By Carolyn Fuhrer
Successful tracking comes from the dog wanting to follow the scent you have indicated to them. In this case, the scent of the “start article.”
You must motivate them to lock on to this scent because this scent “pays” – and ignore all the other wonderful scents they may come across along the way.
You must motivate them to persevere even when the path is hard and it is easier to go another way. You must motivate them to keep working even when they are tired and would like to stop.
So how do you communicate this to your dog?
Some dogs find sniffing very rewarding; however, this does not mean your dog will necessarily want to follow the scent of what you have directed them to follow. In order to create desire to follow the scent you have indicated (the start article) you must in training make the job of following the start article scent very rewarding. This is why using multiple articles on training tracks and rewarding for finding and indicating each article will teach the dog to stay on the scent you started with. I try to communicate to my dog that each article it finds is very important and will “pay” very well. I vary the value of my rewards so the dog will always keep working to find the article that will pay with high value treats. I am enthusiastic about what it finds. Just paying at articles and going on is not always enough for some dogs. Some dogs need excited input; others need sincere appreciation from the handler. This is where relationship comes in.
What does your dog need? This could change as the track progresses. This is where tracking really shows off the relationship with your dog. You must train this way with your dog so you can encourage them through the difficult parts of the track and get them to search for that elusive scent one more time.
Even though at a test you cannot reward your dog with food at the article, the relationship you develop through training each time your dog finds an article will carry over into competition, and you will be able to help your dog focus and go back to tracking. Spending time at the article is a good mental break for both dog and handler. It gives the handler a chance to assess what has been going on and where they are on the track and enables the handler through their relationship with the dog to encourage and motivate the dog to go on or to calm and focus the dog on the next section of track.
What your dog needs at any particular time will depend on our dog’s personality and the difficulty of the track. When your dog finds multiple articles along the way during training, its confidence builds because it is successful and is praised for its effort. This interaction enhances their relationship with you and will build confidence and desire. Long, arduous, unrewarding tracks will not build the desire you need for a successful tracking dog. If you are struggling with focus or desire, try to put some motivation back into your tracks.
Interested in watching an AKC Tracking Test? On Track Agility Club of Maine is hosting a TDX (Tracking Dog Excellent) Test in Somerville, ME on October 10; a VST (Variable Surface Test) on October 31 in Augusta, and a TD and TDU test (Tracking Dog and Tracking Dog Urban) in Augusta on November 14. Come out and watch the dogs and handlers and cheer them on – call Kathy at 207-691-2332 for more information.
Carolyn Fuhrer has earned over 125 AKC titles with her Golden Retrievers, including 2 Champion Tracker titles. Carolyn is the owner of North Star Dog Training School in Somerville, Maine. She has been teaching people to understand their dogs for over 25 years. You can contact her with questions, suggestions and ideas for her column by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.