Tracking: adding an article

I have always wanted to teach Marley to track.  I bought a few books but they sat on my shelf collecting dust.  A few years ago, I purchased a DVD call Tracking 2nd Edition Hydration Intensified Tracking Training by Steve and Jennifer White.  I liked the approach and last year I started working sporadically with Marley and Loki.  Steve White presented the concept of training tracking in modules: 1) nose down on pavement, 2) article indication.

I was working with both dogs on keeping their nose down on pavement outside and working on building value for article indication inside.

This week I decided that it was time to combine the two skills so I went outside.  The first thing I did was to play the article game without the track (touch article with nose and lie down).  Then I tethered the working dog and laid a short 12’ track with hot dogs spaced every 12” leading up to the article. Both dogs did well following the hot dog trail but when they reached the article, they didn’t know what to do.  I cued the DOWN but it took some prompting and re-cueing to get the behaviour.   Here is the video.

I am not surprised by the results because dogs are not generalists; they are very context specific (see the end of the article for an example).

Neither dog understood the concept: lie down at the article after following a hot dog track.  The problem was too many components (criteria) were changed all at once.  What was different?

Article Indication Track with article indication
Desired behaviour:  touch article with nose and lie down with article between front paws Desired behaviour:  Follow a track to the article, touch the article with nose and lie down with article between front paws

What was different?

Indoors Outdoors
Article tossed Article at the end of a track
Off-leash On-leash
Less distractions More distractions
Article not near a barrier Article near a barrier
Cued ‘search’ No cue

Training Mantra

Failure is information, not disobedience; it shows you situations where your dog doesn’t yet understanding what you are asking.

The initial transition was too hard for both of my dogs.  So here is my plan to help my dogs succeed:

Step 1:  Working outside place the article on the ground:

  • Cue the nose touch
  • Cue the down
  • Reward heavily at first to build value for lying down at the article

Step 2:  Practice the article indication game outside just like I did in the house; add the cue ‘search’

Step 3:  Put each dog on leash and practice the game

Step 4:  Play the game but place the article against the gate

Step 5:  Put two hot dogs on the ground approximately 12” apart leading up to the article

Step 6:  Try a 12’ track with hotdogs spaced 12” on average with the article against the gate

The plan may need to change as we go along.  At any step, if Marley or Loki struggle with the behaviour, I will need to break it down even more.  There are always ways to help our dogs succeed!

Thanks for reading and happy training.

*An example of context specific training:

In your kitchen, wearing your bathroom, holding a piece of toast in you left hand and saying the sound ‘SIT’. Dog understands put bottom on ground.

Change one or more of those components: you are at the front door, wearing your gardening outfit, holding a leash and saying the sound ‘SIT’.  Your dog gives you the ‘what are you talking about look’ or as we know it ‘my dog knows this behaviour why is he being so disobedient?’

The good news is that the more you practice in different locations, wearing different clothes, different times of the day etc. the easier it will be for your dog to learn that the sound ‘SIT’ means bottom on ground anytime anywhere.

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