Mantrailing is all about being able to read when your dog is on or off the trail.
It is a skill we learn while are handling our dog, to be able to know if they are unsure of where the scent is, and need time to work it out or blazing down the trail looking for their reward.
It can be hard to watch your dog, feed the line, not fall over and check out for hazards while trailing.
It can mean you miss some vital signals while on the trail, and accidentally end up overhelping your dog or not being able to help them when needed. So we have put together 6 tips to help you read your dog better while Mantrailing.
Here are some top tips to help you learn to read your dog better when Mantrailing.
1. Record your trails. Get the instructor or a flanker to record your trailing. If you can a chest-mounted camera is another good option as well. This can help you capture the commentary from your instructor as it happens as well as subtle behaviour you can miss while on the trail. Slowing down and watching back videos give you a clear picture of the overall trail, the things you need to do as a handler to stop overly influencing the dog or when to step in and help. The things needed to aid your dog in having success are specific to you and your dog as a team. This video can always be sent to others and get their opinion on it as well, it's great to discuss things together as you never know what someone else might spot in the videos.
2. Reinforce those foundations! It is very easy with a smart or high drive dog to get them working on difficult trails or starts and really miss out on the behaviours at the start of their Mantrailing career. There is always scope for taking a breath and reinforcing the foundations of trailing, this may mean moving to delayed starts from scent article starts to be able to see when the dog chooses the right direction out of the scent pool. It may mean shortening the trail but adding in more junctions so that you can read the dog's negatives.
3. Line handling. Handling the line in the right way can really help you read if the dog is on or off the trail by the feel of the pressure. The tension should be maintained on the trail when working, and you can tell if the dog is in scent by the increased force while trailing. If they have potentially lost the trail the line may feel slack as they slow down to further investigate the trail, but this could equally feel like a sudden jerk as they pull to the left or right to cast for the trail. The way the line feels is individual to the dog, and it is important to understand it visually and by tension feel.
4. Getting a new perspective. When consistently trailing in the same places or same instructor we can all get a little blind to our dogs’ behaviour. Changing from rural to urban is a big change for a dog and it can show us new behaviours to read. Also going into open areas such as grass fields can also help you read your dog’s casting behaviour and assess when the dog is searching for the trail or switching to air scent. Going to see another Mantrailing UK Instructor to get a fresh perspective on how your dog works the scent on the trail, as well as your handling. All Mantrailing UK Instructors trail using the same method, but we all have different experiences and knowledge which can be used to help a team in a rut.
5. Blueline trailing. Blueline trailing is where you know where the trail layer went and can help your dog if needed. This does not mean you can rush the dog to the end of the trail and think you have done better because the dog is faster. It is a good opportunity to be able to read your dog as it works the junctions, surface transitions, contaminations, scent pockets and much more without having to think about where the dog is going to go next. Then once you are happier reading your dog on the trail you can step up to the single blinds (Where the handler doesn’t know where the trail layer is) and start truly reading the dog again while it trails.
6. Keep a behaviour log. This is not just logging what happened in the session in your level books, but a log of the dog's behaviours they show when on the trail. Being specific about the different communications the dogs can show us. Logging the movement or lack of movement of the head, tail, ears, and nose. Noting down what you see in a more specific manner can help you really notice the specific behaviours your dog shows on or off the trail.
Reading your dog's body language while Mantrailing is one of the many skills you pick up. This skill can be used in day to life with your dog and allow you to see the subtle body language they display daily.
There is no one size fits all in reading your dog as each dog is an individual, and there are many differences between breeds and individuals within a breed.
It is something which takes time and it's important to be patient while you learn. Dogs know how to use their nose from birth, and how to follow scent in their own way. What we are doing with Mantrailing is honing down their skills further and being a mild hindrance on the end of the lead until we skill up ourselves.
If you feel like your dog is much better than you, and you are always trying to catch up to their skill level it is normal. We can’t learn everything about Mantrailing at once so as we progress our Mantrailing career, we progress our knowledge about our dog's trailing language.
We have a webinar on reading your dog's body language on the trail, based on real-life videos of dogs trailing and commentated by Lisa Gorenflo, our Founder and Head Instructor –https://www.mantrailinguk.com/product-page/mantrailing-video-analysis