Starting to teach tracking skills at an early age can be a great way to build a puppy’s confidence, since he or she is in charge when it comes to finding a scent. But tracking work can be beneficial for an adult dog as well.
For most of his life, one of our Pyrenean Shepherds, Speed, has suffered from anxieties, including discomfort in being near unfamiliar people, and we have spent much time on desensitization and counter-conditioning. He had improved in terms of being able to tolerate more environmental challenges, but he still had some distance to go when we once again took up training for the Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX) title.
TDX entails a track at least three hours old, three articles, more length, cross-tracks to ignore, and obstacles of different kinds, among other difficulties. Speed became more and more skilled at solving the problems. When we made it into a TDX test, Speed went with authority and assurance.
Solving all those problems over months of training had had a huge impact on more than his tracking skills. Each time we worked, he took charge of figuring out where the track went—whether through water or woods, uphill or down. His confidence in his ability to solve complex scent-problems had increased his belief that he could cope with the world around him.
This delightful revelation about the new Speed came when he found the glove at the end of his TDX track. I praised him exuberantly; he was ready to go right on tracking, and he ignored the tracklayer and bounced around happily as she came up behind us. As the four judges came up to talk about his track, Speed ignored them, too—still as cheerful as could be (by now he was eager to get his juicy chicken reward back at the car). Before our recent work, he would have been very nervous to have several strangers within a few feet of him.
This time, he was unfazed. So, if you have a worried older dog, think about the possibility that a quiet, complex job like tracking might make a difference!
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