simply see how the dog would work and to try to identify a starting place for future training. I didn't think the line wasn't difficult but I wasn't sure how he would handle any distractions we would come upon or if he could maintain his focus long enough to finish. There were fresh deer droppings on the line and there was a picnic going on in the neighborhood across the power line with fairly loud music. The wind had been blowing strongly from the same direction all day but had quit by the time we started. We were in the woods and the line was fairly long. Anything could happen.

We started the line and the first thing Theo did was grab the wad of deer hair. I got it out of his mouth and he circled the site sniffing and took the line. He found the first piece of meat, but before the first turn he drifted off the line on the down wind side. I just watched him and he was advancing the line at an angle and his nose was down and I can't be 100% sure he wasn't picking up pieces of wind blown scent. I had stopped by a flag that had a piece of meat that he missed when he drifted off. When he lifted his head And looked around, I said'' where did it go'' ''search here'' and held my hand over the line. Theo came back and found the meat. He then tracked directly over the line to the turn and past, he corrected himself and came back to the turn and found the right direction. He passed over the deer droppings with nothing more than a quick sniff. Numerous times on the line Theo would have his whole nose buried in a hoof print on the track. These were spots that I had blooded the hoof and the fresh blood down inside the print was still wet. I let him linger there as long as he wanted. On the last 1/3 of the line 3 times after he found the meat he would advance the line about 10 feet and then come back to the exact leaf that had the meat was on and sniff. He would then turn around and resume tracking. The second turn was better than the first and when he found the tail he ate the meat and grabbed the tail. As I approached he started running off through the woods with the tail.

Here's where everything got messed up. Theo stopped with the tail to chew it and I was getting out the camera to snap a picture. All of a sudden Theo started to yelp in pain. He dropped the tail and backed away yelping. I ran over to him. I couldn't figure out what was going on. Then it hit me - Yellow Jackets. I was stung twice on the arm and I was sure Theo was stung as well. I grabbed the dog and the tail and got out of there. I stopped back on the trail to the house to regroup.

I had to turn this around and make this exercise end on a positive note. I couldn't let Theo think the tail or tracking would end in a painful experience. We just sat on the ground for awhile. I didn't make a big deal out of it or say much. My arm was burning and starting to swell. I could only imagine how a little puppy felt. I could tell by Theo actions when the experience was starting to fade. I had some meat left and I picked up the tail and started to wave it around. He was getting interested and I put it down with the rest of the meat on it. He came over to it, ate the meat and started to chew on the fleshy end. I got up to take a picture and that was all it took. Theo grabbed the tail and started to run for home. We were a couple of hundred yds from the house and he didn't stop running the whole way. I couldn't get a picture in the woods he was too fast. That tail was his and he wasn't going to let me catch him.

This exercise showed me a lot about Theo. I like the way he was working the line. He was thorough and not fast. He was able to correct himself and keep his focus and finish the line. He did get distracted but returned to the task. I like the way he returned to the exact leaf that held the tiny piece of meat. That tells me he can remember where he found a certain scent. I think this will show up later when he needs to restart himself and return to the point of loss. I like his nose buried in a hoof print as this will imprint deer print foot smell with the blood. Another benefit that will be important in real tracking later. I liked the way he worked the checks. I won't use any hair on the line for awhile. I'm going to keep the age of the line the same, but shorten it a little. I'm not concerned with how fast or slow he works just the quality and accuracy of the work. I don't think the yellow jackets will have an effect on him. I'm going to start doing more leash training.


Theo with "his" deer tail.


Andy Bensing said...

Nice exercise for the new pup. Your thorough report is a great example of how it should be done. I find that most handlers just lay a random line for their dog and go out and see what happens which in my opinion is at best a minimally useful use of time and at worst potentially bad for the dog. Your report shows how a handler should have a definite and detailed plan for each training line laid out and a through analysis of the results of the exercise when completed. The analysis of the dog's performance then naturally helps to lay out the plan for the next exercise. Looks like the new pup is off to a great start!


Jolanta Jeanneney said...

Could not agree more Andy with your comments. Can't wait for Theo's 2nd track and Darren's report!

Lindsjö taxar said...

Very interesting reading. We dont train them like that. You train them to a working tracking dog. Our dachshunds hunts roes and thats a different training and our dogs are breed for that. Tracking is more for to have something to do during off season hunting. You can do trials and become a tracking champion.
I will do some training with Vilja and Trym now for go on trial with them. Then I can go into the huntingclass on exhibitions to maybe get a certificate, 3 of them , then we are champions.

Stan said...

Great work, my friend! ....As soon as I read about the bees, I knew you would somehow end it on a positive note. Sounds like you and Theo are bonding quickly!!