Thursday, December 31, 2009
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Just a quick note about winter tracking. I don't track dogs below 20 degrees, because I don't think it's safe. But tracking in snow does help the dog. Even if you're out in the back yard, you will see dogs stick their noses down into footprints and sniff. I love this photo of Tess, Devon's littermate. This was taken on a walk, but she's in classic tracking posture and her nose is right in those footprints!
This post is for Anney in
However, the TDX test itself grueling. It’s long (800-1,000 yards). It’s mentally exhausting to have your mind focused for that long a period of time (both of my girls took between 25-30 minutes to complete their tests). And on both
You also can’t rule out the mental “downer” watching dog after dog fail TDX tests.
And finally the test is physically exhausting, with long walks up and down hills, through trees and occasionally over obstacles. I nearly fell on my face going down hill in the woods on Page’s track, and I’ve been a tracklayer at a TDX test where a judge hit the ground following a dog.
Since I enjoy the training so much, but don’t cherish the test, I want to make sure my dogs are very well prepared when I send in that $100-110 entry fee – especially for a test that has less than a 20% pass rate! The best advice I’ve received for being prepared (credit goes to Steve Ripley for this) is to successfully “pass” a full, blind track three times before you enter a test.
Passing a full, blind track doesn’t necessarily mean finding a judge to lay it. Find someone else to lay you a test track and put in cross tracks. Most seasoned trackers will be wiling to help you get ready for a test. As I’ve said before, this sport is full of people willing to give back to new trackers, even if you have to drive a couple of hours to find them.
When I train for TDX, I train my concepts in parts (or puzzle pieces and the credit here goes to Cathy Hawkins of
Next I start working obstacles and tracking concepts. One track will be about woods, so we'll work woods obstacles three times on a 400-550 yard track. The next track might be about changes in cover so we'll do that several times. If you re-read my August 16 post about TDX training in woods, you will see a list of things to prepare for when training woods. This is my philosophy for all types of TDX training (changes of cover, other obstacles, etc.).
The track here is a good example of a woods training track. Page ran this track 5 days before her TDX test. It was 470 yards long and aged 3 hours and 15 minutes. It was in an area where she tracked well. The blue line is Page’s track. The yellow lines are well worn “roads” where hay wagons pulled kids on hay rides through the fields up to the end of October. While the wagon path wasn’t a true obstacle, it was a good challenge with lots of extra scent.
The white markers show how I was presenting training on woods that day. If you look at the track, you will see that I hit four of the seven things on the list for training woods in that one track:
- Tracking toward the woods and going straight in
- Tracking toward the woods and making a turn (not entering woods)
- Tracking toward the woods on a diagonal and entering on an angle (and I gave Page a turn right before the diagonal woods entrance)
- Making no turn at all and going straight through a woods
You will notice I also gave Page two other challenges. First, I took her straight through a woods line just to the left of a vegetative break in the tree line.
Second, I gave Page a vegetative path between two sets of woods. Again, sometimes you are in the woods and sometimes you are on the grass next to the woods. The dog needs to learn how to follow the track and not go where it might be more comfortable to track (on a path and not in the woods beside the path).
While I’m concentrating on training obstacles, I work in areas that are full of other types of scent, like deer and dogs and humans. This teaches the dog to start to ignore cross tracks or contaminated tracks on their own. Again, when you run marked tracks (and all my training tracks are marked) you know where the track is, so you let them work the cross tracks but not go down them. This teaches the dog to rule out tracks that aren't what they are supposed to be working.
When I’m ready to actually work purposeful cross tracks, I lay my own. At first I lay them immediately before I run the track. Then I work backwards in 15-30 minute increments so they are of "legal" age related to the track (cross tracks go in 1.5 hours after the track is laid). My dogs have never been confused by me laying my own cross tracks. The dog is told by the start article who they are tracking and how old the track is. Quite frankly after learning to ignore all the other cross tracks (deer, squirrels, raccoon, etc.), I usually only train human cross tracks 3-4 times and the dog gets the concept.
Finally I work on length. By laying shorter tracks, I can usually track about 3 times a week. When I start working on length of track, I drop back to 2 tracks a week. I don't work length often, and I never work it the week or two before a test. Remember the beginning of this post: a TDX test is a grueling test for dog and handler, so you want the dog to be very fresh the week of a test. In tracking, you aren’t going to teach the dog anything new the week of a test.
When you run full length tracks, you are looking for your dog to a) have the stamina to go the distance and continue to work, and b) what changes in their tracking behavior as they tire. Also, most dogs hit a wall around 600 yards, and they must push through that wall. Keep this in mind as you are working length and put articles/rewards after this distance. You can also make the track "easier" after 600 yards the first time or two you run a long track to reward the dog for working past that distance.
In working length, I learned that Page is less precise the longer she tracks. She's a precision footstep tracker, but with length and fatigue she starts overshooting turns. I needed to learn this and watch for her to indicate the turn was behind us and trust her. Knowing that Page overshoots turns with fatigue allowed us to recover from an overshot turn on our TDX test that likely would have sunk other teams.
Janet and Steve Ripley have a saying that every time we go out to track, the dogs are putting experiences in their mental Rolodex. At a test the dog will come upon a scenting challenge and flip through that mental Rolodex and compare it to what they’ve done in the past and then react. I really like this analogy, and it’s our job as “coach of the team” to give our dogs as many experiences as we can to prepare them for the test.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
I want to take time to post about our field training this month. Yes, it’s December, and it’s been really, really cold. But training doesn’t stop in the winter; it just changes (and hopefully gets shorter in duration)!
