Tune in and Train Along!

If you’re wondering about the Client Only training pages below, please check out my new podcast page!

FREE podcasts will air during spring training and trackers can sign up to access detailed training support here!

The Podcast Page is set up and ready to roll! Tune in and Train Along – first training podcast will air today! There’s also a sign up button for people wishing to register for the supporting training pages.


The podcasts can be found at


Happy Tracking!





Flashback 2005: Are you ready to enter a tracking test?

For the first Flashback post, I thought I would share something that is timely today – am I ready to enter a tracking test? I had been teaching tracking for 10 years at this point, but had just started to track again after recovering from Cancer. I decided to get out with my heart dog River, Lindau’s Uncharted Course TDX UTD – and that fall we earned our TD under retired judge Erich Kunzel in Thunder Bay. Our track was laid by Brian Earnshaw – who has moved back to Thunder Bay after years out west (hmmmm, wonder if I could do that!)

The featured photo above is of Jet and I working on UTDX at Olds College. Jet passed her UTDX the following year (2012). Here she is below, in 2007, passing her TD – from the old blog! 

Jet TD 2007

I was so enthusiastic and filled with joy for life and for tracking after recovering from cancer, and it is River who inspired me to get out there. She was the inspiration for this blog and will always be my heart dog, no matter how special any others are. We had a very special bond. It is sort of sad – but I have very few pictures of River tracking. Here we are after passing our TDX in 2006 under judge Dawn Sanderson, from the old blog:

River TDX 2006


I now have 3 Tracking Champions, 3 UTDXs, 5 UTDs, 7 TDXs and 10 TDs. I am a firm believer in being sure I am ready for a test before I enter! Tracking test spots are so limited and it is considered ‘sportsmanlike’ to be sure when taking a spot – you don’t enter “for fun” or “to see where you are at” in this sport! Though, sadly, it is tough to get practice in a real test situation. I try to give mock tests and safe blind tracks in my training seminars to help people. My methods are constantly growing and changing – but I hope you find this post from 12 years ago food for thought!


September 14, 2005

Are you ready to enter a tracking test?

Hi everyone! How do you like this cartoon? Someone at work gave it to me today.

With the trial closing in on us (October 8-9) everyone is wondering “are we ready?” Here are some ways to evaluate whether you should enter for your TD:

1. Starts should be solid – Most times you practice, your dog takes scent at the scent pad and proceeds (on its own) toward the 2nd stake in a steady manner. You can sense your dog means business and apply tension to the line to say “I’m following you” then step off to do your track.

*remember that in a trial, the judge and tracklayer will NOT take wind direction into consideration when plotting and laying tracks, so your dog should be solid in all conditions…you should note the wind direction to help you read your dog on track (might she overshoot a turn? track downwind?) …the judge will also consider wind when assessing your dog’s performance

2. Can you read your dog at corners? Have you done enough “blind tracks” (with no stakes) to know if your dog has indicated a turn and to trust your dog?

*you don’t have to do a LOT of blind tracks, but you should feel secure in following your dog without the aid of stakes or clothespins…make sure you can trust your tracklayer…if in doubt have them use a subtle marker at the corner, or ask them to use turn warning stakes before the turn, but not tell you which way the track goes unless you get confused

3. Will your dog indicate an article fairly reliably? YOU are the person who has to recognize it, so that is all that matters.

*I recommend ALWAYS placing a reward in the article or treating at the article, so that the only time it doesn’t happen is at the test (***for TD***)…also, remember that the judge might ask how your dog indicates in a test – do NOT use this opportunity to boast! Say they nose it, and if they lie down, all the better!

4. Can your dog do the distance and age of a TD? Check the maps handed out in class and use some of these as patterns to practice with. Check the average times the tracks are aged – usually between 45 minutes and 1:15, but some might be aged longer. Dogs begin to expect a reward at a certain distance…if you don’t begin to add the length, they will have trouble understanding why they haven’t reached a glove, and it could affect their performance.

*this does not mean to make EVERY track 450 metres and 1 hour and 30 minutes long. Start to add variety so your dog never knows what to expect…sometimes there are two articles, sometimes one…sometimes there is a LONG first leg, sometimes several shorter ones and more turns…sometimes it is 30 minutes old and sometimes it is 2 hours old.

