T.O.P. Tips Vol. 8

Tracking: Speed Kills!

Many of the familiar problems we encounter in tracking such as overrunning articles, overrunning corners, air scenting, drifting, and lack of concentration – to name a few, all have a common element, too much speed. Dogs that go too fast cannot run a precise track. It’s that simple.

Curing the problem is not so simple. Many trainers resort to force and corrections but before you do this, you may want to consider other tools in your arsenal.

Keep in mind that we motivated our puppies to enjoy tracking. Compulsion may kill the Golden Goose or at least seriously wound it. Here are a few other suggestions:

Small articles such as bottlecaps or coins, especially those made out of plastic or metal, have low odor volatility. The dog will have to search harder to find these. Make sure you know where they are and introduce them first off the track.

Multiple articles placed a few steps apart, will help to prevent bolting and a high nose, especially if placed on a downwind leg. Jog turns – multiple turns with very short legs (5-10 paces) help to prevent speeding up after a corner.

Deviations from a straight line such as arcs or circles, prevent dogs from line tracking. Make sure you know where these legs go! Random baiting, especially if done in clusters (several pieces of bait in succession), tend to keep the dog’s nose deep so he doesn’t miss a food drop. Aging the track not only makes it more difficult, but makes each footstep more discreet.

In addition to the above, you should include restraint. Do not let the dog go any faster than you want it to. If the dog pulls too hard, use a pinch collar not to correct, but to allow the dog to self-correct. The objective is to teach the dog the habit of working at your pace.

Whatever techniques work for you, the most important point is to understand that many problems are caused by speed. If you slow your dog down, you may find that many of them go away.

Obedience: A Primer On Operant Conditioning

Much has been written on the value of positive reinforcement training as an alternative to compulsion. Most trainers do, in fact, use a mix of both (“balanced training”). However, understanding some of the literature can be difficult as it is often obscured by technical jargon which is often “loose” in its definitions or creates more confusion than it solves. To help out with this, I thought it would be useful to provide a brief explanation of these terms in plain language.

Operant Conditioning – This is the way dogs learn. The dog makes an association (learns the connection) between a stimulus (command), an action (response), and a consequence. An example is the connection between the word “sit”, putting the rear end down, and a reward.

Reinforcement – Anything which increases the probability of a behavior. A “primary” reinforcer is one that requires no learning; i.e. food. A “secondary’ reinforcer is one that signals a primary reinforcer is coming; i.e. praise before a food reward. This is “learned”.

Positive Reinforcement – Giving the dog something it wants to increase the probability of a behavior. Using food to get a puppy to sit is a positive reinforcement.

Negative Reinforcement – Giving the dog something it doesn’t want to increase the probability of a behavior. Correcting the dog with a leash and collar for not sitting is an example of negative reinforcement.

Punishment – Anything which decreases the probability of a behavior.

Positive Punishment – The application of an aversive (something the dog dislikes) to decrease the probability of a behavior. Correcting a dog for bumping in the blind is an example of positive punishment.

Negative Punishment – The withdrawal of something the dog wants to decrease the probability of a behavior. Turning your back on a jumping puppy who desires social contact is an example of negative punishment.

Is this now clear? If we correct a dog for coming off a sit in anticipation of the retrieve, is this an application of punishment (stopping the dog from breaking, i.e. decreasing the probability of a behavior), or a negative reinforcement (getting the dog to remain in a sit, i.e. increasing the probability of a behavior).

Confusing? Yes, even for the experts but at least now you know what they’re disagreeing about!

Protection: “Lock Up”

There are two primary ways to fail bitework. One is to not engage, the other is to not out. We all want a quick, clean out. But sometimes in our desire to achieve this goal, we may create an apprehension in the dog if he believes an “out” command is coming when the helper freezes. The dog anticipates he will either lose his prey, or be corrected for not outing quickly. This may, in turn, cause the dog to loosen his grip or mouth the sleeve, or he begins to out prematurely.

An aid in preventing this undesirable side effect is to always “lock up” the sleeve before slipping it. If the dog believes a “lock up” may precede a slip, he is more likely to maintain his grip. On the other hand, if most of the slipping is done from motion, and most of the outs are done from a lock, you will be cuing your dog for the out, reinforcing undesirable behaviors. Encouraging your dog to continue the fight with a motionless helper rather than remain passively on the sleeve will also help keep the dog firmly on the arm.

Note: for young dogs who have not learned the “out”, it may be desirable not to lock up before a slip as this frontal position may be too confrontational for the dog.

About the Author:

Steve Robinson has been involved in Schutzhund since 1975, and has been a USA member since 1978. He is the only person in USA history to have been selected for World Teams with two different owner-trained and -handled dogs–Granit vom Wolfshagen, 1986 and 1988, and Masa von der Lindenhalle, 1996-2000. Steve presently runs a professional training and behavior counseling practice in Ortonville, Michigan and is an advocate of positive reinforcement training. Steve especially enjoys working with puppies, as this provides the opportunity to optimize the dog-handler bond and mold the desired behavior from the beginning.

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.

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