By Ted Hartman
Once you have taught your dog to track methodically, usually using food in every footstep, we start to bridge the gap from food to finding articles whether in grass or dirt. You start by skipping food drops in increments until the dog can still track methodically step-by-step. Your dog needs to be able to consistently make a minimum 300 pace track at this point. The food is now placed in three footsteps every 50 to 100 paces. The reason the food is placed in three footsteps instead of one is to keep the dog checking step per step. Now you can start to teach the articles. Usually this is done off the tracking field so any stress that is used to teach the dog to down on the article will not be related to the tracking field.
At this point, your dog must understand the down command very well. You start by making small tracks with no food on them. The articles are placed every five to 10 paces with approximately five to 10 articles per track. The number of articles will depend on your dog’s drive for the track.
Start your dog at the beginning of each track. At this point, do not worry if your dog skips a few paces. You are only teaching the dog to find each article and down at them. When the dog comes to each article, verbally down your dog. Approach your dog and verbally remind them to stay down. Reward them with food at the article. Make sure the reward is given in the down position at the article only. When rewarding your dog at the article, it is important to give the food by tapping the article and then presenting the food by opening your hand on top of the article. The reason food is not placed under or on top of the article is because most dogs will then learn to mouth and/or paw at the article. We want the dog to understand that finding and downing at the articles will be rewarded. Once you have rewarded the dog for the article, pick it up and again verbally remind your dog to stay down. Re-start your dog to the next article and repeat.
After numerous tracks and articles, the dog will start to indicate and down at each article on their own. It will usually take 10 to 12 short tracks using five to 10 articles. It is important to still remind your dog if he hesitates to indicate the article and/or stay down as you approach to reward and pick up each article. Once it is clear the dog understands how to find and down at each article without stress on his own, it is time to start using the articles out on your regular tracking field.
Still using a 300-400 pace track, now place five articles in each leg approximately every 20 paces. Use an occasional food drop in three footsteps to keep the dog’s head down and nose deep in the track. When the dog finds and indicates each article you can verbally reinforce the down command if needed. You may also verbally reinforce the down command when you approach, reward and pick up the article. Gradually make the distance between each article further, until your dog can complete a normal SchH1 track (300 paces, 3 legs and 2 articles). Again, you should place occasional food drops in three footsteps to keep the dog interested in the track. Eventually, you can use articles or food drops to control the dog’s pace and/or keep his head down and nose deep in the track.
The goal here is to teach the dog to actually use his nose to search for articles, not food. By introducing food at the imprinting level and using it as a reward for finding articles, you can motivate your dog to track methodically and consistently in all tracking conditions. This is just one of many ways we train and introduce the articles to the dog’s tracking for Schutzhund sport. You must find the best method for you and your dog. This will depend on your experience as a handler and your dog’s drive for tracking.
This method has been very successful for our club and is one of the methods that has been used for years throughout the world by many top Schutzhund trainers. Good luck with your training and feel free to contact me with questions regarding these techniques.
This article has been republished with the consent of the United Schutzhund Clubs of America who originally published this article in its bi-monthly magazine. For more information on Schutzhund or membership with the United Schutzhund Clubs of America please visit their website www.GermanShepherdDog.com.