Tracking: Tracking with a purpose

TRAINING YOUR PERFORMANCE DOG

by Carolyn Fuhrer

A tracking dog needs to understand their job. We as trainers need to define the job. In other words, we need to really give a good detailed job description. What is it you want your dog to do?

A tracking dog must follow the basic path the tracklayer walked. A tracking dog cannot cut out entire “legs” of the track and get to the end as a Search and Rescue dog might do. They must follow track scent, not air scent in order to be successful. We as handlers must understand and teach the task. Tracking is not nose work and nose work is not tracking. Yes, both require scenting skills, but applied in a different way.

If a dog is successful at nose work by air scenting, they may resort to this technique if the “track” scent is difficult to find or contaminated, or the environmental conditions are difficult. Air scenting has paid off in the past, so they may default to this “successful” behavior when confronted with a problem. This is where training must be clear to the tracking dog. We do not want them to follow air scent. We want them to follow track scent. This is why letting a tracking dog fringe and wander on the track is not giving a clear job description of what the dog needs to do. A successful tracking dog must focus and then maintain their focus on the track scent. At the beginner level they must do this for 450-500 yards and make 3 to 5 turns (corners) along the way. So, our purpose in beginning tracking is to keep the dog on the actual track, discourage fringing and air scenting and make track scent valuable. Tracks should be designed so dogs are successful and are motivated to keep their heads down. In other words, following track scent pays very well.

Another common problem is distractions or “crittering” along the track. Dogs must be taught to ignore distractions and to follow the track. A “leave it” command is very necessary for a tracking dog. Sometimes it is even a safety issue. Teach “leave it” away from the track so you have this command on hand when you need it. There are many positive ways to teach “leave it” and it should be understood by all dogs. Telling your dog you must leave something is not a bad thing; it could even save their life. So teach “leave it.”

Another very important concept we must incorporate into our training program is reducing the help we give our dog on the track and creating a confident dog who will make correct decisions on the track. In the beginning stages we help a lot to get the dog to understand the job and be well rewarded for doing the job. We must gradually reduce our help and let the dog take over. This many times requires a great deal of patience and being quiet so as not to verbally push the dog. A relaxed body posture will help the dog realize there is no pressure, and it will allow the dog to work.

Make your training sessions meaningful. Before you go out and just lay a track, think about the purpose of the track and what aspect of tracking you are trying to teach.

Happy tracking!

Carolyn Fuhrer has earned over 90 AKC titles with her Golden Retrievers, including 2 Champion Tracker titles. Carolyn is the owner of North Star Dog Training School in Somerville, Maine. She has been teaching people to understand their dogs for over 25 years. You can contact her with questions, suggestions and ideas for her column by e-mailing carolyn@dogsatnorthstar.com.

New titling program from AKC

TRAINING YOUR PERFORMANCE DOG

TRAINING YOUR PERFORMANCE DOG

by Carolyn Fuhrer

AKC has a new titling program: The AKC Trick Dog. It is designed so dogs and their owners can have fun learning tricks together.

There are four levels of titles in AKC Trick Dog:

  • AKC Novice Trick Dog TKN
  • AKC Intermediate Trick Dog TKI
  • AKC Advanced Trick Dog TKA
  • AKC Trick Dog Performer TKP

AKC approved CGC (Canine Good Citizen) evaluators may observe the tricks and sign as evaluators for the Novice, Intermediate and Advanced AKC titles.

For the performer level, all tricks must be done as a part of a routine and a video link must be provided to AKC for evaluation.

Here are the criteria for the four levels of titles:

Novice

Perform 10 tricks, or have the CGC on record at AKC and perform five tricks. May use food/toys as a lure (to guide the dog into position) and may use food as reinforcer and clickers to mark behavior. Dog will do each trick two times for the evaluator.

Intermediate

Perform 10 tricks from the intermediate tricks list. May not use food/toys as a lure except where specifically permitted. May use food as a reinforcer and also clickers to mark behavior. Dog will do each trick two times for the evaluator.

