I decided to drop back quite a ways in our urban tracking to straight tracks on hard surface, but with no curbs. In fact, I'm trying to stay away from curbs and greenery - sort of going cold turkey on weaning away from Gimme's reliance (preference) on them. I know she is capable of tracking on hard surfaces without them, but she knows they work and its natural for her to gravitate to what she knows and is comfortable with. Thus the cold turkey approach.
Last Saturday (5/20) - I laid her two straight tracks in the big rig parking lot behind my Shopko account. The first was 100 yards and the other 75 yards, with drops every five yards, aged to 40 minutes and the weather was neither warm or cool. For the first track Gimme was all over the place, only coming in to the track when she caught the scent of a food drop (beef jerky).
We walked along some vegetation on our way to the second stop and Gimme showed me she really wanted to track there. I brought her out to the start sock and she was happy to get paid for it, then went over to a curb around a light pole, about 20 feet away. I let her check it and then encouraged her to come toward me and didn't give her enough line to get back there. She started her all-over-the-place approach and then caught her first scent of jerky. She continued going back and forth (much checking of bits and pieces of parking lot trash), until she'd catch the jerky scent and come in to get it. Finally for the last 30 yards it was like a lightbulb went on and she started following right on the track and scooping up the treats. Woohoooo!
I talked to Sil about it (via email) and he recommended repeating the exercise until she was comfortable and reliable at following these tracks. He said they are comparable to U2.x in the new book (still a manuscript, which I'm reviewing for him). He has developed a really exciting and thorough program to get you and your dog all the way to a VST. I am continually amazed at some of the creative ideas he uses, woven neatly into his usual methodical approach. If you are into tracking, Modern Enthusiastic Tracking, is a must have for your training library.
On Thursday (5/25) - we met Nadine and her girls at the Auburn Cinema. I asked Nadine to lay us the same 75 & 100 yard tracks, aged the same, and again with drops every 5 yards. Right as we were about to go run the track, Nadine laid a 30 yard warm-up track, with drops every 5 yards and no age. We ran it as soon as she finished and Gimme had a great time.
From there we went over and ran the other tracks. Gimme did sooooo much better. She mostly stayed right with the track following her nose along and getting all those goodies. It was so exciting to see her getting into the game. Of course, she did sometimes have to go check out some piece of parking lot trash and would then have to check another and another. When I reminded her with "C'mon Gimme, let's track-on"... she'd give me her "Oh yeahhhh" look and would then come right back to the track and go back to work. I wasn't reminding her where the track was, so she clearly knew all along.
I don't know if the practice track was the reason she did so much better or whether it was just latent learning from 5 days before. Either way, it was quite exciting.
Today, Saturday (5/27) - I laid her another series in the Shopko rear parking lot and one more in the far end of Burlington's parking lot. We had three tracks of 75, 100 and 125 yards. I spaced the food drops at 7½ yards and aimed for 40 minutes in age. The age turned out to be 45 minutes by the time someone finished dawdling at her potty break.
Gimme did not do as well as she had on Thursday, though she was much better than last Saturday. I realized right away it was just a lot warmer than before. When I got back to the car the temp read in at 68º, but the car was parked in the shade. By the time we got to where we go walking, it was saying 75º. I figure down at nose level, closer to the asphalt in direct sun it was likely 80-85º.
In hindsight, I should have accounted for the heat. Temperature is not a factor I can control directly, but I certainly could have gotten there earlier while it was still cooler. Otherwise, I could have adjusted the other factors which are more directly under my control - treat spacing, age and length. I could have kept the drop spacing the same 5 yards from the week before. I could have reduced the aging a bit since warm/hot asphalt dries out and disperses scent molecules faster. I could also have opted for shorter tracks.
Now that we are into summer (finally) I'll have to start taking weather seriously and factoring it into our tracking plans. It got to a high of 85º today and Gimme has been expressing her inner camel all day. So I'll also have to make sure she is extra well hydrated before tracking.