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fish specialist

Teaching a dog to Trail...

14 posts in this topic

Hey all,

I have an eight month old lab who is doing very well for her first pheasant season. But I think she needs some training to teach her to trail better. How do you guys go about this (particularly without using live birds)? I was thinking of just tying some wings onto a dummy, dragging it around the yard and hiding it and seeing if she can follow the scent. Do you think that would be worthwhile?

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You could take one of your pheasant carcasses and drag that. If the legs are shot up, I only take the breasts out. Then I buy a throwing dummy, place it where the breasts were and tie a hockey skate lace around it. It works great for training and you still get the best meat.

Also, try taking treats and dragging them around your carpet at home. You can drag the treat and then hide it under a blanket. Its a fun game! The dog loves it and it gets him/her using their nose.

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Do you mean trailing on cripples? I am no trainer by any stretch of the imagination and am only answering based on my own limited experience. I would say your pup will learn the tricks of the trade over the course of time. If the pup already has a good handle on what the game is about, it will only get better with each trip afield. Time on birds will be the real teacher.

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I would agree that at 8 months there is still plenty of time for the original poster's pup to improve. However, I will say that I believe some dogs require more training on this than others. When my dog was a pup, I ran him in the NAVHDA NA test. He scored perfect in every area, but the track. I figured I was to blame for not doing the proper introduction to this concept of tracking (and maybe I still am the one to blame). He is now on his third hunting season and he has had a considerable amount of bird exposure. He has one real area of weakness in my opinion. That is his ability to track down the crippled birds. Sure he has made some great retreives, but then the next time it is like he has never done it before. I think he may have tracking ADD. One day he will recover 3 cripples that we did not even shot and the next day he can't pick up the scent of a downed bird that would appear to be an easy find.

There must be good method out there for dealing with "tracking ADD" as I like to refer to it.

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I don't know if its Tracking ADD but I know my dog has been afflicted with it a few times in the past. I have seen it as have you, knock a rooster down, expect an easy retrieve and nothing. It happens most often in our case when the dog does not see or hear the bird go down. Seems like even if you have feathers, it is like the bird vanished into the thin air. The next time out you can bring him to an area a bird went down after dropping a leg, 1/2 mile away and they find it in 2 seconds. I know it would not be near the experience without the dog, no matter how many birds you shot. Next year at this time, I bet he is telling us stories about how far the pup has come along since his first season. I look forward to the stories.

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I am still hoping his tracking ability will improve with age. I know he has the nose, but I am not sure he always knows how to use it properly.

Fish Specialist - I have tried the bumper with wings approach around the yard. I think it works some, but I am not sure it translates very well to the more complex situations that happen in the field. Unfortunately, I have no advice to give you on this subject. I will have to dig out a few of my training books and look through them again. I was hoping one of the experienced trainers on here would have a good tip. I was going to start this exact same topic, but never got around to it.

Good luck and let me know if you find a technique that works.

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Yes, I was talking about crippled birds. I agree she is young, but like 2DAGills I thought I'd try to get some work in along with hunting. I guess I'll try to work it into the routine as much as I can. Grab the Net, you mentioned you think the dog loses the bird most often when it doesn't see it go down. In Wolter's books, he talks about making the dog "steady on the shot", meaning he teaches the dog to stay even when a bird is shot, and it doesn't go to make the retrieve until it's told. Have you (or anyone else) taught this to their dog? Wolters says it shouldn't have a negative affect on the dog's retrieving, but I am more worried about possibly losing more birds b/c the dog is waiting to be told to retrieve when it could be actually getting the bird already. Wolters main argument for using this technique is that the dog spots the birds better. Any thoughts?

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There is a lot of truth to wolter's preaching being steady to shot... even with a retriever. It's usually mandated in pointrs and retriever guys think it's more prudent to get the dog on the bird asap. But the outcome is rarely predicated on the initial speed the dog is "on" the bird. A pinpoint mark while steady should be as efficient as a so-so mark but in the area of the fall faster.

I've trained all my dogs to be steady to shot... does it help...? I don't know. Does it hurt...? I'd say definitley NO! I usually don't employ it except in the case of too many dogs trying to get to a downed bird... that usually spells doom when it comes to finding a cripple.