5. Is your dog experienced in the changing weather and vegetation? Mornings are getting cooler and damper. Grass is dying and leaves are getting mulched into the ground. Fall is in the air. Be sure your dog gets experience at tracking in the mornings at least once a week to prepare for a morning trial. Training in the evening is good too, but you must practice in the morning for a morning trial.

*remember that dogs have a field where they are comfortable and learn (the home field) but they should also get some experience in strange and new fields…hopefully each of you have found places to practice and are working together, travelling around and helping each other out.

6. Do you feel positive? Remember that the big part of any test is mental. Begin to visualize your successful track. When you are not tracking, imagine how your dog looks when they are negotiating a turn. Think of that great feeling when they are pulling in the harness. Figure out how you will handle things if your dog casts at a turn, and how you will confidently step backwards, lift your arms, and wait for your dog to find the track and pull – how great that will feel…

*the best advice to getting ready to trial is to practice, so that you can visualize every step and work as a team with your dog.

If you don’t feel ready to trial, please consider being a tracklayer on one or both days. Contact the test secretary if you are interested in track laying. It is a great way to learn about tracking, hear the judge’s thoughts and see the dogs in action.

Flashback to 2005! My first tracking blog

In August, 2005, I started the Spiritdance Dogs Blog. The blog was archived a few years after I started a new life in Alberta. I plan to take a journey to some of my first posts, back when people were not sure what a “blog” was, as you can see from these comments on my very first post! This post is an introduction to things that you will see in the Flashbacks, which will focus on tracking posts archived from 2005-2012.

Blog comments - first post

The Flashback posts will be fun too, as my home club, the Thunder Bay Kennel and Training Club celebrates its 40th Anniversary! I am honoured to be judging the tracking tests for this anniversary in September. Many of the people still involved in tracking started out as my students at some point and the flashbacks will feature some of them!

People like Margaret (who commented above) and her Aussie Drake who earned there TD in 2008! Quite a story there – her first field was ripped up by an ATV joyrider, so judge Marie P Babin and I laid her a new track. When we went to run it, it was pouring rain and the field was covered with seagulls. I don’t think Margaret could see, but Drake took her to the glove! And “Cavalier cutie pie” Julie Hutka earned a TCH with her boy Austin too!

Marg and Drake

And here are two great photos of Sigrid Appelt (left) with River’s brother Dante – Sigrid is tossing the glove “Mary Tyler Moore style” after Dante nailed his TDX. Last fall, Ben passed his TDX in this same field, 8 years later! To the right is Katie Jaremy passing TD with Henley, in a 4 minute TD on Horan’s little field in 2008. That was my last test before moving to Alberta.


Also in 2008 – RIVER passed her UTD! The feature photo at the top of this post is of my very first urban track EVER with any dog. This was with River, at a seminar I organized for my students in 2006, bringing Susan Highton in from BC to talk about her Tracking Championship journey (she had the first TCH in CKC history, with her Golden Murphy).

In 2005 I decided to take River out and get back into tracking, after taking off almost two years due to Cancer. She was 5 years old and it was the best decision I could have made for us both – leading to 9 years of great times together. She became my first tracking dog – nearly passing a UTDX for her Tracking Championship at age 11. She was Lindau’s Uncharted Course TDX UTD. It was because of my newfound enthusiasm for life and for tracking with my heart dog River that this blog began. Here is a snip from a 2008 post.

River and Dante and Marie
2008 post on the blog – River and Dante – me and Sigrid. New UTD dogs with judge Marie P Babin! This photo is taken on the lawn where Caden’s final glove was for his UTD in 2014! 

Other characters in the blog are Thorn (Ch Lindau Spiritdance Blackthorn TT JHD TD St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog) and Tch Caden von der KlienenWiese age 2. Thorn never really cared much for tracking, though he did get a TD at age 7 months! He was a great friend though, and died of cancer in 2007. Enter Caden in 2008. Caden was my first working lines GSD. In this photo of Caden (right) we had started to train with Jean Blondin, retired RCMP member. Caden was the best teacher for me, with the help of Dan Waters, and Jean.

