TRACKING WITH YOUR BERNER by April Rifenburg
Tracking is a sport that Bernese love for they are using their natural canine instincts in the great outdoors. People love it as well, especially after they witness their Berner's enjoyment in using this uncanny ability. Tracking eventually involves lots of walking or hiking and is a healthful activity for both ends of the leash. All dogs can track, and Bernese are especially good at it.
The dog is taught to follow a human scent to find a lost "article" of that person, generally a glove or billfold. An AKC Tracking Dog (TD) Title is awarded to dogs that pass at an AKC regulation test. A regulation track is 440-500 yards in length and 30 minutes to 2 hours old.
To get started in tracking, one needs some guidance and some information. Working with a friend, a dog club, or an instructor is ideal, however it can be done on your own. For the "introduction stage" the only equipment necessary is a collar, leash, treats, an article, and a couple of stakes. Eventually, a tracking harness and 35-40 foot line is necessary.
"Tracking Fundamentals" is an excellent video by AKC tracking judge, Sandy Ganz. You can see what tracking actually looks like. It guides you through training adult dogs and pups, mapping, and track laying in a proven 5 week program. Ganz also has co-authored "Tracking Training From the Ground Up" which is an excellent, easy to read guide. These are available through J & J Dog Supplies as well as through an ad in "Front and Finish."
Other valuable publications are Glen Johnson's book, "Tracking Dog, Theory & Methods," and Wentworth Brown's book "Bring Your Nose Over Here." The Johnson method (especially week 1 and 2) should be diluted for Berners, but is the foundation for reliable tracking. It is considered the bible. Many other good publications are now available. For those who have the Internet, there is a tracking-L and websites offering tracking and scent work links and information. Do a search for "dog tracking" to get started. The AKC Tracking Rules and Regulations are available on their website. www.akc.org
Puppies can begin tracking by 3 months of age keeping in mind their short attention spans and growing bodies. Two short straight tracks 3 times a week before a mealtime will teach and motivate until you think your puppy is capable of a more structured schedule. Puppy could even "find" his dinner dish!
Beginning stages include "double laying the track" for the first several sessions. After several successful outings, the track will be single laid, and the time will be gradually increased. The tracking harness is put on the dog just prior to starting the track. As tracking progresses, tracks get systematically longer and older, turns are added, maps will need to be made.
To begin: Have a helper hold the dog on leash letting the dog watch you --or tie the dog. Place a stake in the ground on your left side at the "Start" of the track. Stand at the start and wipe your feet on that spot. Show and wave the glove to the dog. Walk out about 5 - 10 feet. Wave or toss the glove in air. Put treats in it. Drop the "glove" and place another stake in the ground past the glove. Leave a treat on top of the glove. Walk back to the start stake on the footprints. Treats may be dropped in the footprints. Take the dog to the start, encourage him to sniff, tell him "Go, find!" Stay behind dog if he starts out tracking. Guide if necessary, by pointing down excitedly to the track. You may have to walk next to him. Try not to get in front of him. Wild praise at glove as he gets the treats.
Do another 2 or 3 tracks like this, making each 5 - 10 feet longer than the last. The tracks can be used again in these beginning stages. After finding the glove, you and the dog need exit off the track by another route. Sometimes, I re-lay an existing track. Or I leave the "found glove" at the end of the track, exit off the track, then go back to the start and start the dog again.
I personally start a puppy or dog in tracking by dragging a bone or piece of meat along the "track" during the introduction phase. (I also will do this to remotivate a dog that has regressed.) It really gets them to focus on scenting. I drop this technique after a few times and rely only on the food drops. (I have had dogs that track better without food treats to distract them. Each dog is different.) In early stages I rub the heels of my boots with the food treat. In time the dog will skip most of the food drops in order to find the "glove."
"IN THE BEGINNING" TRACKING POINTERS
1.Make it easy for the dog to be successful in the beginning. Encourage the dog to take a good "sniff" at the start flag by pointing down or brushing the start pad with your fingers. Get the dog's nose down in the start scent as part of your tracking procedure. Some people put their dog in a down position at the start in order to allow the dog to memorize the scent to follow before giving the "Go Find" command.
Track where you can see the footprints with these early tracks, whether soft dirt or lovely ankle high grass. Lay these tracks into the wind for the first week. The second week lay them with the wind at your back. Train in small increments; short straight tracks gradually get longer. Use motivators- usually food treats. Wildly praise the success of finding the article.
2. Use a 4-6 foot leash for early tracking. Stay behind the dog. Guide dog along the track, if necessary. You may need to excitedly point to the ground while stepping along side the dog. Do not worry that he is not striving out on his own. This will come with a few more tracks. Remember, the dog does not know what you want at this point.
3. Do not let dog get off the track in these beginning stages. Do not let dog become a fringe tracker. For 80% of my advanced training I use a 12 foot nylon leash. After the dogs tracking ability and style has developed, I eventually use a 35 foot line. If the dog overshoots turns a lot, fringes, or has other problems, I am quick to go back to the 12 foot line.
4.After the dog has had a few lessons and you can see the dog is following his nose along the track, be quiet. Let dog concentrate. Occasional encouragement is okay, but learn to be quiet and not interfere with the dog's focus. Major praise at glove.
5.Tracking can be done 5 days per week or 1 day per week, any time of the day, whatever you can fit into your schedule. I have done some at night.
6. Teach turns systematically. Do not rush. Use triple laying to help reinforce. I rely heavily on the theory and technique of week 3 and 4 of Glen Johnson, but generally do only 2 tracks per outing. I pay attention to wind direction when first introducing turns. The first turns go "into" the wind. I always teach acute turns. Do not allow dog to run way past the turn in these beginning stages. Whatever you allow a dog to do, you are training a dog to do. If the dog is in the habit of over running turns, make shorter first legs. Heavily bait and/or triple lay the first 10 steps of the second leg.
7. Your Berner puts know-how into his tracking ability file each time you and he track. They always gain experience and learn something positive, even if you think otherwise.