Written By Jenny Pavlovic
The task was to teach each dog to touch a glove held in my hand, then to touch the glove on the floor, then to cross the room and touch the glove on the floor. The idea was to teach the dog to indicate when s/he had found the glove (or “article”) when out tracking in the great outdoors. In tracking practice or competition, another person would have left a track with articles (gloves, socks, bandannas, or similar) with their scent for the dog to find along the way. I would be following the dog on a long line, but in a test I wouldn’t know the locations of the articles, so the dog would have to sniff out each article and clearly indicate it to me without backtracking.
I collected a glove, some treats, and a clicker and started the training with Bandit. First a note about clicker training, which is misunderstood by many. A clicker can be held in one hand and pressed to make a loud, distinct “click”. The point of using it for operative conditioning is to mark the exact time the dog does what you want. A clicker is very useful when the dog is working away from you, and in other situations when you want to mark the exact moment that the correct behavior is offered, even when you’re not able to give the dog a treat immediately. I had already done the groundwork needed for my dogs to associate the clicker with the reward that would soon follow. All three of them know very well that the “click” means a treat is on the way.
Bandit, who is the oldest of my three dogs and has had the most training in different areas, had the biggest challenge. He needed to unlearn previous habits engrained in his bag of tricks, and he has a great imagination. Surely just going to the glove and touching it wasn’t all that I wanted. I remembered that when we trained in obedience utility exercises years ago, Bandit had learned to retrieve a glove. So he didn’t want to just touch the glove, he wanted to bring it back to me. But out on a track, I wouldn’t want him to turn around, I would want him to indicate the article to me, but continue facing in the right direction to keep following the track. So I decided to click Bandit just as he was about to touch the glove. Huh? He paused to think, and I rewarded him just as he touched the glove. Bingo! Marking the desired behavior at just the right time worked!
Part of the exercise involved placing the glove on the floor across the room from me and having the dog go over to touch (“indicate”) it. Bandit went over to the glove, touched it, then turned around and sat down. While sitting or lying down to indicate the glove would be good, turning around was a problem that could move Bandit off the track. I realized that now he was offering behavior that he had been trained to do for a “go out”, another utility exercise that he learned a few years ago. So although I will eventually want him to indicate the article properly with me farther away, I moved up behind him and treated him before he had a chance to turn around. Then he was consistently going to the glove, with me quick to follow. Once he touched the glove, I was right there to reward him, to prevent him from turning. We’ll continue working on Bandit indicating the article without turning around as I begin to maintain the distance again.
Chase got the simple touch part correct before the others because he had just enough experience without too much extraneous training to confuse him. He’s also very intuitive; I think that when I have the right picture in my mind, he reads it. First he reminded me that I hadn’t picked up my dirty socks. He touched the glove and was rewarded, then went over and touched my sock on the floor! He soon realized that he wouldn’t get rewarded for touching just anything on the floor and he went back to consistently touching the glove.
Cayenne has always seemed developmentally delayed, especially socially. Cay and her littermates were rescued as small pups in the Tennessee wilderness and she didn’t learn all that she needed from her mother. I couldn’t even touch her when she first came here, but she has come a long way in the past few years. Now when I work one-on-one with Cay and minimize distractions, she learns very well and is amazingly bright. She was familiar with the clicker, but hadn’t had as much training as the other two dogs. Still, she responded well. At first I had to put a treat in the glove to get her interested. I sort of tricked her into offering the desired behavior: when she “accidentally” touched the glove, I clicked immediately to reinforce the behavior. She caught on immediately, and being the food-motivated child that she is, she quickly learned to touch the glove for the reward.
Cay actually achieved the ultimate desired behavior on accident, before the other two dogs. I hadn’t attempted to train it yet, but she did it naturally and I rewarded her. Once she became obsessed with touching the glove, she would lie down next to it. When she did this, I clicked her right away because the next step in teaching article indication was to have the dog sit or lie down by the glove after touching it. Cay responded well and began consistently touching the glove and lying down. I would not have predicted that she would achieve this behavior first, but I know that all three dogs will achieve it with more training.
Those are some of our adventures in tracking so far. Yes, we’ve done some tracking outside, but as I’m writing this it’s mid-April and we just had another snow and ice storm here in Minnesota. Over the coming months we’ll continue tracking outdoors, and I’ll continue feeding my dogs Omega Canine Shine and Omega Nuggets to keep them healthy and happy and support their endurance. I just hope I can keep up!