When you plan your weekend tracking training, you should put a lot of thought into your tracks, locations, and goals. Once the track is plotted and laid, make good use of it! There is nothing I love more than using a track more than once. I might run it again with the same dog or one of my other dogs either as a hot track, or after it has re-aged. I might also figure out a schedule so friend’s dogs can benefit. I’ll even go back and re-run the track another day to see how it ‘works’ in different conditions. Don’t let a good track go to waste!
Last weekend I was able to do just this. After a training – practice track on Saturday, I laid a wonderful track on Sunday that was run by THREE dogs in a row. One ran it blind at two hours old, one ran it after it was aged 30 minutes, and my own pup Micah ran it hot at the end of our training session. Each track offered new things to consider and it was a real learning experience to see how age and scent affected each dog.
The opportunity was created when a friend came to visit, and of course, to track! Peggy drove for 6 hours from Edmonton to Medicine Hat Alberta. She has been here before and we’ve tracked at the college, so I wanted to choose different locations for a new experience and help her prepare for future urban tests. For Saturday I decided to direct Peggy and let her lay her own track for her 10-year old Airedale Reggie TDX. It was a track I’ve done many ways, many times, so I know the area well. I suggested where to put articles, and we drove around the perimeter of the track so I could point out where to turn, end, and walk back.
Peggy McCallum and young Rowan a Welsh Terrier, taken after Reggie ran her track
Saturday’s Practice Track
For Saturday’s track, my goal as a coach was to have Peggy think about the track, potential issues, plan ahead for handling in certain areas, and think about spatial awareness. Since it was a new location for Peggy, I wanted her to use this opportunity to hone mental sharpness required for a blind urban track; to watch her dog Reggie’s body language and comment on what she was telling her and commit it to memory; and to obeserve wind, traffic, people and things around her as she followed her dog.
This was a practice track where I could observe the team as well, so I could decide on a plan for Sunday. Here is the map. This track is 380 meters.
Flag indicates the start. Blue circles indicate the tricky turns where spatial awareness, taking your time and observing your dog at a slower pace help navigate the track. The black dotted line shows Reggie’s path. She was very confident and Peggy followed her beautifully.
On Saturday’s track, Reggie had 3 “open” turns that I’d call Moment of Truth turns because she could conceivable go in any direction to fail. Reggie gave some beautiful body language, and Peggy followed at a great speed behind, not rushing and not hesitating, but finding that sweet spot to let Reggie show that she was in charge, then follow willingly and quickly behind once Reggie made decisions at her turns. I was really happy because the success on this track meant I could lay a challenging blind track for this team on Sunday!
Links to Saturday’s UTD training track
Video Part one to article one
Video Part two to end
Sunday’s Blind Track – run three times!
On Saturday night, I hardly slept! I heard the wind pick up around 3 a.m. and started to revise my track every time I woke up. By morning, I was pretty sure of my plan. I was going to lay a UTDX length track around my church, that would incorporate some legs sheltered by wind, some open legs and a variety of surface.
I drove around my church about three times to firm up my plan. In the end, I had a nice veg start, an interesting gravel leg where I used trailers to hold scent and place article one. These two pictures of Judy re-running the track with her Border Collie Lark show the start and first turn.
The next turn was tricky, as there was a big parking lot ahead that would beckon to an urban tracker. It crossed where the gravel and asphalt meet, to go to some beautiful lush green grass and follow the church walls around two sides, passing the main doors. When I laid the track, church was about to start so the sidewalk and doorway was busy with a bus idling by the doors and people walking up and into the church. These photos of Micah show this portion of the track. You can click to see each thumbnail as a larger image:
Crossing opening to trailers
Following trailer edge
Wood article along trailer
Gravel crossing before big lot
Meander to veg edge
Crossing to lush green grass
Map of the track:
Blue circles show the areas I thought were tough turns.
When this was laid the wind was coming from the right – into my face on the second leg and at my back on the boulevards beside the road. When we ran it at 1 pm, the wind was 60 kph crosswind. The blue circles are what I believed would be difficult turns. Reggie was pretty much dead on so there is no black line showing her path here. On turn one, she crossed the road and came back. Articles were wood beside the trailer, sock after the main doors and glove in the gravel (not visible! Another tricky thing i threw at them- – I didn’t arrange for the wind though!