Caden and I also had a short IPO career, but CKC tracking took up too much of my time due to apprenticing and judging, and IPO is a 200% sport. From the old blog…

Caden 2009 schH


Here is baby Caden at 5 months – same age as Micah now! This was taken back home in Thunder Bay, in the driveway of my hobby farm on Melbourne Road.

Caden 5 months

And speaking of babies – Tch Spiritdance Blackthorn Ben is also featured on this blog along with his sire and dam – TCH Jet (right) and Ted. Ben was born in 2011.

Ben Jet Ted 2011.PNG

Little did I know when I started this blog that three of my dogs would become Tracking Champions – Jet, Caden and Ben! It is like a dream!

But don’t worry – the flashbacks will focus on a fun look back at TRACKING!


Next Flashback: September 2005: Are you ready to enter a tracking test?

A “Tail” of Two Tracks

You just never know. It’s sort of like a test. One day everything goes right and on another, things don’t add up as you hoped. This pretty much sums up my weekend! Yesterday’s “hard track” went very well, and today’s “restful, fun and easy track” was a challenge! But both days had great wins and we learned a lot.

We are about 5 weeks out from our next try at UTDX. Last fall Ben did a “half-UTDX” (is that like a half-marathon?) and I identified some things to work on this winter. His tracking is great; articles are good; tolerance of distraction needed work. He soldiered through his track last fall but he and I had some holes in our bucket that we’ve been trying to plug – particularly his sensitivity to lurking students! We’ve done very well on this.

You can’t really change a dog’s personality, but what you can do is make sure he knows he’s supported and work through things together, positively. I worked a lot on MY handling and how I let Ben know I am with him, and that he is not up there on his own when things happen!

Ben’s tail was like a flag both days when we passed students. But yesterday he was cocky and today he was stressed. Yesterday, he did a beautiful, challenging track. Today he did a beautiful track that ended in a bit of a mess but in the end – we learned a lot and we are far enough from the test that pushing him, and pushing myself this way had a ton of value that I will process as we now begin to ease off and make things positive and fun sliding into test motivation mode.


1. When Ben is ON, I love his Border Collie crouch and intensity

2. His elimination of directions (which is something I teach):

Yesterday near the end, on the road – he checks the boulevard, then returns to find the track on the road. Video link HERE to view this in action.


And today in our first parking lot, turn at the centre median curb – he crosses the curb and says “Hey, no scent here!” Then comes back, finds it, and at a break in the curb quickly determines that he should stay on the correct side, to get to his light switch just ahead on the boulevard! Video link HERE to view this in action.


3. We always have fun and I enjoy his company, plus I take Jet and Ted the oldsters out for a walk at the same time. Tracking is FUN and enjoyable! 

April 22 Earth Day Track – the “hard” track

Yesterday, I planned a hard track, with the goal of following up with an easy, restful track today. As they say – best laid plans!

Yesterday’s track was 1030 meters and aged 6 hours – which is older than the average UTDX which should be 3-5 hours. It was also far longer than the average UTDX which would probably come in under 700 m and maybe even closer to 630 metres. I laid it around a student residence in hopes of some opportunities to interact and practice our teamwork. Prior to the track I did an article game (previous post on this blog). To boot, when we ran this track, the winds had picked up and were gusting!


The track went very, very well! I am so proud of how Ben did, even when a student appeared by surprise from between two residence buildings. Ben’s tail went up like a flag but he carried on bravely! He was dead on the track and completed it with a beautiful non-veg turn.

Ben tail
Student’s shadow can be seen and Ben’s special tail is UP but he carried on beautifully yesterday

You can see this part of the track on VIDEO HERE

Right after the incident of the student lurker I made sure Ben calmed down and he did some lovely tracking – note the difference here in his tail immediately after passing the student:

Ben went on to complete this track with a long leg and open angle turn, then another long leg to a metal article, near a chain link fence.

VIDEO of the open angle turn to an article HERE

VIDEO of the leg to the metal article (feature image at the top) – made me so happy as this article was placed off track deliberately! And he did a beautiful turn in gusting winds!


TODAY I laid a 710 m track. Yes – longer than it was meant to be because I got a bit ‘lost’ trying to approach things in a different way. It is a lovely humid and cool day with damp veg. I only aged the track for one hour.

