Friday, April 26, 2013

I to the L

Tomorrow is election day in Iceland. Me and Bella used the opportunity to train tracking.

Bella at Home

I went ahead and started training turns today by doing three short L shaped tracks, all with a turn to the right. I took a photo of the last one we did. The cone closest is the start and the one above it is the end.

Cam Photos

The first two Bella aced, this one was interesting as Bella took the turn, went 2 meters and then suddenly made a 180° turn back until she lost the track, turned back and found it again and finished.

This is before she started that final track, eagerly waiting for my arrival.
Cam Photos

Looking at how yellow and dull the grass in these pictures is makes me yearn for real spring and summer.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

First Day of Summer

Somebody decided to make an annual holiday in April in Iceland to celebrate that summer has arrived. When me and Bella went out tracking today it snowed.

The track I laid was the longest one yet and went both up and down a fairly steep slope. The tracking from Bella was really good. She started out with her high speed but did slow down about halfway through and worked at a steady pace all the way to the end. I was super proud, especially since she's in heat and has been feeling a little under the weather.

Bella at Home
'I'm what??'

In between Bella sleeping and sleeping more, we are also practicing with a method of marking. It involved buying tennis balls and making a 'scent box' from an unused flower pot and cardboard.

Stuffs for Bella

I bought these Kong AirDog balls which were bouncy and squeaky. I have always had better luck using treats to motivate Bella but wanted to try a toy this time. She has already 'killed' one of the balls and she wasn't even trying! It still bounces so we can use it but I had hoped that they would survived more than a dog's bite.


The trick is to put the highly desired ball into a place where it's impossible to reach without help. Inside the box is the smell I want Bella to associate with the ball in time. So what I'm trying to teach her in the long run is that when she finds the smell she will sit down because sitting down when she finds the smell means fun/ball.

Bella at Home
'I need monkey fingers.'

I like the theory and believe it can work but I am still on the fence whether I can use a ball to get where I want. I'd rather try not to involve treats if I can help it. I wanted to see Bella be more eager to stick her nose into the box to get the ball but after the second time of trying she knew she couldn't get the ball and just stood there waiting for something to happen. I'm trying to wait for her to get close to the box and stick her nose in before I tell her to sit and wait and then play.

Monday, April 22, 2013

That Time of Year

The obsessive sniffing. The non-stop scent marking. The Nobody-Is-At-Home feeling I get when trying to get her full attention outside on the leash. Yep, it's all indicators that Bella is going into heat and today she started full force. I highly recommend neutering female dogs, I would do it in a heartbeat if I wasn't being cheap and saving myself $500 to do something else (like buy camera equipment).

We did, however, go out and lay a track. I made it a little shorter than yesterday (75m) and really wanted her not to get lost so when I crossed a low bush similar to the one two days ago I was more generous with treats and went as straight through it as possible. Other than that I am slowly starting to reduce the amount. What surprises me is how fast she works the tracks and at first I thought she was definitely just sniffing out the treats and not my scent but now that I see how many treats she tends to leave behind and still not lose track I am starting to have more faith.


I am an air traffic controller and in my work I first and foremost trust myself to do my job inside the area I work at each given time. I don't think about whether my colleagues are doing theirs once the airplanes cross the boundaries of control sectors, I must trust them like they must trust me.
With Bella, I am finding it a challenge to stop worrying about whether she is doing her job and just let go. Maybe I am really a control freak at heart and that it's a good lesson for me. We are both learning and I am no doubt learning a lot more than Bella is. It's interesting to see her go slightly of track (in my eyes) and then jump right onto it as if she was never off it... which is no doubt what was actually going on.

Today I saw a video with a very brief explanation of how marking was taught for a drug/explosive detection dog using a wooden box. I may give that a try here at home using a very advanced tool -children's shoe box. The clip added the missing link.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Must Keep At It

It's the weekend and the snow returned. I used it as an excuse to not go out yesterday but today the weather looked too beautiful to miss. I had also recovered from the rather bad decision to go ahead with the track I laid on Thursday rather than create a new one.


