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Tracking Troubles, Part 3: Articles with Dave Kroyer

Oh articles! Our dogs seem to either love them or remain indifferent to them (and occasionally there are dogs that eat them!). On trial day, if we find ourselves at the end of the tracking line with our fingers crossed, hoping the dog indicates those articles properly, then we might need a little help. Because articles constitute 21 points of the tracking score -- with two articles in the IPO1 and IPO2 titles, and three articles at the IPO3 level -- a proper indication is a crucial part of the tracking exercise.

Where do we start? Fortunately, Dave Kroyer joins us again on Schutzhund Life to help troubleshoot articles and share his experience and wisdom!

Dave Kroyer tracking with Archer. Photo by: Christina Kennedy.

SL: Thank you for joining us again! Let's talk articles. How do you initially teach article indication?

DK: My pups first start by learning to down at the end of a track for a pile of food. A pile signifies to lay down. In the beginning, I help by luring them, then flooding with a high reward history. I only do "down" [for the indication]. It’s the easiest and most stable position. I understand new people get excited about the retrieved article, but that is way too risky and too many things can go wrong. In my career, I have only seen one dog do it well.

SL: How do you add articles to your tracks? Do you just do all articles, or a mix of articles and food?

DK: My articles are taught off the track with my AISD (Article Indication Shaping Device) that I made. They are taught off the track, and then the AISD goes on the track at the end only. When I feel that I made good progress removing the food [from the track], I start to add in articles I have taught off the track.

Too many people try to introduce articles when there is still a lot of food on the track. That does not make sense trying to teach compound behaviors like that. I mean yes you can….but just don’t call me saying “my dog won’t lay down at articles”, LOL.

SL: Let's talk troubleshooting. What are your favorite solutions to these common problems?

  • Dog misses the article on the track

DK: Why did it miss the article? That is my first question I must answer. Because how I deal with it all depends on the why. Generally speaking, if my dog walks an article, I do nothing—except try to replay in my mind the behavior that happened prior to that. I can usually tell if my dog is going to hit an article or not, assuming I am paying attention. I mean, a dog will miss an article on occasion. It’s an old joke around here if my dog misses an article or two in training right before a trial, that just means I’m probably getting a V in the trial. That’s based on 18 years of that happening almost every…single…time…LOL. I don’t panic anymore. I have a drink, make some adjustments, and carry on.

  • Dog pauses at article, but continues on/ignores article and looks for food instead

DK: That is done because the dog is looking for food, not the article. Remember the pendulum must swing at some point so that the dog is looking for articles, not food. But if that happens and I see it’s going to happen, I add a sharp verbal "down" command a few times, [and that] does the trick.

  • Dog indicates slowly or uncertainly

DK: Increase reward history at article, remove more food from the track. Also, refer to my answer above.

  • Dog runs down the track to find the article instead of footstep tracking to it

DK: Once again, that happens because footstep tracking was not trained. Too many people want to rush tracking. The novice people in IPO rarely understands the number of tracks it takes to have a confident tracking dog. If you ask 10 top IPO competitors I guarantee they all say the same thing: it’s a numbers game. Most of my colleagues and peers know that I’m obsessive about tracking. For me it’s not that I track every day….it’s actually how many tracks did I do that day!!! A funny funny little joke among some of us...

  • Dog overshoots or undershoots the article indication

DK: Haha, I have that problem with my current dog. Undershoot or indicates early: I put food a step or two coming into the article to pull the dog in so it becomes habit forming. I also hide the articles. It happens for different reasons. My dog is very sensitive to the smell of the articles, so he is anticipating. Overshoot: why did the dog do it? Food was too close on the back side of article? That’s a common problem. Don’t put food so close after the article. Remember, you can always work on proper indication OFF the track, which is what I always recommend anyway.

SL: What are other errors you see handlers/dogs making at articles?

DK: One problem I see a lot in beginners – mainly because there is not as much media on tracking, and no cool YouTube videos with music, and they have not seen a trial – is proper handing at an article: what is to be done, and presenting everything to the judge clearly. Hmmm…I see a Free Video Friday on this topic coming perhaps?

Showing the article to the judge. After the article is shown, the handler must stand next to the dog's shoulder, pick up the line, stand up straight with the line held above the handler's knee (i.e., no crouching or restarting the dog while leaning over) , and restart their dog with a command to "Such" or "Track". Photo by: Wendy Schmitt.

SL: Any closing comments about tracking in general?

DK: People do not understand the seriousness of how you lay the track directly 100% will determine the outcome of how your dog tracks. Understanding how to lay a correct track is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. Too many people cause problems instead of successful learning and building confidence in a young dog. Also that it’s a numbers game. I always say: 200-250 training tracks should get you a decent score for IPO if the IPO gods are on your side that day. And most people can only track seasonally, just like me. [Handlers should] do the math!

Thank you to Dave Kroyer for sharing his insight with us regarding articles! We look forward to a future Free Video Friday on how to properly handle articles in a trial. In the meantime, keep an eye on Dave's site for more fun stuff:

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