My dog is four years old. He has been in tracking training since he was 8 weeks old. He is a capable tracking dog and understands the job at hand. In fact, last week I thought the track went a different way and actually put food after an article where I thought the track went and he was like "Nope! You got it wrong!" and he fought with me and went a slightly different direction leaving the food which was off the track by about 10 inches!! So thankful I listened to my dog!!
For those who do not know, IGP/IPO Schutzhund tracking is part hunt and part obedience. The behavior trained is for the dog to go with his nose deep to the ground foot step to foot step until he reaches an "article" (Wood, Leather or Carpet/fabric sized 10 cm long by 2-3 cm wide by .5-1 cm thick). the pace is to be slow and methodical. When the dog gets to the article the typical behavior desired is for the dog to lie down with the article between the front feet. It is also acceptable to train the dog to retrieve the article (but this can make restarting the track a challenge) or to sit at the article. If the dog retrieves the article he must so so with every one found. He can alternate between sitting and lying down.. but the most stable position is the lie down so most people teach that (as I have with this dog).
My dog is a happy guy. The whole world is his oyster. He owns everything in it and is king of all he sees. Mr. Confident. Mr. Happy (though at 4 he is more serious). He LIKES tracking but his demeanor is often high tail happy go lucky.. and it has taken some difficult tracks to get him to be more serious. To help make it more serious I would skip feeding breakfast on tracking days. He has high food drive so this worked. There is lots of food on the track but it is not his regular breakfast food (raw chicken).
Of late he has been skipping one specific wood article sometimes, especially on the first leg of the track. I use the same articles over and over and the only time he would see new articles is just before a trial (because for IGP 2 and IGP 3 other people lay the tracks).
Yesterday he skipped it, 50 paces into the first leg off the scent pad. After the track was done I had him repeat the first leg (I have not made him do that before). He clearly thought he was done so I had to reinforce "Nope buddy.. we are repeating this.". When he got to the first article I helped him (I am behind him on the line threaded between both back and front legs attached to his regular collar) with a tug on the line and he platzed (lie down) correctly. I went up to him and spent probably 5-10 minutes standing there dropping food "from the sky" every time he focused on that article. Then I picked up the article and we were done.
Today I tracked again. I removed that "poison (wood) article" from my pack. In thinking about it I used to work with some other people and they would sometimes "help" by walking behind me holding the line and correcting the dog if he was a bit sloppy in his indications. I do not train with those folks anymore and I am thinking that he might have gotten a hard correction at that article and so is now like "Nope.. not going near that!!" I am wondering.. it has been almost a year since I trained with them and I just do not remember (but I think the dog does!). I am loathe to correct this dog much while tracking. He hates to be incorrect.. and in this exercise he is working pretty independently. Oh if he leaves the track to check something out he will get corrected but all it usually takes is a No! Pfuie!.. not a physical correction.
So, today I again did not feed breakfast. BUT this time I brought his normal chicken in a bag along with the cut up treats I normally use (one for tracking and a better one for rewards at the article). I tracked him and he did fine. After indicating 3 articles nicely (including the first one on the first leg) and getting rewarded he indicated #4 (wood, new but not the poison article). I went up and gave him his raw chicken breakfast. He laid there and ate it.. but before he took it you could almost see him doing the math.. "Oooh... these wood articles are VALUABLE!"
I am going to do this a few times.. so we will see if things go as well as they did today. Since "breakfast" is very important and recognizable to him (and really, it is only delayed by an hour if fed on the track) I think he will up the ante himself on article indication if that breakfast comes at random times on the track. We will see.
I will give it a week or 10 days so it sinks in a bit that breakfast isn't always "free" in a bowl. It might be on the track.