In this blog post I am focusing on learning to read Noa’s body language during tracking. This is her 4th class in tracking through drive. In this class she is faced with a couple new challenges, she has to: distinguish old and new tracks, follow longer trials, mark an object, pass an obstruction, and follow an aged trial.
The video’s are in random order and cut so you only see the parts that are most interesting; these are for example decision moments, when she goes off track or when she shows a different kind of behavior. As a reference I also show Noa when she is on track and certain of where to go. By analyzing the three video’s I hope to discover what’s going on in Noa’s head while she is tracking and I want to learn how to recognize when she is showing a negative so I can help her back on track.
Track A takes about 3,5 minutes. At the beginning Noa has her nose down a lot. Her head is either on shoulder height or lower. The line is tense and she has a steady pace. Her ears are back when her nose is down and relaxed when her head is at shoulder height. At 0:12 she is still on track and faces a T-junction. She looks to the left, lifts her ears up and continues to the right by accelerating and swiftly holding her nose down. The line stays tensed.
Noa gets diverted at 0:20 the trainer told me it’s because that’s where she got rewarded last time (previous class) for finding the individual. So I assume this is the first track of the day. I had to give her more line, I guess to give her the chance to discover no one is there. You can see she starts off with her nose near the ground and once she realizes where she is she lifts her head up, her ears go up and down and she starts looking. To conclude no one is there and carry on by putting her nose back to the ground and accelerating into the right direction.
At 0:33 Noa lost track at a Y-intersection. She accelerated first a little bit, her head is at shoulder height or lower. Until she notices she lost track and stops, looks back while holding her head up. The line was tense as usual up to the moment Noa stopped. Then I had to walk back to a point where she was still on track. By walking backwards I try not to bias her, only when she walks by me I turn along with her to continue the trial. I didn’t know what to do initially so I stopped half way. Noa was insecure too; she started looking at me for clues, holding her head up. Once we walked back far enough for her to get back on track, she immediately puts her head down for confirmation I assume.
Noa lost track at 0:56 at another 3-way intersection. Initially she has her nose on the ground, once she chooses to go to the right she rises her head, starts looking around and slows down. However, Noa quickly corrects herself by turning around, accelerating and putting her nose down again. Once she was sure to be back on track her head was at shoulder height.
When Noa was on track [1:07] she was walking in a zigzag pattern with her head mostly at shoulder height. Her ears were relaxed bouncing up and down and she was walking in a steady pace with a tensed line. When we were nearing the end of the track at 1:29 she started shifting between nose on the ground and looking around with head and ears up. The line stayed tense. Once she saw our ‘lost person’ she shook off the tension and gets her reward.
The full video of track B takes a little less than 2 minutes, I am not sure if that’s the full length of the track though. In this video we start off on track as well. Noa is keeping a steady pace, the line is tense. Her head is at shoulder height and her ears are bouncing in a relaxed manner. At 0:15 we pass an object, a metal pipe, left by the victim. Noa marked it by quickly sniffing it and decides the track is more important so she keeps on walking. Unfortunately, it’s not visible on the video because I am blocking the view. I didn’t cut it out because it is important to mention how she responds to an object. She has never been taught to mark an object and the instructor said we will train her to do so. She responded well by acknowledging the object for starters.
Noa gets distracted by a different scent at 0:27. She abruptly turns around to start sniffing a little restless. Even though it is obvious to me she is distracted by a different scent now I see it on video. However, it is hard to pin point what exactly tells me. I had to tell her to keep going. To emphasis that she had to go back on track I continued walking and tugged the leash. I also used the ‘search’ command again (I say ‘zoek’ in Dutch). I am not sure if that was needed. It might be better to have a separate word to get her focus back on track which I can reprimand her with. Not to erode the meaning of the search command.
At 0:42 we encounter a Y-intersection. Noa slightly curves to the left to check it out and continues by taking the right path. Her head is at shoulder height or lower and the line stays tense. When we near the end [0:49] Noa initially walks in a steady pace with her head at shoulder height or lower. At 0:56 however she starts looking and you can see her ears go up. A couple seconds later she finds our victim!
