Training Tuesday: Keeping a digital tracking log

German Shepherd puppy wearing a graduation cap and looking at cameraI love tracking with Milo. Why? Because he loves tracking. When he’s on a trail his nose, brain, and temperament (as well as his gluttony—there are lots of treats during tracking) unite, giving him laser focus.

Folks tend to call tracking work, but it’s not like an unpleasant day job. It’s more like a vocation. He’s built for it. Called to it. Giving Milo a track is sort of like giving a budding artist a box of crayons. Tracking offers Milo an opportunity to develop and engage a talent that he loves to practice. How marvelous is it that I can do that with him?

I haven’t really been keeping records of our tracking sessions. I know I should, and so I started. Here are my notes on what we did today:

tracking notes
It was hot and breezing today, and I laid a track through dry grass and clumps of alfalfa. These are not great tracking conditions. Milo did well. He was methodical–pretty much keeping his nose in each footstep. The first corner was a bit tricky for him. He blew past it, but quickly realized his mistake, figured things out, and got back to it without prompting. He took the second corner like a pro. Good boy!

In case you’re wondering, the image above is a screenshot from a program called OneNote that I run on my laptop and iPad. This program collects files like they are pages in a notebook. I can keep notes of all our tracking sessions together and flip through them to keep track of how we’re doing, develop goals, and make training plans. This might be the beginning of a slick system.

Question: What kinds of things should I be recording in our tracking notes?

Training Tuesday: Stoopid hoomins tracking with smart dogs

Milo used to be great on corners. In competitive tracking, the dog has to follow a trail around several sharp turns. This can be tricky, especially with a fast dog, because they can shoot past a corner and lose the scent. Usually, Milo takes corners like his nose is glued to the track.

That is until the last time we went tracking when every single corner flummoxed him. He never stopped working. However, instead of smoothly walking around a corner he started zigzagging all over the place searching for the trail. Not like him at all.

My friend Liz was observing us work, and at the end of that track, she kindly asked me what on earth I was doing. Wait a minute. What was I doing? I wasn’t zigzagging. Milo was zigzagging.

Let me back up a bit. Tracking is difficult for me, even though I’m not the one doing the sniffing. It is difficult because I have to lay down the track and then remember, exactly, where it goes. This maps on to zero of my strengths. My capacity to get lost is only beat by my ability to forget landmarks.

So, I thought to myself, “Self, you need to figure a way out of this.” Hmmm.

“I know,” I thought, “I can throw a small flag a meter or so off the track at the corners. Milo keeps his head down so he won’t see it, but it is easy to see from my height.”

I marked the corners for myself. Problem solved.

Or not.

When I explained this reasoning to Liz, she looked at me out of the corner of her eye: “Your scent is all over those flags.“

D'oh

Picture this. Milo is tracking along like a pro, and he encounters a T-intersection in the scent trail: the track turns right, but I threw a flag a meter to the left.

While I’m wondering why on earth he isn’t turning right, he’s wondering what the hell is going on with the track. From his perspective the person he’s tracking suddenly split in two like some gigantic amoeba.

Instead of berating me for being confusing, Milo kept his nose to the ground, sniffing here and sniffing there, trying to figure out the conundrum I created. Have I mentioned lately that he is a good boy?

I forgot that, even though Milo and I live in the same house and spend most of our time together, we live in different worlds—scientists call these worlds umwelten, which is German for “life-world.” My umwelt is primarily full of things I can see. Milo’s is primarily full of things he can smell. This is one of the things I love about tracking: Milo’s doing something that I can hardly even imagine. He has a sniffing superpower. When we’re tracking together, we are a team, and we expand each other’s senses. Cool!

However, even though I think about the differences between human and canine senses more than a person might strictly consider reasonable, I still fell back into my human bias in favor of sight.

Note to self: When Milo is tracking think of everything with the target scent on it like it’s a flashing neon light.

Also, how lucky am I to have a friend who points out my silly mistakes and a dog who works hard even when I’m goofy? ❤ (Hint: very lucky.)

German Shepherd smelling grass

Training Tuesdays: Tracking around corners and heeling in the front yard

German Shepherd puppy wearing a graduation cap and looking at camera

Last week I strengthened my resolve to treat Milo like the smart and accomplished fellow that he is, which is a challenge because he will always be my fuzzy-pants, darling baby.

