Written By: Mike Bullock
Owner /Trainer Bullocks Professional Canine
Over the years I have learned a great deal from studying dogs and how they perform and where they usually have the most trouble performing in the real world. I have trained many tracking dogs over the years and I would like to address what I think is the definitive way to train a k-9 to perform in today’s tough environments.
I start with a police candidate that I have tested for his drives and proper work ethics. I always start with the basics of hunt before I ever start any tracking, this always helps lay some ground work for the future of his training. I usually start with narcotics or some other form of hunt game to make the dog understand that his nose can be used and also to hone the skill of hunting. Once I have gotten some good ground work done I start with what I call the wagon wheel approach to training a tracking dog. The first step is to teach the dog to use his nose to track disturbed ground vegetation (foot steps). This is very common in schutzhund , If I have to use bait or balls to get the dog to foot step track that is fine with me, what ever works the best. Just remember, get away from the bait ASAP. As a rule I always start with the wind at my back for this stage. It helps keep the dog from wind scenting from the start. I want to track, no wind scenting or trailing at this stage. Later I can vary it up to include side winds, head winds and so on once the dog shows confidence. Schutzhund is a bit slow and really not reliable in the real street setting in my opinion, but in my system it is a very important cog in the wheel and what will make the dog reliable in the future. Once I have a dog working a track with out problems, usually 15 or 20 minuets old and around 200 or 300 yards long start with the next cog in the wheel.
The next stage is trailing. I start to introduce the dog to a track layer, I take the dog out to my tracking area and the track layer is presented in front of the dog and he teases the dog. The track layer runs away but soon rounds a corner and the decoy has gotten out of site. I usually use wooded areas or buildings for this. The dog is held in check until the track layer has gotten to the desired distance away usually 100 yards or so. In this stage the dog is trailing directly into the wind as if there is a funnel of scent directly into the dogs direction, this will teach the dog that he can sniff the air to find his quarry. I never start this stage first …NO MATTER WHAT! If you start this stage first the dog will be hard pressed to learn the basics of ground tracking. Once the dog learns he can sniff the air to find his quarry and he is proficient I start to mix up the track from trail to ground scent. The dog is presented with a problem along the way, it’is either track and locate or trail and locate. I usually start with a track first then it moves to the trail for the last 50 yards, the dog can abandon the track for a trail directly to the end, trust me this will build the speed for real world tracks, both on tracking and the trailing.
The third cog of the wheel is the cross tracks and hard surfaces. Once I have the dog really doing well with the first 2 stages I start with the cross tracks in various different times and lengths from the end point. When I start this part I never allow the dogs to make mistakes here. I always know where the cross tracks are, even if I need to mark the crosses with flags or some other land mark. Just make sure your dog doesn’t get too accustommed to them being there and start using them as marks to work by. If the dog starts to take cross track I use a small corrections a “phooey” or a “knock it off” I never use harsh corrections. I then show the dog the proper place he is supposed to be, then give a good dog and show my pleasure with him. It will not take long before the dog knows that he must stay with the original track/trail.
Then hard surfaces begin, I usually start with a bit of help for the dog. I let my track layer start in vegetation with the wind at his back. Once he has gotten to the hard surface I have my decoy toss ground material from his hands across the surface first it is really heavy and obvious and then as the dog gains confidence the material is used less and more sparingly until it is not used at all. The dogs natural choice here is to trail, but using this method you will see the dog work both methods. I usually see a “S” pattern emerge, the dog will go to the track area and then swing out to the trail area where the wind has blown it back and fourth ( hot to cold, cold to hot).
The fourth cog is the final one, the use of a scent article. When ever I teach the dog this I am teaching him to be discriminating in his choices. I offer the dog a article that matches the tracklayers odor, usually a glove or a hat that they have scented well. I offer the dog the article and give him my track word, This is called the cast, what is different this time is the area has been tracked up by many different human scents, up to this point the dog has never worked this way except when he encountered a cross track, he knew then he had to stay the course but now he has to make a choice as to what track to take. Again at this stage I will not allow the dog to make a mistake. He must pick the proper track to avoid correction, I don’t mind giving him 2 or 3 corrections if he is on the wrong track, I allow him to sniff around and once he walks on the right track I praise him and usually they get the hint and take off. After several of these types of set ups You will notice the dog working quicker and figuring out the track, I think it even challenges the dog to work harder. With this combination of skills you will see a dog that can be reliable in all circumstances in my opinion. It is also my opinion that you are only limited by your own imagination, don’t hesitate to try something.. Remember never let the dog lose and always take a step back if needed. One bad lesson can wipe out one good week of training. I hope this helps you in training and it provides you with some good hunting.
I will be following this article with proper scent article collection in my next post.
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