Sunday, January 26, 2014

Four Good Weeks of Tracking

Yesterday it was too cold and snowy to go out tracking, it was the first tracking day Rigby and I had missed in quite some time.  To get my "tracking fix" this week I thought I'd review our last four tracks, as they each showed the value of a good tracking foundation and the progress Rigby is making.

The system of tracking training I've been taught consists basically of "teaching" the dog to track on multiple straight tracks, starting with 10 to 15 yard tracks and gradually lengthening them till the dog is doing several hundred-yard straight tracks in one outing.  The aging of the tracks comes naturally with the lengthening of the tracks, as the additional time needed to lay a longer track and wait for the track layer to return to the start flag adds time to the age of the track.  

Rigby was given a very strong foundation on straight tracks, as we spent months making sure she had all the skills on a straight track before adding in the element of a turn.  She needed to have a good start, she needed to stay right on the track, no weaving back and forth, and she needed to have her nose down, truly following the track as laid.  During this learning period I follow right behind her, within six feet or so, to make sure she has no chance to deviate from the desired tracking form.

Although at times I got tired of straight track after straight track and I was just sure my girl could do more, I stayed with the program as presented by my tracking mentors and didn't push to go faster than we should.

Rigby then started to learn turns, from very gradual open angle turns that progressively became 90 degree turns.  At first her tracks had one turn and she would do a couple one-turn tracks each tracking day.  Then she started two-turn tracks and then two tracks, each with two turns.

After months of what felt like crawling when I wanted to run, we seemed to hit the learning curve that everyone was looking for and all of a sudden all the foundation training came together and it was decided that Rigby was ready to really move forward with more advanced tracks and challenges. 

The past four weeks of tracking really demonstrated these advancements and I wanted to memorialize them here, as much for me, as for anyone else.

Week 1:
This was our first week tracking at a location other than Mingo Creek County Park.  We tracked at Rockin' V Stables, the farm of my friends Sam and Lin Viviano.  It was a crisp winter morning, with snow covering the ground.

Rigby's track was laid by Phil and it was a two-turn track with three very long legs.  That in itself was nothing new for Rigby, but the challenge on this track was that Phil accidentally dropped one of his gloves on a leg of the track and Rigby had her first intermediate article and the challenge of re-starting after she found that glove.

Rigby did find the lost glove, retrieved it and got her praise.  Then when asked to continue tracking, headed right back out and completed her track happily, finding the glove at the end.

The other nice thing for me about this day of tracking was that my friend, Lin, joined us to watch two of the dogs run their tracks.  I'm glad she had an opportunity to learn a bit about tracking and to see the enthusiasm that Rigby has for tracking.

Week 2:
This was the second week of tracking at the Rockin' V Stables.  The day was much colder than the week before, but with the sun shining and an hour later start time, by the time Rigby's track was laid it turned out to be a beautiful tracking day!

There were several inches of snow on the ground this day and it made it very easy for me to know exactly where Phil had laid the track.  Rigby left the start flag with her usual quick speed, making quick work of the first leg.  She turned left and headed downhill toward a road.  By the time she reached the bottom of the hill she was pulling me so hard that we overshot the turn.  I backed up a few yards and waited while she searched and then found the right-hand turn and started down the third leg.  The next turn was also to the right and Rigby had no trouble following the track.  We tracked uphill now to an open turn to the right, she worked the fourth leg very easily until she found the glove.

This was Rigby's first 4-turn track and the longest track she had done so far.  It was exciting to see how she has progressed and how easy tracking has become for her.

Week 3:
This tracking day was a Sunday, back at Mingo Park.  Although the day was chilly, it was much warmer than the previous two weeks and the snow had been melted in the rains the previous couple of days.

Ellen laid Rigby's track this time and, because we had fewer dogs in attendance, she used most of the first field at the entrance to the park.  Rigby's track was about 440 yards, with 4 turns.

Rigby had a nice start and a great first leg.  The first turn was to the right and headed uphill, she had no trouble with the turn.  The next turn went left, across the hill and she tracked with her usual speed.
Next was an open turn to the left and back downhill.  Rigby indicated the turn twice, but I wasn't sure she was correct.  On her third indication I went with her and, of course, she was right on.  The last turn went to the right and across the hill.  The scent seemed to have rolled downhill a bit and she stayed a bit low to the true track as she went along.  Suddenly I saw the glove right in front of me, but Rigby had missed it, as she was not quite on the track.  I backed up a little and asked her to find the glove, which she did with little hesitation.

This track was particularly rewarding to me, as there was no snow to indicate where the track was and it was reassuring to know that we could do the 4-turn track without the benefit of seeing the footprints in the snow.

Week 4:
This Saturday we were back to the very cold temperatures and fresh snow that was a couple inches deep.  The park was beautiful, all the trees covered with snow, and it was very quiet since few people had chosen to be in the park this day.  Since it was mostly an overcast day it did not warm up as the other days had.

When we first arrived at the park I got Rigby out of the car and she and Como greeted one another and played for a bit in the snow.  I noticed that the extended time in the snow and cold did cause a bit of tenderness to Rigby's feet and worried about how this might affect her with tracking.

To give Rigby less time with her feet in the snow, I put her harness on in her crate and then we headed out to her track.  As we expected, she was so excited and happy about tracking that she didn't seem to notice the cold at all and she tracked the first leg, a left turn, an uphill second leg and then a right turn. She found the next turn and went right again.  This leg was downhill and she and I both handled it better than the last downhill leg in the snow, she was a bit slower this day and I was able to keep up better and I also gave her a bit more line so that I did not hinder her efforts.  

Part way through this leg I started to notice that the cold was bothering Rigby's feet and she limped a bit on her left rear leg.  Then a bit further she stopped dead in her tracks and held her right rear leg in the air.  I thought we were done for the day, as I didn't want to cause any injury or frostbite, and so I reached forward and just wiped her foot off with my glove.  With that she jumped back into tracking and within a short time found the glove.  She then played with the glove and ran and played in the snow the entire way back to the cars.

I guess her challenge that day was to show what a tough girl she is and that she can work through discomfort to get to the goal that she knows has been set before her.

This week, with even colder temperatures, snow and wind, we stayed home, warm and safe.  In place of tracking we were able to play fetch with a glove out in the snow for a short time and we both are hoping this weather changes soon and that we are out tracking again next week.

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