The next difficult turn was AWAY from the warm brick and shelter of the church to go to a windy boulevard beside the roadway. By the time the team got to the parking lot, the hard surface turn would be the easiest turn of the track! In total it was 580 meters. Here are more thumbnails of Micah showing these parts of the track:
Along the building edge
Turn away from the building
Boulevard in a cross wind
Parking lot turn
Peggy and Reggie are working on UTD but are ready for UTDX, and I designed a track to challenge Peggy’s ability to read Reggie’s body language, and that would give Reggie a variety of experiences and transitions to help her along. I have tracked around my church a lot, and this was a new pattern. I LOVE plotting and thinking about what will happen on a track once it’s put in.
Plotting well is a skill all trackers should learn. You can learn what works when you design your own tracks and then see if your dog tells you if things worked. When you lay your own tracks, you can see how things work out compared to what you thought might happen. It is a never-ending lesson, and will help you a lot when you enter tests as it teaches you to be more aware of you surroundings and to be more aware of the environment you are tracking in.
Peggy and Reggie’s Blind Track
I am NOT a fan of blind tracks because they can mess a team up badly. I prefer to have others lay tracks for me (and I watch or direct them), so my dogs learn to follow other scent than mine. Or, I will lay blind tracks for students, and follow behind so the situation is under control and I can coach them through to keep them calm and make sure they do not get into trouble that will affect their mental game – or their dog’s trust in them!
Below are videos of Peggy’s track with my comments. When I laid it, the wind was coming AT me, as I walked up the long gravel leg, and at my back as I came down the other side of the church. After church (so handy, I just had to pop inside for the service!), the wind had shifted. When we ran the track it was two hours old, and the wind was a crosswind from the right for the first half of the track, and a crosswind from the left for the other half! It was gusting at 60 km per hour and overcast.
Comments: Reggie took a minute to settle into the first leg. It turned before the road, but Peggy wisely allowed Reggie to check the other side – and Reggie clearly had no interest in the veg there, coming back to nail her left turn. Once we got into the shelter of the church and trailers, Reggie was dead on, coming to article one.
Comments: Reggie continues nicely making the ‘meander’ that I took to follow the edge of the vegetation, to give her a reminder of the scent she was following because a tough decision was coming up. As they approached the huge parking lot, Reggie began to lean right, then took a few steps towards the parking lot – BUT – she stopped in her tracks! Perhaps the shift in wind helped as the crosswind brought the scent along the upper edge of the building to Reggie. I deliberately aimed for some thick green grass. As Reggie got closer to it, she began to pull. For a blind track, this was very clear and easy to follow.
This was the area full of people who had parked and walked up the sidewalk to go into the main doors. Reggie did pause at the doors. This is an obstacle in urban tracking! My scent went in and out of the three big doorways as I walked by. People kept holding doors open for me, and I would thank them and keep walking. As a reward for getting past the doors, I planted a sock around the corner. I asked Peggy to hold her ground to make sure Reggie got the sock. In a test, you need to really be cautious about not passing articles. Judges try to put them in spots like this, but I had tucked it against the wall because of the wind. Reggie actually picked it up to show it to Peggy!
Comments: I felt that the turn before the big parking lot would be tricky, and Reggie nailed it. I also felt that the next turn in this part would be hard – as it was a turn away from the nice warm brick. I chose to turn at a covered gutter, hoping it would hold some scent, and followed a crack across the road. Reggie showed a wonderful negative here and nailed her turn! As I followed, I constantly coached Peggy to watch, to slow down, and to watch for what was coming.
Extra tips and thoughts about handling: On a turn like this, it is crucial to follow your dog to build its confidence! I never like to see a dog struggle on a track or on a difficult turn. If I am tracking by myself, I will “pretend” it is blind which takes a lot of acting and I will observe my dog as it works out the turn. If it begins to struggle, I step in immediately. This helps maintain the dog’s belief that the scent is always somewhere around ME so that they always circle back towards me if they feel lost.