This track takes 4,5 minutes in total and is a little older than usual (just with a couple minutes). The instructor explained to me that it means she will have to think more. On the other hand the track is less active, which compensates for the aging. Noa starts off pulling, she holds her head down and her ears back. Once she is going, her head is at shoulder height with her ears relaxed. She keeps a good pace and the line is tense.
At 0:26 we cross an old track that goes straight ahead, the fresh trail goes to the right. Noa stays on track, keeps up a steady pace and moves her head up and down. She was very determined. She is still on track at 0:36 when she accelerates. When the path is blocked by tree branches [0:45] Noa initially stops, moves her head up and then decides to go around it.
We approach a 3-way intersection at 1:00. The path goes to the right, but the trail goes to the left. Noa slows down, puts her nose to the ground and she has turned to the correct direction but she hesitates. Then I make the mistake to shorten the leash, which makes her turn towards me. By taking one step in the right direction she got her confidence back, puts her nose to the ground and takes off!
Noa is still on track at 1:17 and swings to the left a little. I am not sure if it is because there is a path or an open spot where the wind moves the scent around. She keeps a steady pace and continues. We are crossing an old track at a y-intersection [1:27]. Noa’s nose goes down; when she decides or made her decision she has her head at shoulder height. She goes to the right following the old trial. She puts her nose down and eventually slows down. Unfortunately, I can’t remember what she exactly did and it’s not visible on the video. I am told to walk back to the intersection. Once we are at the intersection Noa shakes off the tension. She puts her nose back down and little further we cross another old track that goes straight ahead. This time Noa takes the right decision to get off road and head left to find our ‘missing person’. She received her well-deserved reward!
First of all she shows a huge change compared to the previous tracking class. Last time we were often jogging or I had to slow her down. Now she is pacing herself! I put her a harness on, a backpack with nothing in it, to give her more air. She will get a proper harness of course. It has been ordered! The leash is new too. I like it a lot because it doesn’t burn my hands (at least so far) and it doesn’t get slippery like leather.
Back to focus on Noa’s body language! Starting off she has her nose down and her ears back. She is often pulling at the beginning. Once she gets comfortable she keeps her head at shoulder height and lowers it from time to time to check or maybe it�s because she smells a different kind of scent. Her ears are bouncing up and down in a relaxed manner when she is on track and confident of where to go. She walks in a steady pace which keeps the tension on the line. She could also swing from left to right, but as long as she walks in a good pace and the line stays tense she is still on track. At the very end of a track she starts looking ahead except for track C. That might have to do with the mistake she made a little while back and now wants to be sure it’s the right guy.
The negatives Noa shows are slowing down, loosing tension of the leash, stopping, looking back or around her and her head goes up at the very end. Stopping and looking back are very obvious ones. The other signs are in combination of 2 or more negative signs. They are shown before she actually stops and look back. However, at track C at 1:00 Noa was showing all the off track signs but she actually was on track. She was just insecure! So that creates a little problem. This time my instructor told me she was heading in the right direction. I am not sure what Noa would have done if I would have walked back. I couldn’t walk back that far as we were still close to the intersection. I guess we need more similar experiences to figure this one out.
When she is off track and gets back on track she responds the same way as when she starts a track by putting her nose down, ears back and pulling/accelerating. Although, she doesn’t pull as much.
Class 4: Tracking body language
Starting a track
- Nose down
- Ears back
- Pulling line
- Head at shoulder height or lower
- Ears are bouncing up and down in a relaxed manner
- Steady pace
- Tense line
- Swings to left and/or right
End of track
- Looking ahead
- Moving head up and down
- Slowing down
- Loosing line tension
- Looking back or around
- Head up
Back on track
- Nose down
- Ears back
- Pulling line
I wonder how much Noa is influenced by us when going off track. Does she stop because she lost the scent or is it the lack of 2 pair of footsteps behind her? We just started so it’s good there is an instructor to tell us when we are heading in the wrong direction and I can’t bias Noa because I honestly don’t know where to go. But it does make me wonder.