In training, as in actual live tracking, we work the dogs at all times on a 20 to 30 foot leash which does not hang up as a short leash does. Light clothes line will do to start. Eight (8) mm. mountain climbing cord is good for smaller dogs and the eleven (11) mm. size works better on the pointer-sized dogs. We start 10 week-old puppies with short 100 foot lines dribbled with deer blood. We get this from deer that we find, carrying it in double Ziplock bags and later freezing it until needed in ½ pint containers. Plastic margarine containers are good. It is important to put a “prize” – a piece of deer skin, a deer tail or even a dead woodchuck at the end of the line. Age the line 15 minutes or so and let the pup bark at and chew on the prize when he finds it.
When the pup likes to track and has some powers of concentration, she may be introduced to longer and older lines, laid out with drops of deer blood from a squeeze bottle. (With a squeeze bottle you have to strain the blood.) You can also place the blood with a small square of sponge tied to a light four foot stick. We place a half or whole frozen deer skin at the end of the line. Mark out your line with strips of paper stapled to trees or with surveyors’ tape tied on trees so that you know where the line is even when the blood is too thin to be seen by eye. Use a drop or a dab of blood at every stride.
Start with easy lines aged from two to four hours. A line of three to four hundred yards is plenty. As the dog improves use less blood, age the lines up to 24 hours and increase the distance up to half a mile. Talk to your dog and give lots of praise especially when the dog finds the “deer.” It is better to let the dog make his own mistakes and figure out how to correct himself. You do not want to develop a dog which is dependent upon you for guidance. Don’t overdo the training. The dog learns best if tracking is not allowed to become a chore with a lot of heavy discipline. Generally one training session with one line each week is plenty.
Most dogs run into problems in tracking because they get bored or distracted by more interesting things like hot deer lines. Under normal conditions almost any hunting dog is capable of following a blood line placed the day before, if he is motivated. Concentrate on motivating the dog with praise and positive reinforcement.
Before a dog becomes useful for finding wounded deer he must be able to maintain concentration on the old wounded deer scent line even when confronted by a healthy deer or a hot line. Once the dog knows what is expected he should be worked over blood lines laid where deer are known to be present. Use positive reinforcement for what the dog is doing right rather than negative punishment for mistakes. The more the dog is motivated to please you the easier training will be.
The dog that can follow a blood line laid with ½ pint of blood and aged 20 to 24 hours should be capable of finding many wounded deer that cannot be tracked by eye. The dog will improve a great deal more with practical experience in the field and with emotional maturity. Usually dogs are at least two before they begin to reach their potential. They continue to improve until eight or ten.
Letting the dog “find” easy, dead deer that have been successfully eye-tracked by hunters is another way to train dogs or to reinforce the training with artificial bloodlines. When you do this use the same methods and equipment that you would ordinarily use in training or on a real deer call. The dog will not be upset if the deer that he “finds” is already field dressed.