Yesterday I did a very interesting track with Ben as part of the lesson day at my Mini-Tracking Camp at Olds College. It was 950 m and 5 hours old. I laid it at 7:30 am in fog and on wet veg. I ran it at 12:35 noon in strong wind, on dry veg. It is a wandering, meandering track that goes past scent draws and has articles in strange places, to create what I hoped were some teachable moments. My plan was to talk about how I handled him through issues and to give him enough loose line that he was doing the track, and to support him the best I could without doing any manipulating (as if I had no idea where it went!)
So as you watch, these are some his challenges:
a loop around the end of a fence
past a stair well into a low library entrance
past a corridor between buildings where there is a chain link fence
past a loading dock that goes downhill
past an abbatoir with a stinky waste container and livestock chute
over a road to a turn on gravel that is on the wrong side of a fence
along a long boulevard where an article is tossed off track
and finally to his parking lot turn where I deliberately mishandle his turn
Add in age, complexity, wind, dry and wandering students!
This is never a track I would lay for someone else, or for a test! It starts at the top and ends to the left (quite near the start!). The articles (red circles) in order were: wood, cloth sock, metal on a sliver of grass in a huge non-veg area – EEK! – leather – hidden between a row of concrete curbs, leather – tossed off track between two curbs on a long easy straight stretch that he could have trotted by, plastic light switch and finally a leather work glove hidden beside a metal box, BEHIND two waste bins.
Something I love about tracking is the mystery of it all. What will happen? Will he do it? Will he be really confused? What will be the hardest parts? How will I do? Can we get to the end?
Ben is UTDX ready, so I felt confident he could do it, but hoped we would have some good times along the way talking about each of these problems and how I handled him. You can’t hear a lot, and we talked more about the track afterwards, but you will see me do things like lengthen or shorten my line, stay put – or – go with him, let him circle, encourage him verbally, have a rest break, or simply follow along as he looks good on track, staying out of his way.
Overall, I am just thrilled with how he did. This track took him just over 20 minutes to complete – steady work the entire way. I have a hip injury, so I am more worn out than Ben as I hobbled along. It was also cold all morning, but now I was hot with two hoodies under my rain pullover. I think I fared worse than Ben!
Hitting the parking lot turn at the end of a track like this is tough when a dog has been working hard and the handler is also tired. In this case, at the 20 minute mark, Ben hits it and immediately turns the correct way (right). As you can see, I keep my body squared neutrally to face the direction we were going. He sniffs a pine cone, and I “pretend” here that I just think that’s all it is – ONLY A PINE CONE!
Well, that pine cone could have made the difference between a nice turn and a difficult one, or even a pass/fail in a sensitive, tired dog. I have no doubt that Caden my TCH German Shepherd would have towed me to the right no matter what I did. But because I don’t honour Ben’s turn right, he comes back to look around. In part, this is because in my training, I always honour a direction a dog shows me. Plus – we know that the first inclination of most dogs is usually correct.
When Ben goes straight, I follow. He does not want to go between the chain link opening into an enclosed area and we turn around. He comes back and tries the other way (left) but stops at the road. At this point you will hear me say – “This could be me in a test!” I could definitely hold my ground here now, thinking we have exhausted straight and left, and hope for another try at the right turn and back to that pine cone. It may now be occurring to me that Ben was not sniffing the pine cone as much as he was telling me, I think it is this way, and now I am checking out evidence.
Had I turned my body there, when he went right to the pine cone, he may well have continued on for a very smooth non-veg turn.
I decided to show how we can also go back to recheck our entry into the parking lot, if it is that close (in this instance it was) but this can be hard if the judge has come this close. Most judges would not be this close to you however. Ben circles the veg, comes back and neatly makes a right turn. Since he had an article after a non-veg turn earlier in the track, I opt to put this one on veg behind waste containers. Ben does look like he is gamely looking for an article but finds his final one to end after a job well done!
