On The Right Track or Just a Dope on a Rope?
There are a couple of topics guaranteed to provoke debate in most dog training offices and one is methods of tracking. A basic requirement for most working dogs, tracking. Whether it’s looking for that missing person, a fleeing suspect, a training exercise or a competition. Being lost on a track is one of the most soul destroying feelings any handler can experience. Given that tracking is a basic requirement it’s amazing that the methods for teaching this bread & butter exercise are so varied.
Ok, dog trainers will know that there is no ‘one-method-fits-all’ in dog training so variations on a theme often exist. But when it comes to tracking the methods can be so varied it becomes confusing and in some cases counter-productive.
What’s the best one?
Pull-outs, S.I.B, H.I.Ps, SAM or of course food with the many variants of that method. Well I have my favourite as I’m sure many of you will have yours. I’ve often thought about developing a game of ‘top-trumps’ based on tracking. I think that would be good fun.
There are some basic principles that apply to any method of your choice such as good line handling, often underestimated and can be catastrophic to your dog’s performance. I’ve been lucky to witness what we in the trade call a ‘natural tracking dog’, a somewhat stupid title given any dog can naturally track but what we mean is one that takes to training and performs to a good standard with very little input.
I’ve often watched with envy when a handler follows the dog around a track with ease like ‘dope on a rope’. Lucky beggar, most of us have to struggle to learn the art of line-handling to help improve our dog’s chances.
Our understanding of what constitutes ‘tracking scent’ is also debatable. If you follow the basics of the A.C.P.O national police dog training manual, many references are made to crushed vegetation, the shedding of skin cells and such like. But a purest of HIPs that starts tracking on hard surface doesn’t rely crushed dandelions and worms, and would even argue compressed grass can be over-powering for a dog’s nose. Just to clarify we are not seeking to undermine the recognised advice out there, much of this advice is tried and tested.
Truth is the advice around tracking can be polarising for instance, I have always severely dealt with those handlers that run on a track. But, a colleague from Canada informs me that running on a track is expected and does not affect performance, maybe not the dogs but it would certainly hamper my performance.
Does it matter how your dog is trained? No of course not. So long as the method you use works for you and your dog, you get round that track, find that mis-per, win that trial or capture that escaping villain who cares what method was used.
But, as we discussed earlier there is no ‘one-method-fits-all’ and what happens when your favourite method fails to deliver? How much do you know about other methods? Can you use another method properly or do you end up cobbling together some bits of various other methods?
However, in future publications we will be looking at the various methods for tracking and talking to those who use those methods to help us get a better understanding.