Progressing after your first track

For this week you have learnt the basics of how to mark out a track and follow it. This is just the start of your journey.

In the following video Agnes summarises some of the common mistakes that many handlers make when doing their initial tracks and as they start to practice and build on what they have learnt.

Following your first track – Practical Demonstrations

The videos in this section provide practical demonstrations of some dogs and their handler’s completing their first track together. What these should show you is that although each dog has its own style and speed at which it completes the track, they all quickly decide to follow their noses. There is little encouragement or prompting required for them to naturally start tracking the scent trail once they have been shown where it starts.

The first video is a bit of 2 for 1, it shows Colin laying out a track which Blake & Sharon then follow.

In the next video with Sally & Mia, Sally has her long lead coiled up and is only using one hand to control the lead. This is not a problem on this first short track but is not how the lead should be ideally used. As described in the theory section the lead should be trailing on the floor behind the handler with the lead held in such a way that it can slip between both hands when the dog moves forwards. We will cover how the desired method of handling the lead in next week’s lesson.

In the following video, Fergus is a little distracted by other things going in his surroundings so initially keeps lifting his head away from the track and needs a little bit of encouragement to start working again.

Try not to blink when watching the first part of this video or you will miss it! Leo is a very energetic and focused dog and does everything in life at high speed.

The following video is actually the second time Storm has attempted a track, as Agnès used her as the demo dog in the Marking out your first track – theory section. If you compare the two videos you will see a marked improvement in her second attempt as she has clearly decided that following her nose means she find treats to eat.

Mia’s second attempt.

Another high-speed track from Leo. The lead that Emily is using is too short. When Leo accelerates off down the track Emily is unable to let out slack on the lead to allow him to smoothly keep moving forwards. We will discuss lead control in next week’s lesson.

Marking out your first track – Practical demonstrations

The following short videos provide practical demonstrations of laying out tracks for dogs to follow based on the theory introduced in the previous section. Except for Agnès, the handlers in these videos have never done tracking work before.

In this first video Agnès demonstrates how to lay out a track and then takes Storm, a very excitable and active border collie, on her first ever track. Note that, as described in the theory section, Agnès is only laying out a short track and is placing food at every footstep. For your initial tracks you don’t want to make these any longer than 10 steps and should place a treat at each footstep. This is to give your dog the best chance of being successful when it comes to track the scent trail.

In this second video Agnès once again gives a practical demonstration of how to lay out a track.

The following video is Colin’s first attempt at laying out a track. In this video note how Colin is clearly using his heel to create a depression in the ground in which he then places the treat. This is to create a small ‘pool’ of scent that will help the dog locate it.

In this next video, note how Sally is walking with a steady stride pattern that pretty much matches her normal walking stride which is ideal. When setting their first tracks many handlers have a tendency exaggerate their stride taking much longer steps than normal. Try to keep to your normal stride pattern when marking out your track.

What was your dog really tracking?

I hope you have enjoyed your first tracking experience. At this point it is worth taking a moment to consider if you are sure you understand what your dog has been tracking?

You may think that your dog has learnt to follow the human smell along the track however scent work is much more complex than that. The scent your dog was following comprised of a cocktail of odours formed by:

  • The human scent you have left whilst walking along the track
  • The environment scent associated with the disruption your steps made on the ground for example the crushing and breaking grass stems and disturbing the soil, to name just a few components
  • At this early stage you can also factor in the scent from the treats placed along the track.

With tracking, the scent of the track is changing all along the track which is very stimulating for the dog; in fact for most dogs after a while the tracking becomes the reward by itself rather than the treat jackpot at the end of the track.

If you are interested to know more about the olfactive system of the dog, I would recommend you watch the following video from YouTube.

Following your first Track – Theory

Having marked out your first track you can now get your dog ready. You will easily be able to identify the line of your track as it is located in between the two marker poles at either end; if you and your dog stay in line between the 2 poles, you should be aligned along the track.