This was a hard track – and NOT a blind track. I believe I can learn more about my dogs when I lay their tracks, and learn how they move and what they are telling me. I am very grateful to Cindy Thomas who videotaped this! I didn’t ask for it. If I had, I would have combed my hair and taken off at least one layer from under the rain jacket!!
It is so neat to see Ben work. He is a game worker with a lot of heart. His mother is my TCH Jet and his sire is my Ted. They are Maid and Pleat kids respectively, from their well-known breeders Scott and Jenny Glen, Alta-Pete Stockdogs. Ben may not be working sheep, but he certainly shows his working heritage on track.
I enjoyed the three-day Mini-Camp so much! Day one was beginners and field, Day two was urban and Day three (the day of this video) was spent giving individual lessons. If you are interested in tracking, seminars, and online individual coaching support please visit my website > My Dogs tab for information and contact me. This is my passion and I love to help others on their tracking journey too.
Urban Plotting exercise. On Sunday I decided to lay a track for Ben. There were so many options and I wanted something different. Along the way I thought about all of the ways I could make this track different – not better or worse (I hope).
Urban mysteries – why do some tracks just fail? Are there such things as traps, dead zones, flow, black holes? To get the best outcome, plot the best you can, and learn to cope with the rest. Scent moves in urban environments. We may not always understand it.
Plotting 3 ways in the same area. Learn by observation. Plot some bad tracks and run them. Learn how to handle your way out of it. See what your dog can do.
Exercise: What I was thinking when I laid this for Ben; at key intersections, what could have been different.
Things to think about –
Start / Turn locations and number of turns / Length of legs / Article placement and type/ Transitions / Bait / Terrain and buildings / Obstacles / Areas to avoid / Linear or double back / Ratio of veg to non veg / End / Total length / Walkout / Age / and when running it – wind if any and weather conditions.
Here is the map, from my TomTom Runner’s watch. Start is at the right (green dot) and it is linear.
Google Earth image. 650 m / 200 is non veg
START – my track is in blue
Other colours are options and possibilities
Looking back – the start is at the top (photo taken from the road)
Turn One and options – blue track is the one I did (the little bridge)
Location of the track and optional leg to article one – metal
Tonight as I was out tracking, I thought a lot about how a journey seems to close with one dog, and a new one begins with another. It was a bittersweet feeling. I am excited to track with Ben now, but after working so hard with Caden, I find it hard to let go of working with him… I don’t want that journey to end! I gave a lot of thought to what’s next. Here is a description of the evening and my goals for the coming year.
Tracking Champion Caden von der Kleinen Wiese
I wanted Caden to finish his advanced titles so badly! He did it, and I am so glad. He’s going to be 8, and Ben needs more attention. But… today, I had time to take Ben out to do an urban track, and I felt like a traitor not doing anything with Caden. I think I will keep Caden’s skills strong, so that I can enter him in tests to support tests that don’t fill. He is such a joy to follow on a track. After I ran Ben, I took Caden out and let him re-run the track to the final glove, which we left for him. He ran it with such intensity. He has no idea about training or tests. He just loves to work.
Spiritdance Blackthorn Ben TD – son of Jet and Ted
In 2013-14 I regularly did urban tracks with Ben. This year, I decided to just focus on his field tracking and footstep work, offering him all kinds of scenarios to ensure he was solid. Now I can do urban again and he has not forgotten it at all! I believe the confidence on the field carries over to urban tracking. Tonight he did a 45 minute old track that was about 250 metres, with 3 leather articles. He did this so well!
His turn is on a crack with weeds which I crushed under my runners – and it helped him to make a very confident non-veg turn. I think we will be ready for UTD next spring. Ben has come a long way from his start, at 4 months old (below). I’m so proud of him!
TED – Ted is a son of Scott Glen’s well-known Pleat, and looks so much like Pleat
Ted is a TD hopeful!
I have tried to train Ted before. He is Ben’s father and was trained to herd sheep by Scott Glen. I bought him as a ‘started dog’ from Scott in 2007. Ted was two and had all of his basic commands. We moved to Alberta the next year, and have not had luck pursuing herding, hence a focus on tracking.
