Challenge 4: Your first blind date

For this challenge, please work on a ground which is clear of any obstacles that you may be able to trip over and get help from a partner/friend who can keep a watchful eye on you.

  • Build a track of around 100 paces
  • Position no more than 40 rewards along your track
  • Ask your partner/friend to blind fold you and then take you and your dog at the start of the track

I love this exercise because, without any visual cues, you must fully trust your dog’s decisions. In addition, you will be learning to “feel” your dog through the tension of the lead.

TIPS for this challenge:

  • If you find this challenge too easy, reduce the treats and / or introduce a turn. If you are very confident and adventurous you can try the square challenge blind folded!
  • If the track is too hard, increase the number of treats along the track
  • If you want to check how good your dog is tracking, add some art foam squares to quantify the tracking process

Challenge 3: The Hunger Game

Build straight track of 100 paces and reduce the rewards to no more than 10 pieces of food along the entire length of the track (the food at the first step and the reward at the last footstep are not part of the 10 pieces)

If you want to check how good your dog is tracking, add some art foam squares to quantify the tracking process (a piece of foam for each piece of treat).

Challenge 2: The ground rules game

Build a 50 metre straight track that crosses at least 2 different ground types and use no more than 20 pieces of food along the track (the reward at the first step and the reward at the last footstep are not part of the 10 pieces)

Challenge 1: The Square meal

Build a square track where you are allowed to use a maximum 40 pieces of food. Each leg of the square should be around 35 to 50 paces.

  • The end of the track should be at least 2 metres away from the start so not to confuse your dog
  • Choose where you want to locate the pieces of food along the track

If your dog is not confident enough with the relatively few treats you are using, try to estimate how many treats you may need along the track and use this as the maximum or reduce the length of each leg.

Congratulations

I hope you have enjoyed your challenges and most importantly that you have enjoyed your time learning with your dog. Thank you so much for trusting me to guide you through the discovery of the tracking adventure.

Tracking is such a fun and inexpensive activity that is so rewarding for you and your dog. It has been scientifically proven that scent exercise is beneficial for our dogs both in a physiological and behavioural aspect. Tracking is mentally stimulating for our dogs but also reduces their heart rate and anxiety related behaviours. Not only will this new skill help you have fun with you dog, but it will also benefit their physical and mental health.

I wish you many more fun days tracking with your dog!

You many now be asking yourself, what next?

Now that you have discovered the magic of scent work, watch this space as in the next few months as a new scent class in the CANINE-Pawsibilities school may appear 😉. In the meantime, done hesitate to post videos of your progress on the Facebook group.

Happy Tracking.

I Challenge You!

In the next topics I have a few fun challenges for your graduation. Please have a go at these challenges and then post an individual video for each on the Facebook group.

I know that over the past 8 weeks I advised you to progress slowly and you may feel you are not ready for all the following challenges, but the idea is just to test how far you progressed and where you may need to work to progress.

For the challenges if you feel your dog cannot/may not achieve the track with the reduced number of rewards along the track that I am suggesting, do not panic! Reduce the rewards to the minimum you feel your dog can achieve. If you feel your dog may not concentrate for the length of the exercise, offer a solution to help them. It is all about having fun and for the first time stretching your team abilities a little bit out of your comfort zone.

For each challenge, try to take notes of how you believe you did and what / where you feel you need to concentrate for your progression. Post your notes in the Facebook group together with your videos, For example:

  • Did your dog surprise you and found the track too easy?
  • Did your dog struggle with the track, and if so, what aspects did it struggle with?
  • How did you feel you were handling your dog?
  • Where do you think you could improve?
  • And most importantly, did you have fun?

How to progress towards a no treat track

Until your dog has acquired a lot of tracking experience, I advise at least to always lay:

  • Some treats at the start of the track so your dog gets accustomed to the odour that it is supposed to follow
  • A reward at the end of the track. The reward at the end is important as receiving the reward is the main driver for your dog to want to follow the track.

From what you have learnt in the previous 7 weeks, you now have at hand all the ingredients to develop a skilled tracker dog. To improve your skills and be able to follow a track with pretty much only an odour at the start of the track and a reward at the end of the track you just need to practice and gradually work on the following criteria.  

  • Increase the length of the tracks – How long a track can your dog follow?
  • Decrease the rewards placed at your footsteps until your dog can track confidently with just a few treats placed along the track
  • Build tracks in various wind directions
  • Build the understanding of the turns and gradually reduce the reward placement at the turns
  • Introduce as many types of ground as you can think of
  • Train in a different location
  • Train in different weather and wind conditions
  • Train in different light conditions, morning, evening, night
  • Increase the distractions and contaminants
  • Introduce many tracks laid out by different people unless you want your dog to only recognise your own scent
  • Hide your dog when setting up the track so that your dog had no visual information of where the track is
  • Vary the age of the track by laying a track and then wait 10 min / 20 min / 30 min/ 1h / 2h etc before introducing the track to your dog. I did not introduce this exercise during the course as I expected some of you may struggle with being able to leave tracks aging without any contamination from other walkers, or dogs coming to steal the rewards along the track.

Now that you dog is understanding the concept of tracking, the more you will expose your dog to tracking in different environments the more you will help them develop their skills and understanding

Do not forget that even if your dog is becoming an expert at tracking, to occasionally mark out some easy tracks for your dog to follow so that its enthusiasm does not decline. It needs to be a fun exercise for you all

The final key to being successful is Practice, Practice, Practice!

The following video gives an indication of what you should be aiming for with time and patience. The video is of a very experienced tracking dog, Melvin, who is very precise in his search. This could be you and your dog soon.

