On Sunday morning Penny and I took part in our first tracking lesson, with Jenny and Gill from A Perfect Spot Dog Training. It was a crisp Sunday morning at 9 am. Pretty early for me, but Jenny made it seem like the middle of the day when she told us tracking is sometimes done at ... get ready for it... FIVE IN THE MORNING IN THE MIDDLE OF WINTER!! She said that the scent is clearer for the dogs at that time. (Or at least that's what I think she said. I was reeling in horror at the thought of getting up before dawn.)
Maybe we won't be going into this sport in a big way...
Penny loved the session, because it built on one of her special skills, ie pulling her human towards something interesting on the ground.
We've been training her not to pull on the lead and have had heaps of success. In fact, today we walked from Heidelberg to Ivanhoe along the back paths (about an hour) and she was almost perfect all the time she was on lead.
Anyway, back to the tracking...
Jenny said to attach the lead to Penny's harness at the start of the track and reattach it to her neck collar at the end, to distinguish between lead walking and tracking. I practised out in our back laneway today and that seemed to work well.
Generally, it's Penny's idea of heaven, to be asked to sniff around for food treats.
I thought as well as practising, I would have a look around the Net for more information. I found a site about general Schutzhund training, and it had lots of pages on tracking.
The first article was about initial tracking experiences. It said your bond with the dog will help you to notice the subtle signals she gives out when tracking, letting you know how well she understands the task.
A second page discusses the importance of being able to remember the track you have set out. Jenny is teaching us to set out little flags so we know the course, but this article warns that we need to be careful not to reward finding the flags rather than the articles. (We used socks that we had been carrying against our skin.)
So far Penny has ignored the markers, diving on the socks to search for the piece of food hidden under them. When I practised in the laneway behind our house, I didn’t have little flags, so I used bits of stick I found lying around in the lane.
Jenny has given us some scent discrimination games to play during the week. We're still working on the one where I hide a treat in one hand an Penny has to indicate which one has the treat. We'll go out to the park and try out another one where I unobtrusively drop an article as we walk along, and ask Penny to help me go back and find it.
There are more scent discrimination games at Dog Scout. I like the one called The Scent Articles Game. I've tried this one before, without much luck, but the explanation on this site is so clear I'm inspired to try again.
There is a local tracking club, Tracking Club of Victoria. I thought the Golden Retriever Club of Victoria had an especially clear overview of local tracking. They say trials are usually held between May and September, when it's not too hot and snakes are not so active. (Though I've seen snakes in our local city park in both September and May recently.) Because tracking takes up a big area, the events are in rural areas, such as Gippsland, Ballarat, Inverleigh, Broadford and the Mornington Peninsula.