Showsight November 2022


When I start a puppy, the first thing I do is play “Get It” games with an article I intend to use when we track. I want the puppy to love that article, such as a glove or a sock, for the fun it represents. I throw it short distances, get the puppy to chase it, and then celebrate when the puppy brings it back. Not all puppies return with the article; some may run away with it, and some may run back and then past me. If I have trouble getting the puppy to come back to me, I play our game in a hallway (with all the doors closed) and give him no options but to come back to me. When he does, I grab the puppy, not the article, as I want the pup to “own” it for a while and to be praised for coming. I love to make a big deal about the return so that the game is about us playing together. I want him to understand how much his actions please me, and thus, learn to love to work togeth- er. If I grab the article instead of the pup, the pup learns either that I am taking it away immediately (so why bring it back?) or he learns to drop it as soon as he arrives. These play sessions are short because pups tire easily, so I don’t want him losing inter- est. I would rather stop early and want him to want to play this game more, rather than walk away tired of our game. My pur- pose here is simply to build interest in the article, excitement to work with me, and motivation to find that article. Sometimes puppies don’t have any interest in the article you choose, so you may need to be creative when you choose an item that will be motivational for your puppy. As you watch and play with your pup, ask yourself what the puppy really seems to like to play with. Some may have a favorite toy, a ball, a water bottle, or even an old sock. It doesn’t matter what it is, as anything will work. Once you identify something, keep that item special and put it away to be gotten out just for the “Get It” game. Food works too, especially if you play around mealtimes. Take small pieces of a high-value treat, put it into the article you are wanting the pup to track in the future, and toss it a short distance. Help the puppy get the article and bring it back to you so that you can get the food out of the article for the pup. Stay close to the puppy so that the glove is not eaten. If you are doing this activity when the pup is

young, this shouldn’t be a problem. If you are trying this with a large, older puppy, you might be wise to put a leash on him to help yourself control his movements after he picks up his article. You could avoid this problem by using a small plastic container that the pup can’t swallow; just smear it up so that it smells delicious. Use the leash to guide the puppy back to you if he doesn’t come on his own. Give him the treat and repeat. Again, keep the sessions short. You are ready to move on when the puppy seems to understand that the article you have chosen is fun and he wants it. If your pup’s motivator and a tracking article are not the same item, the next step is to build an association between the two. After playing the “Get It” game enough so that the pup understands and loves the game, get a fabric tracking glove and put the special item in the glove, and repeat the “Get It” game with the pup until the puppy is just as excited about getting this fabric glove as he was his motivating item. Make sure the puppy sees his special toy being placed into the glove and consider letting part of it hang out of the tracking glove. You are ready to move on when the puppy seems to be just as excited about the tracking glove and his motivator as he was for the motivator alone. At this stage, I am ready to start track- ing my puppy. I use a six-foot leash and a small harness to start. I have someone help me at first, because this step demon- strates to the puppy that his special article, motivator or tracking glove, is out there and visible for him to go “get,” but this time without a throw. In this introductory method, one of us holds the dog while the other takes the motivator and begins laying a track at a typical start flag. The person holding the puppy should help the puppy pay attention to the “tracklayer.” Every five steps, have the tracklayer turn around, wave the beloved object at the puppy, and call the dog’s name to get his atten- tion and tease him with his treasure. For small dogs, I lay a track that is 10-20 yards; large dogs, 20-30 yards. At the end of the “leg,” have the tracklayer turn around and again show the puppy the article, call his name to make sure he is looking, and let him watch the article being placed on the ground. The tracklayer should then

‘Nina,’ the Clumber Spaniel, started her tracking career at ten weeks—the day after owner Merrielle Turnbull brought her home.

once or twice a week. She figured out the game right away and loved it. She would do short straight-line tracks of up to 30 yards, initially watching the tracklayer. But after only three sessions, she would track readily without watching her tracks being laid. At 10 weeks, she ran a 17-minute-old 50-yard track, taking all of two minutes to find her glove. We tracked four times between Jan- uary and April, and she progressed unbe- lievably. By April 19th, she was running regulation tracks with three right angle turns that I did not “teach” but added to her tracks and let her figure out for herself. I then quit for the summer. We resumed tracking in December and tried to certify in January. She was “off” and didn’t pass. We resumed practicing over the winter, and after six more training sessions, Carly passed a Tracking Test to certify before being able to enter a licensed Tracking Test. One month later, at 18 months, she got into a Tracking Test where she literally ran a 455-yard track in six minutes. She titled after only 20 practice tracks over 14 months, despite significant breaks for Field work and Conformation events. I do not think this is an exceptional dog; I think she is a product of an early start, when tracking was a very natural thing for her to do. It was amazingly easy for her. That was not my first experience with a puppy tracking unbelievably well, so I encourage anyone to consider getting that new puppy started in this sport. Here are some ideas to help you achieve the same success with a dog that is a prime candi- date for Tracking—even as a little one.


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