Advanced

Perform five tricks from the advanced tricks list. May not use food/toys as a lure. May use food as a reinforcer and may also use clickers to mark behaviors. Dog will do each trick once for the evaluator.

Performer

Perform a total of 10 previously learned or new tricks from the Novice, Intermediate and Advanced titles. Must do at least two intermediate and two advanced tricks. May not use food/toys as a lure. May use food as reinforcer and may also use clickers to mark behaviors.

You can find all the tricks listed at the section on the AKC website devoted to Trick Dog: www.akc.org/about-trick-dog/

The most exciting news is that MCKC (Mid Coast Kennel Club of Maine) will be offering a CGC test and Novice, Intermediate and Advanced Trick Dog tests at their show at the Union Fairgrounds, in Union, on Saturday, September 2, 2017, after Best of Breed. So, come and enjoy the dog show, maybe enter one of the tests or, if you are not ready yet, come and watch the CGC and trick tests and see what its all about.

For more information about the tests: contact Kathy Duhnoski at kduhnoski@myfairpoint.net.

Carolyn Fuhrer has earned over 90 AKC titles with her Golden Retrievers, including 2 Champion Tracker titles. Carolyn is the owner of North Star Dog Training School in Somerville, Maine. She has been teaching people to understand their dogs for over 25 years. You can contact her with questions, suggestions and ideas for her column by e-mailing carolyn@dogsatnorthstar.com.

Tracking: more than just following your dog

TRAINING YOUR PERFORMANCE DOG

by Carolyn Fuhrer

Tracking involves teaching your dog how a certain job (following the track) needs to be done. It requires the handler to have the sensitivity, knowledge and skills necessary to help the dog achieve this goal. It is not just following wherever your dog goes. If you let your dog wander around and intermittently follow the track, you are not defining the job that the dog has to do. This will not enable the dog to clearly understand the job and ultimately lead to confusion, stress and failure.

So how do you avoid this in training? First of all, do not run blind tracks until you feel you can “read” your dog and have confidence as to whether or not your dog is tracking. Be particular about who you choose to help you; just because someone has a tracking title – even an advanced title – does not mean they have the ability to help you and your dog to succeed.

Training sessions need to build upon success, expose problem areas and ultimately create training scenarios to solve those problems. Just going out and laying a long track with lots of “problems” and letting the dog wander all around until they seem to “solve” them, is not training with any purpose and will not help the dog learn.

Tracking involves solving problems step by step and recognizing when a problem is starting to occur and being able to recover to where you know tracking was correct, and then being able to refocus your dog.

Recovery occurs in gradual stages. It is more than just backing up. In recovery, the handler actually becomes the leader and backs up slowly as the dog works back towards them. You cannot turn around or pull your dog towards you. You must have a style of handling that allows you to recover ground as your dog moves towards you while searching. It is more than just going in reverse a certain number of steps.

A good handler is constantly in tune with the dog while recovering and observing carefully for track indication which could occur at any moment. At that point, the dog becomes the leader of the team again.

Following behavior that is not tracking will take you further and further off the actual track, confuse your dog, and will cause you to fail in a test. You must be able to determine when your dog is looking or searching for scent and actually tracking the scent. Searching can develop into tracking and tracking can move into searching; being able to determine when this is happening is where the expertise of teaching truly becomes evident. Well planned tracks will teach both dog and handler.

Don’t wander – have a purpose.

Happy tracking.

Carolyn Fuhrer has earned over 90 AKC titles with her Golden Retrievers, including 2 Champion Tracker titles. Carolyn is the owner of North Star Dog Training School in Somerville, Maine. She has been teaching people to understand their dogs for over 25 years. You can contact her with questions, suggestions and ideas for her column by e-mailing carolyn@dogsatnorthstar.com.

