With the introduction of the TDX title in 1980 there has been an increased interest in tracking. In many areas tracking is conducted by ne or two individuals and not in a class situation. Tracking classes can provide knowledgeable instruction with set weekly goals which helps reduce the time needed to earn the TD and TDX titles. Weekly class sessions provide regular evaluation of the dog’s progress and early detection and correction of problems. In addition, a close fellowship is built up among class members.
We have been conducting tracking classes off and on for the past ten years in our area with 42 TD titles having been earned. Approximately 85% of these students pass their first test. For those interested in setting up tracking classes, here are some points to consider.
We try to schedule classes so that we finish within a couple of tracking tests in the area. This provides the students with a goal for which they can shoot. Most of the students have their dogs certified by the sixth or seventh week of class giving them plenty of time to enter.
Because of the time devoted to each student during the actual class, class size is limited to six students. Generally I figure 2 to 4 hours for the class. Students are charged a fee for the class. This encourages class attendance and following through with the program. It also is an added incentive for the instructor to do his test.
Land can be a problem. We have about 50 acres of pasture available that we use for the first two to three weeks of class. For the remainder of the classes, we move to a 300 acre area where we hold our club tracking tests. It is best to have plenty of land available in one place to reduce the amount of moving from one area to another. It is important to be sure you have permission of the land owner and that he understands what is involved. Littering is forbidden and everyone is to be absolutely sure that gates are not left open. If crop land is used, be sure that if crops are changed, it is okay to continue to use that land. Certain crops can not take much pressure and should not be used. Finally it should be stressed that dogs will be on lead or under absolute control while in the fields. There is nothing worse than having a dog running cattle and causing injure to livestock.
When a prospective student calls about tracking classes, his name is placed on a list. When 6 to 10 names are on the list, each is sent a letter outlining the program and what will be expected of them during class and daily homework sessions. We paint a grim picture so that those who do not have the time or are not really motivated drop out before we get started. Classes are held regardless of weather. Those who are not willing to work under these conditions are also encouraged to think twice before starting. We begin with a two hour seminar covering the olfactory anatomy of the dog, scent theories and the training program. Movies and video tapes showing weekly progress of typical students are shown so that students see what can be accomplished and what to expect from week to week. We stress learning how to lay tracks and remembering where they go. Handling is probably the most important area we teach. Good handling techniques make the whole process easier for the dog and handler as well as producing a more reliable dog. After completing the first assignments for a given 4 to 6 additional assignments to be completed by the next class. Most students lay their own tracks during the week and we do not find this to be a problem since in class other students are the track-layers.
The instructor’s responsibility is to establish a training program and encourage students to follow through. He should also be able to evaluate problems and suggest solutions. In many cases problems develop because students are not made aware of proper handling techniques. Pointing out what might happen if things are done incorrectly is just as important as seeing they are done correctly to begin with.
Tracking classes unlike obedience classes are much more time consuming and held in all kinds of weather. Consider carefully before setting them up but be prepared for a feeling of pride and accomplishment when your students earn their T’s.
©1985 W. Herbert Morrison, III