Yep, I laid a track on Thursday for Bella and went to a spot that is rather close to a popular spot for people to let their dogs loose. I have visited that spot myself a lot but I chose another a little further away and didn't realize until I had started laying the track there that the area was quite dense with dog poop. If I had been thinking clearly I would have stopped while laying the track and found a better place since I wasn't planning on a long track but I went ahead and although Bella did complete the track she was really absent minded and I had to stop her from peeing on the track two times. I felt very stupid.

So today I went to a spot near a horse track. However, it's in an area that no one stops, like ever. It's too close to the highway to be exciting so I got a fresh ground to work with. I took a picture before I started, I went down there and up in the clear space between the trees, it was about 100 metres (~109 yards).

Slóðin 20. apríl

And coming back from the track I took another picture of my car. Bella is there tied to the back of it but she's barely visible. That white thing behind the rear wheel is actually her! What purpose the building serves I have no idea but it's built in the middle of nowhere by the company that provides me my energy.


This time the track started out really well, I did give her 3-4 metres of the tracking line and she was racing. It was interesting when I noticed that while I thought I was on the track and she alongside it that she was actually on the track and I was offset my about a meter. Good stuff!

Of course she then had to get lost. D'oh! It was in a patch where I had to go through a low bush and go a bit to the right and suddenly she went way to the left and then started backtracking and eventually just spinning into circles. I had to help her get back on track and she finished like a pro, so well that she was going to run away from the end spot to follow my getaway-trail and miss the jackpot at the end. So I had to stop her, woops!

I tried a new way to track the track that lets me upload to google maps. The track is awfully straight once uploaded!

Sjá Vegbrekkur Spor 9 á stærra korti

Monday, April 15, 2013

Don't Plan Too Much

My daughter got her name on Saturday and as I suspected I wasn't able to take Bella tracking that day. We had a birthday to go to on Sunday and I was tempted to be lazy after it but I went and laid a track anyway.


Yesterday should have marked the end of the first stage of imprinting but since I missed out on laying a track on Saturday I wasn't quite sure how to proceed. Continue with day six or take a break as I had planned? Yeah, I made myself a real dilemma there.


After sleeping on it, I decided to lay a track today since we had Saturday off. I also decided to proceed to stage two of imprinting. It wasn't a big step at all since stage two is about adding variation now that the dog is learning the game. The author recommends sticking to the same field for at least two next tracks but only change the direction to begin with.


So instead of going straight away from the road I went alongside it today. I have been laying the tracks mostly on moss but right next to the road was lots and lots of grass. Bella was racing down the track and would jerk to a stop now and then when she had to pick up treats.


Afterwards I stopped in a new place to allow her to run loose and the weather was wonderful. It's great to be back out there with my dog.


Friday, April 12, 2013

Days Three and Four

Things are a little busy at Camp Bella since we are preparing for a little get-together with family in order to announce the name of the newest family member. However I'm making it a priority to go out there and lay a track inbetween feeding the little one and cleaning the apartment. Then my body is fragile so I have to watch out not to go overboard and risk limping.

Yesterday the new lens arrived so I took a moment after tracking and shot a few photos.



It's been ridiculously sunny for several days now and it makes it impossible to see clearly if what I was doing was working out or not but it was fun nonetheless. Bella got a case of the zoomies and I just couldn't keep up very well. That was the first challenge, finding her since the camera goes up to 300mm and it's just wonderful. Next will be getting the focus to be on her eye/face rather than her back. I can't wait ti have more time with this lens. It's nice and sharp.



The last two aren't focused on her face but getting these kind of action shots has been my dream so now that I've got the equipment I must master the technique. I know Bella won't mind helping me out.



Not sure how much me and Bella can do this weekend, today we were only able to lay the track and go home. I don't know if I'll have time to lay a track tomorrow but we will try. Hopefully there will be time for photos on Sunday. That will also be the last day of the initial tracking imprinting, after that we start the second stage on Tuesday that will gradually allow more variation.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Day Two of Imprinting

Today was bitterly cold. The windchill did reach into the marrow of my bones, brr. It's supposed to start snowing tomorrow or Friday.

