The Value of Efficient Training Lines - Part 1
By Andy Bensing
This particular line was 650m long in a hardwood forest and had two major obstacles for my dog to work out. The first was a 30m diameter "star" and the second was a 30m backtrack in a shallow stream. Additionally on this line I had several small wound beds with pieces of deerskin laying on them for the dog to indicate. The track was laid with tracking shoes. I am working on using less and less blood with my dog and on this line I squirted blood on one hoof every 200 steps. In addition to a couple of turns, I had a 50m wide "hook" in the line near the end. Deer often circle around to watch their back trail before bedding down; often found dead in that bed. If I were working with a less experienced dog, I would never pack so much into one training line. But my dog has been doing great lately, and all these scenarios I set up were just expansions on things she had successfully done before. In a series of short articles I plan to explain each part of what I did on this training line and how each plan worked out.
Weaning off Blood
If you want to work with less and less blood, one option is to put less blood on the line and see what happens with the dog. That's fine if the dog can do it, but what if he can't and begins to struggle a lot? Or worse yet, just quits due to the difficulty? I guess you learn something about your dog in that situation, but I would prefer to salvage the day in that case and give the dog an incentive to try even harder next time he has difficulty.
There are several ways you can safely wean your dog from blood on the line, but the one I have been using lately is to put less and less blood. When the blood gets really thin, as I am pushing the dog's known limits from previous training lines, I have the line come to a wound bed or marking point (piece of skin, bone, or hair). Using tracking shoes works great for this by putting the blood on just one hoof and refreshing the blood at greater and greater distances. As you walk the blood coming off the hoof naturally gets thinner and thinner as it wears off the hoof until there is no actual wet blood coming off. Only hoof scent is being transferred to the ground. (Dabbing in the same manner or putting more and more distance between squirts will accomplish the same thing.) By having this spot of heavy scent available, if the dogs is really struggling with the thin blood, I will have a good chance of carefully manipulating him towards the bed without him realizing it. When the dog finds the bed, this relieves the stress that has developed while he was trying so hard. Perhaps this gives the dog incentive to keep trying longer next time before giving up. I always have my dog lie down on the special the sign I left at the bed, and I give him a piece of meat as a reward for finding it. This gives the dog also a chance to rest mentally and physically before continuing.
Coming out of the bed I will have the dog continue on a thin blood line that I have laid. My reasoning is that the refreshed dog will have an easier time with the difficult conditions after the rest period at the bed. I continue on a thin blood trail for 30 to 50m coming out of the bed. At this point I will have refreshed the blood on the hoof and let it dwindle away again. With the heavier blood only 30 to 50m away, there is a good chance that the dog will bump into it, even if he is unable to track directly out of the bed on the thin blood. He will have a successful continuation of the line. Of course like with any training line, everything must be well marked in the field so you can see it coming as you work your dog. I put double ribbons to mark a wound bed or sign location and hang the ribbons pointing up to indicate where I change from light to normal or heavy blood. I like to use clothes pins with colored tape for marking. They go on and off easily and allow me a lot of flexibility in positioning them on a branch to indicate different things that I do when I lay the line.
Eibe’s Performance on this Line:
As it turned out, Eibe had no trouble with the thin blood and the minor trouble I went to in laying the line in the above way was not necessary. The thinner blood made her work a bit harder at places, but she did not need me to "save" her anywhere. I did notice, however, that at the points where I refreshed the hoof, she would speed up indicating the tracking was easier. This is common sense and might not seem noteworthy to the reader, but it led me to a thought I had not considered before. What are "Hard" conditions for my individual dog? In the future I will experiment with increasingly difficult conditions even to the point of ridiculousness, but I will always have a planned safety to save the day before she actually quits.
With this idea of saving the day in mind, I had a similar experience just a few days ago on a 1100m training line that had been washed away by a thunder storm less than an hour after I had laid it out. When I went back the next day to try and run that line it was nearly impossible for my Eibe to follow it. I had refreshed the hoof every 100 steps on that line but Eibe took ten minutes to go the first 30 meters, and that was about it. After about 20 more minutes of very systematic searching on her part she got frustrated and picked up another incorrect natural line and just started to track it. I corrected her verbally with "NO", and she went back to searching. As luck would have it, she then searched down a logging trail that crossed the line in an area near where I had refreshed the hoof. She picked up a small piece of the line which led her in a direction where she wind scented a wound bed with a small piece of skin in it. When she found the wound bed and lay down on it, I do not know who was happier, Eibe or me. I praised the heck out of her and gave her all the meat in my pocket as a reward and called it a day. I mention this experience not to point out how wonderful my dog is (although she really is quite wonderful and amazing ), but rather to show how having a plan, and having things well-marked can pay off big time in training.
As soon as I saw that the line I had laid was almost imperceptible to Eibe because of the rain, I formulated a new plan. I decided to see how long and efficiently my dog would search when there was almost nothing there to find. I hoped to learn something about my dog. I could do this safely because I knew there were several locations not too far away where I could give the dog an opportunity to successfully find something if things got too difficult.
So I did learn that my dog will search for 30 minutes without wavering; she learned that if she stops searching and tries to follow "junk" I will catch her, but that if she just keeps trying, even when she wants to give up, she will eventually be successful on the original line. That's all good stuff!