PERFORMANCE DOG: Big news about rally obedience

TRAINING YOUR PERFORMANCE DOGTRAINING YOUR PERFORMANCE DOG

by Carolyn Fuhrer

Since its introduction in 2005, Rally has grown in popularity. Rally is a course set up consisting of signs indicating skills in a numerical order which the dog and handler must perform.

You are allowed to talk to your dog and praise your dog throughout the entire course. There are currently three levels – Novice, which is performed on leash; Advanced and Excellent (which are off leash). Each class contains progressively more difficult obedience skills and the advanced and excellent classes require the dog to jump. You can earn a title in each class: Rally Novice, RN; Rally Advanced, RA; Rally Excellent, RE. There is an RAE title that can be earned by passing an advanced and excellent course on the same day on 10 different days.

Beginning in November, 2017 there will be two new classes introduced as well as a rally championship title, or RACH (sounds like rock).

The Rally Intermediate class (RI) has been created to provide another on-leash class that requires advanced skills, which will help teams prepare for the off leash performance required in the advanced class. This class will mirror the advanced class but will not contain a jump. After you have completed a Rally Novice title you may choose to enter Rally Intermediate or Rally Advanced. A Rally Intermediate (RI) title is not required to go into Rally Advanced.

There will also be a new master class and associated title RM with 22 NEW exercises, some of which ae very challenging.

Several new exercises have been added to the existing Rally classes and handlers should be aware of these as they may be included in classes after November 1. Novice has 6 new signs and Advanced and Excellent class each have 5 new signs. The wording on some of the signs has also changed.

To earn a RACH – Rally Championship title – teams are required to earn 20 triple qualifying scores; qualifying in the Advanced B, Excellent B and Master classes at the same trial at 20 separate events, plus earn 300 RACH points from the Excellent B and Master classes. Points are determined by a dog’s score. For example: a 91-96 would earn 1 point; a 97 would earn 2 points; 98 would earn 3 points; 99 would earn 4 points and a score of 100 would earn 5 points.

There will be much to learn to be successful in Rally after November 1. If you are looking for help, check out Mid Coast Kennel Club of Maine and North Star Dog Training School. They will be working together to present a series of Spring and Summer workshops to prepare handlers and dogs for all the new skills that will be required to enjoy showing in Rally Obedience with your dog.

Carolyn Fuhrer has earned over 90 AKC titles with her Golden Retrievers, including 2 Champion Tracker titles. Carolyn is the owner of North Star Dog Training School in Somerville, Maine. She has been teaching people to understand their dogs for over 25 years. You can contact her with questions, suggestions and ideas for her column by e-mailing carolyn@dogsatnorthstar.com.

Tracking – building confidence and desire

TRAINING YOUR PERFORMANCE DOG

by Carolyn Fuhrer

Successful tracking comes from the dog wanting to follow the scent you have indicated to them. In this case, the scent of the “start article.”

You must motivate them to lock on to this scent because this scent “pays” – and ignore all the other wonderful scents they may come across along the way.

You must motivate them to persevere even when the path is hard and it is easier to go another way. You must motivate them to keep working even when they are tired and would like to stop.

So how do you communicate this to your dog?

Some dogs find sniffing very rewarding; however, this does not mean your dog will necessarily want to follow the scent of what you have directed them to follow. In order to create desire to follow the scent you have indicated (the start article) you must in training make the job of following the start article scent very rewarding. This is why using multiple articles on training tracks and rewarding for finding and indicating each article will teach the dog to stay on the scent you started with. I try to communicate to my dog that each article they find is very important and will “pay” very well. I vary the value of my rewards so the dog will always keep working to find the article that will pay with high value treats. I am enthusiastic about what they find. Just paying at articles and going on is not always enough for some dogs. Some dogs need excited input; others need sincere appreciation from the handler. This is where relationship comes in.

What does your dog need? This could change as the track progresses. This is where tracking really shows off the relationship with your dog. You must train this way with your dog so you can encourage them through the difficult parts of the track and get them to search for that elusive scent one more time.

