Anyone that has ever trained or handled a tracking canine has run a failed track. Those that have tracked behind a dog know what a failed track is, there are many variations. Maybe the dog goes in the complete opposite direction of the suspect, maybe the dog just can’t start, or maybe the dog is distracted the entire track. Whether this track was a live track (suspect or lost person) or an unknown training track, they can be frustrating, enlightening, or just speed bumps along the road. I’ve had my share of failed tracks as I’ve trained dogs over the years. Regardless of the plan, my knowledge of the dog’s level, and how to set everything up for success, I’m dealing with an animal and sometimes things don’t go as they should.
After each of these failed tracks I’ve followed this simple step to ensure success in future tracks: I rerun the failed track again. Now, its been said that the definition of insanity has is repeating behaviors over and over again, but I’m not running the same track again and again. I am running it twice. Even then, the second track, though set up to be the same as the first, will never be completely the same track.
What do you get out of running a failed track again? Insight. I’ve done this with every failed track I’ve ever had and it has always given me insight. Whether the insight was where I went wrong on the track, maybe a poorly processed intersection, or where the dog is struggling, understanding transition areas perhaps. I just reran a track with Ronan after having a very difficult track with him. After running the track again, I saw exactly where I went wrong. First, I thought the decoy’s start point was farther up. Second, I ran into the same barbed wire fence on the failed track and the rerun track. This was the exact point I issued an accidental correction and pulled my dog off a transition point. I though the fence was a twig the first time, the second time it was clear what occurred.
As soon as possible, rerun the failed track, ideally within the same day. Set up track conditions as close as you possibly can, same distance, number articles, age time etc. This time, and this is KEY, you must know exactly where the decoy has gone, down to every step. If the track was live, rerun the route your dog took (not the route the suspect took if you now know it). You can run the suspect route with your dog at a later date. Now look for the following: Did you miss a negative that led you on a wild goose chase? Is your dog missing negatives? How far is your dog fringing on odor, was the issue? How was the start now that you know exactly where it is? Turns? Distractions on the tracks? Transition areas? Corrections you may be giving? Look at it all and make mental notes of weak spots.
Once we see our problem areas, we compare to the first track. Does your dog repeat the same behavior twice? Maybe he blows past the same turn again. Now we know we need to work on turns. Is he displaying a general struggle to follow odor? Time to dial back the age and add articles. At the ¾ mark does he begin to struggle for no apparent reason? Shorten the next track and build a plan for distance.
Generally, when running a live or unknown track, a handler is unable to determine the exact problem while running the track, just that the track overall was a problem. If the failed track was live or unknown, there was a small likelihood that the handler recognized what was going on, missing turns for example. Running the track known, the handler can now see that the dog was blowing past turns. Now a plan can be made to solve any issues seen. Or maybe there wasn’t an issue from the dog, maybe it was just a lack of processing by the handler, or a lack of trust in the dog. Been there, done that. Either way, knowledge on what went wrong will be gained.
I use this method even for known training tracks that my dogs have difficulty on. However, when I do this, I make sure to scale back the difficulty for the dog. I will have already cataloged the areas on the first track my dog struggled with, turns for example. So, although I am laying and running the same track for the dog, I may add more articles on the turns and kick in the dirt/grass. If the dog struggled with road crossings, I’ll add some articles or balls. It was too long? Shorten the track but take the same route, just cut out the end or beginning. If the issues I saw the first track, and shored up the first track are good then I have an idea of my plan. If others pop up, I still know what needs to be worked on.
Next time you have a failed track, take it as an opportunity to learn. Rerun, see what went wrong and make a plan.