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Tracking is a natural behavior for dogs and they are very good at it.
It is the dog's easiest way to find game or prey and they do this from a very
early age. American pointing dog enthusiasts despise tracking dogs and many
have been discarded because they obviously tracked game. The origin of this mythology
is fairly obvious, a dog with a poor nose tracks all the time because it is the only way that
dog can find any game at all. Upland trial enthusiasts have had a different interpretation,
that the tracking caused the poor nose. The obvious success of versatiles in finding
game birds by air scent has done a lot to dispel the mythology but in some regions of North
America the mythology is persistent and powerful. The victims of the mythology are the trainers,
handlers and hunters who believe that their dogs have to break point to get a "head start" on
crippled pheasants. They may have a shooting accuracy problem but their training of their bird
dogs leaves a lot to be desired and causes the loss of a lot of crippled game.
The only difficulty in teaching a dog to track is that of getting the dog to
understand which of the five thousand different scent traces it can perceive
that you want it to follow. The rituals of blood track training are
necessary for the specific requirements of that aspect of the sport and are
not of interest here. Every hunter needs to have a way to employ the
natural tracking abilities of his or her dog since the loss of crippled game
is one of hunting's most unethical happenings.
I start track training for puppies with a simple associative command.
"Track" tells the dog that what we want is on the ground. It's relatively
easy. I drop a piece of cheese on the kitchen floor and then roll it along
the floor and around the corner of the refrigerator. I then call the pup
and repeat the command "track" softly while tapping the floor at the start
of the track. Then I just watch as the pup works out the track to get his
piece of cheese. With very few repetitions the word "track" will cause the
pup to sniff the ground searching for something interesting. You don't
have to use a food prize for very long and can switch to an unwashed sock,
a toy or almost any other article and praise the pup when he finds it.
When instilled at an early age the "track" command is rarely forgotten.
When I get to the outdoors I like to lay a scent track for the dog that is
strong and obvious, a bird wing or my wallet will do nicely, I just drag it
a short distance, hide it and then bring the dog to the start of the track.
You can gently encourage the dog to find the object by tracking and praise
him when he finds it. Later on I add the command 'fetch" to follow the
"track" command so I can actually send the dog to retrieve something by
tracking it. If you are a duck hunter the track can be laid on the lawn
through a spread of decoys, a performance that helps the dog to ignore
decoys when going for a downed duck.
Tracking dogs rarely, if ever, lose crippled birds. Sight searching dogs
however have a fairly poor record for recovering cripples. Part of this is
due to the handler's teaching errors. When the handler excites the dog to
encourage it to fetch the dog shifts immediately from scent mode to visual
search. An excited bird dog just cannot, and will not, track anything.
Those who insist that their dog has to break point and start to retrieve as
soon as the shot is fired are eager to have the retrieve and invariably
encourage sight rather than scent searches. The productivity on crippled
birds of tracking dogs is consistently far superior to than of sight
searching dogs. Those who I hunt with regularly find that a lost pheasant
is a rare event, something that is talked about for months after the hunting
season because we encourage tracking and use it regularly. I have hunted
pheasant by invitation in many areas where half of the downed birds were
not recovered, a pattern that is strikingly obvious and strongly related to the
expectations of the hunters.
The only thing that is required for excellent tracking is calmness, the dog
must relax and concentrate to be able to track a bird at a dead run. If you
excite the dog it will search, it won't track.
Think about it.