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.
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.“
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.)