Free Tracking

Most of us commit to learn new skills with our dogs to enjoy time together and to strengthen our relationship with them. However, with the excitement of learning the new skills, we can easily be side-tracked from our original objectives and start to put pressure on ourselves and our dogs as we want to succeed.

Placing pressure on ourselves and on our dogs will often have a detrimental effect on the dog’s confidence and enthusiasm to work for us.

Let’s clarify one thing, putting pressure on our dog can sometimes be intentional but, in most cases, it is unintentional; often we do not readily realise we are doing it. A miss-timed command, a change in our intonation or a slight jerk on the lead can be all it takes to knock your dog’s confidence.

By this stage in the course your dogs should be able to follow a track over a variety of distances and ground types and keep following the track when it changes direction. I would now like to introduce your dogs to “Free Tracking”.

With Free Tracking we remove the handler and let the dogs track a scent trail on their own. It is a great way of removing any pressure resulting from the handler.

In this exercise you just need to lay your treats along a track of any form, or shape and just let your dog investigate and find the treats. You can do this exercise at mealtime; it is a great way to enrich their mealtime session and to slow down dogs who tend to eat their dinner too quickly.

You can play this every day if you want, it is just a fun session for you and your dog. You can also learn a lot by just observing how they are tracking for their food.

Increasing the length of the track and number of turns

The next stage when your dog confidently tracks turns is to increase the number of turns and the overall length of the track.

When marking out your longer tracks, remember to include reset areas as and when required; do not forget that your dog has only been tracking for 7 weeks and still needs to build its confidence and stamina. Do not be over eager to build a track that is too long and difficult for your dog.

Just like you have been working the straight-line tracks in previous weeks, vary the complexity of the exercises by building some short easy tracks to balance with the more difficult tracks.

By adding more turns, varying the length of the legs between each turn, and varying the overall length of the track, you will start to see the sort of behaviour from your dog that you could expect to see if it was naturally following a scent in the wild.

We have included below a video of a training session with Sparky working on his turn. Although it is out of the scope of this course, you will also see Sparky retrieving objects along the track during this video.

Reducing the treats at the Turn

As you may have realised, the next exercise is to reduce / fade the treats that we have previously being positioned to mark out a turn in the track.

Showing this progression via a series of videos would be difficult and unclear as such I have decided to simply describe the steps required.

Although I introduce this topic after introducing turns with the Change of Ground, in fact both exercises can be worked in parallel.

If you are introducing more difficult or unfamiliar ground, introduce the turn with a high frequency of the treat as described in week 6. When you are training of familiar or / and easier ground, aim to gradually fade the number of treats to handle the turn.

When you teach the turn to the dog there are 3 aspects which determine how successful you will be.

  • Your dog can follow properly the first leg of the track up to the turn point
  • Your dog is taking the turn confidently
  • Your dog is following the second leg of the track and is not re orientating back to the path of the first leg of the track.

Once your dog can do all three of the above its time to start gradually fading out the number of treats that you are using to indicate where the turn is. Some dogs will struggle with less treats indicating, again, be patient and work the exercise gradually.

When we introduced the turn last week, I recommended putting treats at every footstep for approximately 10 steps on the approach to the turn point and for the first 10 steps of the second leg away from the turn point. The reasons for this are:

  • It helps dogs struggling to follow the track due to the influence of the wind to find the turn
  • It helps dogs lacking motivation or confidence to continue moving along the track
  • It helps slow down dogs that track quickly which may, in haste, continue moving forwards past the turn point
  • Encourages the dog to follow the start of the second track
  • Discourages the dog to turn back towards the original leg of the track.

Fading the treats around the turn is in general a 4-step process.

Step 1 – Fading the treats on the second leg of the track

Fade sequentially the treats along the second leg of the track, starting from the furthest away from the turn.

When you have reduced from 10 treats down to 5, you need to do several exercises where you randomly remove some of the remaining 5. For example, lay a track with treats under the footsteps 1,3 & 5, and then another track with 1,2 & 5 and another with 1 & 3 only.

In this step you are:

  • You are making sure your dog is following the first leg of the track
  • You are making sure your dog is finding the corner
  • You are teaching your dog to start tracking the second leg with less treats without orienting itself back to the orientation of the first leg

Step 2 – Fading the treats at the turn

When you have faded the treats of the turn treat of the second leg to a minimum (i.e. treat placed only under the first step after the turn), place a next set of treats approximately 5-7 metres away from the turn point. The frequency of rewards after this point should vary based on your dog’s confidence.

  • By limiting the treats at the turn to just one or two footsteps, your dog is now practicing following the human scent to take the turn
  • By laying a set of treats approximately 5-7 metres away from the turn point, the distance is short enough so your dog can find the treats quickly which will boost its confidence.
  • By laying a set of treats approximately 5-7 metres away from the turn point, this set of treats is also far enough away to limit the risk of your dog simply air scenting the treat rather than tracking the footsteps.

Practice until you are only left with a treat at the turn point and a first set of treat 5 to 7 meters away from the turn

Step 3 – Fade the treats on the first leg of the track

Fade progressively the treats along the first leg of the track, starting from the furthest away from the corner. This is making the approach to the turn point harder for your dog.

Gradually fade the treats approaching the turn along the first leg of the track

Step 4 – Remove the treat that marks the turn

Remove the treat that is used to mark the turn point. Your dog is now learning to handle turns without any additional markers for assistance.

Finally, gradually start increasing the distance from the turn point to the next set of treats.