Instructor: Lucy Newton
This course will continue to develop both drive and accuracy on foundation tracks. Our priority for this class will be to further develop the skills that the dog acquired in TR101. We will work towards increasing the spacing between the articles and also removing the food from the articles if needed. As the dog continues to develop confidence we will also start to develop the skills needed to be ready to start learning turns and, depending on the progression of the dogs, introduce very small changes of cover. The age and length of the track will be gradually increased at a rate that allows the dog to develop confidence, and to continue to teach himself the path to reinforcement.
Next session starts: June 1, 2018Registration starts: May 22, 2018Registration ends: June 15, 2018
Registration will begin at 11:00 AM Pacific Time.
Enrollment limits: Gold: 12 students, Silver: 25 students, Bronze: unlimited.
Gold Level includes access to all course materials and the ability to post questions and videos to the course forums. Students will receive instructor feedback on written and video assignments.
Silver Level includes access to all course materials and the ability to participate in the discussion forum. Students may ask GENERAL questions about course materials and may submit two, one-minute videos for instructor feedback. Any questions specific to your dog MUST be accompanied by a video.
Bronze Level includes access to all course materials and the ability to read all questions and answers posted in the class forums. Students will not post questions or submit written or video assignments.
For more details, refund policies, and answers to commonly asked questions see our FAQ page.
Gold level spots are restricted to dogs that have participated in Tracking 1 at any level of participation (Gold, Silver or Bronze). Silver and bronze do not have a prerequisite requirement.
You can purchase the lecture-only portion TR101 from our Prerequisites Purchase page.
Equipment needed will be the same as for TR101 (http://fenzidogsportsacademy.com/index.php/courses/17#prerequisites-and-equipment) However we will gradually be fading the green targets as the class progresses and using more brown work gloves (or similar) as targets. These can be purchased in bulk from home depot, lowes. etc.
This class is a continuation of TR101. As a result, while these are some of the goals for TR102, the specific topics will depend on the advancement level of each dog that is going through the course. Some dogs may still be working on increasing spacing while others will be starting to develop turning skills.
Review from TR101 and Overview of Class Goals
Adding variable to our tracks. More on line handling. Preparing for turns.
More on rates of progress, when to advance, more changes to variables, more intro to turns.
Continuing to shape turns. Changes to start routine. Preparing for Changes of Cover.
Changes of cover. Introduction to challenges ("puzzles")
More about turns. Developing training plans and determining what to work on within each session.
LECTURE # FOUR TALKING ABOUT TURNS
Here we are in Week Four! Last week I made some comments about how dogs will progress at different rates and in different ways. Usually, the dogs in the class demonstrate this nicely for us and this class is no exception. They do this regarding the skills they are mastering as well as some of the challenges that they present to our training. If there were a one size fits all, cookie cutter approach to dog training then life would be a lot simpler wouldn’t it?! Although we follow the same basic plan with each dog, we need to be good observers and make small adjustments and changes as we go along. We base these changes on what the dog shows us but we also need to give the dog time to learn. It is a careful balance sometimes.
There are a lot of variables that influence my suggestions for changes as we go along and I hope I am making those considerations clear. As we progress I try to explain why I am making a suggestion. It’s important to be aware though that it does not always mean that the dog is not progressing correctly. Especially when I suggest that we keep them at a certain level for a few sessions. They may just need time and mileage at the current level. Or we might want to work on something specific so we hold off on making any additional changes. Or we may feel the dog is working correctly but he needs to develop more confidence. Regardless of the training venue, I try to manipulate the environment to create the behavior that I want. In this case, we are doing this by letting the track do the teaching. However, we need to remember that at first, the dog is performing the behavior due to the environment. It may look correct but we need to give them time to actually know the behavior.
As I have mentioned in earlier lectures, we also need to be very careful at this point in the training because this is where the dog starts to make assumptions. If we have done our job right, they know that there are food/articles out there and they want to find them. Now is when it is very important for us to make sure that they are not using other methods in order to do that. I have observed many handlers who have failed to do that. They ended up training for long periods of time thinking that the dog was tracking when he was not. The dog has a lot of practice using other clues, along with scent, in order to be reinforced. It is a lot of work to go back and repair the damage (although it can be done). I have had quite a few people go through my classes in order to re-teach a more solid foundation after having initially trained the dog using other methods.
