Thursday, September 18, 2008

Tracking Fun

Not as often as I would like, nor as often as I should, I take Gio out tracking. It's just something fun that we picked up a while ago, so every so often we head out either by ourselves or with a couple of friends and lay a few tracks to sniff out.

This evening I went out with a friend of mine and her dog, Tetley. You may remember Tetley the English Cocker Spaniel from a previous post a couple of weeks ago. We went to another friend's place just outside of town. They own a couple of acres that are perfect for tracking, especially this time of year when everything has been baled up and the remaining grasses are quite short.

It's taken me a while to get it all straight, but I finally remembered to bring everything I need! There have been times when I've apparently been quite dense and forgotten just about everything except for Gio. This time, I'm quite proud of myself! A harness, long line (20 feet), 6 foot leash, scent article (this time a glove), bug spray (epilepsy safe pet bug spray), a large jug of water (all that sniffing makes a dog quite thirsty), a crate, treats, and some stakes (cheap portable fence posts from Peavy Mart).

We take turns laying tracks for each other, I find that Gio follows someone else's scent much better than he will follow my own. Maybe because he smells me so often, he doesn't find it odd to find my scent in a field? Just sort of tunes it out? No clue. Gio's currently just working on short-ish tracks, with only a couple of turns. Tonight he successfully completed two tracks of about 170 yards each, each with two 90-degree turns. Tetley is a pro, so he is working on tracks of 300+ yards. Of course, that means more walking for me as I lay the track! Tetley's owner gets off pretty easy laying little tracks for Gio!

I'm still at the stage where I ask the track layer to rub some stinky treat on their feet before setting off. Just a couple of swipes per foot with a chunk of treat and the scent is easier for them to find. Of course, the food smell fades quite quickly, but it it helps the dog find the right line to get started on. Then at the end of the track, a piece of the same treat is stuck inside the glove, the glove is dropped at the end, and the track layer stomps on it a couple of times.

I leave the track to age about 5-10 minutes, and then we are off! I switch the long line from his collar to his harness just as we are approaching the beginning of the track, and give the command to "find it". The nose goes down and off he goes! In some of the pictures you may see a small piece of blue tape tied to a piece of grass or brush. That tape is just to mark the corners so I know where I am going and can judge as to whether Gio is doing it correctly or not. The dogs don't pay any attention to the tape, when their nose is to the ground it is as if they are completely blind and deaf. Nothing matters but the scent. Because of that, it is possible to practice tracking in shallow bits of snow. The foot prints that the track layer leaves won't clue the dog as to the correct direction, they don't even seem to notice the footprints, just the scent.

Once they reach the end of the track, a great big party with the glove full of treats, I ask for a "down" (the signal I want him to use when he finds the article) and then reward with the treats from inside the glove. Back to the car to kennel the dogs and lay a new track.

It's getting dark quite quickly here now, so the quality of the pictures rapidly went down hill. I took Romeo out with us as the area that we were tracking in was perfect for a bit of a run. After Gio and Tetley were finished their tracks, we let all the dogs off leash to have a bit of a tear-about. The owner of the land we were on has an 18 month old English Cocker Spaniel named Abby. We let her out of her run and she joined the boys for a bit of a romp. Oh, how they would LOVE it if we had land like that. I would never be able to get them inside the house! It's bad enough now with Romeo, he would live outside 24/7 if he had the option. All 4 of them tore around for a good long while, until Tetley and Abby flopped on the ground, and Gio's tongue was nearly brushing the grass as he ran. Romeo gave up chasing Gio and Abby (he doesn't bug Tetley ... knows better than that!) and resorted to standing and barking at them. A quick drink of water and back in the car to come home. They are currently passed out, Gio on the floor and Romeo on the bed. Oh how I love happy and tired dogs!

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