The Tracking Line is a Means of Communication Between You and Your Dog - Not Just a Rope
Gary Murray is a friend of mine. He is a retired
RCMP dog handler with 17 years of experience running tracking dogs for
the RCMP. He currently owns and operates a kennel and training facility
in Alberta. He sponsors tracking seminars for police and SR at his facility
several times per year. If you are a K-9 handler or S R volunteer, I highly
recommend Gary's seminars. You will come away from his seminars a better
dog handler and trainer.
Most dog handlers think of their long line as a piece
of equipment. But it is more than that.
I can't tell you how many times I have seen dog handlers
snap their long line to their dogs harness and go along for the ride.
They fail to realize that the line is a physical link between the dog
and their hand. Other than the length of the line it is no different
than rubbing your dogs ear while doing obedience.
The long line can be a very strong communication tool
between the dog and handler. With proper use the communication flows back
and forth all the time during the track. It uses a language that is only
known by the dog and handler which both learn and grow with from the first
training track. It is refined through out the years but all too often
I see only the dog using it and the handler blindly following.
Let's start at the beginning and see if we can not develop
a greater understanding of the long line, it's purpose and how to communicate
with our dogs through it.
The first step is to choose the right line. Like all
tools of the trade there are personal preferences. I have seen all types
of lines used for tracking, rope, climbing rope, leather, and all types
of webbing. They all have some good points and some bad. I personally
stay away from any form of rope as it has a tendency to burn your hands
as it slides through. Yet it is strong, easy to obtain and inexpensive.
Leather is costly but has the most natural feel and spring to it. The
down side is that when you buy a 20 foot line after a number of tracks
you soon have a 30 foot line and as time wears on a 40 foot line which
can break as the line pulls thinner and thinner.
The line used by most handlers these days is a webbing
about 3/8" to 1/2" in width. It is strong, inexpensive and
long lasting. Be sure to buy a quality webbing which is supple so it
be too hard on your hands.
Line length is something there will always be a lot
of discussion about. I have seen handlers track with lines from as short
as 6 feet all the way up to 30 to 40 feet in length. Personally I feel
that 20 feet is about the right length. This puts you far enough back
to see your dog and read his body language. It also allows you when your
dog indicates track loss to stop, circle the dog and be standing right
on the corner. This should insure that the dog will relocate the track
somewhere in the arch of the line and therefore you don't blow a corner.
Another point for those of you who are doing criminal work the 20 feet
gives you some distance if your dog tracks right up on a suspect and
you need time and distance to react.
No matter what line you choose there will be numerous
times when your dog comes in close to you and you pull in the slack. Just
as you have the line down to 6 to 8 feet the dog hits the track, pulls
hard into the harness and the line pulls through your hand causing friction
burn. Occupational hazard I guess! Some handlers wear gloves while they
are tracking. Personally I don't. I feel that bare hands listen a lot
better to the line and what it is saying. As far as the friction burns
go I feel that if I get one I deserve one. I should of been paying attention,
getting off my butt and going with the dog if he has indicated the track.
A number of friction burns can teach a handler a whole lot.
A handler's primary job in line work is to keep the
line from distracting the dog. Keep it out of the dogs way and do not
let it get
tangled. All the time this little rope ballet is going on you must keep
a steady tension on the line constantly.
This is where the communication through the line begins,
at the constant tension. Any change in the tension, increased, or decreased
is telling you something. This change in tension can be produced by the
dog or the handler. No matter who changes the tension for what ever reason
it should be telling the other something.
The proper tension on the line will keep it straight
in the air from the dogs harness to your hand. I keep the line between
my index finger and thumb letting the last foot or so fall down through
my hand so I can grab it with the whole of my hand if I have to. This
allows me to change the tension on the line from as little as a couple
lbs. pressure(finger and thumb only) to pulling the dog to a complete
stop(the whole hand).
Lets start from the middle and work up and down with
the amount of tension on the line.
You are on the track, the dog is tracking well, and
everything is going just fine. The tension on the line is enough to keep
the line straight from the harness to your hand. At this point you know
everything is O.K. and so does the dog. Any change in that tension and
something is being said. Keep in mind that all this communication is in
conjunction with you reading the dogs body language.
As you track along the dog starts to lift his head
and move it from side to side as if looking for the track. The second
this you start to increase tension on the line. This increase is a question
to the dog. Are you on the track? If his head goes back to the ground
and he increases tension back into the harness and the line he is saying
"yeah I'm on track and here it is". The handler then eases
off the tension until it is back to the point where everything is normal(straight
line from harness to hand) If as you put tension on, the dog lifts his
head, relieving tension you keep adding tension quickly but evenly until
a point where you have the dog stopped and starting to turn into a circle
at the end of the line. At this point your dog has given you a track
signal and most likely a corner. As the dog swings through the arch of
the long line you should be standing on the corner. Somewhere in the
now is searching he should hit the track.
When the dog hits the track he will give you a head
turn that will show you where the track is going and then follow it with
his body. This will increase the tension on the line. He is now saying
to you through the line "here it is lets go" While training
a new dog each and every time this happens your response would be "Good
Boy" and the second you praise him you let the tension off the line
and go with the dog. This conditions the dog how to communicate through
the line back to you and as time goes on the dog will give stronger and
stronger track relocations. It also gives him physical praise through
the release of tension in the line.
In time this increase and decrease of tension through
the line becomes a language between dog and handler. More can be said
through that line than you could ever imagine.
So the basics in line communication are. Increase tension
from the handlers. Are you on track? Increase tension from the dogs. I'm
on track or here is the track. Decrease tension from the handlers. Good
Boy I'm following you. Decrease tension from the dogs. I've lost the track
and I'm looking.
Proper line work is more than just snapping the long
line to the harness and following your dog on a track. So lets stop being
dead weight on the end of the line for our dogs to drag around. Lets use
our lines, ourselves and our dogs to the fullest, communicate he may be
trying to tell you something!
"Tight Lines" Gary D. Murray
You can contact Gary Murray at his training facility
in Canada. He holds several tracking seminars every year.
To get information on Gary's Tracking seminars click
here and send him and e-mail with your questions.
I have done three videos with the RCMP on tracking.
The first one to consider is Tracking thru Drive - Level