When he was younger, Ted clearly detested tracking. I’ve tried twice to start him and even entered him into a test for his TD (fail). His heart just has not been in it. Now that he is 10, he is still very athletic and so bright. It seems like he should have more attention and a little job.
Tonight I did a track with 5 articles, including three leather gloves. Ted LOVES to play and I always let him play with gloves after the other dogs have tracked. I did a track for him that followed a chain link fence. He did well along here – happy and wagging.
At each glove, we stopped to play. I may have asked too much – I turned away from the fence to go over a little berm and double back. With help, he figured it out – and he took the third turn on his own, to track with no fenceline and less bait – to his last glove. I was just elated!
At one point, I was trying to pick up an article on the fly and he got way ahead of me looking so motivated! Ted is actually very smart, but can act goofy, and he is a character. Tonight I can see that he remembers and understands tracking. I’ve decided I will train Ted while Ben’s tracks are aging.
And then, there is JET
Tracking Champion Alta-Pete Jet. She is a daughter of Diane Pagel (Scott Glen’s) Open dog Maid
Jet finished her TCH in 2012 right after my father died. She is the only Border Collie to date to become a Tracking Champion, and she has been such a great partner. Sadly, Jet is always a bit sore and has a bad back and sore hip. Tonight, after everyone else worked – I took her out and we cleaned up treats left by Ted, then played ball.
She is younger than Ted but seems years older. It is so hard to see her age. She and I had a wonderful journey together. With my dear River gone. Jet is my only girl, in a house full of boys!
How I treasure her. It seemed like a nice way to cool down after serious training. Thanks Jet!
Goals for next year
BEN – UTD then get working on TDX and UTDX
TED – TD (and have fun!)
CADEN – enter UTDX to support tests, if it is feasible, keep up his training. Caden will also become a walking and hopefully, running dog. At age 7.5 he is slowing down, a bit!
JET – love that little Peanut and enjoy every moment with her, walking and keeping her in shape
*to view larger versions of the photos, click on the photo, then use the back arrow to return to the post.
This weekend I had the pleasure of judging the first CKC tracking test hosted by a new club in Alberta known as the Central Alberta Tracking Society or C.A.T.S. It was a successful weekend with 5 new TDs and 1 new TDX over two days. Working with me was Shirley Klatt of Grand Prairie Alberta. Shirley is completing the requirements to become a CKC tracking test judge for TD and TDX. She plotted or assisted with the final TDs and TDXs required over the weekend.
Saturday October 24 – 5 TDs and 1 TDX A cool morning at 2C and a wet field of short cut hay made for nice conditions for the dogs. All TDs had 4 corners, with an open angle to the article, on average 420 metres and a blind track, aged 30-45 minutes.
TD #1 PASS
Black Russian Terrier, 4 year old male – Midnight Solo Wriley TD. Wriley is handled by his owner Dan Wing, from St. Albert Alberta (near Edmonton). Wriley footstep tracked the entire track with small checks at each turn and a platz at the glove to become the first TD for this new club.
This is Dan’s first tracking test and we believe this may be the first BRT TD. Tracklayer was Michael Craig, who laid three TDs on Saturday.
TD #2 This Boxer made it to the final turn which was an open angle. She made a 90 degree turn and continued too far to recover.
TD #3 PASS
GSD, 3 year old female – Broomeacres CC Black Magic Kona TD. Kona is handled by her owner Debbie Whitesell of Red Deer. She did a footstep track to the very last corner, at which point she firmly convinced Debbie to follow her on an open angle to the glove! Tracklayer was Margaret Wing.
This Nova Scotia Duck Toller was doing a beautiful job, dead on the track. Unfortunately, just when it looked like she had turn 3 (to the right), she backed up and pulled her handler strongly left too far off track.
This Boxer turned too soon from his first leg, slightly recovering only to turn again, too soon, and too far from leg two.
