Early Article Training
Tracking is not only the dog’s ability to follow a scent but also how to negotiate a series of turns and find articles.
What are articles?
When the tracklayer lays your track he/she will place down 2 or 3 articles on the track for the dog to find.
The judge will inform the tracklayer where to place the articles, what they should be and they must be the same for each competitor .
Typical articles would be shot gun cartridges, bottle corks, pieces of carpet, wooden pegs and milk bottle tops.Judges try to pick articles which blend in with the terrain eg brown and green pieces of carpet, or items which are red eg semi-skimmed milk bottle tops as the dog can’t see red.
Unfortunately many dogs complete a track successfully but miss an article resulting in a fail for this team even though the track was executed beautifully by both the dog and handler. So you can see how important it is that your dog acknowledges the articles.
It doesn’t matter how your dog acknowledges the article although some handlers teach the retrieve to hand whilst others get the dog to lie down to indicate that he has found an article.
It is fairly common knowledge that dogs love to track and quickly become addicted to the track itself and the articles just become an inconvenience. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Many beginner handlers are so thrilled to teach and see their dog tracking that they neglect the article training as they want to learn more about this exciting tracking game themselves.
In the beginning it’s best to start the tracking and article training as two separate games and later on merge the two together as it tends to be more successful this way. So how do you start the ‘article’ game?
1) Collect various items eg. milk bottle tops, wooden pegs, pieces of carpet (5cm x 5cm) etc. Keep the articles in a special bag and out of reach from the dog, like on top of the fridge or on a work top. The dog will see this special bag and being out of reach will help to maintain his interest.
2) When you are about to have your first game, collect the bag of articles from the top of the fridge and rustle the bag. Select one article from the bag and make it interesting by rubbing and blowing on it. When the dog is sufficiently interested, toss it just in front of the dog who will instantly go forward to investigate it.
If he touches the article with his nose or mouth, say a word like ‘Good’ acknowledging that you like this behaviour and reward the dog with a treat.
Don’t be too concerned that he hasn’t picked it up though as we want acknowledgement only at this stage. Repeat this again but make sure that you select a different article each time.
Toffee tip – ‘To keep the dog’s interest you must use a different article each time as it is the dogs inquisitiveness that drives him forward to investigate at this stage. If you use the same article twice in a row he might not go forward as he has already seen it!’’
3) Repeat this with another 2 articles and then end the session there. Repeat this for another 2 days remembering to use different articles each time.
4) On the next session repeat the exercise but this time delay your ‘Good’ command and see what the dog does.
- The dog might in his frustration paw the article and even better mouth it but remember at this stage to reward a different behaviour from sniffing.
- The dog might just stop and stare at you momentarily so either toss it again or kick it to add excitement and you can always rub a little bit of liver on it.
If you reach ‘deadlock’ go back to rewarding sniffing again for the next couple of times before you decide to change the game again
5) Start to demand more and more involvement from the dog with the article prior to rewarding but really praise when the dog picks the article up even if it is a few inches from the floor.
Praise and reward very small forward attempts towards your actual goal rather than expecting a gigantic leap as the dog can quickly lose his enthusiasm and switch off if you push things too far.
The small steps towards your goal is known as ‘chaining’ but be prepared for some relapses though and don’t be frightened to go back a few stages. Although this might be quite frustrating for the handler this it is sometimes when the dog learns the most!
6) In conjunction with the article training I also teach a hand touch which I find helps with the final bit of the dog placing the article in your hand.
Teaching a hand touch
This is a brilliant game to play with any dog of any age even young puppies.
1) Place a small piece of liver between your 2nd and 3rd finger. Let the dog see this and hold your hand about 6” from the dog letting him come to the hand. Acknowledge this behaviour with a word like ‘hand’ or ‘touch’.
The next time offer your opened palm to the dog, without the food this time, and as he comes forward and at the point he touches your palm say your ‘hand’ command but give him the reward from your other hand.
On the third time place the tip bit in-between your fingers again as this time the dog might be slightly reluctant as there wasn’t any food in this hand last time. Repeat your word cue when he touches the hand again. Repeat this a couple of times sometimes with the food in the hand target and other times coming from your other hand.
2) Day 2 Repeat as above for a couple of times to get the dog back into the game again.
Continue as before but this time position your hand at different distances from the ground ending with one hand target with your fingers touching the ground.
It is important that the dog has to move to the hand target himself rather than you moving your hand towards him.
3) Day 3. Repeat as above for a couple of hand targets and then this time we are going to introduce an article into the game.
Go back to placing a piece of liver between your fingers but over- lay this with a piece of carpet. (see picture) You might find this involves abit of skill from you!
Tell the dog to ‘touch’ and he will automatically touch the carpet trying to get to the food treat. Repeat this a couple of times remembering to move your hand closer to the floor at times.
4) Day 4. Do a few hand targets with the carpet in your hand so that the dog is touching this before he gets his treat.
Next time see if the dog will touch the carpet and hand target when the treat isn’t there and if successful, reward with a treat from the other hand.
Do this a couple more times to see if the dog has learned that touching the carpet and hand target earns him the treat. At the same time move the carpet/hand target closer to the ground with one final carpet/hand touch actually touching the ground..
5) Day 5
If the previous day was successful place the article on the ground with your hand and palm positioned close by. (see picture)
Give the dog your ‘hand’ command and the dog should push the article with his nose into your hand. Success!
Repeat this a couple more time and praise lavishly each success.
6) Also develop the hand touch game, without the carpet by getting 2 hand touches for one treat and then 3.
Remember to go back to rewarding for just one touch from time to time otherwise the dog might give up.
You might find that your dog starts to push your hand stronger as he didn’t get his treat after one touch but don’t be too concerned about this. Continue to randomly reward every 2 touches, 3 touches as well as one touch for a couple of sessions and remember at the same time to have your hand in all different positions and most importantly the ones close to the ground.
By this time the hand touch game will be quite strong so do 3 hand touches in quick succession, then drop an article in front of the dog and when he mouths it offer your hand on the floor and at the same time saying your touch command.
If this didn’t go very well go back to your random rewarding of the hand targets before you introduce the article again.
- Get the hand target game on random reward
- Do the hand targets as quickly as you can
- When you toss the article take your hand away and only offer the hand once the article is in the dogs mouth
- Make sure your hand target is on the ground
Retrieving articles during times of excitement
One of the reasons that dogs ignore articles on the track is because they want to ‘track-on’ which is so much more exciting than stopping on articles.
Once I have successful taught a dog to pick up an article to hand, I then ask the dog to do this during period of high arousal. So example I might drop an article and ask the dog to pick it up before he has his dinner, goes for a walk, before I let him off the lead at the park which are all very exciting times for the dog.
Don’t expect the behaviour to be as good though as this added stimulation will make him forgetful of the behaviour and this is quite common.
At the start I might allow some mouthing and I might have to re-command the dog several times before he finally picks it up.
Once you have achieved good retrieving to hand in all these situations of high arousal, you are then ready to start to introduce the articles on the track.