Ready, set, TRACK!
Who would have imagined a small, short nosed breed like the Brussels Griffon would ever be considered a tracking dog. That was the challenge I embarked on over a year ago. There was little information available that pertained to our wonderful breed and tracking. The few Brussels Griffon owners that have achieved the goal of TD and TDX (Tracking Dog and Tracking Dog Excellent) can feel very proud of their accomplishments.
Our adventure in the tracking dog world began six months ago when we attended a two-day Seminar on Tracking, presented by Two Rivers Agility Club of Sacramento and Sacramento Dog Training Club. The event gave us the basics, but we still needed to shadow an experienced team of dog and handler in the field. My husband and I tried to follow the directions and examples I learned at the Seminar, but only confused our Griffon, Holly. Not wanting to quit at this point, I emailed, called and finally found a group of dedicated teams that gladly allowed this novice team to join their early morning workouts.
The workouts meant we needed to drive an hour to two and a half hours away, depending on where the group decided to meet. Reluctantly I made the effort to drive the distance only to be rewarded with a group of handlers that encouraged us and gently lead us from beginning basics to the advanced beginners we are now.
Let me stress that this sport is very addictive, if you have the patience and understanding of your dog. This sport cannot be achieved by obedience or agility commands, corrections whether verbally or otherwise, and only happy, positives voices are allowed. The handler is only there to offer the dog support in a task that is not only natural but taps into the basic essence of the canine.
To begin the experience, frequent food reward is offered along the track. It is my understanding that this helps the dog focus on the ground and learn the “game” of tracking. A simple 40-yard, straight track is laid by a person other then the handler.
As the track is laid, the dog is allowed to watch the other person who frequently calls the dogs name, drops a treat, and continues on the track. Each dog works three separate but identical tracks in this manner for one days training. Often, it takes only one or two times of this type of track laying for the dog to “Get it”, and then the tracks are increased in length and corners are added.
Having experienced tracking teams to help mentor us, certainly helped me understand when my dog was tracking correctly. The teams also shared observations as Holly and I worked, to point out my errors in blocking my dog from doing her job.
I can say that Holly totally was focused and in her zone, once she understood the game of tracking. We have a ritual at the starting point of the track that allows Holly to get ready and to know she about to start the “game”.
She is led up to an area near the start of the track (marked by a pink flag). At this point she has only her everyday collar on, with her walking lead. When ready, I place her tracking harness on, clip her tracking lead to the harness and offer her a squirt of water. The water is very important to short nose breeds, since their mucus membrane dries quickly and if dry, cannot distribute the scent well.
For the very beginner dog, they are told to “find it, track, get it” whatever communication the dog and handler use to start the “game”. The dog sets off to find the treats as well as learn that the scent helps drive them to the next treat.
Holly is now at the point where treats are few and she is learning to associate a scent article with the track. She has also learned to change direction on the track by turning a right or left hand corner. The end of the track is rewarded with another scent article laid on top of a jackpot of treats.
At the end of the track, the other teams, if in the area, cheer and praise Holly for a job well done. Everyone has a party celebrating the end of the tracking.
I have noticed as the dogs get more experience, their reward is not necessarily the party, but a continuous positive self-reward, just being on the track and working.
Holly knows when we are at the fields; she pulls and strains at the lead, eager to start her tracking challenge. As she progresses in her training her scent discrimination is developing and becoming finely tuned. We are now at a point where the track layers are different people each time we track. The track layers use only their personal articles as scent motivators.
Tracking is not difficult, only very time consuming. As the skill level increases, so does the age of the track. This could mean laying a track and having it age (sit undisturbed) from one to three hours. Usually the waiting time is spent in fellowship with other handlers, back at the cars, sharing stories and the love of their dogs.
I highly recommend anyone try this outdoor experience with your Griffon. It is a wonderful bonding experience that can only add to the sense of teamwork you share with your dog.
There are many reference resources for tracking, but here are a few to get started:
“Tracking Dog: Theory & Method” by Glen Johnson
The Tracking Trainers Handbook
“Enthusiastic Tracking: The Step-by-Step Training Handbook” by Sil Sanders
AKC Tracking Regulations