In TR101 we worked primarily on developing a value for the track and the articles. The targets/articles were the goal and the track became the clue that led to the target/article. The dogs in the class learned that if they followed the track, even for a few short steps, then good things would happen. In TR102 we are continuing to develop that value but we are also shaping a correct behavior and also increasing the duration of the behavior. It is akin to teaching heeling – a few steps of perfection, properly reinforced, can lead to longer steps of perfection. As the dog progresses we can decrease the rate of reward (increase the spacing). Within this class an additional goal is to prevent the dog from developing some assumptions. An important first step in this process was to teach the dog to be left/right aware by teaching the 45 degree turns early on in training. In addition to laying the foundation for being able to navigate the turn, we also prevent the dog from developing the assumption that the track goes in one continuous straight line.
I will discuss another important assumption next week, that the track only occurs on grass. This week though I would like to further discuss how to train the turns. It sounds rather obvious that we need to address the assumption that the track does not go in a continuous straight line. However, I have seen many dogs with TD’s, working on TDX’s that are still making this assumption. They were never properly taught to negotiate turns. On a good day, under the right conditions, the dog can get through a TD level track without having this skill. However, it will become a problem later on at TDX and VST level tracks. And fixing that old behavior can be a challenge.
I have a good friend that had a dog that met the above description perfectly. She was a very high drive, enthusiastic tracker. She would go as fast as physically possible on the straight section of track until she hit a turn. Then she would come to a screeching halt when she ran out of scent, spin and flail around until at some point she noticed the track under her feet. She was then off at 100mph again. It was actually quite comical to watch as you could see the surprise on her face as, in her flailing around, she inadvertently correctly lined herself up so that the track “magically” appeared. This behavior was being reinforced ( because she would find the track), therefore it was working for her and it was enough to get her through lower levels of tracking. She quickly and easily obtained a TD, without having any skill at negotiating a correct turn. However her lacking of ability to work through a turn became a problem at higher levels of competition.
There is another common technique that allows the handler to incorrectly accommodate for a dog that does not fully know how to successfully negotiate turns. The handler proceeds down the track, watching for the dog to overshoot the turn and watching for a change in behavior. When the handler sees that behavior change they then restrain the dog until it searches and finds the turn. Guiding or restraining the dog is not allowed in AKC tracking tests. However, it is possible to create a dog that is sensitive to line pressure, so much so that although the dog IS being restrained, it is not obvious. Again, this might work at lower levels but it will become a problem later on. It will especially be a problem when the track is aged or when a complex environment influences how far the scent can drift from the track.
Even if no restraint is needed, allowing the dog to overshoot the turn and then to circle to find the track is needlessly tiring to the dog. It can make him fatigued and prone to errors on the rest of the track. It also makes the dog’s success sometimes dependent on handling. The dog is dependent on the handler for help and may just keep going if he doesn't get help with the turn. While being able to read the dog is important in competition, my goal is to make my dogs as “idiot-proof” as possible!
There are several techniques that will effectively teach the dog to learn to negotiate turns. A common method is to transform the straight track into a serpentine one. Instead of tracking in a straight line, the dog is tracking a serpentine one. The track looks something like this.
Over time the curves on the serpentine gradually become sharper until they develop corners.
This is an effective way to train turns. However, I was not completely satisfied with it for a few reasons. It is difficult to control the progress and difficult to judge the angle. Lay the curve to shallow and the dog isn't challenged. Too sharp and it is too difficult and the dog flounders and either learns to overshoot or else learns to rely on the handler. It is also difficult to see the angle on video and difficult to give advice on what to do next. Another concern that I have with the serpentines is that such angles are never seen in competition. In “real life” police and SAR tracking I use curves and serpentines quite a bit in training. However criminals and lost people typically do not take the time to lay ninety degree turns! In competition however you will usually have either 45 or 90 degree turns. So I think it makes sense to not bother spending a lot of time perfecting the serpentine but rather to teach the dog to expect more geometrical turns.
Another training technique is a little similar to serpentines but better teaches the dog from the start to expect a more geometrical turn. I use this quite often on dogs that are already assuming that the track just goes in a straight line. These are usually high drive dogs that have learned to go fast and they are no longer methodical enough to notice a 45-degree turn. In this case, I lay a straight line. However, instead of an angle, I curve the corner of the track. I then lay another straight line. It looks something like this.
I start off with a pretty open curve and gradually tighten it up until it is closer to a ninety-degree turn. This works pretty well, however again it is difficult for me to observe on video and it is challenging to progressively increase the difficulty.
I have experimented with the above as well as other methods to teach turns. My poor dogs are all guinea pigs for testing modifications to the training method. What seems to work the best is teaching the 45 degree turns early on, like we are doing here in class. We are preventing the dog from making too much error off of the turn and also introducing the change in an increment that the dog can handle.