Even though at a test you cannot reward your dog with food at the article, the relationship you develop through training each time your dog finds an article will carry over into competition and you will be able to help your dog focus and go back to tracking. Spending time at the article is a good mental break for both dog and handler. It gives the handler a chance to assess what has been going on and where they are on the track and enables the handler through their relationship with the dog to encourage and motivate the dog to go on or to calm and focus the dog on the next section of track.

What your dog needs at any particular time will depend on our dog’s personality and the difficulty of the track. When your dog finds multiple articles along the way during training their confidence builds because they are successful and are praised for their effort. This interaction enhances their relationship with you and will build confidence and desire. Long, arduous, unrewarding tracks will not build the desire you need for a successful tracking dog. If you are struggling with focus or desire, try to put some motivation back into your tracks.

Carolyn Fuhrer has earned over 90 AKC titles with her Golden Retrievers, including 2 Champion Tracker titles. Carolyn is the owner of North Star Dog Training School in Somerville, Maine. She has been teaching people to understand their dogs for over 25 years. You can contact her with questions, suggestions and ideas for her column by e-mailing carolyn@dogsatnorthstar.com.

Agility: Routines build confidence

TRAINING YOUR PERFORMANCE DOGTRAINING YOUR PERFORMANCE DOG

by Carolyn Fuhrer

Most of us who compete have very good dogs in class, at home or wherever we go to play with them. Why then is it sometimes different when we go to a trial? Different sounds, different smells, different dogs and people – basically unfamiliar territory – can be distracting and stressful to the dog and this is why having routines that are familiar to both of you can help your dog gain confidence.

A new environment can overstimulate your dog’s brain. In a new situation that, to your dog, is over stimulating you may feel he is not giving you the attention you want, but in reality he probably cannot handle all that stimulation. And since a dog’s first instinct is survival/safety, his brain may not be able to handle both attention to you and the environment. Survival skills will override attention to you. This dog needs familiar routines to feel safe and which will enable him to build mental stamina.

Overstimulated dogs will react differently. Some will get the “zoomies” and do all the obstacles as if you did not exist. Others will perform very slowly, trying to do the correct behavior in spite of the overwhelming environment and others may shut down and not even jump. Handler pressure here or loud cheerleading can be disastrous. Familiar routines can help these dogs.

Plan on arriving early to any new venue. Leave your dog in the car and set up his ”home” – a crate, x-pen, mat, or whatever is familiar and appropriate. When you get your dog out of the car, don’t just go inside. Let your dog see where he is. A dog’s natural way to check the environment is to sniff – and what do most handlers say immediately? Leave it – no sniff! Your dog needs to know where he is so just hang out by the car for a moment and let him look around and sniff. When he seems relaxed, find a place where he can relieve himself if necessary and go inside.

Once inside, move away from the door and just relax again. Let him see where he is, then go to his crate which can have a toy or bone inside. Sit by your dog and let him relax again. When I feel that my dog is comfortable, I like to go for a walk around the area with a toy. The toy is available to the dog, but I do not ask my dog to play. This can be too hard for a “green” dog – “I can’t play if I don’t feel safe.”

When I see that my dog is relaxing, I may start some very easy play and if my dog buys into the game I will play to the level my dog can handle in this environment. It may not be what you can do at home. If I can get play, then I might ask for “speak” and tricks and then go back to play. Then I put my dog away and let him rest. Each time you take your dog out of the crate, play should come easier and be stronger.

Warm up routines should be familiar and fun – entering the ring, how you take off the leash and go to the start line and how you set up and lead out or begin, should all be a well known routine. When your dog knows what to expect, he can then put effort into focus. End routines should also be established routines – with the dog coming to you, putting on the leash, praising, exiting the ring, celebrating and rewarding.

Routines build confidence through familiarity. Work on the routines your dog needs.

