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Monday, August 30, 2010

The Value of Efficient Training Lines - Part 2 "The Star"

by Andy Bensing

A "Star" is nothing more than an obstacle you put in a training line where the line just sort of becomes jumbled up and the dog must learn to figure it all out and find the exit out of the confused area. The pattern and size of the star is dependent upon your dog's experience level and what you are trying to teach the dog that day. I had somewhat randomly worked Eibe on a few stars in the past. This particular exercise was the beginning of what was to be a concerted effort to systematically teach the star at ever increasing degrees of difficulty. When you make a star on a training line it is important that you know the outside boundaries of where you walk so you can tell how the dog is working it. Memorizing boundaries if fine if you are good at that but I prefer to have an easily seen marker. I use pieces of cotton balls scrapped onto the bark of a tree or wedged into undergrowth. Your dog won't pass every marker for you to be able to pick them up so using something like cotton you can remain environmentally friendly without having the inconvenience of going back to pick up your flags. Cotton balls will fall to the ground and decay or most likely end up in a bird's nest.

On this training line I made a 30 meter diameter star as diagramed above. I put a wound bed in the middle with my thoughts being to encourage my dog to think about the "center" of the confused area and work out from there, much like I do when I am teaching efficient check work. The black line in the diagram shows the path my dog took to work the star out. As it turned out, this star configuration was not much of a challenge for my dog. As soon as she went out the other side (1) she treated it just like any check and went right back to the last point of contact with the line and treated it like a turn. Because of the way I configured the star Eibe was able to simply work the perimeter around the confused area until she encountered where she had originally entered the star (2). She retraced her steps through the wound bed and this time she turned left at the check (3). She worked the perimeter again in that direction until she found the single exiting line (4) and off she went. The whole thing took maybe 2 minutes, which was great on her part but in a way I was disappointed. I had expected it would be more difficult and she would really have to think about how to get out of the confused area and in the process perhaps learn something new. I don't think she learned too much on that exercise but I know I did on that star and the next star I ran the following week.
On this second star I did not put a continuous perimeter on the confused area hoping to cause the dog to struggle a bit more but again she aced it to my surprise. Both these exercises were of course good for the dog but I think I learned the most. I had always thought of confused areas for a dog to work out as a skill to be taught or learned separately just like a dog learning sharp turns or backtracks. But what I realized in watching my dog work these problems areas out is that it all falls back to fundamentals.

In a previous post Journey to the Win I talked about teaching my dog to be more efficient in her check work / search patterns and teaching circles a deer might make. I haven't written here about it but I also have spent time in the last 6 months getting her to master backtracks. Well the reason I believe she has had such success on the stars mentioned above is because the confused area is really just a combination of backtracks, checks, and circles. Look closely at the diagrams and you will see what I mean. On the first diagram (1) is just a normal check. As the dog travels from (1) to (2) to (3) it is just an overlaping circle. At (3) it is another check and simple tracking to (4) where she finds the exit, which is a skill previously taught when she learned about circles. In the second diagram you can see she simply worked it as a series of backtracks until the line exited. I certainly have to give my dog great credit for her ability to keep it so clear in her head but the basic skills used I think are obvious.

Just as I believe teaching a few basic obedience commands like down and come make for a solid foundation for you and your dog's relationship, a few basic skills well learned in tracking work make a solid foundation for the more advanced and difficult tracking scenarios. Here is a diagram of the next star I am going to try but at this point my guess is that she will ace it as well.
Next installment.......A water backtrack

Note: Before I finished writing this installment, I did get Eibe out on a training line with the type of star diagramed above. From the results of that line and much of the other work I have been doing with her it is becoming quite clear that she has been learning much more than I thought. As she entered and passed through this 40m meter star she seemed to immediately recognize that the best way to handle it was to get completely out of the mess and work it from afar. She very systematically went right out the other side and searched around it's perimeter, uncharacteristically far off the line for her, a good 30 meters away, until she found the exit. She actually reacquired the line almost 60 meters away from the star. She wasn't lost or just being inaccurate. It looked as though she just figured it made sense to get away from the mess. She spent almost no time in the middle of the star.
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Brian asked: Andy excellent info. Do you use tracking shoes to train and are the diagrams you show from a Garmin Astro? Thanks.

Andy's response:
I almost always use tracking shoes to train. I use my GPS for all my tracking activities both real life and training but these diagrams are hand drawn, not from a GPS. The accuracy on any GPS would not be good enough to show the detail needed when you are dealing with short distances like 40 or 50 meters.


I don't know if Jolanta can do it or not but I will try and have her post here what the GPS map of the first diagram actually looks like. Where I actually walked is very much like the diagram but you will see that the GPS made it look quite differently and not as well organized as it truly was.

3 comments:

hibrig said...

Andy excellent info. Do you use tracking shoes to train and are the diagrams you show from a Garmin Astro? Thanks. Brian

abensing said...

I almost always use tracking shoes to train. I use my GPS for all my tracking activities both real life and training but these diagrams are hand drawn, not from a GPS. The accuracy on any GPS would not be good enough to show the detail needed when you are dealing with short distances like 40 or 50 meters.
I don't know if Jolanta can do it or not but I will try and have her post here what the GPS map of the first diagram actually looks like. Where I actually walked is very much like the diagram but you will see that the GPS made it look quite differently and not as well organized as it truly was.

Andy

Stan said...

As always, great info from Andy!