However, having started the imprinting program yesterday I wasn't going to hide inside and later regret it. I even had one of the nasties of Icelandic processed food industry bought for me yesterday to use for treats, a hot dog on steroids. I can't eat it myself but Bella loved it so much that she tracked super well for me.

The track I laid today had a lot of sidewind and I tried to make it so that it was rather more in my back than in the face. In the program she says to pin the dog to the track so it can't lose it but with the sidewind Bella was going a little to the left and then worked her way back up where the treats were so I gave her a little longer leash to work with. I was incredibly happy with her because right from the get go she knew what we were doing and she was raring to go and worked the track really enthusiastically. She was going a little fast at times but kept her tracking profile almost the entire time and when she realized she was going a little too fast she occasionally attempted to backtrack to where she skipped a treat and continued from there like nothing had happened.

It was a 180 degree turn in her mindset since yesterday. Hurray!

Bella Near Helluvatn

After completing the track and finding the article we headed back to the car and to a small lake called Helluvað which is actually only about 30 minutes walk from my home. There she got to run loose while I tried not to freeze to death.

Bella Near Helluvatn
Bella grinning.

I threw a piece of the treat into the grass and that resulted in me getting a picture of her tracking profile. She looks pretty good, if I say so myself! I have a good feeling about our future in this kind of work. At least we are both enjoying it which is the main thing.

Bella Near Helluvatn

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Out and About

Today I decided to bite the bullet and get started on the tracking imprinting as described in the book I have by Deborah R. Davis in her book Making Scents of Tracking. I wish I could have returned with some heroic tale of Bella's amazing tracking prowess. Instead I accidentally made the track a few yards longer than the planned 10 yards, then when I started Bella on the track she showed absolutely no interest and actually peed on the track which is a big no no, obviously.

However I kept her on the track through a very short leash and did my best to keep her focus on the ground, she took slight interest in it now and then and then she would lift her head and meant to go somewhere entirely different.

But this is only the first day of six, and then the program continues for 6 days out of 7 for another three weeks before cooling down the frequency of it. I know Bella can track and this is a slightly different method than I had going so I still have hope. I'm going to use better treats tomorrow, she missed about 80% of the treats I laid on the ground so that wasn't helping at all.

Afterwards  I drove 2 minutes further and allowed her to run loose for a while so I could take photos. It was so super bright that I found it hard to see which shots were okay and which weren't so I just played around and got a lot of photos I deleted, but a few turned out alright.

I was shooting next to the road in a moss covered lava field.

Bella on the Loose

Bella on the Loose

Bella on the Loose

I must confess, it's good to be back out there with Bella!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Camera Joys

This weekend my fiancé asked me almost out of the blue if I wanted a "dog lens" since he was planning to order something from an online camera store from the US. Sure, why not?

What I'd like the most is a big professional zoom lens but they're really expensive and not on my budget for the next several years so he found something which should suffice for an amateur like me to hopefully get better action photos of Bella.

So now I'm waiting for a Nikon 70-300 VR. I hope I'll get it before the weekend and I also hope that I will be happy with it. At least Bella will enjoy assisting in testing it out when it has arrived, that's guaranteed.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Spring is in the Air

Some days are just perfect in their simplicity. My fiancé kicked me out of the house today and told me to go let Bella loose. So I did.

This winter has been ridiculously mild and now that spring is in the air being outside is so refreshing. Unfortunately I forgot to bring my camera with us, Bella was running around like a racehorse. I even found some logs from trees that had been culled and made a small jump for her.


I honestly don't really feel like my physical health is improving much but I don't feel a lot of pain while I am outside. It's like a hangover that haunts me in the days after but at least I can enjoy moving while it hasn't caught up with me.

I may have a push factor in trying to keep going out despite the pain that follows, I asked around yesterday and there's a possibility that a tracking course will be held later this spring. I think it would be fun to be able to get out there and learn from experienced handlers. I just need to be able to deal with the walking a course like that mandates.