Starting with pups, especially young ones, pays off. It’s not all a matter of genetics. If you work with a pup while his brain is still developing, that little brain will develop more capacity in the parts that are used in early work. This sounds like a fairy tale, but there has been a lot of serious and expensive fMRI research done on humans, and on rats that reveals how much using the brain at ”critical stages” stimulates development. If you want more information on this go to: http://www.born-to-track.com/our-writing/puppy-training.htm.
With very young puppies of six or seven weeks, 25 foot drags with a small piece of deer liver, are a good start. Wait 15 minutes and then let the pup find that liver and have a good chew. After a couple of more weeks begin using a dribbled track of deer blood on the lawn. You can use pieces of deer liver or heart at the end. I like to add a handkerchief–sized scrap of raw deer hide as well for the pups to grab and shake. Wait until the blood dries before working the line.
An eight-week-old wirehaired dachshund puppy Elsa is working the scent line leading to a reward at the end.
Elsa is working the deer liver drag.
Elsa is enjoying a deer liver at the end of the track.
At ten weeks introduce a 20-foot-length of plastic clothesline as a tracking leash. This is light and friction-free. Pups don’t seem to notice it, but if they have lapses of attention, you have some control. Work up from 25 to 100 yards, adding right angle turns to that the pup has to work a check.
Don’t be afraid to work a pup on line two to four hours old and gradually space the blood drops or dabs out to three feet. Your pup has plenty of nose to smell a spot of blood that is right there giving off scent. The limiting factor for the young pup is brain power to process the information that his nose brings in to him. Help your pup develop this.
You can’t be doing your training exercises over and over again on the front lawn. Puppy has a nose and a memory to remind him of what you did a week ago. At around 14 weeks it is time to move out to the woods; here open hard woods are best. For one thing you get away from wind that spreads out and blurs the scent line at his early stage of development. It’s also easier to mark the line on trees at your eye level so that the pup doesn’t see them.
There’s no cookbook recipe and schedule appropriate for all puppies all of the time. The secret is to keep the line just difficult enough so that the pup has some challenge as he succeeds. If you make things too easy the pup will get bored. In most cases you will accomplish more with well-planned sessions twice a week than with drills every day. Go with the flow of weather and temperature. A line laid in the evening ages little before the cool of the following morning.
Text by John Jeanneney; pictures by Jolanta Jeanneney