Interview With Tracker
And the proof is in the pudding, so to speak.
Says Al, "I've trained and titled 3 untitled dogs from young dog/puppy to FH 2, two dogs from puppy to Sch 3, IPO 3, FH 2, two other dogs to Sch 1, and three other dogs to BH's. I've done a little conformation, in both USA and AKC events. I competed with an imported Sch 3 bitch for several years (she's my house dog now). I've never failed a Sch track with a dog I've trained from scratch. I've passed 40 FH tracks, and I think I've competed in over 100 trials, if you add everything up. For 12 years in a row (with four dogs), I've been the mid-central FH champ. I placed fifth at the North American/FH championship with Jack in '98, and second with Gonzo in '99. I've competed in Schutzhund at the North Americans and at the Nationals. I have been a tracklayer at many big events including the world championship in Boston, and have twice been a helper for the WPO championship. I am a two-time master Sports Medal winner (with 2 different dogs) and a 2 time participant on the GSD, AWDF team. My ex-wife and I have bred 5 litters, with some pups ending up in working homes. I mention that because I really enjoy all aspects of working with GSD's and Schutzhund. Each dog I've worked with has been a little different also. I've had West and East German dogs, high lines, and well as working lines. I've had an American bred dog, a rott, and now I'm really happy working with my Czech dogs. I'm a USA judge and the Mid-Central regional director."
1. At what age do you begin tracking, and how do you proceed with a young pup?
I start as soon as I get the dog/pup home. I'm a big believer in positive motivation, particularly in tracking. I've started a few pups, from my own breeding at 5 weeks, just to see how their drives would be, later in life. The sad thing was all three of these dogs have owners that decided Schutzhund was too time consuming.
2. How do you introduce articles? Do you teach them off the track? Do you ever let the dog play with the articles?
I use articles as a tool. When my dogs overcome problems, whether it be cross tracks, curves, corners, wind related problems etc; etc; etc; they then have a place to be rewarded. I basically take the pressure that a dog has built up working out a problem, off while downed at the article. I've done many different kinds of article training, both on and off the track with various success. What I've found works best for me is that I start articles,(imprinting) right from the start. At the tracks' end, I have an article with a lot of food. As the dog comes to the food I gently push the dog down, telling him/her platz. I might even give more food, on the article. Eventually when you remove the food from the article the dog will "nose" the article looking for more food. This isn't a big problem, you can simply relax the dog, and have the food or praise come from you. What I accomplish in this style of training is that not only do the articles and indication become a pleasant experience, but so does the platz. My dogs are now comfortable on the platz, and view them as "safe spots" so to speak.
They also come to realize that in training or a trial, that nothing but a positive experience comes at the article. I use this when I'm competing.
3. Do you have any special pre-tracking ritual?
I make sure I arrive at a trial in enough time to get the dog(s) acclimated to the area. Some dogs I could drive right up on trial day, and hook a leash on and go. Others I arrived 3 or 4 days in advance.
4. Any important advice to people in a trial, regarding tracking? common mistakes?
I see more people fail tracking that simply don't read their animal correctly. The old saying I learned was if in doubt, trust your dog. Work at building good solid foundation work, and then enter a few trials. I mentioned how many FH's I've passed, but I've also failed 16. I can remember every one that I failed, and I learned about "holes" in my foundation work from each failure.
5. How many times per week do you track a dog?
I like to track, and I learn a lot about the dog while we are tracking. A person can get a feel for the dogs nerves, drives, obedience etc. Each dog is a little different also. I mix things up so to keep everything fresh/exciting for the dog. I would say I do some form of tracking 4 times a week. Some tracks are 50 paces, with many articles, some are heavily baits, some are a mile long, then I'll also vary the age, and terrain. I also like to control my problems, so I intentionally create problems for my dog(s) to work out, and build confidence.
6. Does that depend on the level he/she is at?
Not really. My dog(s) get in the habit of tracking right from the start, and I think the dogs' actually look forward to going tracking once they make an association with me loading up the car..
7. Do you run tracks aged longer than what the rules call for in practice, or vary that? I had heard of people training for FH that don't routinely run 3 hr tracks in practice, feeling there isn't that much difference in the associated odors.
As I said above, I vary everything all the time. Once a dog knows how to track, then you must consider the endurance of the animal as a factor in your training. When I get ready for FH competitions, I try to do extra road work, swimming, more ball playing, I'll run all 6 blinds several times, work on long bites, etc; etc; etc. When the dog gets into good shape, and then doesn't seem to have as much problem working out the difficulties associated with FH work if he/she isn't tired. I start getting the dog into trial shape 3-4 weeks prior to the event. I'll also enter "spur of the moment" with certain dogs I have had if the conditions are good also.
8. Do you train cross tracks, and how?
The way I look at cross tracks is I bait a portion of my track, then cross the baited portion of my track. I also imprint this at an early age if possible. That way the dog learns there is no satisfaction in following, anything other than the baited track. I'll also track on areas that get a lot of traffic, such as soccer fields, parks, shopping malls.
9. How important is your training surface (grass, dirt, etc.)?
I try to vary everything. Initially all I try to do is build a correlation with finding food, and the ground disturbance. I don't get too caught up into placing food in the toe, or heel of the track, more like I want to develop an animal that will look into my foot print for satisfaction. I tell people to use what they have available to start with, build their foundation, then look for other surfaces to get your dog exposed to.