The internet is amazing! I started to blog in the 1990s and sadly my first blog posts are long gone. I actually remember some of my students in the mid-90s being very skeptical and asking me “what is a blog?”
Here is the list of the first few blog posts on my second blog, in August 2005. I kept this blog for years, starting when I recovered from cancer, through my divorce and move to Alberta, until 2012! I am excited to see what I wrote too! IN 2011 I started a new blog called Your Tracking Coach which I kept for another 3 years. After graduating from Coaching I started a new chapter, and these blogs were retired. I will pick topics every week or so to share, with updates and new ideas.
In 2005, I had recovered from cancer (diagnosed in 2003) sufficiently to take an interest in tracking again. I thought I would give it up, but I think we all know that could never happen. I began to instruct, with a new interest in this new ‘urban’ thing and organized a seminar in Thunder Bay to start our urban journeys.
Today I decided to look up the old blog, and as usual the universe aligned, which to me means God whispered in my ear and I listened. As I worked on finding the old posts I wondered, which would I resurrect as my first flashback? And today, a former student now in BC asked about track re-runs. Another student from Red Deer answered her about how she does re-runs, and there it is, my post in 2005 explaining my re-run idea, to save time and motivate dogs.
August 30, 2005 Flashback – Adding Distance and Tracking with Two Dogs
Yup, I worked on this idea, introduced it to my instruction at lessons and seminars, then brought the idea to my wonderful circle of students in Alberta! It makes me so proud to see other people sharing this idea as an actual method.
Re-runs have always been a bit controversial and I’ve believed that at the very least they are motivational and dogs, being curious and loving to use their nose, will naturally track to follow an intriguing scent of another dog – their pal or a stranger.
Of course, since then, and even in recent years, I have continued to learn about scent science and how scent can ripple out like waves in water. When I used to do re-runs in seminars, you could see the dogs that went later were not as precise. I usually tried to put dogs in order of more advanced to more of a beginner, and thought the added scent would help the beginner dogs. So I believed they were less precise because they were not experienced. With new knowledge, I now now that the most advanced dog may have quartered more, as the ‘channel’ is wider!
Studying everything I can find, I learned a few years ago that the more people and dogs who walk or run a track, the wider the path created as scent moves out. Dogs use ‘scent edges’ to keep on the path. When we walk, we create a zone of ‘less scent’ called ‘intermittent scent’ and the edges hold the scent our dogs are following. When they circle at corners, they are finding edges of scent turbulence, and if we let them circle too much or too wide, they need to move out of that zone to find the edge and find their way out of that circle of scent confusion. Casting – a good idea, but not over and over without moving your dog out of it!
Sooooo, when I had the original idea of re-runs, it was solid. But now I might run a max of 3 dogs on it. Ideally two. If a dog is observed on the first track to disturb an area, remember that, or watch dog #2, and help them out of that specific spot. Always help your dog when they are searching and struggling by moving your position, adjusting your line (keep it short to lesson turbulence) and sidestep! Especially when they demonstrate they are seeking the new direction, and scent edges will be a helpful clue to them.
Want to learn more? Look up ‘The Science of Scent’ series on PBS. There is one explaining intermittent scent, and another showing how this works as a police dog self-initiates a cast and finds his way out of turbulence. This was a big AHA moment for me! It helped me understand what I was seeing! Then, I read Jeff Schettler’s ‘K9 Trailing – The Straightest Path’ where he explains his theory of turbulence. At corners, where scent ripples collide with ripples coming from another ‘leg’ of the track, this creates turbulence.
On an aged track, especially in urban settings, those ripples can move. Schettler talks about the ‘proximity alert.’ Dogs pick that turbulence up before they get to a corner. Teach yourself to read that! Something is coming up. Pay attention. I have developed some methods in my most current training to set up turbulence and reinforce proximity alerts. They are as good or better than reading a negative when the dog has overshot a turn! Both have their place.
It is vitally important to remain current with scent knowledge and science. As an instructor and judge I feel responsible to know more, especially as I have begun to help SAR people too, as this knowledge can be crucial to efficient work in trying conditions. As a hobby tracker you may not need to know more than basics with some good instruction. But trust me, if you build up your own understanding it will enhance your enjoyment of this activity.
Re-runs will always controversial and it is a good idea to incorporate them for motivation of a fun break day, or to end a session that may have been demanding with something fun. It’s a nice easy way to introduce ideas to dogs, and is a wonderful way for a beginner to feel what ‘flow’ is as their dog will track and move forward better on a re-run when it is new to the activity.
However, a dog will do best on its own track once it understands, and clarity is important, so do make sure to follow a good training program teaching them to stick to the primary scent and find areas that are not really contaminated to start, though I now will start in urban areas. Just be choosy for a beginner about the cover, and don’t pick a heavy traffic area. A re-run is great for a heavier more motivating track when dog are ready for more complexity too! I have never used the re-run exclusively as a method. It is a tool! And it works well for faster learning in clinics too.
Have fun, and – you will know your own dogs. Trust your instincts, don’t let people get you down with a million opinions. Find a good trainer, in person or online. Just get out and enjoy tracking!
I hope you enjoyed this first flashback. Let me know. If you have specific topics of interest, I can also take some requests! Happy tracking everyone!