Leonbergers At Work – Tracking
Tracking is an activity that brings you to the very essence of what a dog is. It is a partnership in which you are asking the dog to do for you what you cannot do for yourself, which makes it both humbling and enlightening.
Skjaergaardens Diamond to Lelionaz
When you work with a dog in scent work, you quickly learn that the dog knows a different world. While we are used to the idea of one scent ‘covering up’ another, that rarely applies to dogs. To us, scent is something like having blurred vision. For example, if you were to look at this text with a magnifying glass smeared with oil, the text would be a blur. The text would be just as sharp and individual, but you wouldn’t be able to perceive it. Instead, the individual elements would overlap. That is how we experience scent. The dog, however, picks out and distinguishes scent with a clarity we can’t match.
For the most part sport scent work is limited to tracking or trailing. And since a dog’s keenest sense is the sense of smell, any dog has the ability to track. There are, however, several different types of tracking ‘styles’ and, given the Leonberger’s keen desire to please, we have found that ‘Motivational’ or ‘Tracking through Drive’ to be the best method for teaching your Leo how to track. You start by creating in him the desire to want to track. This can be accomplished by several motivators – food, a toy, or an article that holds high value for your dog. Food has been proven to be one of the best motivators overall, so the secret is to find a treat that your dog is absolutely crazy for (we have found that cheese and hot dogs work well for most dogs!).
Equipment for the dog is basic: a harness, a 30 foot long line (preferably canvass material), buckle collar, an article such as a glove that has the handler’s scent on it to place at the end of the track, food for drops, and water for your dog for afterward. It is advisable to get the dog comfortable wearing the harness and line before he starts his training; otherwise, much of the dog’s concentration will be lost getting used to the equipment.
The handler/track layer will need a notebook or clipboard and paper to keep a tracking log. Flags or other markers are necessary to identify where the track is at the beginning of the learning process. As tracking is done in all types of weather, suitable attire is necessary. You should be prepared with a rain suit, sturdy boots, gloves, etc.
Once you have the basic equipment organized you can choose from a variety of locations to track your dog – farm fields (with permission), parks and school grounds are a few examples. Generally speaking, the most favourable tracking conditions are in mild, dull weather, early in the morning or in the evening. The ground on which the first stages of training are carried out should be free of other persons or animals.
Since training in tracking calls for extreme concentration from both dog and handler, the dog must be fresh and alert and not in a tired condition. It is important not to set the dog up to fail on a track. Always work with a positive attitude and make it fun for you and your dog.
The teaching of tracking is in itself very instructive. At the novice levels the dog is started at the beginning of the track and is then encouraged to sniff around to identify the scent to be followed. Because the direction is established, the dog should be able to (with training) pick out the correct trail to follow. In the beginning, the handler will act as the track layer as well as working with his own dog. It is suggested that for the first week, the dog be tracked on a daily basis. The tracks will be short, approximately 50 feet to start and working up to 50 yards by the end of the first week. Food is always used on the track and laid in each step. As the dog begins to understand what is required the distance between the food drops will be increased. At the start, tracks are laid into the wind so that the scent of the track, food and article are blowing directly into the dog’s face, enticing him forward.
As the dog and handler progress from week to week, the length of the tracks is longer, turns are introduced, the tracks are ‘aged’, food drops are reduced and a track layer, other than the dog’s handler, will lay tracks for your dog. The entire process, depending on how keen your dog is, could take six months or more to perfect.
Handlers must learn to ‘read’ their dogs because eventually they will be working without flags to mark the track and will be totally dependent upon their dogs to guide them to the article.
An important point to remember is that each step of the training process serves a purpose. It would be a mistake to skip over some of the basics because you think your dog can do it already. The key to success is practice and more practice, until your dog understands what is required 100% of the time.
You will learn the use of the scent pad and how to start your dog on the track, the art of handling the line, the use of verbal commands such as “find it”, article indication – do you want your dog to sit down or retrieve the article when he locates it, plus keeping a log of each track every time you are out with the dog.
When you feel your dog is ready, the Canadian Kennel Club, through its member clubs, offers Tracking Dog (TD) and Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX) tests. Once the dog has passed the test it will be accredited with the TD or TDX title.
Basically, the TD Test requires the dog to find and indicate an article placed by a stranger over a distance between 400 and 450 meters with a minimum of 3 turns. The track itself is laid by the person placing the article at the end, and the track will have been aged between one half and two hours. The TDX requirements, of course, are much more difficult, with the track being a much greater distance, 900 to 1000 meters, up to 8 turns, aged 3 to 5 hours with 3 articles involved. Also, there are two cross tracks to contend with along the way, varying terrain and, at one point the track will cross a road.
The “Tracking Test Rules and Regulations” are available for a minimal charge from the Canadian Kennel Club [link]. To locate a tracking club in your area, or for further information and possibly where to find tracking classes available, just click on the link below. The local representative for your area should be able to provide you with the information you need.
Page Last Updated
March 14, 2008
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Leonberger Club of Ontario