Saturday, November 8, 2008

Tracking in the wind

It was cold and windy today. The temps didn't get above 40 degrees and there was a raw wind between 12-15 mph, gusting to 17-20 mph. The wind chills made the temp feel like 30 degrees this afternoon. I got up around 7 a.m., and after letting the dogs out thought better of morning tracking and headed back to bed. I finally pulled myself out of bed and headed out with all three dogs shortly before 12:30 p.m. Even though it was cold and not an ideal day to track, the weather is closing in, and I wanted to see what the dogs, especially Ian, would do with this wind. I laid Devon's VST track first, and then I laid Ian and Connor's tracks.

Ian's track
Ian had a 140 yard track with one left turn at 110 yards. The turn was into the wind. It was aged 35 minutes. He handled the start well, but right away allowed the wind to push him to the right of the track. It was funny to watch him actually get frustrated by the wind and the way it was pushing the scent. It didn't help that the land also sloped slightly to the right, so the wind was pushing the scent downhill. He looked back at me a couple of times as if asking for me to explain to him why this track was so very different today. 

I'm glad I made the first leg so long, because at about 50 yards, he decided he had to poop. I really hope this does not become a tracking habit. This was the third time he's pooped on a track, and he shouldn't have had to go based on his normal schedule and the time of day. However, once he got that taken care of, he went back to work and for the rest of the leg did a great job of fighting the wind.

He did a lovely "loss of scent" indication at the turn and circled several times. Finally he stood in the right direction of the track and stopped. In the last few tracks we've done, at this point he's stopped and stared at me. However this time he never looked back at me. Instead, he started a slow walk down the new leg, and I stepped in behind him and followed. As I did, he dropped his nose dead on the track and was nose down until he pounced on the glove to "kill" it! 

This was the best turn Ian's done to date! I'm thinking that after a half dozen sessions of just one turn, he's finally getting what turns are all about. I'm going to do several more tracks like this until he's confidently pulling me onto the new leg. I'm feeling really good about his tracking right now! I'm also proud of myself for not rushing him, but taking the slow and steady approach and letting him learn.

Connor's track
Due to the lay of the land and working around a pond, Connor's track was shorter than Ian's track. Connor only had 50 yards to a left turn and then 30 yards to his glove. Based on Ian's track, I'd say Connor's track was 35-40 minutes. Connor was excited to start and was a happy camper at the startline. He tracked well off the start and for the first 30 yards. However, he started eating grass shortly after the 30 yard marker and then left the track and went 25 ft. out to eat animal poop. He struggled to the turn, and finally locked into the turn but the whole time was eating grass and hunting poop as well. He made the glove, but I had forgotten treats, so he wasn't as cheerful at the end. He did track me out and seemed happier as we walked to the van. He of course got his rewards at the van.

I'm wondering if the wind was too much of a factor for him. I can only think it was the wind that stressed him to eat grass. After the start he really wasn't his normal perky tracking self. It made me wonder again if I should just retire him. I don't really have any plans to try another certification attempt, but he was enjoying tracking so I thought I'd continue to work skills with him. I think I'll just make sure I'm not tracking him more than once a week and continue to see what time and Connor tell me.

Devon's track
Devon's track was 480 yards around a local elementary school. It had 200 yards, or 42% non-veg, including concrete, rubber mulch, regular mulch and blacktop. I gave her a total of four articles, including a cloth glove at the start, metal and plastic on the track and leather glove at the end. We ran the track at exactly three hours, and it was 3:30 p.m. at the start. I could tell the school had seen some traffic during the age time, including teachers coming and going from an area of the building that would have crossed Devon's track in at least one place.

