Upland Hunting with a Flushing Dog:
Part III, Beginning Trailing
By Jim and Phyllis Dobbs
A dog can learn to trail just from the experience he gets while pursuing
running birds. However, he will become much more proficient at trailing
if you teach him to track first.
If you allow the dog to learn how to trail while hunting, he will have
a tendency to run with his head up. This causes him to overrun many turns
because he is moving too fast. Also, having his head up means he is using
air scent to locate the trail, causing him to lose the track when the
scenting conditions become weak. The scent will remain stronger close
to the ground in the grass and weeds.
Giving the dog tracking lessons will teach him to move slower and concentrate
on the ground scent. With this knowledge he will be better equipped to
handle the many turns that a bird makes as it tries to escape.
You can begin giving tracking lessons at an early age. A ten-week-old
pup will learn to track in very few lessons and it will be a lot of fun
for both of you.
At first, we like to use small hot dog slices (about1/8 inch thick)
placed in each footstep. Place about 4 or 5 slices at the end as a reward.
These tasty morsels are quickly swallowed and are very palatable to the
pup. Cut the round slices in half for the small pup so that he does not
have to stop and chew them.
To lay the track, walk in a straight line for about 20 to 30 yards.
Keep your back to the wind so that when the dog follows the track he will
be moving with the wind and not into it. This set up will help to keep
the dog's head down, as scent from the hot dog slices will not be blown
toward the dog.
To put bird scent on the track, we use felt pads attached with elastic
bands slipped over our boots. The pads are scented with artificial bird
training scent or you can scent them with water that a bird has been soaked
in. (We use rubber overshoes over our boots so that the bird scent does
not get on the boots. Then when we lay a cross track we can take the pads
and overshoes off and lay the cross tracks without changing boots.)
It is sometimes helpful to start tracking with an assistant so that
the beginning dog can watch the track being laid. He will usually be curious
about what the assistant is putting in the grass and will start right
off by putting his head down to investigate.
If you do not have an assistant, you may need to help the beginning
dog by using your hand to point out the hot dogs on the ground. You do
not want him to watch your hand thinking it produces hot dogs. So keep
your hand out of the picture except for giving occasional help.
Start tracking with the dog on a short leash. Allow him to pull but
do not allow him to run. He will go much faster when he is off leash later
but going fast now would be detrimental to learning how to work the bird
The purpose of a hot dog slice in each footstep is to cause the dog
to go slow. After several lessons, we will use a hot dog slice every third
step, then every fifth, then every seventh and so on. If the pup is going
too fast, use hot dog slices more frequently. This slows him down because
he won't want to miss any of them. However, if he does miss a slice, it's
okay. It is more important that he keeps working the track forward. So
just skip the ones he goes over and keep him going forward to the "reward"
at the end of the track.
You will know when the pup has learned to track. It is obvious. He will
sound like a little vacuum cleaner as he follows the track with his nose
close to the ground.
When giving a dog his first tracking lesson, always be sure the wind
direction is coming from the rear of the dog. If the wind comes from the
front, it will cause him to smell the hot dogs out in front and he will
tend to keep his head up high (not what you want). A crosswind will cause
him to drift to the downwind side of the track. Only practice tracking
in a crosswind after he is good at keeping his nose down, concentrating
on the ground scent.
One to two-inch high grass makes ideal cover to begin tracking lessons.
The grass is tall enough so that the pup won't acquire the habit of looking
for the hot dog slices rather than finding them with his nose. Cover that
is over six inches high will discourage the beginning dog and cause him
to track with his head up. So wait until the dog has learned to keep his
nose close to the ground before tracking him in taller cover.
The ideal situation to begin tracking lessons is on a lawn that needs
mowing. Generally, dew on the ground that is vaporizing will make scenting
easier as does cool humid weather. Bare dry ground, on the other hand,
does not hold scent well and hot, dry or windy conditions will also cause
scent to dissipate more quickly.
In the next issue we will advance the dog's trailing ability.