In teaching trailing skills, I always found it best to drag a live mallard or pheasant (mallards are tougher though) tied onto a string, tied to a stout 10' pole. make several hard turns in a field along with a few long straight-aways and put a dead bird at the end of the drag. This teaches the dog to home in on live bird scent and to figure out a cripple juking and jiving while trying to escape. It was a requirement in NAHRA intermediate and senior tests. It works awesome once the dog knows what is expected of him. Most guys use a command specific to trailing and you can use it out while hunting... I don't recommend 'hunt-em up' as most guys seem to use that all day out in the field... many use "dead" or "hunt dead", "track" or "find it".

Good Luck!

Ken

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LABS4ME

When doing a drag with a bird and sending on a track. How important is it that the dog stays with the general drag path? When I have done this type of training exercise, my dog will eventually find the dead bird. The issue is that it is rarely by following the actual drag path. He finds by searching and eventually catching wind of the actual dead bird and not the track.

Thanks for any help.

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Try to keep him on the track... do not drag into the wind but rather with the wind. This way he can't just go out and wind the bird... Dunk the bird in some water prior to dragging him if it's warm and dry out to lay a good trail in the beginning phases of teaching him. As he gets better the bird will be plenty. If he gets off track call him back to the beginnning and start him again. At 1st a 30 - 40 yard track with a turn is ample... keep stretching it out and making it more difficult as the dog flourishes. Try to not let him just run and wid the bird... really work on keeping him on track and learning it as a command.

Good Luck!

Ken

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Labs4me,

When you taught your dog to be steady on the shot, did you use Wolter's methods of using live birds, releasing them, shooting them, and trying to keep the dog steady? I'm sure this is a great way to train the dog, but is there anyway to do it without live birds? I know using dead birds wouldn't be as close to a real situation, but you could get a lot more training out of a one dead bird that you 'pretend' to shoot than a live bird that gets shot. I suppose you could use a wing-clipped bird that could fly a little ways and 'pretend' to shoot that. I'll have to look into that.

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We initially taught (teach) steadiness at heel, then progress to a partner throwing a bumper while the dog is off heel and ahead of the handler and then sitting them to a whistle on the throw, then move on to a bird launcher with a dead pigeon and finally to a live planted bird. By the time I'm using live birds, I'm fairly confident that they are going to sit to the whistle and remain steady. They are either collared conditioned or are on a 30-50' check cord the entire time they are being trained in the process.

Make sure your dog is fully trained to sit to a whistle blast prior to beginning this training. 1 whistle blast and he is sitting till he's released darn near 100% of the time. Otherwise you will only be compounding your problems.

Good Luck!

Ken

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This is some info we use for tracking in our MN NAVHDA Chapter that I thought might help you sort out some of the issues with training for the tracking. Item #4 is optional & I personally don't use one because of the possibilty of the distraction if the lead hangs up on the collar.

So far this hunting season I have had 5 wounded birds that I have had to handle the dog from where the bird went down & sent him on a track. He is 5 for 5 on these cripples so training for this does pay off IMO.

TRACKING

1. The major requirement for the dog is the ability to concentrate on the ground track rather than range out attempting to locate air carried scent in a hit or miss fashion. When the track is faint or the blood trail sparse or cold, the good versatile dog will pick his/her way carefully along the trail, working it out until the wounded game is located.

2. The training required for tracking is primarily teaching the dog to concentrate and gauge his/her speed to the existing conditions when given a command to track.

3. The retrieve from a drag track teaches the dog the concentration aspect as well as how to use his/her nose to the best advantage in the tracking situation. It will also reward the dog for concentrating during the track.

4. The use of a slip or tracking lead. This is made from an old leash, heavy ribbon or any flat leash type material with a loop on one end for your hand and the other end free from any snaps or fasteners. Slip one end through the metal ring in your dog’s collar from the top side down. This will prevent the lead from slapping the dog on the top of the head as he / she is released. Hold onto both ends of the lead in one hand (some handlers prefer to grip the collar in one hand by grasping from underneath the collar). This will allow you to bring your dog to the track, start him/her down the track and release him/her without breaking their momentum.

5. The track should be started with a verbal or non-verbal command, i.e.: TRACK, SEEK, Ect... while Pointing to the ground/feather pile.

