The beauty of teaching your dog to track? You don't have to teach them anything. It is more about teaching yourself to let go of control...
As many of my clients know, I tend to geek out heavily when talking about K9 psychology and ability. Many lessons have side barred into a passionate discussion about the other working disciplines of the K9 world. Obedience is fantastic and needs to be at the foundation of communication and structure...but sometimes it is nice to 'let the beast be a beast' so to speak. Wrote a separate blog post about this very notion...READ IT HERE.
Personally, I love it all: bite work, scent detection, retrieve, mushing, herding - When dogs work and are passionate and driven for that work it is a wonderful thing to watch and be apart of.
And in the arena of k9 'employment' tracking is king.
(in my opinion)
The term ‘tracking’ has been used for many different disciplines and applications. Some call it trailing, manhunting, searching etc. Here is my over simplified take on what ‘tracking’ is: Allow your K9 to take the lead and give them the freedom to do what they do to hunt down and execute the find.
All of the tracking I do involves a harnessed K9 on the end of a long leash. Personally, I LOVE a 30’ rolled leather leash. It snakes beautifully through the brush/around trees and is long enough to allow bursts of speed when odor is confident while not being too long to reel in as needed.
My K9s hunt for different objectives. My German Shepherd, Liesel Weapon, is a dynamo man hunter and my Dutch Shepherd, Oaken, specializes in wounded game recovery. Make no mistake when they see their tracking harnesses they go ballistic. Truthfully, when ’tracking brain’ kicks in obedience execution and compliance takes a big step back and I am 100% fine with that. I actually encourage my clients to remove all notions of obedience and structure when that leash clicks to the harness. Tracking is best suited for a feral mindset and human words/structure may just muddy the fun.
I think this is one of the main reasons this discipline is so important. Humans tend to want to control everything. Even in dog training we are traditionally at the helm of EVERYTHING. Tracking is that moment when I delegate leadership to the pack member best suited for execution. The empowerment and confidence gained from that dynamic is something that will ripple in all areas of the dog’s life.
One of my training friends and mentors, Jeff Minder of Top Tier K9, always said things like ‘you want your dog to be better at bite work? Teach them to track. You want a calm clear brain for obedience? Teach them to track. You want a balanced thinking dog? Teach them to track.’
I think he was spot on with this sentiment. Tracking requires nose BEFORE eyes to be successful. It also requires dog to be confident and independent to work solo without human assistance. The human’s job is to hang on to the lead and watch. With that position defined, the human also has no choice but to humbly study their dog.
To progress as a tracker team - training progressions are carefully structured like a science experiment. Add in variables and watch how the dog navigates. If the dog doesn’t succeed during tracking it is not that the dog failed…it is that the human failed to appropriately stack challenges for the dog to learn. Double blind testing is also necessary (human and dog have no idea where the training track will take them). This ensures the human is not accidentally influencing the dog's decision on the track. I have seen a tracks get derailed just by the handler believing the track layer went a different way and they stop having confidence in their dog (and believe me I have gotten in the way of my dog's success many times). 'Trust the dog' is a mantra my tracking club is very aware of...
Again, this discipline cannot be faked. You cannot trick a dog through it and repetitions won’t create perfection. The goal is to teach a dog to lead, think and adapt…
...and for the human to watch, learn and adapt <——give you a hint as to who has a harder time learning this stuff.
For those interested in learning this discipline give RYP a shout or click HERE for more info. We also have a tracking club that meets up regularly to run drills and scenarios to keep the learning going!