Carolyn Fuhrer has earned over 80 AKC titles with her Golden Retrievers, including 2 Champion Tracker titles. Carolyn is the owner of North Star Dog Training School in Somerville, Maine. She has been teaching people to understand their dogs for over 25 years. You can contact her with questions, suggestions and ideas for her column by e-mailing carolyn@dogsatnorthstar.com.

Dog Training: Could positive methods ever cause stress?

TRAINING YOUR PERFORMANCE DOGTRAINING YOUR PERFORMANCE DOG

by Carolyn Fuhrer

The answer is yes. While all well-educated trainers strive to use positive methods to train, this choice of method does not automatically imply the learning situation is stress-free. Poor communication between dog and handler, lack of proper manipulation of consequences by the handler, failure to accurately recognize feedback from the dog, and poor timing and/or lack of feedback from the handler can lead to great stress in training, even when no harsh methods have been used.

It is important that the pathway of communication between handler and dog remains an open, two-way street, where the handler is looking and respecting feedback from the dog and the dog clearly sees the handler as a partner ready to assist and offer feedback during learning and performance of skills.

Sometimes, when we embark on a new activity, we can be over zealous because we are excited and we really think our dog is going to love this new activity. Our enthusiasm can bring with it a great deal of pressure even though we are happy, providing plenty of cookies and telling our dog how much fun this new activity is. Sadly, many new handlers come away from a new activity saying “oh, we tried …. and my dog doesn’t like it.”

When you introduce a new activity to your dog, you must take into consideration what kind of dog you have. Is your dog bold, inquisitive, likes surprises – or, is your dog thoughtful, shy maybe a little timid or wary. Introducing all dogs to a new activity the same way will not work. One size does not fit all. The way your dog is introduced to a new activity will have a profound effect upon how he views that activity in the future.

Too many trainers want to see the finished product or the complete exercise instead of building confidence and enjoyment each step along the way and usually the best results you can hope for is that the dog tolerates the exercise but never really enjoys it. You need to recognize and reinforce the early stages of initiatives each step along the way so that the dog becomes confident and will begin to drive the training.

Dogs are empowered by training and learn to be self-confident when they know they will receive consistent, fair feedback regarding their behavior. They learn to pay more attention and to try harder because they understand winning behaviors will pay well and that they can win.

We, as trainers, need to pay close attention to the choice the dog makes after he receives feedback (a consequence for behavior) in order to understand whether we are changing the behavior (strengthening or diminishing it) the way we intended to change it. We need to be observant and listen to what our dogs are trying to tell us. Just continuing down the same training path despite feedback from our dog that this is not working is a recipe for disaster.

We must keep the pathway of communication open in order for our dog to be confident and trust us. We want to build on success, not repeat failure; so, many times we must really simplify what we are asking or work with less distraction.

Training is a balance. – a two-way street between you and your dog. Without an open pathway of communication where we look for and accept feedback from the dog, we will never develop the training relationship we want.

By making a sincere effort to “listen” to what your dog is telling you and adjusting your feedback to the dog, you will open up a whole new world of enjoyable training.

Carolyn Fuhrer has earned over 80 AKC titles with her Golden Retrievers, including 2 Champion Tracker titles. Carolyn is the owner of North Star Dog Training School in Somerville, Maine. She has been teaching people to understand their dogs for over 25 years. You can contact her with questions, suggestions and ideas for her column by e-mailing carolyn@dogsatnorthstar.com.

TRAINING YOUR PERFORMANCE DOG: How important is the judge?

TRAINING YOUR PERFORMANCE DOGTRAINING YOUR PERFORMANCE DOG

Carolyn Fuhrer, North Star Dog Training School

When you enter an event with your dog, you are actually asking the judge to evaluate your performance according to the standards of the venue. Some people would say if my dog can do everything, it really doesn’t matter who the judge is. This is not necessarily so. The less experienced you are, the more influence a judge may have on your performance.

An obedience judge is responsible for ring set ups – where the exercises will take place and the heeling pattern. Set ups close to the ring entrance, recalls towards the ring entrance, set ups with a lot of distractions behind the dog, can all complicate simple exercises. While you should practice with distractions before you show, a good judge will do their best to make the ring dog and handler friendly.

