Training the tracker - testing yourself
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Testing Yourself

Completing Unknown Training Tracks

By Chris Aycock


Greetings again.  Last time, we discussed how to process the negative on tracks.  Complementing the TRAINING THE NEGATIVE article (the first in the series), the last article should have us tracking more confidently, and reducing the doubt of the dogs tracking ability.


But it isn’t enough to just know what a negative is, how to train it, and how to process it.  That knowledge is a foundation for success but a handler will never know his dog’s (or his own) true abilities until he has to set out on an unknown track. Only then will a handler recognize where the dog team is improving and where further work is necessary.


Now, here’s the problem.  We can train for months on end always completing known tracks or tracks where we have a good idea as to where the helper is located.  In other words - we can cheat for as long as we want but cheating isn’t possible on live tracks.  Suspects will not whistle when we pass them, wave to us, or issue us strong hints.  Instead, suspects run, hide, and get away.  So cheating will only get us so far in our training.      


Once your training has reached a point where you feel that you can confidently read and process negatives, it’s time for the challenge.  Don’t wait for that live callout to find out whether or not you can really succeed.  Test yourself beforehand.  Here’s how…


Unknown tracks should be kept in ratio, meaning: you will want to keep a hard number percentage of tracks run and tracks successful.  To do this, divide 100/ by the number of tracks you run.  Then multiply that quotient by the number of actual finds you make.


Example of track ratio  


Let’s assume we have tracked 10 unknown training tracks and we succeeded on 7 of them…


We will take the ten tracks we ran and divide into 100…


100 / 10 = 10


Now, we will multiply the result (10) by the number of tracks where we were successful…


10 x 7 = 70


So our successful track percentage (ratio) is 70%

Start keeping your percentage (ratio) on the very first unknown track.  Why?  Because statistics have shown that once you can complete a minimum of 15 unknown tracks with a minimum success of 75 %, your chances of live track success will be very substantial.  If you have a 75% ratio, you’re doing something right, you’re making the correct decisions. Therefore, you should feel quite confident about your abilities to find a suspect.


Let’s get tracking…


Step 1.  Pick your decoy.  Chances are, you have a few.  Pick one – anyone.


Step 2.  Decide what type of terrain you want to track.  Maybe combine several environments?


Step 3.  Decide your desired length of the track.  Make the track longer as opposed to shorter. Try and challenge yourself and the dog.  One-mile lengths are great for this exercise.


Step 4.  Give the decoy specific directions as to the precise time to return, incase you fail to find him.  Don’t just send the decoy out without time limitations.  Otherwise, either of you could end up spending some frustrating hours trying to locate each other and regroup.


Step 5.  Tell the decoy to run and walk in whatever measure he wants but make certain that he doesn’t kick in the track / scuff / lay scent pads / Etc.  Remember, suspects will not lay scent pads for you.  Neither should your decoy.


Step 6.  Allow a typical response time (your typical response time on a call out) to pass before starting.  On average, most response times are greater than 20 minutes.


Step 7.  Track.  Do what you’ve been training to do: read negatives, process them correctly, Etc.


Step 8.  Watch your time.  On average, a mile long track can be completed in less than 15 minutes.  If you’ve been tracking for 25 minutes and haven’t found the decoy, chances are you’ve made some errors. 


Step 9.  If you find the decoy – rejoice!  Then add it to your ratio. However, if your time expires and you haven’t found the decoy, you should head back to the starting point and wait for the decoy to arrive.


Step 10. Take notes:  Answer the following questions: 


How close were you to the decoy?

Did you start out on the correct track?

Did your decoy see you make any mistakes or misreads?

Was the dog properly motivated?

Was the dog distracted?

Were there factors (traffic, wind, Etc.) that added to the failure?

Did the decoy run or walk?


Once you have your answers to the questions, you will see a clear picture as to what occurred that caused the failure.  Answers that cause you concern should be approached and trained with known tracks until you feel that they have improved. But first, you must do one more thing…TRACK AGAIN…the exact same track with the exact same decoy.  It doesn’t matter when you do it but before you do any more tracks (training or unknown) you must repeat the same track.  This time, you will already know where the decoy is located – but the dog will not know.  Therefore, the dog will have to retry until he finally succeeds. Once, you have made the repeat track(s) successful, you are ready to work on your weaknesses and try more unknown tracks in other locations.


Next time, we’ll discuss the success techniques for live tracks.


Keep Training!  I’ll see you next time.



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