This should have been an easy track. What happened? 

First of all – I am really sick today. I forced myself out, with ringing ears, and I believe, a fever and body ache. “Must practice….,” I said to myself. I made it to church (of course – if I am going to track, I darn well better make it to church first!) and then called off friends saying I planned a short track, then home to recover from a bug.

Track too long! Why didn’t I approach from the normal end? I ran out of parking lots and went into a parking lot I have never used which was covered with geese, and surrounded by geese. I usually end in the parking lot at the bottom – but it is always good to try new things (maybe NOT when you wanted something easy though…)


Geese. Everywhere. And their droppings.

Jet Ted geese
12 year olds Jet and Ted helped gently persuade geese to leave the roadway where cars were trying to get by. It was really sweet to let them do this, but the geese are annoying!

Students – two more appeared out of nowhere today. That is NOT what I wanted for this track. Today, Ben’s tolerance level was lower. His tail was UP UP UP twice on this track. It is “funny” but not funny, as mostly I just want him to soldier by. I am reminded of my own advice to people to not overtrain cross tracks, because you inadvertently can make them an issue. Have I over trained ‘students?’ EEEK!

Student tail
Today’s tail. But sadly he was more stressed after this encounter than he was yesterday

Line got tangled: It happens! But what a comedy of errors in a row today! Good it happened today though and we worked it out. Yesterday’s “hard” track looks easier and easier as I type this out though! Although he carried on, he was markedly more stressed with each of these things on the track adding to it.


Truck: As we approached the final turn, a truck idled waiting for us. Ben crossed nicely. Not sure if this bothered him, but it made me rush a bit and really – I needed to be handling Ben thinking “the last turn” not “gather up the line and say thank you!”

Truck waits

Finally: Stress became evident at the end when he circled the new parking lot several times as he tested directions. That parking lot – long and narrow and covered with geese – was not our friend.

End of traack
The END of today’s track! Nothing sweeter than this

You can watch a video of the end of the track HERE!  It isn’t our best work (by far!), but I am never one to hide because my goal is always to share and hopefully help others! No one ever has perfect tracks every time, but we can all have perfect practice. 

The good news – is that we did it! This was our last HARD WEEKEND before the test. I always try to peak my training the way runners and elite athletes peak theirs. I gave Ben his line and let him take me on these tracks. He never stops working and on both tracks, made all of the right choices.

The wins – after a track like this one today it is important to tally the good things! 

  • Beautiful start today and lovely dead on turns

VIDEO of the start HERE

  • Beautiful circle and negative as he hits his first parking lot

VIDEO of Ben overshooting his turn, then circling back to find it (I teach this!)

  • Lovely search for the turn around a raised concrete median – identical to how he found his road turn yesterday through elimination (something I teach – as noted above)
  • Great article indications!!!!!!!!!! YEAH!
  • No attention at all to any geese or geese droppings across “goose lawn”

VIDEO of Ben crossing “goose lawn” HERE

  • Crossed a bridge – dead on!
  • Soldiered on past students, though visibly stressed
  • Aside from the final parking lot, dead on the track the whole way

Great observations for me, the biggest being to realize that as his stress builds, he gets less precise and I need to talk more to him positively and shorten my line – I don’t know why I let so much out at the end which you will see in the video and can only blame my fever.

I love training. I love tracking! It is such a process and always leaves me feeling happy, even on the tough days. As I type this, my dogs are all sleeping. Jet and Ted went for a nice walk with me while I laid the track. They are 12 this year and it is hard to believe they are aging so much. Ben is satisfied – as tracking is a great physical and mental activity for our dogs.

This is my last free weekend until the May long weekend! I am off to give a seminar in Regina, then judge a test in Red Deer, and then give another seminar in Olds Alberta!

Happy tracking and as always, have fun and enjoy the journey! I always give thanks to God for the luxury of enjoying this hobby especially in a world filled with strife. We are very lucky and no track should ever leave you feeling sad or unhappy. It is a sport where we can try for personal bests and always treasure the company of our dogs, like-minded friends and for me, there is a closeness to God I feel when I am out alone on days like today.

These are all great experiences! Ben posed at the end as usual!

Donna and Ben
Spiritdance Blackthorn Ben TDX UTD