I brought Devon to the start flag at a 90 degree angle and faced the flag so that the track went off to my right. Devon got her scent, then went straight in front of me and circled left finding the start. She found where I walked into the start, and quickly followed it past the flag for a very strong, confident start. The track ran about 40 yards in grass along the road, then crossed a wide driveway, then back up on grass in front of the school. Devon tracked confidently through this and into the mulched landscaping beside the school's front entrance. She tracked through the landscaping up to where I went onto the concrete behind a bench when she got sucked into some cross tracks. I believe these were squirrels, since some of the mulch she checked out had been disturbed. I let her explore, and she finally came back to tracking and went quickly across the front entrance of the school and through the other mulch bed. I was very impressed she tracked me right on my footsteps through this mulch bed, going right around the exact plantings I did. She was again confident onto the grass and at the first turn wanted to explore the trees (again, I think she was looking for squirrels). 

At this point she over shot the turn and struggled a little to find the second leg. She worked it for a couple of minutes, and then confidently found it. This leg was difficult, but one she had done successfully in the past. She went on grass between the corner of the building and a metal iron fence (about a 45 ft. distance between them). From grass she went onto concrete for only a few feet then into and through a rubber tire mulched playground area for about 60 yards. Devon raced through this grass and into the mulch to check out a white rock just into the mulch. She had not yet had an article, and I think she believed that could be her article -- tracking with her eyes. When it turned out not to be an article, I believe she lost confidence that she was on the track. I backed her up and I knew she was right on the track. However, she searched the entire area almost the distance of her line for several long minutes. I finally stopped her for a drink and rescented her. I was reluctant to show her where the track was because this is behavior she's shown me the last two times at about 1/3 of the way through the track and I've helped her. The conditions she was presented with were not hard, and she's tracked this mulch several times in about three different schools (quite popular in our area), and she's never had a problem. 

Finally after checking out everything in the area more than once, including peering down the storm drain a couple of times, she went into the mulch bed, and I took a couple of steps behind her even though she wasn't right on the track. This was all the encouragement she needed. She put her nose right down and headed for the track. Twice more in the mulched area she searched left, which I let her do, but then came back and tracked out through the mulch to find her metal article just outside the rubber mulched playground. A great place for a reward!

I'm wondering if the wind caused some scenting challenges through there with the building, fence and playground equipment. It would have been coming from our left, but it was likely swirling around the playground equipment, through the fence, down the storm drain and back at us off the building. Plus when the rock pulled her through the area, I believe she was just running to the rock and not really realizing she was on the track. She likely "left the track" back where we came between the building and the fence, even though she was actually on the line of the track I'm wondering if she didn't know it. However, I'm glad I made her work through this and I didn't help. Even if it was coincidence that this was the third time she'd stopped at about the same place in the track, I don't want her to get used to my help. I have rarely helped her track, preferring to let her work it out. I think this is the best way to work her, since she's a very smart girl and learns quickly on her own. She's also a not-so-subtle con artist and will take the easy way out of she can get away with it.

Devon tracked on grass to her third turn, then after the turn fairly easily out across the parking lot for about 70 yards. She was back on grass for a turn and 30 yards, then across a small driveway and back up on grass for her plastic article. At this point someone came out of the building (right over the last leg of her track), and Devon was just sure this guy came out to see her and her plastic article. Imagine her disappointment when he got in his waiting van and drove off!

Devon found turn five pretty easily and then after only a little transition work in the grass went back down onto the parking lot and across it 80 yards. I was especially pleased with this leg since I left no chalk marks and only put water down in four places. She went up over the sidewalk into the grass for her last turn. She went across two sidewalks including the entrance where people had clearly gone in and out, even the recent guy we watched, and she didn't even flick her head. She also went by the courtyard holding the climate control units which were running, and again didn't even give them a thought and tracked all the way to her glove.

I was really proud of Devon on this track. She was tired after being the van for 3 hours and putting a mighty effort into field drill about 30 minutes before running the track. I'm also glad she worked through that scenting issue she struggled with on her own. I was pleased with my article placements to give the right amount of reward for her, and I thought the track had a nice balance of veg and non-veg. 

All in all a good day of tracking!

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