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Canine Trauma

Track du Jour

Julia Priest

  • Level: Beginner, pre SchH1
  • Length: about 400 paces
  • Turns: 2-3
  • Surface: soft damp dirt giving deep, discrete footprints
  • Bait: kibble mixed with cat food
  • Articles: not yet

This is a good track to use to condition the beginning dog to the general length and conditions of a SchH1 track. Once she has learned to use her nose to find scent, and is reliably following the footsteps including searching non-baited steps without stopping or looking up, you can start to introduce her to the idea of the whole track.

Corners should be introduced prior to this also. At this stage, I am leaving the 5 or 6 steps prior to the corner non-baited, and the 4-6 steps after as well, with a "jackpot" of especially desirable bait or just more bait in the steps following the corner, so the dog experiences loss of scent, persists in the search, and is rewarded. At the end of the track, have a pile of the food, and mix something especially tasty in with it, like some leftover turkey, liver, or cat food. If you put it in a Tupperware or other container to limit the aroma from drawing the dog into air scenting, make sure to make a deep divot or somehow camouflage the container so it is not easily seen from the dog's eye view, and bait right up to the end to keep the nose on the ground.

For the bait itself, I like to use something which does not stand out on the track visually, so the dog must really search, not "look" for the bait. The easiest and most economical I have found is to take large size kibble -- this can be your dog's regular food or some you get just for this (free samples make it *really* economical), and thoroughly mix in about a tablespoon or so of wet canned cat food, cover tightly and let sit. Cat food has a finer texture and is richer than canned dog food, so it coats all of the kibble bits and gives them a slightly soft texture. Let this sit for a half an hour or so -- as long as it takes to drive to tracking , for example. Most of the messy part will be absorbed by the kibble, so it will be easy to drop a piece at a time on your track. I don't like using hot dogs for two reasons: first, they are pink and too easy to see, and second, if you track a lot, you are feeding your dog a whole ton of nitrates and nitrites and high fat and colorant that is probably not so good for her. We spend three times as much as the average pet person feeding our dogs high-end premium dog food, then toss three to four pounds of processed wieners down them each week while tracking!

In doing this track, the dog should complete it about three or four times with good success, and then it is time to add some variables, like people accompanying you on the track, and the presentation to the judge. Get a friend to come along and act as the judge, so you can start reporting in, and always make it a pleasant experience.

This is also the time to start having the dog experience what it feels like to have you more than a few feet back on the line. Remember: change one variable at a time -- so, when the dog is very steady on this beginner size track with very easy conditions, you can start to add the other changes.

All along, you should be thinking about setting the context for the dog. What will you do the day of the trial, and how many of those things can you incorporate into your training? You will always be able to put the collar and line on. What you say to the dog and how you approach this can remain a constant you can take with you to trial. If you always offer your dog a little water before you take her out of the crate, and then always take her to relieve herself first, these are rituals that will help calm and center you both.

If you put it in her mind what you are about to do -- "Wanna track? Wanna track?" or "Go find it?" -- this will be another cue, and if you always perform the same ritual before starting the track, you have a much greater chance of bringing your dog into drive as you come up to your flag. In training, do you normally track two dogs and let one watch while you run the other? At trial, who says you can't have your other dog in the car and lay a little practice track in view of the trial dog to get her a little envious and "pumped"? Starting in drive is 50% of your formula for success.

Training is important, as is the dog's natural ability, but given that these have been addressed, the dog is much more likely to carry through and finish the track -- even though you are a nerve bag walking like a zombie behind her -- if she is "in gear" to start with. Dogs are very context oriented, and very habitual, and the more you make use of this the better you will do.

© 1997 Julia Priest, von Sontausen German Shepherd Dogs. Email

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