The efficiency and energy of the judge also sets a tone that you and your dog react to – basically, if you are comfortable, your dog will be comfortable. While judges should expect you to take your performance seriously and to know the rules and ring procedure, it is important to never lose your sense of humor. Things happen; and remember, there is always another show.

Good judges work hard to make the best of the situations they are given. Rally judges design the course using the signs and guidelines appropriate to the level. Some like courses with lots of sits and fronts. Other judges prefer flowing, open courses. Some look more at precision while others focus more on teamwork. Both courses can be legal, but reflect a different style.

In agility, the judge’s skill at design is also very important because they actually design the course. While, of course there are guidelines to designing a course, a judge’s influence in course design, i.e. angle of approach, tight turns, how the course flows – can all influence your dog’s performance. Some judges are influenced by the type of dog they are running and what kind of course they like, so sometimes you may get a course that is friendlier to big dogs or one that is friendlier to little dogs. Again, both can be legal courses but may favor one size dog over another. Some judges like lots of obstacle discrimination, some like pinwheels or serpentines. Some like a spiraling, tight course and others like a loopy, flowing course. Again, the more experienced your dog, the less this will concern you. Try and learn from the type of courses you have trouble running.

In tracking, the judges’ knowledge of scent theory and how dogs work and what will help the dog and what can hinder the dog along the way is extremely important.

In tracking, each new day is another experience depending upon terrain and weather conditions. Since tracking is an outdoor sport and subject to varying conditions, tracking judges must consider many factors when plotting a track. What looks good on paper may not transfer well to a field. Tracking judges must be willing to go that extra mile to make things work.

Judges, in my experience, on the whole are very dedicated and want to see dogs and handlers succeed. They work hard and put in a long day. But as in any other slice of life, some become complacent and settle in and don’t put forth much effort.

If, in your trialing experiences, you are not happy with a judge – be polite and chalk it up to experience. Seek out other experiences with other judges. You can enjoy showing and good judges are out there. Please make sure you tell the clubs when you really like a judge. Clubs work hard to put on shows and it means a lot to know they made good choices in choosing judges.

Carolyn Fuhrer has earned over 90 AKC titles with her Golden Retrievers, including 2 Champion Tracker titles. Carolyn is the owner of North Star Dog Training School in Somerville, Maine. She has been teaching people to understand their dogs for over 25 years. You can contact her with questions, suggestions and ideas for her column by e-mailing carolyn@dogsatnorthstar.com.

Obedience training never ends

TRAINING YOUR PERFORMANCE DOGTRAINING YOUR PERFORMANCE DOG

by Carolyn Fuhrer

It is generally accepted that a skill that is not maintained will gradually diminish. It doesn’t matter if you are referring to a performance dog or a pet dog. If obedience skills that a dog has been taught are not practiced and a consistent requirement of performance adhered to, these skills will gradually diminish in accuracy and reliability.

We hope to have our dogs for a long time; somewhere between 10-15 years. During that time many things in our lives may change. People come in and out of our lives, we may move, get another pet, get a new job, take up a new hobby. So many things can affect our lives in 10-15 years. New situations, strange situations or stressful situations may cause your well-behaved dog to test the limitations of the rules. Don’t be surprised or upset. Simply realize your dog is asking a question, which is: do the same rules of behavior apply in this new situation?

As a good owner/leader, you need to be clear, patient and consistent with your answers.

Do not let simple skills slide because you feel they are not as important as the dog gets older. The dog will begin to perceive lack of leadership and this may lead to more and more problems, resulting in a very anxious dog.

Always requiring sensible behavior and good manners will give the dog a routine in which they can find safety and security.

There are many fun ways to maintain and enhance skills learned in puppy or obedience classes. Work towards a Canine Good Citizen title or a Therapy Dog certification. Join a beginners’ agility class where following basic commands such as “wait” and “come” are important foundation skills. Join an obedience rally class and brush up on skills and learn some new ones.