I like to see my dogs use the tools I’ve taught them, and when the find the turn, I am able to follow immediately as a reward, which maintains their confidence. If you are working with someone who lays blind tracks for you – don’t do too many! And make sure they always tell you when your dog is right IMMEDIATELY so you can follow with confidence. Tracking is a mental game for a dog too, and your following is very important to maintaining their good behaviour.
More comments: Reggie corrects herself to the primary track in the strong crosswind from the left. At a road cross, she hesitates to go to the other side, and I coach Peggy to move in closer and follow her onto the road. Stepping down onto the hard surface with your dog will help them move forward. The crosswind here created a “river” of scent on that roadway. Once Reggie got to the other side, she took off nicely!
Now we were parallel to another parking lot! I always tell people to never pass a good parking lot, but on this track, I ignored the first big one, and on this one, I didn’t enter it until well down the boulevard. This is a nerve wracking twist as the team knows they need to get in there. I coach Peggy to watch Reggie, and to remember that she is at the UTD level so we don’t need the big lot, just a corner or small piece of it! Since the parking lot had been full, I wanted to leave the last article well beyond the edge, so it would stay put and not attract attention or be picked up. I also told Peggy to think like a judge and look for a “window of opportunity” (a landmark, and opening) that might attract a judge’s attention. Reggie nicely found the path in, at a tree stump.
This was a tricky turn in, as it required a 90 degree turn beside the parking lot. I would consider this more of a UTDX entrance to the lot, and for UTD I usually try to approach the parking lot straight on, so the beginner urban team can transition straight into the parking lot. Reggie finds the transition, and I coach Peggy to get out there with her asap! Once your dog gets onto the hard surface, get out with them, to encourage them to begin moving.
If Reggie goes back to sniff the veg, I advised Peggy – do not give up your hard surface position. SUPPOSE the track did continue along the boulevard to the next parking lot (at an adjacent church)… you can give line and follow along on the hard surface, and observe. If your dog tells you it keeps going, you can fall in behind. But if you need to be in that lot, your dog has given you permission once to get out there – do not give it up! t
When Reggie comes out and begins to move into the parking lot, I encourage Peggy to take baby steps and follow slowly. Never rush a dog heading out before the turn. Reggie amazingly finds the turn. When I laid the track, the parking lot was full of cars and people! Our dogs are so amazing! And she makes it to the end!
On the two-hour old track, Reggie is steady and the scent has settled into the edges as I had planned. It helps her to be sure of what she is following, so that when the track moves out to open areas, she can make good decisions. If the entire track had followed edges, we would never know how she would do ‘in the real world’ out in the open. If it had been all out in the open, she would have struggled the entire way, never having opportunities to feel super-confident and feel good. We want our dogs to feel good!
Running the track AGAIN! A lesson about fresh vs. aged scent
By this time Judy showed up and joined us. I suggested she come a bit late, so that it would be a blind track for her Border Collie Lark. We waited until it was 30 minutes old. Peggy had left the articles in place for Judy. I asked Peggy to follow Judy and “practice helping a fellow tracker” on a blind track. I thought that it would be a good experience for Peggy to watch another dog run it, and think more about what Reggie had done (all part of the learning experience!). Plus it gave me a chance to rest with Micah.
Judy and Lark – start
Judy and Lark – first turn
Lark made her turn…
Lark has a nice down indication
The wind was still gusting, and Lark had a LOT more scent in the sheltered areas. We observed later that Reggie had an advantage with the older track, because scent had settled. Lark definitely worked through the challenge of swirling winds along the trailers, as the crosswind blew over the roof of the church into the corridor. Lark also had more trouble approaching the first big parking lot – as a result of the harder start with swirling scent. Once she got that turn, she zipped through the legs along the building! Now she had the confidence and had locked onto the scent. She made the turn away from the building after really investigating some potted plants near the second doorway. Her parking lot turn was great, though a bit early, again due to MORE scent around the turn from Peggy running it and me following it.
