By Fran Jewell
So, you thought this week’s article would be about dog training? Well, in essence, it is, but I am sharing with you a personal experience to help reveal what it’s all about.
A few years ago my favorite little character, Kalidor, and I traveled to Hamilton, Montana, to perform before an AKC judge the AKC Tracking Dog Test to earn his certification that would allow him to compete in AKC tracking performance events. In the glory of rolling, grass-covered pastures under black dramatic skies and high winds and drizzle, Kalidor shined in all his glory, tracking a person to the finish—a dark, cotton glove with cut-off fingers hidden in the deep grass. Had he not followed the correct pathway of hidden footsteps and found that inconspicuous glove, he would not have passed the certification.
As many of you know, I started tracking Kalidor when he was but 9 weeks old, imprinting him with looking for scent on the ground that followed footsteps of a specific person in any direction. That was over six years ago! Kalidor began his man-tracking career the minute he came home to me.
Learning to search for scent on the ground, finding every footstep someone makes, is a painstaking process. We started with a short “track” about 25 feet long with every closely laid footstep filled with food. As Kalidor learned to connect food with the scent of a person, I gradually took food out of the footsteps. First, there would be food in every three or four footsteps, and then I increased that to every 10 to 15 footsteps, and so on, until eventually he no longer needed any food in the footsteps at all. Then we changed the people he was looking for.
Eventually, Kalidor would find food at an article left behind by the person he was tracking. Articles can be gloves, a wallet, cellphone, or any object someone might typically carry with them on a walk. At each article, Kalidor learned to “indicate” that he found an article. His indication was to lie down at the article and wait for me to approach him. When I approached, he would earn a VERY yummy reward for staying down until his command to track was given again.
After months of practicing and gradually increasing the difficulty in the track with less and less food, more difficult terrain (everything we could think of—dry, wet snow, long grass, short grass, dirt, pavement, etc.), we added distractions like barking dogs, horses, wild animal scat, strong winds that blew the scent away, and time making the scent less and less on the footprints. This is called “proofing.” Once Kalidor learned the behavior, we gradually increased difficulty with distractions.
Essentially, it took us 18 months of training to get to this point where Kalidor could successfully perform the requirements of his certification. Now, Kalidor is a seasoned tracking dog with honored AKC tracking titles behind his name.
Driving home the point of this article, training—ANY training—is not something that happens in four lessons, or one class, or even in two or three months. You don’t have to have a competitive dog to have a great dog. It takes TIME, COMMITMENT, CONSISTENCY and a GOAL in order to have the dog YOU want to live with. There is no such thing as a Lassie Pill. Nothing is instant. If there were, I wish I had invented it!!!
The second point of this article is to update so many people that ask me weekly how Kalidor is doing. He is one FANTASTIC dog and a joy to live with!
Fran Jewell is an IAABC Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, NADOI Certified Instructor and the owner of Positive Puppy Dog Training, LLC in Sun Valley. For more information, visit positivepuppy.com or call 208-578-1565.