By Anne Copeland with the Assistance of Ruth Rechtoris
This method was developed by a very good friend of mine (we've been tracking together since 1970) and used by her to start countless dogs in tracking and to successfully have handlers complete 36 TD's and 1 TDX (to date). It has been used for MANY breeds, from a Yorkshire Terrier to a Newfoundland, and for dogs from every one of the seven AKC groups so it is not breed specific. You can start a dog with this method from 8 weeks old to 10 years old(or more). It's how the 2nd Samoyed bitch in the history of the breed to earn a TD was trained, how my TDX Rottie was trained, how my Bernese Mountain Dog is being trained, and how Arlene's 4.5 pound TD Yorkie, Fergie, was trained.
You will need a non-restrictive harness (nylon will do just fine) with a D ring on the back for the line; a six foot lead to start and a 20 - 30 foot line later on; a cotton work glove or old leather wallet; bright plastic clothespins or wooden ones with a strip of surveyor tape or torn rag attached; a friend or family member for the first 2 or 3 times out (not essential but makes it much easier); an open area with ground cover between ankle height and your knees (if you can). You can start in lawn grass or weeds over your head if you must, but the medium length cover seems to make it a little easier for a beginning dog and gives you someplace to hide - as you will see a little later. If you want to get a little fancier - 4' stakes of wooden dowel or metal with one end sharpened to enter the ground easily will give you something to put your flags on when there are no high weeds or tree limbs near-by.
First rule - This is for FUN! If you get a title - great, but the important part is enjoying your dog.
Second rule - The dog knows how to and what it is smelling - you Don't -- TRUST YOUR DOG!
Third rule - Have FUN!
Fourth rule - Use GREAT TREATS for this - hot dogs, meat loaf, prime rib, stinky cheese -- stuff the Dog doesn't get other times. (Oops - I think my dogs typed that rule when I wasn't looking.
Fifth rule - Have FUN!
Sixth rule - ALWAYS mark your track until the day you go for certification. You won't know if the dog is having a problem if you don't know exactly where the track goes and where the turns are. While the dog must solve the problem for themselves - you are a partner in this and need to know when to lend a hand by giving the dog a chance to do the solving. You will think you know that you made that right turn by the big clump of weeds and the skinny tree; until you are behind the dog and find that there are three weed clumps and two are near skinny trees and now you are confused - is the turn here and your dog is over-running it or is it really at the weeds that are still 10 yards away?
1. Put tracking harness with a six foot lead attached on the dog near (within 3 - 5 feet) the start of the first track. Have your helper hold the dog while you take several of your clothespin markers, the glove or wallet (the article), and some really great treats.
2. Leave the helper and the dog with a big fanfare and much fuss about leaving, show the dog the treats and that you have them, place a flag or stake at the starting point and scuff up the ground well with your feet before settling into a steady, normal walking pace for about 30 to 50 yards (for a dog the size of a Berner - a little shorter, 20-35 yards for a smaller dog). Place a clothespin flag about every 10 yards so your helper will know EXACTLY where you walked. Try to head INTO the wind the first time if you can, but it is not critical. Your track will be so fresh and so short, the wind will not yet be a major factor in the dog's working.
3. When you are within about 10 yards of the end of this first track, signal your helper to turn the dog around so it cannot see where you go now. Be sure the helper continues to watch you so they know when to start "tracking" with the dog.
4. Complete the length of track; lay down the article and pile several pieces of the treats ON TOP of it. Place a clothespin marker near the article drop so the helper will know this is where the article is - you might want to make this marker a different color than the rest.
5. With large steps, "jump off" straight ahead in the direction you have been heading for about 10 feet and either hide behind a near-by obstacle or lie down FLAT on the ground so you are not easily visible to the dog. Signal your helper to start after you.
6. The helper should now turn the dog around and make a big fuss about going to find you. They should say things like "Let's go find her/him" or "Let's find ----" or "Where's ---". The idea is to create enthusiasm for the "hunt". The dog should have a double incentive for moving along your path - to find you and to find those goodies!
7. The helper should keep the dog up short, no more than the leash length and as much on top of your path as possible. They should also be encouraging the dog with lots of "Good Puppy", "That's it - Find her/him". Especially loads of praise if the dog actually puts its head down and appears to be using it's nose to help find the way. Don't expect to see this behavior for the first few times you take the dog out, but sometimes they fool you!
8. When the dog reaches the article drop and finds the treats, you come out of hiding with lots of "Good Dog - you Found it!!", "Aren't you a smart puppy", etc. This is where we make absolute idiots out of ourselves to make the dog feel it just did the smartest thing in the world finding this glove/wallet with all those tasty goodies. If the dog does not appear to be stopping for the treats and wants to continue to where you are hiding - be sure the helper holds the dog up and points to the article and encourages the dog to go for the treats; in the meantime you will have gotten up and are joining in the celebration of finding the article.
