Tracking Troubles, Part 2: Turns with Dave Kroyer
David Kroyer with Archer at the 2015 WUSV. Photo by: Christina Kennedy.
Schutzhund Life would like to welcome Dave Kroyer! Dave Kroyer is a veteran of Schutzhund, competing on 12 USA World Teams and two USA Mondioring World Teams with six different dogs. Dave joins us today to share his wealth of experience as it relates to tracking. His extensive tracking experience includes several memorable performances, including his 100-point off-leash FH track at the 2003 South Central Regional IPO and FH Championship with his dog Trixi, and then also coming in second place at that same championship with his dog Dax, with 99 points.
Last week’s blog focused on the issue of The Fast Dog. This week, Dave will share his wisdom with us regarding turns.
SL: Thank you for joining us today! How do you lay the foundation and approach turns in your tracking training?
DK: For me – and I am sure I will repeat this many times in this interview – understanding how to lay a correct track is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. Too many people cause problems instead of successful learning and building confidence with a young dog. Tracks that I lay for foundation with pups are always visible. Yes, I do teach them to use their eyes, in conjunction with their nose. My turns are wide and sweeping. They are so easy that the first 75 tracks my pups get, they never come off a corner.
SL: What are some errors you see handlers make when laying their turns?
DK: The problem is that novice people probably have never seen what tracking looks like. Whether it be in club or high level, they read the rule book and listen to all the internet trainers. So they lay 90-degree corners for a young dog that does not know how to do that. That causes the dog to overshoot corners. Then the pups learn that over shooting is the way…not taking the corner. Basically, what I am saying is that what I have seen over the last 18 years of traveling the world doing seminars, is people laying corners or tracks way outside the pay grade for a puppy or young dog – thus causing problems. Yes, occasionally I am in a championship with 90-degree corners, and my dog must understand how to navigate them. But more often than not I see 3-4 step corners even at world level.
The above graphic shows two different turns discussed by Dave Kroyer. The one on the left is a sharp 90-degree turn, which is a difficult turn, especially for dogs just learning to track. The one on the right shows a rounded 5-step turn. This type of turn is better for teaching dogs turns. Graphic by: Schutzhund Life.
SL: There are several common problems involving turns, such as overshooting (going past) or undershooting (cutting the corner) a turn, losing the track and casting around wildly for it, or speeding up after the turn. How do you handle each of these?
Overshooting a turn
DK: Generally speaking, if a dog consistently overshoots turns, it’s because they were never taught how to take a turn. But in the event a dog does…which mine will do almost every single training track (my older experienced dogs), I generally leave them alone. I don’t want to say I never correct the dog because that’s not true. But I do not want to create stress at a corner. Think of it this way: IF a dog overshoots a corner and is searching, trying to find corner, and gets corrected—what did it get corrected for? Searching? It’s a difficult topic because it requires the handler to read the situation.
Undershooting or cutting a turn
DK: Normally this happens because food is put down too soon after a corner and wind is blowing at the dog. First, lay food after corners about 8 steps, if possible. Also, this question is geared towards an experienced dog because like I said, my puppies never miss corners for the first 50-75 tracks because I lay the track in a way that they won’t. And food is through the whole corner for a young learning dog. Not always, but in the start.
Dog loses track at the turn and casts wildly
DK: Most of the problems you are inquiring about are created, so the first step is to stop creating the problems. Casting is caused most of the time because dog were taught casting is a way to problem-solve or work a corner. Hectic or wild behavior is caused from stress, or the dog in a drive state for tracking that is too high and not compatible for sport tracking. So those things need to be addressed first, then normally—BUT NOT always—the problems will diminish, even if just a little.
Dog speeds up after the turn
DK: Speed is due to stress, prediction of reward or the dog being allowed to be fast. Remember speed is not faulty; a change of speed is faulty. My dogs track at MY pace not theirs, [which I do by] by walking my pace. So many people chase their dogs down the track, and I am always like: “Why are you letting them dictate the speed?” I think many novice people in the sport envision sport tracking as “running through a field with dandelions on a warm summer day with a back harness on the dog and hair blowing in the wind”, LOL. I do use a training collar also. Also, rewards are not so predictable as to not cause that [speeding up after a turn]. If food is always 5 paces after a turn, then the dog will predict and speed up. Also, many people do not understand true variable reinforcement schedules, which is what tracking is. They get caught in patterns with food placement just by human nature, and dogs will go fast for say 15 paces, slow down because of food, then rush again 15 paces and slow down for food.
SL: What are some other common errors you see handlers making at turns?
DK: Line handling is always a problem at corners. Especially with the rule change about swinging out. It’s not a problem for me, but I see it a lot. It should all be a smooth transition. Rule is you can swing out after the dog commits through the corner by a dog length. Well, that can be different for every judge. I tend to not swing out until the dog is almost all the way through the corner by a leash length, or at least half. It’s different for many people, but just make it a smooth transition.
Dave Kroyer's dog makes a turn during his track at the 2017 South Central Regional Championship. Photo: Brian Aghajani.
SL: Can you give an example of what NOT to do on a turn, or what a rough transition would look like?
DK: Don’t ever hold the dog in the corner. Judges hate that. Don’t swing out while your dog is in the corner or before. Don’t reel the dog in or move your hands around. One thing that can get a point deduction is the hand moving on the leash during a corner transition, even if it was unintentional; it’s a minor deduction, but still a deduction. I saw someone get a deduction for it at a World Championship, and at some other Nationals. I used to hold the leash with two hands but now I only hold the leash with one. That way I’m not screwing with my hands to cause a point loss. During my seminars I demonstrate with two people: one holding the end of the line and the other [holding] the dog. I have them walk and have the handler keep either the same tension or same slackness when the person turns right or left.
Like I said for me, I generally stay on the track and try not to swing out; dog takes the corner and I just follow the track and follow the dog. But if you swing out you must wait until the dog commits through the corner. As a general rule it’s one body length of the dog. But it’s also the judge’s discretion. I have heard judges say in a briefing that they want to see the dog 10 feet out of the corner before you swing. So as to not give a judge a reason to try to interpret, I don’t swing out really any longer unless my corner becomes a sh*t show. Then it’s just survival mode. This is all assuming your dog takes the corner perfectly, which does not always happen. I can remember one world championship [where] it looked like I was lunging a horse on the corner, LOL. I came back from the critique – which I did pass – and my buddy Mike Diehl said to me, “You looked like you were fighting for your life out there!” Which I was, LOL. I know it’s hard for some people starting out in the sport to realize it, but sometimes its fricken survival mode!!!
Thank you, Dave, for sharing your experience and wisdom with us! Join us next week as we hear again from Dave on the issue of articles and article indications. In the meantime, you can find more over at www.davekroyer.com.