A New Perspective On Canine Tracking Training
For some time, I have been observing many tracking trainers and the results they achieve. From these careful observations and from discussions with many, I have discovered that the root of the confusion that most dogs seem to have is that they are unsure of what is expected of them or are simply “too afraid to track”.
Consequently, I have long questioned the wisdom of conventional methodology and ultimately developed insights into tracking training that will give trainers and new handlers a strategy to get their dogs closer to that elusive 100-point track or simply a more precise track.
This precision tracking system was designed with careful consideration for the fact that we humans are limited in our roles as trainers. We do not have the capability to perform tracking ourselves and we do not fully know how a dog’s nose works.
Training a dog for scent work, be it tracking, or substance detection, is unlike training a dog for any other type of work. I believe that most of us assume that scent work would be natural for most dogs, and that the training should, in fact, be simple. Although we may assume that tracking is natural for dogs, the reality is that without a skilled handler a successful outcome is seldom possible hence why the handler is equally important in scent work. The handlers task is to observe and read the dogs behaviour and have an organised method of assisting the dog in recovering lost scent. The principles of precise tracking require a team effort from both the dog and the
All books, videos, articles, and seminars about dog tracking are written, produced, and taught by people. Often, our human perspective is the biggest flaw in tracking. We want to actively show the dogs, guide them, help them, coax them, or force them to do what we want them to do.
However, how can we when we are not the experts?
Moreover, no one seems to agree as to how a dog is actually using its nose let alone have a methodical approach to training a dog to track.
A dog’s nose is a biological marvel, and what dogs can do with it is nothing short of miraculous. We humans react to this just as we do with any other miracle: With a sense of wonder and amazement. However understanding it is just beyond our capabilities at this point in time.
As humans, we have to accept our position in tracking: We are, to a large degree, only spectators in relation to their olfactory ability. It is a very difficult position to accept, but this is just the way it is. This makes tracking and, in fact, all scent work, considerably different from any other discipline for working dogs.
When training dogs for scent work, we have to somewhat reverse the roles of the handler and the dog. While it is always a human handler who takes the lead role in traditional training, we have to allow the dog to take the lead in all scent work. It is not just that a dog has a greater sense of smell than humans do but he also has one very exceptional skill, which is the ability to discriminate scent.
A dog knows how to smell and distinguishes scent from an early age, so we are not teaching the dog something foreign. Instead, we are training the dog to place value in reliably distinguishing certain scents from others and to do it with confidence, concentration, and precision.
Track reliability is proportional to the dogs ability to follow a human scent picture and use ground disturbance as a back up to following a track from beginning to end and not be distracted by another human or animal scent.
Both the handler and the dog must be taught how to react to the multiple situations that can occur on a track. To put a dog on a track simply for the sake of tracking is a time wasting exercise and a potentially damaging experience for your dog. Every single track must have a purpose and its layout must be designed in a specific way that maximises and enhances the animal’s learning.
I am very much of the opinion that compulsion would be a complete hindrance to your dog if it were used during the early stages of learning tracking. It should only be used much later in tracking if you are clearly certain that the dog is in fact not complying with your requests.
Dogs trained with compulsion in the learning phase soon learn to point their nose to the ground so they are safe from any stress. These dogs are unreliable tracking dogs at the very best. You can be sure of one thing! A correction applied based on your assumption that your dog is tracking incorrectly, could have a lasting and emotionally detrimental effect. The key to successful tracking training is to find ways of ever increasing your dog’s desire to track and be track sure.