QUESTION FROM GARY IN UK:
I would be very grateful if you could read through this email and give me some advice on getting my 4 month old Labrador to stick to a trail. This is not my first dog, I have bought him to replace my 11 yr old Labrador. My old Lab really taught himself on finding wounded deer, but I would like to put a lot of effort into this pup to find them really hard deer my old Lab would fail on.
I bought the pup at 8 weeks old from deerstalking line that goes back generations. Most of this line of dogs have picked up tracking by themselves as there are still not that many people laying blood trails and putting the time and effort into it.
About the pup
Does try to be top dog with the older dogs by hanging off their ears and hanging off their necks. Doesn't seem to be scared of new things or loud noises. Easily upset if you raise your voice to him. Likes to search for small biscuits in long grass and doesn't give in easily.
Since I have been training the weather as been mostly sunny spells,rain showers and wind. I never lay more than 1 trail per week. Started with liver drags on grass, which he followed but in a S shaped weave he never seemed to go in a line.Bits of liver were left at the end of the trail.
I then purchased a set of sent shoes.Roe deer feet were used as I thought this might encourage him to hold the line better,it didn't. Then I used a Red Stag feet.
He gets very excited when I get the tracking lead and collar out,and shakes the deer skin at the end of the trail and carries it around very excitedly.
He just will not stick to the track and is now starting to lift his head to look for the skin. I need to almost lead him all the way along the track encouraging him to keep his nose down.
I feel that he is now relying on me to show him the track. The tracks are no more than 100 yds long and have been laid on grass,stubble and in woodland. There have been no distractions such as cattle or live stock.
When he weaves along a track it looks as tough he is keen and on the track but he is the wrong side of it if there is a cross wind.Then sometimes he just heads off in the wrong direction but with his nose down.
Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
ANSWER FROM JOHN:
Not all four month-old pups are not tracking well at that early age, and of course there are some that never develop good tracking skills. There are always some pups without good tracking aptitude, despite the fact that they have an impressive pedigree of trackers behind them. I have produced some of these myself.
Here are some things that you can try:
Work your pup on older blood trails, six or twelve hours. He has the nose to handle this. The problem is his still-immature brain that must process the information his nose brings in. Often, bored, uninterested dogs that do sloppy tracking work will do better when they are challenged by a more difficult line. I suggest this to people, and time after time they call back to say that the short, but more difficult line really improved their dog’s performance.
Another thing that often works is “baiting” the line. I like to put a piece of cheese or a scrap of meat, such as a hotdog chunk, in an old, pre-digital era film canister. Small prescription medicine vials will also work. The container keeps the ants, flies and vermin off the bait. I put blood on these little canisters and place them along the line, especially after turns. When your pup “finds” one, you congratulate him and open it for him to that he can have the treat. This helps instill the idea of dog /handler cooperation. Once he gets the idea of what it is all about, he will realize that he has to stay on the line to gets the rewards.
You can use the same method with scent shoes, but generally I do not work with scent shoes until a pup is confidently working lines at least 400 meters long.
Your dog seems to be very responsive, which is characteristic of Labs and a very good sign that he will try to please you. Give him lots of praise when he is on the line. If he gets off, I like to ask the pup, “Is that right?” with a strong questioning tone in my voice. Usually he will turn, give me a funny look and come back to the line.
I hope this helps. Please get back to me and let me know about how he progresses.