One of the nice things about doing all this teaching is; in addition to getting to do something so fun, I also get to learn new things all the time. This weekend was no exception. We had a variety of freshly planted wheat fields to use for tracking. However the heavy rain and warm weather resulted in that grass growing more quickly than expected. So it was a bit taller than what I prefer to start dogs in. The first dog struggled going against the rows of planted grass, fortunately she was highly motivated but she struggled more than I wanted to see for a first time tracker.
|freshly planted rows of wheat.....|
|Laying tracks with the rows of wheat...|
The interesting part was watching the dogs do their first tracks on Sunday, working against the rows of thicker, shorter grass. About half of the dogs hit the start article/food and then proceeded to head down a row, tracking with rather than against the row. Since the food and targets went against the rows, they quickly discovered that there was no payoff to going with the rows and reoriented themselves to the correct direction and quickly progressed. During the afternoon tracks each dog tracked through (against) the rows without difficulty.
However I found it truly amazing that TWO sessions of a brand new exercise could be so quickly generalized by all of the dogs and that so many of them had already developed a picture in their heads of tracking in the correct direction as being with the rows of grass. TWO SESSIONS.... Think what would happen if we continued to unknowingly replicate some environmental cue or piece of information to the dog for months or years. And then, still unknowingly, we took it away. Say at a trial or competition......
This happens all the time in every venue of work or sport - at least it can if we are not careful. What made it so noticeable this week I think was because most of the dogs in the class were small. To a small dog the world of tracking with the rows of grass looks like this:
|when you are little the track is a forest with a path through the trees...|
Everyone in the class was brand new to tracking and probably found me a little bit anal in that I am very insistent that they start their dogs exactly the same way each time. Every time I get my young dogs out of the car I do exactly the same thing - leash on collar, harness in my hand, give them a spot to pee and wait until they are done, go straight to the start, harness the dog a few feet from the start. I then run the leash through my hand and hold the collar with the same hand. Initially Using the other hand I drop a piece of food onto the start article and then later just point the start article out to the dog. All this is to develop that environmental picture that helps them get "dialed in" to the task I want them to do. And as we saw this past weekend, they notice things like this very well - whether we want them to or not.....