I feel like we are not getting this right.
So far we have had 3 sessions with a tracking club and I practice 2-3x a week at home. We are doing 70 yards with bait every 4-5 feet or so. These are single-laid tracks on short grass that are blind for the dog, but not the handler. Next week we start turns. This is all well and good. I feel like my dog is not actually tracking, though. I think she is just looking for the bait visually, or possibly air-scenting. She doesn't move in a straight line and if she can't see the bait, she gets confused and starts turning in circles looking for it. She misses a lot of the bait even if she gets to the end of the track unless it is something very obvious like pieces of white cheese. I always start in a down before the track and point out where it starts. I don't see her "take off" after scent like I do with a friend's dog that I handle. Usually when she gets closer to the article, I do see a positive indication from her body language.
She knows how to use her nose to find articles. If I hide them in the yard she can solve that puzzle fairly easily, no bait required. I am starting to see something similar when we practice tracking. For instance if there is a track with one turn, she will try to cross the diagonal to get to the article instead of following the turn. I don't think she can see the article so she must be smelling its scent cone somehow.
I'm wondering if I'm not doing something right. Should I be using more bait? Less? Part of me thinks I should not be obsessing about the track at all and just keep making it harder for her to find the article, making sure to lay a straight track and maybe double-back on it.
I will ask my instructor, but I think I know her idea: she said to restart the dog at the point where they last had scent. She also wants us to keep a very short leash and not allow them to stray from the track. Well, if we did that we would be restarting every 10 feet so I feel like something must be fundamentally missing. If I try to guide my dog physically where the track is, she gets frustrated and lies down.