Ever since I went to the seminars by Sil Sanders, I've been wanting to find a practice buddy for urban tracking. I was telling Nadine about some of Sil's methods and she's very interested. So we'll be alternating field and urban practices. I found a location to do the parking lot training, using a large cinema's parking lot. We'll be able to use it for most of the parking lot work, since there is a lot of curbs we can use and a lot of islands (greenery surrounded by a curb) to work with. Its going to be much harder to find sports fields to work in.
Sil uses curbs and islands in early pavement work. The scent is likely to be trapped on the vertical surface of the curb and helps the dogs follow beginning tracks.
We met yesterday and set up the first set of curb tracks for Nadine's girls. We brought her dogs out one at a time and then did the series of three tracks. They were 15 yard, 30 yard and 40 yard tracks along a curb, with a start scarf, food drops every five yards and an end glove. Sil said in MEB (Modern Enthusiastic Tracking, the proposed book) there is no real reason to use a start article, because it doesn't add anything at this stage. This makes sense if you are working with rank beginners, the target audience. The dogs we are working with all have quite a bit of field tracking experience (Skookum has her TD), so I thought a start article would be a helpful clue to them about the activity. Start-article = use your nose and track.
It was really fun to watch the girls "get it". In MEB it says if they go up on the curb into greenery or dirt or whatever, simply stand still and wait for them to get back next to the curb before letting them proceed. They will naturally want to get up there, because dirt and greens hold scent better than pavement. Since they learn the non-curb area doesn't pay, they will give it up. Indeed they all quickly decided to follow the curb and by their third and longest track didn't bother with the non-curb area.
I also set up an article zig-zag on a long strip of lawn along the front of the cinema. I wanted to use the principle of the article circle, but it requires more space than we had, so I changed it to a zig-zag with soft angle turns. There was a driveway crossing our green-belt, but these dogs all have experience crossing pavement. The track started next to a dirt strip with some bushes in it. The brown circles with green dots are all small trees, with a landscaped circle of dirt at the base. The light grey area is a patio along the front of the building and the dotted line at its edge is a railing. Also, this diagram is missing the first and last flag, the start article, article on the first leg and glove at the end of the last leg. I had it all created and when I saved it those things were lost and I don't want to spend the time recreating the whole thing, so you'll just have to imagine them there.
All of the girls did well with this. Gimme wasn't convinced she needed to put her nose down to the pavement of the driveway, but I just stopped her and encouraged her to "track-on" and when her nose went down then I let her proceed. The biggest challenge for all the dogs were the small trees. It became clear there has been a lot of dog walking in this area, which surprised me, given the location. All the girls have been around pee spots, but I don't think they've ever been asked to track right through it - since the track line went within inches of the trees. They all did figure it out and move on, but we could see it was a challenge. This likely counts toward their "sports field" tracking.
Then last I had Nadine set Gimme's three curb tracks. Gimme experienced this during the Sil Sanders seminars, but he advised us to go back to the beginning and work through it. Even though she did very well at it, he thinks there are important foundation skills which need to be created and built upon and he said he finds skipping ahead costs time later on.
When we did this (and other beginner exercises) at the seminars, instead of food drops, I had them lay out articles for her to find. Sil said this was valid in Gimme's case because she loves her articles so much. I did this because of our discovery that food drops in field tracking became a distraction rather than a help. So I had Nadine set articles in place of the food drops for our tracks.
Gimme did well with the 15 yard track. For the 30 yard track, she started wanting to go past the articles (which she clearly noted) and for the 40 yard track even more of the same. If I stopped when she passed an article, she came back to it and did her indication at it to get the rewards, but she clearly really just wanted to go on. As I watched this, it became clear to me - Gimme really wanted to just T-R-A-C-K and thought stopping every 5 yards was a huge annoyance. Nadine was watching and came up with the exact same conclusion.
Thinking about it now, when we set out articles at the seminar for Gimme's curb work, they were much farther apart. Another difference was the size of the articles. Nadine doesn't have small urban articles yet (3x3 to 5x5 inches, and even smaller for training), so she was using her field articles, which Gimme could easily see. Nadine commented she thought Gimme was looking ahead and could see the next article while she was getting paid for the current article. Given how much she likes a challenge, she may have been uninspired by articles she could see so easily.
So I've decided next time we do curbs/pavement, we'll set up articles no closer than 15 yards and longer as the length of the track increases. We may add some food drops and if she gets them - great. If she passes them, then we'll stop leaving them. Food drops may be more of a benefit on pavement since she can gobble on the run, as opposed to on field tracks where she had to find them in the long grass. Finding lumps of cheese in long grass is a different skill than following a track and it may be when we found it a distraction it was because it was taking her out of following mode.
It was a little frustrating to end on such an off note. In hindsight, we had plenty of curb left, so probably should have set a 30 yard track with just an article at the end, to end on a less frustrating note. Still, I'm sure no harm was done and she'll be eager to go for it again.