Sunday, June 04, 2006
On Sunday mornings, at dawn, I go to Tripler Army Hospital, to train my dog Ella in the sport of tracking. Tripler is surrounded by huge fields; an unusual phenomenon on this island where open land is at a premium. It's a great place to track, especially in the early morning, while it's cool, the grass is damp with dew, and no one's out but the birds.
Tracking is an unusual dog sport, in that it's entirely dog-directed; that is, the handler can't give the dog any instruction or directions during the process. It's not a test of obedience, rather it's a test of the dog's innate ability to find hidden objects using its nose. We lay a track by walking and marking a path in the field, and by marking the path, or key locations (beginning, end, any turns you make) with flags. An object is hidden at the end of the track, which the dog is rewarded for finding. At this point, I'm a relative beginner, and my tracks are still pretty short, about 100 yards, pretty straight, and with food rewards placed along the track, to keep Ella motivated. It helps that she's a sniffy dog, who likes food and enjoys finding things, I just hang onto the line and praise her for being on line, and give an occasional tug and "get on track" when she goes way off line.
It's a new sport for us.