If you know you are going to experience a major change in your life or your household, see if you can plan on spending some quality time with your dog to reinforce those basic commands. It will make any transition easier.

Just as with humans, dogs will live a longer and happier life when they are less stressed and have activities they can enjoy and where they can use their minds as well as their physical skills.

Playgroups and longs walks are a great form of exercise, but don’t neglect your dog’s mind. Learning new skills together or reinforcing and enjoying old ones can many times rejuvenate an older dog and also help calm a young, energetic dog. Working one on one with your dog will deepen your understanding of one another and broaden your communication skills with another species.

So, why not give your dog and yourself a treat and join a class in agility, rally or obedience to learn some new skills and reinforce old ones. See you in class!

Carolyn Fuhrer has earned over 90 AKC titles with her Golden Retrievers, including 2 Champion Tracker titles. Carolyn is the owner of North Star Dog Training School in Somerville, Maine. She has been teaching people to understand their dogs for over 25 years. You can contact her with questions, suggestions and ideas for her column by e-mailing carolyn@dogsatnorthstar.com.

Tracking: the importance of starting out correctly

TRAINING YOUR PERFORMANCE DOGTRAINING YOUR PERFORMANCE DOG

Carolyn Fuhrer
Owner North Star Dog Training

One of the greatest games you can play with your dog is teaching them to use their sense of smell to find a great reward. Dogs like to use their nose; it is the first way they identify things – and what dog doesn’t like to find something which results in a reward for them, be it food, a toy or a game of tug or chase?

The sport of tracking uses the dog’s natural scenting ability to follow where a person has walked (the track) and find items that the person has dropped (articles). Our job is to teach the dog to use their nose to follow the “track” and find the “articles” at which point the dog in training will be rewarded. The only way they can find the “articles” which pay the reward is to use their nose to follow the track. Sounds like a relatively simple formula – then why do so many people have so much trouble when they start working?

The answers are the same as for any other type of training. To name a few:

  • Poor motivation
  • Lack of clarity on the part of the trainer
  • Dog does not understand the reward system
  • Increased difficulty too soon
  • Making it a job instead of an enjoyable, rewarding task
  • Poor understanding of the dog’s physical/mental stamina
  • Poorly planned tracks

Starting out right with a qualified trainer who is also a good teacher and understands various breeds of dogs can help avoid so many problems.

There are many good books on tracking, but if you don’t have a really solid foundation in training, they are not that helpful. Videos are fine, but usually show the finished product and not how to deal with problems or may not deal with the problems you are having.

Going to a beginner’s clinic is a very good start, but it can only take you so far and depending on the skill and expertise of the instructors, you may or may not come away with a plan.

Continuity, consistency and motivation are the keys to developing a good tracking dog. If you are frustrated it usually affects the dog. This is why follow up sessions that allow for individual needs are very important especially for new trackers. As in any dog sport, there is a lot for the handler to learn and if the handler cannot obtain the help they need, progress will be slow at best. To make progress you need someone who cannot only identify the problems you may be having but who can also design training sessions to help you solve those problems and build the dog’s confidence and yours!

Mid Coast Maine Kennel Club had a wonderful program last year. It started in April with a beginner’s workshop and students tracked several times a month throughout the mid-coast area. The last session was held the first week in December! MCKC will also be hosting seven tracking tests this year and will host an AKC Judges Seminar in July. If you are looking to learn to track in 2017, check out Mid Coast Kennel Club of Maine’s website for information. The club will also be hosting a Nose Work clinic on March 3rd.

Carolyn Fuhrer has earned over 90 AKC titles with her Golden Retrievers, including 2 Champion Tracker titles. Carolyn is the owner of North Star Dog Training School in Somerville, Maine. She has been teaching people to understand their dogs for over 25 years. You can contact her with questions, suggestions and ideas for her column by e-mailing carolyn@dogsatnorthstar.com.