Week 6 – Summary

When introducing turns the remember to consider the following points:

  • Place rewards at every footstep as you approach the turn point and at every footstep for a reasonable distance after the turn. 10 steps are a good starting point
  • Determine the wind direction before laying out your track.
  • For your initial attempts, the first leg of your track should be cross-wind and the second leg up-wind. This gives your dog the best chance of locating and following the turn.
  • Do not only turn one direction.
  • When you and your dog start becoming proficient add complexity by building tracks that have the second leg orientated down-wind.

Setting a track including turns

This week we are going to work on introducing 90 degree turns into your tracks. Dogs that are already able track a reasonable distance with irregularly spaced rewards without losing their focus and confidence normally do not have any significant issues when introduced to a 90 degree turn.

Although progressively increasing the angle as shown in the image below is an option to introduce turns, I personally prefer to introduce the 90-degree turn straight away with no gradual progression.

Building the track to introduce the 90-degree turn:

  • To introduce the turn, revert to a ground your dog finds easy to track on; this will most likely be short or mid length grass
  • When building the track, place a pole at the turn location. This way you will have a visual cue of where the turn is. You will need remember to have at least 1 additional pole with you when building the track
  • If you are building the track yourself, you will know which direction the turn is but if someone else is building the track for you without you watching, the trick to indicate the direction of the turn is to plant the pole at an angle so that it is pointing toward the direction of the turn, just like an arrow would.
  • Build a good sized first leg of the track so your dog has a good focus and momentum before coming to the turn (40 to 50 steps). Provide rewards as needed for your dog. Note that you may need more treats than you think because of the influence of the wind. We will discuss this in more detail in the next topic.
  • Position treats very frequently over the 10 steps directly before the turn point. The objective is to work the turn; you do not want your dog to deviate from the track by mistake when approaching the turn location.
  • Position treats at the turn
  • Place treats at every step for at least 10 steps directly after the turn point.
  • When teaching the turn the second leg of the track does not need to be long; 25 steps is often enough
  • Position rewards at the end of the track (toy or food)

Why do I recommend placing lots of rewards before and after the turn?

  • Before the turn: you want to make sure your dog is directly following the first leg of track before the turn. The whole purpose of the exercise is to teach your dog to locate and take the turn. If your dog is off track at the turn, it will fail to locate the turn correctly and struggle to locate the second leg of the track.
  • At the turn: I put a reward at the turn to slow down the dog, so it does not automatically move forward in search of a potential next step/reward
  • After the turn: If you were to put just a couple of treats under your first couple of footsteps, it is likely that your dog will find the treats and start to head back to the direction of the first leg of the track. Remember that up to this point you have just been tracking a straight line, so you have conditioned your dog not to turn. By including more rewards along the track after the turn it is more of an incentive to your dog to follow the second leg of the track

When building tracks that include a turn you must again consider the effect of the wind as the apparent wind direction will be different for each leg of the track. We will discuss this in more detail in the next topic.

Making your first turn

The following videos provide practical demonstrations on setting out and following tracks that include a turn.

In these videos you will see that I still reward my dogs a lot long the track. You may feel that you do not need to place a lot of rewards along the track if you have been successful at reducing the number of rewards by practicing last week’s exercises. However, remember that you are introducing two new tracking skills to your dog: a turn and tracking cross wind. As such make your first attempts easy for your dog.

Tip: To build the track with a 90 degrees angle, do not forget to use your bearing at the turn, I tend to use my arms to measure a 90 degrees angle and highlight the 2 next reference point so I can build a straight line.

Do not forget to teach your dog to turn both left and right.

Increasing the difficulty

When you feel your dog is understanding the concept of the turn you can start to switch the orientation of the track so that the second leg of the track is orientated downwind.

The impact of switching to a downward wind position will not only affect the information your dog will receive for the second leg of the track; it also can affect how your dog is taking the turn.

If your dog is drifting away from the first leg of the track when approaching the turn point it is likely to get some scent from the second leg without needing to go to the corner and may consequently take a short cut to reach the second leg. This is another reason why providing very frequent reward before and after the turn is important, so your dog stays on track.

Now the fun can really start as you can add multiple turns to your track. At each turn, you are adding complexity between following the track and handling the wind; this is a huge learning curve for your dog.

Don’t blow with the wind

The influence of the wind becomes more important when you start to introduce turns to your tracks.

You started your tracking journey by building tracks in an upwind direction so that your dog could get more scent information being carried by the wind towards them to encourage them to track; there was an air scent that your dogs could follow.

You then switched to orientating tracks in a down wind direction so there was less scent coming from the air flow of the wind. This means that your dog had to keep its nose to the ground to concentrate on finding the scent left behind by your footsteps.

When introducing turns you should start by building your track so the end of the second leg of the track is located upwind. This helps your dog locate the direction of the second leg because there will be an air scent from the track being blown towards your dog.

As you are going to be working with 90 degrees turns this means that the first leg of the track will be located crosswind. By introducing turns we must also introduce tracking in a crosswind direction which is also an important skill for your dog to develop.

In a region with very little wind, your dog may not find following the track difficult, but in a windier area it is likely that the scent will be blown away by the cross wind. The effect is that your dog will be enticed to move away from the actual track. You will probably observe that you dog starts to track offset to the laid track and may well miss some of the rewards placed along the track.

If you find that your dog has drifted away from the track because of the cross wind, revert to having more treats positioned under your footstep along the track to make it easier to follow and to encourage your dog to stay on the track.

This effect of the wind is another reason why I recommend using more treats in the vicinity of the turn as I want to ensure that the dog is following the track to rehearse appropriately the turn exercise.