The “Object d’art of Trials.”
The object of nosework, whether tracking or searching is to find articles. Too few and you fail. One short may mean the difference between just qualifying and winning. The thrill of doing a super track can be marred by no articles or not enough from the square. Disappointment is lessened if the conditions were bad or the articles unsuitable. But so often do many good tracking dogs repeat the same fault - SHORTAGE OF ARTICLES.
Many judge’s reports include the same comments, "poor searches" "dogs not really going in to find articles".
Articles are the judge’s choice and are approved by the trials manager. The S.l. specifies certain points:the size, a fresh set for each dog, to be well handled, consider the nature of the ground and the stake being judged, the square to be foiled by the steward who places the articles in the square. No mention is made of weather conditions, scent holding capacity of materials used or the safety of articles.
. Rarely is a 6" nail/matchbox taken as the guideline these days, particularly in the higher stakes. Some articles really are too small. A generous article should be the reward at the end of tracks in ALL stakes, smaller articles on the way can sort "the men from the boys".
Square articles should be generous in the lower and open stakes and should not all be miserably small in top stakes. In Championship TD dogs are older, have very hard tracks, particularly in hot, dusty summer weather and however fit, they are likely to be tired and panting so that tiny articles of difficult material are unfair- perhaps the odd one to sort them out. We don’t want to sicken dogs over articles.
A FRESH SET FOR EACH DOG
means a lot of articles for a judge to collect and can be quite expensive to get new, clean, safe and suitable ones. Used articles should not be used again. Certain ones could be permissible if sterilised and not used for several months (eg. metal).
Some materials can be very unsuitable, e.g. dusty old carpet and underlay, "dirty" used syringes, oily sparking plugs (these can be cleaned), things that have contacted
creosote, chemicals, disinfectant, lead, mercury, fertilisers etc., fir cones, sharp things and things that if swallowed won’t come up or go through, or are actually dangerous.
The scent holding capacity varies a lot and can be affected by weather. Very light-weight things can blow away.
means holding the articles (one set at a time) in a warm hand, in a pocket with nothing else in it, for a reasonable and similar time for each dog. Hands give more scent if warm and if gloves are worn the articles should be inside the glove.
Articles should not be taken straight out of a bag and put down. Hands should not smell of perfume, scented soap, insect repellent etc. Arm-pits can scent articles well!
Placing of articles on the ground should be according to the judge’s instruction and the tracklayer’s and steward’s common-sense.
They should be placed on similar ground to what is being tracked, not on a bare patch, footpath, the top of a tussock or in a puddle. Placed (I think) by the inside of the leading foot as you are walking on. Not outside the foot which would be off the track line and not trodden on as it may get covered with mud or taken away on the boot. In the square, put articles downwind of where you are walking rather than upwind. This gives less help to the dog which is tracking about the square.
SUITABILITY TO THE GROUND
. Long grass or corn, stubble, very short grass, heather and moorland grass, plough, rape, and short winter corn all suggest different types of articles. Also weather will have different effects on the articles in these different terrains.
. There is no one way to train all dogs to find and retrieve articles whether on track or in the square. Tracking is tracking human scent to the article, searching is using the wind to blow the scent to us, or sniffing over a confined area in which we know there are articles. Dogs must learn to use the wind (when searching). Labradors do this naturally, GSD’s don’t seem to.
Our aim must be to encourage, build up and sustain great enthusiasm and an eager zest and desire to find articles. During early training we must find out what motivates the dog to this end, eg. the reward, presentation to the square, staying still on the base line and saying nothing, careful use of the voice (too much chatter distracts the dog), or watching the square laid.
. Food may be used in training up to a point. Personally I have come to the conclusion that food rewards in training and then no food at trials does not fool an intelligent dog for long! A reward must be a joyous plaything that can be given at home and away.
When tracking, it is a great help to teach a dog at an early age to go "down" or "stand" over an article. It stops the fast, track-happy dog (and handler) sailing on over the article.
What we must NOT DO is to sicken our dogs by too much boring, repetitive work using dull, stale, much used articles. We must not lose our tempers and punish in the square. We must not at any time, at play or on walks say "no" or "leave" if the dogfinds an object on which could be human scent. Articles are fun and we are very pleased whatever our dogs bring to us!
THE RETRIEVE, HOLDING
(not dropping and mouthing etc.) should be taught away from the square. It is a good occupation for long winter evenings when TV is poor - dogs enjoy it.
In training one should not use one’s old dog-mouthed articles. Human scent’s what we are after. Other people’s articles, as well as one’s own, should be used to give different human scent for the dog to experience.
When we reach the higher stakes and dogs are more experienced, the tendency can be to use smaller and smaller articles to improve their skill. I think if this is overdone and a lot of the joyous fun is taken away, dogs "switch off" and this can explain why some good tracking dogs fail to achieve their obvious potential, by failing to get enough articles.
. Your dog and you should be fit, especially the older dog in the top stake. Offer your dog a drink between the track and the square.
On track if you drop and lose an article and can’t find it quickly, mark the spot, (with lead, cap etc.) finish the track and if there is time to spare go back and do a search - don’t do a search in the middle of a track.
Put the articles in a safe EMPTY pocket without a hole in it – large enough to allow a gloved hard in and out if necessary. Wearing gloves makes you more liable to pull an article out of a pocket accidentally.
IN THE SEARCH
. How do you take the article from the dog?
1) Back away from, rather than go towards the square to encourage the dog to keep coming out of the square towards you.
2) Don’t snatch for the article - this could make the dog swallow it possessively.
3) If the dog sits or stands holding the article don’t encourage it to look up at you as with the dumbell - a panting dog may swallow or inhale the article. HOLD YOUR HANDS LOW to receive it so that the dog’s mouth is pointing down.
4) There are conditions when your dog is having difficulty in locating articles in the square and needs your help. Instead of remaining stuck to the base-line as is your norm, move round the square and even across the wind if this helps your dog to cover the square. Four articles are worth the odd lost point.
5) In trials today there are a lot of good dogs at all levels, so there must be a lot of good handlers. But in spite of this there is a weakness in our training for articles.
By putting pen to paper I don’t profess to be an expert, but hope to promote thought and discussion on the subject which may help towards curing our weakness.
Joan C. Stephens