Tracking is a sport where the dog does what he really knows how to do and that is use his nose. Unfortunately at a tracking test the dog may use his nose on things he should not and ignore, at least some of the time, the track. Here is where good handling technique pays off. Of the dog and handler teams that fail at tracking tests about half could have passed had the handler had better technique.
Just what are we talking about? First of all, be familiar with the regulations. Legs of a track are straight and don’t slowly bend. If the dog begins to move off of a straight line path he has been working, he may have reached a turn or he may have temporarily lost the scent and has found something else. If this happens, stop walking. You may end up in the land where the whistle blows. Let your dog check things out, and don’t move again until he has established a new direction. That is, he is moving in a straight line with the same behavior he had when he was on the track.
There are two ways to practice this. Lay your own track so that you know the exact location of each leg and turn. As your dog starts, observe how he acts. Does this change when he drifts to one side or the other? Does he pull with as much determination? What does his head do as he crosses the track? Most dogs will cross over the track by a foot or so and suddenly snap their head back to check out that area and then start working the track. Laying your own track will not hurt your dog. I know of several dogs that were trained solely by the owner and the only stranger’s track was for the certification and at the test that resulted in a TD.
Another approach is to have someone else lay your track and see that you, the handler, stay on the track. If experienced, they can point out what the dog is doing when on or off the track and when he reaches a turn. Using these approaches teaches you what to look for in your dog that signals what is going on.
As you become better at reading your dog, proper use of the lead will bring about an improvement in your dog’s performance. Speaking of the lead, it is supposed to be attached to the harness, not wrapped around his feet and legs. Unraveling your dog from these constraints will often break his concentration and could spell the end of that test. Keeping the lead taut between you and your dog will prevent this. It requires practice. Learn how to take in that lead fast enough so that your dog does not step all in it as he circles back to you.
When you take your dog to the starting stake, be ready to go. Have your lead untangled and straight behind you. Put the harness on the dog 15 or 20 yards behind the
flag. Walk your dog up to the flag and when his nose starts working and he moves out you are ready. I have seen too many handlers that walk the dog to the flag, put him on a down and spend several minutes untangling the line and jerking the anxious dog back.
We practice handling techniques for the obedience ring to save points; practice them also in tracking to save that “T”, to say nothing of your entry fee and gas money. If you can’t find someone to help you, get a copy of Tracking Dog – Theory and Method by Glen Johnson and read it. It will be a big help in improving your technique.
©1979 W. H. Morrison, III