One of the most difficult techniques to teach in tracking is one of the most important for the handler to be able to master. This is being able to recognize the dog’s indications of loss and discovery of track. For those experienced in working a tracking dog, it is readily apparent when the dog has reached a turn or simply lost the track momentarily. The novice handler is often too busy trying to keep from getting tangled up in the lead and looking for where he thinks the track should be that he fails to watch the dog’s behavior while working.
This article will describe several approaches which are designed to help the novice handler recognize these signs and react accordingly. The two easiest to recognize are the dog’s pull if he has been taught to lean into the harness and his breaking off a straight line while tracking.
Since most judges and tracklayers tend to walk in straight lines when plotting and laying tracks, the dog’s deviation from those lines should be noted. While these two cover most dogs, other dogs give slighter indications, thus demanding that the dog’s behavior be carefully observed.
In order to familiarize handlers with the two most obvious indications, that is the loss of tension on the lead and deviation from a straight line, a technique demonstrated by Glen Johnson is used. Not only does this approach help the handler recognize indications, it also is a training procedure to develop these indications in the dog. The instructor places the lead around his waist and the handler takes the lead. Slight tension is kept on the lead as the instructor moves off in a straight line. As the instructor veers off the “track”, the handler slows down and applies more tension. As the instructor moves back to the “track”, tension is released and the handler moves at a normal pace. This procedure is then reversed with the handler acting the part of the dog.
The next step is to have the handlers follow behind a tracking dog and observe his behavior. A track of five or six turns is laid. Handlers follow about ten feet behind the person working the dog. As the dog exhibits the indications., they are pointed out to the students. On the last two or three turns, the student is asked to tell when the dog has reached a turn.
The final step is to have the student handle a trained dog on a one or two turn track. It is best if a very stable dog is used, one that will track regardless of who is at the end of the lead. Hopefully, the experience gained through observation will be enough to enable the student to do a fairly good job with the training dog. All the students are taught to stop whenever the dog has made a definite commitment. The handler’s response at this point is determined by whether or not the dog is correct.
Once the student begins working his own dog, an instructor or experienced handler follows closely behind to comment on the handler’s technique. Since he has laid the track, the assistant is in the best position to give help when it is needed. Depending on the tact (or lack of it) the instructor takes in making his comments, the student is likely not to forget what he is learning.
In final point of fact, the dog is the easier of the team to train. This is his thing and when in the field he is in command. The handler must learn what his dog is telling him and because he sometimes thinks too much, the handler is the hardest to train. The reward for both student and the instructor comes when the dog drops his head and comes up with a mouth full of glove.
©1979 W. H. Morrison, III