But, I managed to set the bar high and he leaped right over it (mostly).

Tracking. I worked him on tracks that were about 200-paces long with two corners and two articles. Milo the AwesomeDog earned his name on the corners–he corners like he’s on rails! I was so proud of him.

We stumbled a little bit over rewards on the track though. I drop kibble on the track every 5 to 10 steps. On the 10-step intervals, Milo tended to swerve off the track and sniff around. I suspect he was concerned that he missed a piece of kibble–his combination of intelligence and gluttony led to an occasional screwball performance.

When he did this I stood still and let him work. He always got back on track. I contemplated correcting him because we have a ‘no personal sniffing’ rule, which he might have been breaking. But I held off to give him a chance to figure this out on his own.  Milo takes joy in sniffing. I want to be the person who helps him flourish as a sniffer, not the person who scolds him for sniffing poorly.

german shepherd dog on a brown lawn walking around a corner with his nose on the ground

My friend Jess caught this pic of Milo on a corner.
I’m at the other end of that yellow leash.


Focused heeling. Why should Milo’s middle name be Heisenberg? Because by observing him in heel position I knock him out of heel position. Hahahahahaha.

Ok, so the joke isn’t funny. And gets the quantum mechanics wrong. Everyone’s a critic. Whatever.

Here’s the deal. In the house, Milo sits in perfect heel position. Anywhere else he sits about six inches too far away and at a weird angle, and he tends to glance away at butterflies and buzzing bees. In those distracting situations, I have to pay close attention and reward him like crazy when he gets it exactly right.

But, for me to know if he is getting it exactly right I have to look at him. And when I twist my body so that I can see him, I push him out of position. By observing him, I move him out of the position I want to observe him in. (You’re welcome. Jokes are always so much funnier when you explain them.)

Luckily I’m resourceful enough to work around the AwesomeDog Uncertainty Principle (eat your heart out quantum mechanics). I bought a few big cheap mirrors that I can use to observe Milo without compromising my own position. By leaning a mirror against my house, another against a tree, and a third against my car, I can observe Milo and reward him when he’s got it exactly right. Yes, it looks bizarre, but Milo is doing really well and that’s what matters.

Just a quick update on our two other goals. We’ve been attending Rally class, which is fine, and working on Milo’s attitude toward nail trims, which is still going slowly. I’ll have more to say about these projects in later posts.

Our goals for this week are simple: more of the same.

Cheers!

Training Tuesdays: April 24, 2018, Milo needs a challenge

Hi fans! This is a short post because it’s grading season, and I’m up to my eyebrows with student work from my Philosophy 271: Animals in our Lives and Philosophy 458/673: Feminism, Bodies and Biology classes. I had the pleasure of working with two groups of fabulous students and so the grading is not that bad. But, holy smokes, is there ever a lot of it.

I had an epiphany this week—I’ve been treating Milo like a baby and he’s bored. I was so focused on splitting his training tasks into tiny pieces that I was slowing him down and frustrating him.

I had this epiphany because my friend Liz said, “Carla, you need to give him more difficult things to do.” Does it count as an epiphany if someone straight out tells you something? Probably not technically, but this week had an ‘epiphany-feel’ about it.

After that fateful conversation with Liz, I gave Milo long tracks with multiple articles—he did a great job. No more waiting for him to find an exact heel position. I simply demanded it and he stepped right up and met my higher expectations. And in Rally class, which we just started, I demanded serious attention, which he gave me.

Note to self: “Do what Liz says more often.”

So, this week the plan is to do more of those things: long tracks, precision in heeling, and focused attention even in a distracting Rally class. I am feeling hopeful.

You might remember that I’ve also been working on getting Milo to tolerate a manicure. In the last couple of weeks I’ve come to see that Milo deeply despises have his nails trimmed. So, I’m keeping us on a baby steps schedule for this counter-conditioning procedure–tiny steps and lots of hotdogs.

Next week I’ll fill you in on our progress. Cheers!

Black and tan German Shepherd sniffing brown grass

Milo has what you call a “deep nose” when he tracks and that is a good thing.