6. Before the dog is sent on the track, make sure the dog is concentrating on the track. There is no limit on how much time it takes you to release the dog. It is very critical that the dog understands he/she must locate and stay on the track until locating the object at the end.

7. The terrain and length of track should be varied but start short so the dog is successful every time.

8. Failure to successfully work out the track and retrieve must not be allowed.

9. If the dog is successfully on every track, the handler should do everything conceivable to cause the dog to make a mistake. The dog should learn what is not satisfactory as well as what is satisfactory to the handler.

10. It is better to cause the dog to fail and learn from it during training than to have him/her make a mistake unknowingly during a hunting situation or at a test.

11. If the dog never fails on the retrieve from drag track, the trainer must make it impossible for him/her to succeed. Drag the retrieve object to a tree, then hoist and tie it out of reach and out of sight of the dog. The helper should also hide from sight.

a) The trainer starts the dog on the track using the trained command

B) When the dog returns without the retrieved object, take him/her to the start again and start him/her again.

c) Meanwhile, the helper removes the object from the tree and places it at the end of the drag, hiding again.

d) When the dog successfully completes the retrieve, praise him/her lavishly for a job well done.

Hope this Helps?

Regards,

Chris

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Here is some more info on tracking Running Cripples

Tracking Running, Crippled Birds

1. The dog must also learn to follow the track of a running, crippled bird or fur bearing animal.

2. Teaching this to a dog, like the drag track, is also a matter of instilling concentration, thereby inspiring the efficiency of the dog’s innate ability.

3. This work can be done as soon as:

a. The dog’s pointing skills have been well established.

b. The drag tracking skills are established.

c. The dog has been introduced to a dead or crippled pheasant.

4. Pull, don’t cut, the 7 primary feathers from one wing of a pheasant.

5. Tie a brightly colored light-weight line of about 20 feet in length around the base of the wings by passing the end of the line under one wing, across the back in front of the wings, then under the other wing and tie it so the knot is on the center of the bird’s back with the long free trailing end.

6. Set the track in an open field with dense cover a minimum of 50 yards away.

7. The wind should be quartering across the track if possible. You do not want the dog to “Air or Wind scent” the bird before it completes the track. We do not want the dog to realize they can find the bird if it breaks into a field search.

8. Remove some soft feathers from the bird to mark the beginning of the track and release the bird at that spot, facing the heavy cover. At this time, the dog should be out of site of the bird.

9. Hopefully, the bird will run in the direction of the heavy cover and attempt to hide.

10. Watch the track carefully so that the dog can be brought to the track and guided down the track to start the dog.

11. Using the slip lead, bring the dog to the start of the track.

12. At the location of the feathers on the ground, give the dog your tracking command. At this point you want the dog to stay calm so they can concentrate on the track.

13. When the dog is intently concentrating on the track and showing no sign of wandering but is moving forward down the track, the trainer can stop and let the slip leash slide through the collar, allowing the dog to proceed on his/her own.

14. If the dog turns off track and starts searching, call him/her in and start them on the track again with the slip lead. This time walk the dog down the track a little further than the first time to make sure they are on the track.

15. If the dog should point the bird when coming into it, he/she should not be faulted. Remember, this is a crippled bird, in advanced tests the dog will be required to retrieve the bird at the end of the track.

16. If the dog catches the bird at the end of the track, praise him/her. This will not harm their pointing.

Things To Remember

1. Always use a slip lead to start the dog while training and in tests. It is a good idea that you train with the same equipment that you will be using in the test.

2. Always start the track with a command.

3. When training, try to run the track with the wind crossing the track or with the wind at your back, not into the wind. We do not want the dog to use the wind to their advantage, we want them to follow the track.

4. Dogs will run the track on the up wind side, down wind side or right on top of the track. It depends on the dog and how much scent they want and/or need.

5. If your dog breaks off of the track and circles back to pick up the scent again, it is acceptable. A good tracking dog will try to relocate the track if they loose it.

6. Keep the tracks at first short and obtainable.

7. Once the dog is an experienced tracker, do not over train the tracking skill, keep it fun. The dog will eventually get bored with it because it will be too easy to succeed.

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