Trying Out A New Sport
Early morning on Sunday 2nd August 2020 and I set off with the dogs from Hampshire across to Shepton Mallet. It is always a very scenic route pass famous places such as Stonehenge and Longleat Safari Park; both of which I must find time to revisit; one day!
I love anything which involves dogs using their noses and have even attended a Bloodhound trial several years ago which was completely thrilling. So for some time now I have been looking for something to train my dogs in where they too could use their noses. I have been on a couple of scentworks training sessions which did not work out very well; one club the trainer wasn’t sure of the steps we should be taking and it wasn’t very rewarding for the dog with no play and using gun oil as the scent for the dogs to seek out. The other club I liked very much; very structured but the instructor wasn’t sure how to motivate a food motivated dog and training sessions were so far apart (months if we were lucky) that I felt it would not give us the consistency needed when learning anything new.
Pet trailing or man trailing?
So why was I making this trip? I had booked myself and my youngest collie onto a Pet Trailers session with trainer Becky who is also the owner of PetTrailer UK and I had been looking forward to it immensely since the beginning of July. I had read all of the information in preparing Swagger for this event; we were advised to fit our dogs with a harness and preferably one they had not worn before. This is so that when we put it on to them they know they are about to go to work; the same as a guide dog does. This was easy for me because my dogs do not wear harnesses but I had done my research and made sure Swaggers harness was non-restrictive, allowing free movement of his shoulders. We also needed to take high-value food (no dried stuff); a small tub, and a long-line. I also took one of Swaggers favourite tug toys just in case. PetTrailer UK offers two types of training; pet trailing or man trailing. I chose pet trailing as the idea of my dogs being able to help find a lost dog or an escaped cat from the vet appeals to me but from what I can see the training is basically the same.
It took me two and half hours to get to my destination but I was greeted very warmly by both Becky and the other handlers. Our group session was a 2 hour slot and I found Becky to be both knowledgeable and friendly. She uses positive reinforcement only and gives clear instructions putting both dog and handler at their ease.
Sense of achievement.
I had never handled a tracking dog before and all of our “other” dog sports you pretty much manage the dog but this was another level. Becky explained when to switch your dogs’ line from his collar to his harness; what to say when the dog picks up his scent; how to hold the line and feed it out and a whole host of other information as the trail was taking place. Swagger had to find a very patient and understanding lady called “Lexy” who was hiding along a footpath in a bush. He had to take Lexy’s scent from a pebble and then pick up her trail. At first we stood near to the pebble for what felt like forever but actually were only a few minutes. Suddenly he seemed to work it all out and started to trail directly to Lexy with Becky quietly giving me handling information behind us. You have to trust your dog and Swaggers body language tells me when our “find” is close by. I LOVED IT! It was a sense of achievement that I have not felt for a while and Lexy did warn me later that pet trailing is addictive.
The hunter becomes the hunted.
As there are only 4-5 places per session we take it in turns to walk a trail with Becky and hide whilst she fetches the next dog to find you. As I sat waiting for Lexy’s dog to find me a cat strolled past giving me a very strange look and a wide berth. At first I thought kitty was just observing social distancing but then realised that she probably doesn’t come across a woman, wearing a face mask, sitting behind a wheelie bin in an alley very often and I would have given me a wide berth too!
Would I do it again?
The drive home took longer with the added traffic on the road at that time of day but I truly did not mind. We stopped along the way for a good walk and late lunch and by the time I pulled back onto our drive I had plans to enrol both Swagger and Marti on the next session. So I think that answers the question. Not only would I do it again but I can’t wait to do so, hopefully at least once a month. It is a long way for us to travel but I am very fussy who trains my dogs and Becky ticks all of the boxes – an excellent instructor. I would recommend anyone interested to give it a go. The website is www.pettrailer.co.uk
Let me know on our face book page if you have done any man or pet trailing and what your experiences have been.