In early December, five of us took our dogs to Gamekeepers Retrievers for a day and half of training. It was good timing, even though it was very cold (I don’t remember feeling my toes most of the two days; I have since bought insulated boots!). I gave
In Page’s case, I was on the fence about her training, and I wanted Mitch’s advice. Page had been a solid worker and breezed through her force fetch. But when she hit 7 months, she started having “puppy brain farts” when it came to field. Her tracking training held up, but when we worked field she acted at times like she’d never had any training and was just a puppy out for a play session.
I was at the point of doing pile work, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to push thru the pressure of pile work with her at this time. I wasn’t sure Page was mature enough to handle it; and if she wasn’t ready due to maturity, I didn’t want to push through it and have residuals later in her training. So because I wasn’t sure what direction to go, I also gave her time off from field during October and November.
In talking through this with Mitch before we started our lesson, he said (as I expected) he thought she just needed her “driver’s license taken away,” but that he would look at what she was doing and Page went on the list for pile work. We worked a pile at 40-50 yards. Page looked more solid than she had in October. But after about 4 bumpers, Page started doing a little of the head flicking and playing with the bumper I’d seen before.
Mitch gave interesting advice: “Stop praising her. Make your commands almost robotic.” I did, and instantly her work ethic got better. I saw immediate results, and I knew the dog training behind the advice: Page didn’t need my praise because retrieving was enough of a reward.
It wasn’t until the drive back to the hotel, that I processed the training session and it solidified in my mind. I always do the my best thinking about our training sessions after I leave when I can sit back and analyze what I’ve been told.
Page in field is like a high-drive Border Collie in agility. You know the ones who are wicked fast and higher than a kite wanting to do the job. The most successful handlers of these dogs are the most quiet, laid back people you ever met. They have to be. The minute one of these handlers starts to panic and emotionally ramp up, the dog’s energy and drive goes through the ceiling and the run is usually a train wreck! But the handlers who quietly and methodically drive their dogs through the course are the most successful.
So, the advice Mitch gave me makes total sense. Page is rewarded by the work. The minute I start my happy praise voice, she gets revved up and starts being goofy, flipping her head and the bumper around and acting silly and sloppy in her work. She doesn’t need my praise and it’s actually more distracting to her. If I calmly and methodically work her through the drills, she works very well.
The only other thing to work on with Page is going back to the force fetch table with real ducks. She wasn’t confident picking up the ducks like she is the bumpers. This was something I realized back in late-September/early October. It shouldn’t take too much time to revisit. And after that is complete, we’ll finish Page’s pile work this winter
Getting There, A Retriever Trainers Symposium
On December 19, I went to a one-day symposium given my Mitch at Canine Sports in Vermillion,
In going through the requirements for the tests and various examples of tests, it hit home why I needed to work certain drills in preparing for Senior and Master.
I also got a better understanding of teaching marking concepts. I am blessed with extremely good marking dogs. But I can give them an advantage by actually training the concepts. Mitch did a great job of outlining these concepts and talking about how to teach them to the dogs and then move them to the field environment.
The reason I like Mitch’s program is the amount of teaching he does. This teaching of foundation elements is parallel to the way I train agility, obedience and tracking. For example, many field trainers throw the dogs into the field and run set ups with various types of marks. They work the dogs in these situations until they think the dog “gets it” and then they test. A parallel to this type of training would be working a whole obedience exercise from start to finish or just running courses in agility. There is a time and place for doing this, but it’s during the “proofing” or “testing” phase of your training, not the teaching phase.
In the teaching phase of training, you break down the exercises into their component parts. This is obvious in obedience exercises and agility. And moving it to field, you can start teaching marking concepts on short grass with obvious gunners (even dressed in white) and shorter distances. Once the dog learns these concepts you can add hidden gunners and then field type factors for the “proofing” and “testing” phase.
I really appreciate the Gamekeeper’s program because it teaches first and then tests. It recognizes the dog’s ability to problems solve and appreciates that the dog is a responsible member of the team. You as the handler may be the coach of the team, but your dog has responsibilities as the key player on the team. And when you are both well trained, you step to the line as a team to be tested.
But for Page’s early months, we’ve been working on
The first surprise for me is that both girls handled mesh crates without a problem. Our first two trials were local, so I took the van and had metal crates available if the girls decided to throw fits and eat their way out of the mesh crates. Happily, the girls were contented, even
The next surprise was how good Page was at the agility trials. Long days in the crate, periodic trips out to potty and train, and then more long hours in the crate didn’t bother her. This girl is a trooper! Of course, after the first two 3-day weekends, she needed to burn lots of energy on Monday!
And finally, Page’s training mostly held up, which I hoped would be the case. Page went through the skills she knew well and gave me lots of attention when I had high value treats (well, pretty much any food treat is high value for Page). One thing I learned was that I couldn’t keep her out too long, or her attention would fade and she would want to “play” with every dog she could see.
Page’s first reaction when she wants to “play” with a dog is to launch herself at them front feet first. Most adult dogs aren’t amused, and many puppies are overwhelmed. Using short sessions out and getting her close to the activity when she was fresh and eager for cookies worked best. As she was out longer, I actually faded the distractions since she was getting tired of the “tricks” and the treats.
I was most pleased that she offered a nose touch on the steps at the
Friday, December 25, 2009
2 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as men rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
4 For as in the day of Midian's defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David's throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
I came upstairs last week to see Devon (left) and Page very intent on what was outside the second-story window. A flock of 150 starlings had landed just outside the window, and my two "bird dogs" were pretty focused!