Tracking is one of the toughest skills to master in the working canine industry for both Handlers and Trainers.
Handlers get fed information from all kinds of sources and end up with little to no understanding of how to problem-solve or have any skill level to speak of in identifying their canine’s change of behavior and lack the ability to read environmental changes. In the beginning of a training course handlers may pass tracking when paired with a good canine that can track, but over a 6-8 month period both the canine and handler seem to get comfortable with each other. Handlers start to rely too much on their canines or vice versa and the next thing you know both are pushing each other along. I call this “chasing dreams.” Handlers become confident and inject their value in the situation and the canine then becomes reactive to the handler. As a result, the handler loses sight of the importance of the most basic tracking skill – the ability to read their canine properly. If a trainer isn’t there to see these habits unfold and work to change their course, the team becomes ineffective. A five-week training course is not enough time (in most cases) for handlers to get a true grasp of tracking due to the many other areas the canine team is being trained in as well. Obviously, the bigger the class, the less attention is given of much needed instruction by the trainer.
I believe bad habits are formed during real deployments. Real deployments can be too complex for most canine teams. It seems most training courses and even sustainment training seem to cover only fundamentals and are basically unrealistic. You may have experienced one or two training tracks that were difficult, but they need to be difficult in different ways to be of value.
More to the point; If you consistently succeed, then “Houston we Have a Problem”.
So where does it start? The Trainer. There is a hundred ways to skin a cat when it comes to tracking. I get it, but the end state with any trainer is the same; find the person to be hunted. So let’s push forward, past training styles, and focus on how to change your canine team’s tracking efficiency – providing your canine team understands the fundamentals of tracking and can successfully conduct a basic 400 yard track. If not, call a vendor/trainer and work on tracking fundamentals.
The most important part of a track is finding the track. Sounds simple enough, but is it? I will say this, if its “Janked” in the beginning, then the rest is soup sandwich!
Typical training sight picture:
- Clean area/known training areas
- Handlers get direction of suspect’s direction
- Track layers are the same
- End of track if civil is a post or equipment is involved
- Tracks are too short – 300 yards or less
Typical real world sight picture:
- Initial area is dirty – support officers
- Distractors (dogs, fences, civilians, multiple support officers)
- Actual problem-solving and decision making by handler is needed
- Cold Starts – track layer isn’t present during track, he is at the end of track, if he doubles back a support tracker is typically present or it is a double blind scenario. Something as simple as cold starts allow the canine team to problem-solve. Either they find the suspect or they don’t. Also, an important tool is the camera. The canine team should always have a camera on for quality debriefs with the track layer.
- Long Tracks – Canines should be accustomed to hunting when tired and handlers should be skilled at identifying and understanding their canine’s change of behavior when their canine is tired. Canines are more independent when fresh; however, when a canine becomes tired, their changes of behavior are very subtle.
- Track Ending – As most of you know, I am not a big fan of equipment. I feel equipment masks the true essence of a canine’s capabilities. The only way to push past this is with the “muzzle”. The only clear-cut sight picture is the canine performing a track in a “muzzle”.
Why the muzzle? It allows the k9 to commit to the end state without handler interaction.
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