9. The first time out we do this about 3 times (3 different tracks - can be in different directions just so as none of them cross each other) and they are at least 50 yards apart from each other. We then call it quits for the day. This may sound like a lot to remember, but after you do it once, you will find it very easy.
10. The next time out (we usually go once or twice a week, depending on our work schedule and the weather) increase the length of the tracks by about 20 - 25 yards if the dog seems to be getting the idea of looking for you; still doing three. Increase the track length in 20 - 25 yard increments per day, until the dog is going about 125 - 150 yards straight out and reduce the number of tracks to 2 at about 100 yards and 1 at about 150 to 200 yards on the following tracking days. After the second or third outing, if you can't get a helper to start laying tracks for you, you can work the dog yourself, by laying the track, jumping off at the end of the track for about 3 to 5 yards while the dog is either in the car or tied to a tree/fence/stake/etc. and circling back to start the dog. Continue to put your marker clothespins every 20 - 30 yards even if you lay your own tracks. You should still have the dog on a short leash and not let them get more than a leash length off the known track. While "head down" tracking is preferred, unless you are doing Schutzhund type work, it is not required that the dog track with a "deep nose", just follow the track, make the turns and find the article.
11. By the time the tracks are about 150 yards long, when starting the dog on a track, you need to let the dog get a good whiff of what they will be tracking - whether it is you or someone else who has laid the track. If your dog knows the down cue, have them "down" where the track starts (this should always be marked with a flag, or stake and flag). If the dog does not do a "down" this is NOT the place to begin to train this, just point to the ground instead where the track begins and tell the dog to "Find It". The reason for downing at the start is to give the dog an opportunity to get a really good dose of whoever's scent they must track.
12. When the dog has done a few 150 yard tracks with relative comfort and is stopping at the article with the treats still ON TOP, usually the 3rd or 4th week, we "up the ante" by introducing an "open turn" - in other words one that is greater (more open) than 90 degrees. You can start with either a left or right turn depending on your tracking site; the dog will eventually learn to do both. We usually go out about 100 yards, place a marker, and make a quarter turn to either the left or the right about one or two yards past the marker, and continue on for about another 20 yards, drop the article, place the treats on top, and jump off the end as before.
13. Each time you go out now, make the turn a LITTLE sharper and alternate your turn direction, until the dog is doing regular 90 degree corner turns to the left and right. Don't increase the length of the track more than 10 or 20 yards until the dog indicates that turns are no problem. Many dogs never have an issue with the turn, they just follow the track, turn and all, like it was nothing new. Other dogs seem a little confused by the "loss" of scent when the track turns off. For those who need time to work out this problem, be sure you halt a little before the actual turn (the reason for making the turn AFTER the marker) so the dog on its six foot leash cannot go too far past the turn. Allow the dog to circle the turn area a bit so they can find where the track goes, and as soon as the dog heads off in the proper direction, follow and PRAISE, Praise, Praise.
14. As the dog demonstrates that it has the concept of following a scent trail with a turn to find some yummies at the end, increase the length of the second leg until the track is about 200 yards, add in another turn, best in the opposite direction from your first, and continue to add distance and turns until the dog is doing a track of 400 to 500 yards with four or five turns in it. By the time the dog is working about 200 yards with one or two turns, you can start using a longer line, but not the full 20 feet required in a test!! While training, I never give the dog more than 10 feet of line, I always mark the track, and after a couple of months, I start wrapping the treats in saran and placing them either INSIDE the glove or under the wallet so the dog must nose the article to get the goodies giving you a good article indication. It is OK if your dog is the retrieving sort and picks up the glove to bring it to you, but retrieval of an article is NOT required for AKC tracking.
15. Along the way, you will run into little (or sometimes BIG) problems - everyone does. But the thrill of watching your dog the first time that light bulb comes on in their head and they really put that nose down and pull you along the track - whether it is the first time you go out or the 50th time, is incomparable. There is a computer tracking list for those who really want to get into it, several tracking clubs around the US (not sure about other countries) and I'm always available to share what knowledge I might have. If you are interested in AKC tracking titles and tests, the rules are on the AKC's web page. I know that many European countries have tracking tests of some sort, but I'm not sure where to find information about them or their requirements. You don't need huge fields, you don't need pristine areas to work, your dog is always on a leash or line so you don't break most leash laws while doing this, and if you ever drop your car keys on a hike, or little Johnny wanders away from the campground, you just MIGHT just be able to put the dog to work for real!
There are many ways to train for tracking and many nuances of each way. The really important things to remember are Rules 1, 3, and 5, and that the dog knows how to follow a scent, we are just showing them what scent we want them to follow.
Happy Trails to You!!