Lets face it, if any of us knew how hard being an adult would be....we would have chosen to join Peter Pan in Neverland! Life is hard, stressful and full of ever increasing responsibilities that doesn't come with a cheat sheet or How to guide to get through unscathed. So as a responsible adult that runs a business, relationship, household and social circle, what do I do to relax? Well I go and play hide and seek with my dog and other like minded people. Its actually dog training with a twist, see Mantrailing is teaching my dog to find people/ a specific human scent through various environments. I love it!
From the beginning with the short basic trails as he learned the game, to watching him develop into this trailing machine! It doesn't matter the environment (woodland or residential) or the weather (actually moderate to heavy rain is a big no but then is is a staffie and they melt in the rain!). We have been trailing long enough now that I can read subtle changes in his body language and this tells me if he is still on the right path or if he has lost the scent without having to ask my flanker. Don't get me wrong, Hugo isn't perfect... He likes to hunt for fox and rabbit poop, sometimes he decides to be a cow and munch on the grass or his latest one is to find grass or dirt to roll in rather than actually work. It can be a little frustrating (esp since I know how good he can be!) but I have to remind myself that we are doing this for fun. An activity that me and my boys can do together.
But there is another aspect to Mantrailing that doesn't get as much recognition as it deserves! And that is when you have to go and hide for another dog... being the trail layer or Misper (missing person). This immediately takes you back to being a kid and playing hide and seek....only its not another child/person looking for you...but a four legged friend!
When your hiding in trees/bushes/ditches, up high or down low, playing dead or just walking...there is an anticipation when you can hear them approaching...will the dog recognise my scent and find me or will they go straight past in pursuit of the squirrel up the tree. As a Mantrailing instructor I don't really get a chance to misper at my training sessions unless another trainer is able to take on my role as flanker during the session. Which is why I love going to other trainers to take part and learn too! Not only do I get to solely focus on Hugo and his progression.... But I get to play as well!
I was once tasked with setting a 5-600m trail and asked to find somewhere to hide. So off I go, into the woods on a lovely evening, birds are singing in all directions but other than that its peaceful. When I got to my appointed distance I looked around for a suitable hiding spot and spied a felled tree that had been cut into sections and stacked up slightly. It was perfect! I could sit comfortably for as long as it took and I was also very well hidden from the direction I knew they was coming from. If I had had my hoody with me I may have even laid on those stacked trunks for a nap! So I sat and waited, listening to the sounds of the woods and thinking about...well not much at all. It was so relaxing!! When I heard them getting closer I did lay down so I was completely out of eyesight. I could hear the handler and instructor talking about how they wasn't sure if the dog was still on the trail but they was going to keep following the dog until they decided they was wrong. You almost want to call out and say "Trust your dog! keep going!" but that of course would give the game away so you keep quiet and as still as possible until the dog finds you. I had the dogs rewards to the side and my camera out ready (who doesn't love an action shot of a their dog!). See Smudge below:
Now not every dog is super confident to go climbing trees or in some cases even approach people...and that's ok! We have all sorts of dogs coming trailing! Dogs are worked one at a time which means dog reactive dogs can take part ( some busy public venues may not be suitable but they can still continue to trail at quieter or private venues). I even have dogs that are very nervous around people. With these dogs we don't act all excitable or squealy and try to fuss them....as a misper we simply place their reward on the ground and take a few steps back and let the owner give the fuss. This helps build confidence around people and slowly build a positive association with them. ALL DOGS ARE WELCOME!
I love playing misper, doesn't even matter the weather....and we trail in (mostly) all weathers because we are crazy dog people....if it rains we get wet, sleet - cold, sunshine - bring the shades.....only weather we don't trail in is thunder storms, sever weather warnings or extreme heat for safety reasons.
During one of my sessions at a private venue I asked a lady if she would be happy to lie in a raised planter (I believe it was used as drinks storage for events they held as it had a concrete base and plastic tarp innards). She was going to be out there a while but it was a nice day...she told me after that is was the most relaxing 30 mins she had had all week! Having been in the same planter during some Instructor CPD I can wholeheartedly agree with her!
Over all there are just no down sides to Mantrailing! Its a great and mentally stimulating activity for your dog to learn. As owners we get to watch in awe and learn more about how our dogs brain works. Lastly as a misper we get to be a big kid and play hide and seek...releasing our inner child once again and leave the stress of adulting behind for a couple hours.
If this appeals in anyway then I urge you to find your nearest Mantrailing UK instructor and sign you & your dog up! Even if you don't have a dog at the moment but you just want to join in because it sounds like fun and you need a laugh....I know I can always use people to be mispers at sessions! If you don't ask then you will never know if you can just go and spend a few hours playing with some dogs.
Be warned though....it can get very addictive! I have people that just take part for fun and some that like to work towards badges and assessments. One of the fab head instructors for Mantrailing UK (Gerry Moss) has even designed some badges just for the mispers to earn! and they have gone down a treat!
If your interested in trying Mantrailing please check out the main Mantrailing UK website to find your nearest instructor!