Over the past few years interest in tracking has grown to the point where many tests are full even before the premium lists have been mailed. With more dogs being tracked, more opportunities to observe the behavior of tracking dogs are available. It appears that one of the additional benefits the dog gains from tracking is self-confidence. We have seen several cases where relatively shy, unsure dogs have entered the class, and an outgoing, more confident dog has graduated.
Probably the main reason for this change in character is that, in tracking, the dog is being trained to use an ability that is natural to him. If the class is conducted properly, the dog receives little, if any, pressure, and he begins succeeding from the very first day.
In order for the dog to develop some self-confidence, he must find that he can be correct in the choices and decisions he makes. In tracking he has the nose, and his using it results in a reward. Since we don’t fully understand how he uses his nose, we cannot correct heavily.
Often obedience classes are recommended to help a dog gain self-confidence. However, if the approach employs too much compulsion, the lack of confidence may only be reinforced. In cases where compulsion is used, the dog may be corrected for what he considers to be a correct choice. If this happens too frequently, the dog learns to do only as he is told and is shown how to do. The dog may be quite relaxed when performing a standard routine, but will still be unsure when faced with a new challenge.
We have seen dogs that have completed tracking enter obedience classes and do quite well as a result of the added self-confidence gained through tracking. It should be noted, however, that the obedience classes were conducted in such a way as to keep corrections at a minimum and reward at a maximum.
The next time you start a tracking class, look to see if you have a dog that needs to develop self-confidence and encourage the owner to enroll. I think you both will be pleased with the results.
©1982 W. H. Morrison, III