Yesterday was our third tracking class. Liezel and I were the only ones there so we got a lot of attention.
Liezel is a natural tracker. Her nose is always to the ground so having her nose to the ground and finding pieces of hot dogs? Doggie Heaven.
Most of these lessons are teaching me how to guide her. Learning about the leash being under her is a completely new concept. I’m always trying to avoid the leash getting under her legs, but in tracking it’s the opposite. Having the leash under her, coming out from between her back legs allows downward pressure if the leash gets tight. Since her head is downward to track, downward correction (tight leash) helps to maintain the task at hand.
Because she is still learning I stay really close to her to help keep her on track. The trainer had to remind me several times to not give her the full leash length. Only allowing her a short length of leash helps me to maintain control and keep her on track.
I was also reminded that the goal isn’t to race to the finish, but to find and smell each foot step, each piece of food. When I get Liezel out of the car the first time of any outing, she is very amped-up. Not quite hyper, but very alert, very vigilant, and ready to react if something scary is there. Because she’s wound tight, she is frantic at the start of the track. I discussed my approach to this with the trainer and came up with a good, calm plan. Most of this is me being calm and maintaining control. Because “heel” can still be a trigger word for Liezel, I don’t want to immediately put her in a heel upon exiting the car. What I will do is let her get out and sniff around, put her in a loose heel (walking at my side, but she doesn’t have to be looking at me), and have her sit at the beginning of the track. While she’s in a sit, I put the leash under her front leg, tell her “track,” point to the first piece of food, and when she stands feed the leash under her back legs.
Once we start, maintain a slow, detailed pace. Liezel will catch on quickly. About 5 feet in she starts focusing on the smell and slows down. If she’s still moving too quickly it’s up to me to slow the pace down. If I need to point to another piece of food and say “track” to keep her on track, it’s okay at this stage.
I laid the second track and we approached it with the new calm plan. Liezel did really well. She was more methodical, missed less food, and never tried to go backward.
It was super hot! I was sweating and Liezel was panting so after two hours the class was over and we gladly got into the air conditioned car. The trainer said Liezel did really well and next week he’ll introduce turns into the track. I’m excited to see how it goes.
On the ride home, I told Liezel how very proud of her I was (am). She’s really come a long, long way. Finding activities she likes (tracking and agility) is helping build her confidence and making outings fun.