Ultimately the 45-degree turns are the pathway to 90-degree turns. When the dogs are proficient at 45 degree turns we will put two 45 degree turns together. I call this a "dog-eared turn" and the layout looks like this:
Over time we decrease the size of that middle leg - we might start out with it being 20-30 steps long and then slowly decrease it to 15, 10 and then 5. Eventually, it looks something like this:
So as you can see, there is a reason that we are working so hard at making the 45 degree turns smooth and correct.
Here is an example of Indy doing a track similar to the above diagram.
First, watch it in real time:
Now watch it labeled and in slow motion so you can see the actual angles:
What are Our Goals
This week we do more of the same. Work on getting smooth 45 degree turns at whatever spacing you are currently working on.
Then we continue to increase the steps on either side of the turn.
In addition to 45 degree turns, we will also increase our overall spacing on the straight legs of the track. Continuing to keep the spacing somewhat random. Our goal is to get up to 10+ steps in spacing so that we can then start using articles more frequently than targets.
Obviously, as you add in spaces, you are making the track longer. My current goal for everyone is a track that is half the length of a TD track, with two correct 45 degree turns, with an article at the start and end. Seems like a big goal right? However, let's look at some math.
A TD track is approximately 1500 feet (457 meters). So 1/2 of a TD track is 750 feet (228 meters). The estimated size of a step is approximately 2.5 feet (0.76 meters). So a track is 300 steps long. Divide that by 30 targets and that comes to 10 step intervals. So slowly and steadily we are making progress!
Work on Turns and Spacing
Overall this week we are going to continue to work towards the above goal.
Add some more and new articles
In addition, if you are above about 6 steps in spacing, add an intermediate article somewhere into your track, about halfway through. Have a piece of food on that article and get up there quickly, reward it, pick it up and get out of the way. This will allow you to get ready to switch to more articles and fewer targets if needed.
Up until now, we have been mostly using the same articles on the track. We have done this because we want the dog to recognize the article and know he was right in following the track to find it. Over time though we will want the dog to recognize a variety of items as articles. We develop this by using a new article as a start article. Since we are right there, we can reward the dog heavily on the new article, allowing him to start to recognize that the new item is an article. If you have not already done so with last week's homework, pick an additional new cloth or leather item and start using it as a start article. Keep the rest of your articles the same.
And as always, have fun and keep up the good work!
A SAMPLING OF WHAT PRIOR STUDENTS HAVE SAID ABOUT THIS COURSE ...
Lucy teaches an awesome course! She is so helpful and positive and detailed in her responses to all the videos. She really knows her stuff from her real-world police background, and she's superb at communicating it in a very unpretentious way. She has set the course up such that even Bronze students like me can make excellent progress...but I do wish it were easier to snag one of the Gold spots.
I love the way Lucy trains. My dog progressed more in 6 weeks than she did in the previous 2 years. I wish I had taken this class sooner.
This has been my second Gold level course with Lucy, and I have learned so much as well as been shown how to apply what I have learned - it has been simply amazing. The depth of her understanding of tracking and many years of experience shows through strongly when she has an idea for every different type of dog and creative issue they may present! And we sure have thrown every possible variation of things at her with a very varied group of dogs. But best of all for me, is that the method Lucy has been teaching us is totally consistent with the training philosophy and learning theory that I am already familiar with, so it was very easy to jump in and see where everything fitted. Thank you Lucy! Liz L.
This was unlike any other tracking approach I have seen in 30 years. Making the track the reward seems obvious now. :) While we were unable to move forward due to dog injury and extreme summer heat, the lessons are laid out that I feel there will be minimal issues in starting again later this fall. Ms. Newton is a very engaging and highly skilled instructor, who shows a very keen interest in her students. Thank you for the opportunity to observe. :)
TR102 is a great course to help with the foundation work. The instructor, Lucy, is awesome and very knowledgeable. It was interesting to read what she had to say to other students on resolving problems. Take it at the Gold level to get the most out of the program. I love it and will be back! Marianne J.
Lucy is wonderful. I love her methods. She can clearly explain what she's teaching us and why. She wants to lay a solid foundation which is just awesome.
Tracking is tough in my area because not that many people do it and it's hard to find good instructors. I've learned that the instructor is really, really important in dog training. I don't think there is a better person out there than Lucy Newton. Even if we had good solid instructors in my area I would still go with Lucy. She is very experienced, very sensitive to all kinds of dogs, and comes highly recommended from a lot of different people; she has shown in the two classes I've taken with her that she deserves the high praise.Instruction is very pertinent to each dog and spot on.
Lucy is a very keen observer of our dogs and their needs.