It was an interesting lesson! Fresher scent is not always better. Sometimes AGED tracks are an advantage, especially on windy days! Lark doesn’t even have a TD yet and is doing amazing urban tracking work. It was good for her to work on the 30 minute mark despite the wind, as we want to be sure she works in the type of scent she will get for a TD. She is an amazing tracking dog!
Judy does do a lot of aged tracks for her too, but we will make sure that Lark continues to work well in the fresher scent with more residual. Is 30 minutes old really easier? On the field yes. In urban, no!
Micah’s turn – hot track
Micah at age 7.5 months old – she is maturing into a beautiful dog
As soon as Judy and Lark were done, I ran Micah. In this case, it was a HOT track and Micah loves Judy and Lark!
Both Reggie and Lark had been on the track without a lot of deviation, so it was still a nice clean track for Micah to follow. Micah did her first non-veg turn when she was 3 months old (left) and is so confident on hard surfaces!
Parking lot turn
This track was pure motivation for Micah. She was so sure of herself, handling every turn beautifully. I love to do this with my own dogs or with students who are learning new skills. When the dog runs a track like this, we are able to practice our line handling, and can really study our dogs’ body language.
So proud of my 7 month old pup!
Crossing opening to trailers
Wood article along trailer
Following trailer edge
For the dog – it is a wonderful tracking opportunity to find flow, feel good and experience the kind of tracking the future will hold!
Micah START to Wood article (which she retrieved!)
Micah mid track from wood to article two after church doors
Micah along building, road cross to parking lot turn and end
As Micah is only 7 months old, I was very proud of how she did, despite the fact that it was a hot track. She is going to be a fun dog when she grows up! She loves tracking! I will also be able to do better behind her after I have a hip replacement (yes, I am struggling and in pain, which is why I rested while Judy ran the track with Lark!)
Three dogs on the same track – lessons learned
There were a lot of great lessons to learn after watching each dog on the track. Lessons about the age, the effects of wind, watching dogs sort out turns and figure out tricky turns.
If you are tracking with friends, why not make good use of a track by re-running it? If you are training two dogs, you can also switch up who gets the fresh track and who follows after.
If you train one dog, here are some ideas for you:
- If your dog has trouble with one part of the track (note how I break tracks into zones) go back and re-lay that zone, put down some treats, scuff, or trench the turns. Re-run that part on a short line with encouragement and have fun!
- If your dog is advanced and working on UTDX or TDX, leave the articles and go back the next morning to run it AGAIN when it is 12 or more hours old! You will be amazed at how your dog does on a super-aged morning track! Even just leave one article and re-run one section that is this age.
- Go back and lay the exact track in other conditions or at different times of day. The EXACT track. See how your dog reacts to the track in new conditions to learn more about scent in urban areas!
Judy went back to re-lay and run this track on Tuesday, two days later. She ran all of her dogs on it, running the track three times again! Kudos to Judy for doing this! It was a really neat pattern. In different winds and at a different time of day, this was a neat thing to do and each of her dogs reportedly amazed her on the tricky turns.
Blind track today!
Today, Judy laid a blind track for Micah! It was Micah’s first blind track. Judy ‘coached’ me from behind to make sure I followed Micah and could observe her body language. I am not a blind track fan, but doing them from time to time with a trusted friend is a high, and tells us where we are at. Micah did a great job today and I am still feeling very happy about her performance. After Micah was finished, Judy ran the same track with Lark! After the challenging tracks of last weekend, today’s training was simpler and the dogs were allowed to shine.
Last weekend we invested 4 hours into running the track three times. Today we were done in 30 minutes and had time to enjoy the beautiful day. Dogs were happy and so were we!
If you have found some good training tips in this post, please let me know! And please let me know if you have any questions by emailing me through my website – spiritdancetrackingcommunityonline.wordpress.com. Go to the LEARN MORE link to use the contact form if you don’t have my email address.
We can’t always meet, but through online coaching I offer the same kind of coaching using Google Earth maps and video to comment on tracks and come up with new homework.
Thank you Peggy for coming down and thanks Judy for joining us! It was a great weekend and I hope others will learn and benefit from our fun tracks and fun time together.
Donna and Micah!