  1. Put the harness on your dog if you have one and attach the long lead to it (we would strongly recommend using a harness rather than using the dog’s collar)
  2. Unravel the long lead so that it trails along the ground behind your dog and away from the track, do not coil the lead and hold it in one of your hands
  3. Holding the long lead in your hand just behind your dog, move to the first pole. Using your free hand indicate to the dog where the treat is. After a short while your dog should start following your scent track and move towards the second treat. Be patient it could take a small while for the dog to lock on the scent and decide to follow it.
  4. Keeping the long lead in your hand let it slide gently in between your fingers whilst your dog starts moving forward. Unlike normal lead walking where your dog is expected to be positioned next to you in a heel or side position the dog should be working out in front of you. You will need to maintain a little bit of tension on the lead but not so much that it is restraining your dog. Your dog can be several metres in front of you so long as it is moving ahead along the track sniffing the ground and you are maintaining a slight tension on the lead.
  5. The lead will help you to keep your dog on track. If your dog deviates off the track, stop walking, take in any slack on the lead gently and then hold the lead tighter so that your dog cannot walk away from you but allows it to move left and right. Patiently wait until your dog finds the track again.
  6. Remember to try to keep the lead under a gentle tension, aligned along your dog’s back; you should be walking behind your dog.  Do not pull on the lead or let it go too slack; you need to maintain a nice balance of tension.
  7. If your dog turns around to go back along a previous portion of the track do not move, take up the slack in the lead and tighten your hold on the lead. You do not want to teach your dog that it is acceptable to move backwards along the part of the track it has already followed, your dog should always be moving forward.
  8. In an ideal situation, your dog would move forward smoothly, with a slight right a left swing to find each footstep until the end of the track.
  9. Along the track try not talk to your dog, just let it work to ‘solve’ the scent puzzle on its own. You want to develop a dog who can work independently and does not rely on your cues to find the track. The art of tracking requires that you learn to trust your dog and allow it to take control.
  10. At the end of the track at your last step, your dog will find the jackpot, the area of multiple high value treats.
  11. Leave the track, do not walk back on the route of the track you have just competed; you do not want to teach the dog that it is acceptable to track back to get any missed pieces of food.

In the next topic we will put this theory into practice and provide practical demonstrations.

Marking out your first track – Theory

To teach the dog to follow each footstep you, or someone helping you, are firstly going to carefully create a track for the dog to follow by walking across an area of ground to leave your scent. To entice your dog, you will also be placing lots of treats that your dog likes along this track. As this will probably be your first track, it is good for your dog to be able to watch as you set the track so that they get some visual clues of what is happening; however, make sure they restrained away from the track so that they and cannot walk freely around the area where you are laying the track.

Laying out a track takes a little bit of time to do and may well feel awkward to start with. It requires a degree of consistency from you as you mark out your footsteps and place rewards for your dog. The steps to mark out a track are:

  1. Check the wind direction. Your first track will start upwind and will be orientated downwind so that your dog will receive a lot of information about the track as scents are carried in the wind towards its nose.
  1. Ensure you have some high value treats with you, approximately 20 to 30 pieces and 2 marker poles.
  2. Start by putting a marker pole in the ground at the very start of your track, where you want your dog to start tracking from.
  3. Place one of your feet right next to the pole and then roll your foot forwards and placing some treats (1 or 2 pieces) under the heel of your foot.
  4. Start walking in a straight line away from the pole. Try to dig your heel in to the ground at each footstep to make a little dip in the soil; this will help to create a small “pool” of scent. At each footstep leave a piece of treat on the ground at the position of your heel. Make sure the stride between each step is natural; not too long, not to short nor too wide.
  5. Repeat this for 10 to 20 footsteps, no more. It is important to make sure that sure you place a treat at each heel location.
  6. At the end of your track place your second marker pole so that the two poles mark the line of the track.
  7. At the last footstep in the track, next to the marker pole, put more treats than at the previous footsteps along the track (maybe 5 pieces or a higher value treat). These extra treats are going to be the jackpot for your dog.
  8. Move away from your track; do not contaminate your newly laid track with some unwanted scent by walking back over it.

The following videos go through discuss these steps and give practical demonstrations.

01 Agnès discusses & demonstrates how to set a track
02 Agnès marks out a track and follows it with Storm