TDX #1 – PASS
Hovowart, 3 year old female – Fallon Quinn vom Treuen Freund TDX UTD. Quinn is handled by her owner, Tanja Klagge, who drove for two days to take part in this test. I recognized her right away at the draw, as I judged her successful UTD last year in Courtenay BC, and I remember what a great track she did that day.
On this day, she passed a 940 metre TDX that started at exactly 3 hours old. This blind track had 5 turns, two knolls, a dry ditch and three changes in cover including grass, grass – dirt stubble and dry tall marsh grass.
Quinn had a confident track almost the entire way: her turns were dead on, every article was clearly indicated. She completely ignored the crosstrack on leg 2, but on leg 3 she searched the crosstrack both ways, before returning to the primary track. We are so glad she worked it out. We believe she may be the first Hovowart TDX.
Well worth the drive this weekend! UTDX next! Thank you to tracklayer Jacquie Moore who laid a TDX and a TD on Saturday. There is a picture of Shirley and me plotting Quinn’s track below near the end of this post.
Sunday, October 25 – 5 TDs, TDX absent, all alternates absent A cold morning at – 6C with bright sun. This field was a lush hayfield with dense, short grass. All TDs had 4 turns.
TD #1 PASS
Nova Scotia Duck Toller, 6 year old female – CH Kelticfox’s Daisy Head Mayzie CD, PCD, RA TD. Mayzie is handled by her owner Leanne Hurl of Sherwood Park (near Edmonton). She did a calm and steady track, only checking off track near some tall grass, and again where something (deer? coyote?) crossed her track – RIGHT BEFORE her article! It made it a TD with a natural crosstrack.
Facing the blazing morning sun in bright frosty conditions, Leanne could barely see for the entire track, and suddenly, Mayzie indicated with a very pretty down. Thanks to tracklayer Wes Haynes, who laid three tracks today!
TD #2 PASS
Debbie and Kona the GSD who passed yesterday were able to enjoy a second TD pass today, as the alternate chose not to attend the test this morning. Kona did another lovely job, throwing in some happy leaps today (she must have known yesterday was the ‘serious’ day!) Thanks to tracklayer Wes Haynes.
TD #3 PASS
Rottweiler, 6 year old male – Multi V-Rated Nightshadow Braxhaven in Action BH, SE, RN, NAC, O-NJC, TN-N, HP-N, CRN-CL, SD-SP, HIC, TT TD. Gibson is handled by owner Audra Sinclair of Red Deer County. Gibson stepped off the track a few times on leg one, then was dead on to the entire end – 6 minutes start to finish.
Audra says she does not remember jogging behind him. Thanks to tracklayer Jacquie Moore.
TD #4 PASS
Boxer, 5 year old male – Ch. Cyntech’s Smooth Criminal RN, SD-SP TD. Rocky is handled by Cindy Thomas, breeder and co-owner with Donna Rodes, of Red Deer. Rocky did a circle at each corner, then pulled Cindy along each leg to the final article.
His final leg was 120 metres and on this leg he built up a lot of forward momentum really leaning into his harness. The wind was coming up and blowing the article scent straight at him. He is apparently very good at nosework, and must have known that article was waiting for him. Thanks to tracklayer Jacquie Moore.
TD #5 This Boxer, who only missed her last turn yesterday, tracked to just beyond turn two when she stopped and began to paw at her eye. The wind had picked up for this track. Her handler noticed that her dog had a very irritated eye and after checking it out, decided to retire her girl and declined a second track opportunity. A heartbreaker, but we know she is ready for next year. Thanks to tracklayer Wes Haynes. As her boy (above) passed, it was still a happy day.
**Update October 26. Cindy has shared that CJ certainly does have an ulcerated eye, so it is a good thing that she did retire her girl. Dog comes first! Tracking is a hobby, and there will be more tests. Good decision Cindy. I hope she heals up fast.
The TDX alternate was absent today.
This was the C.A.T.S.’ first tracking test in the Central Alberta area. It filled with alternates and entrants came in from Vancouver, Calgary, Red Deer and the Edmonton area. The members worked very hard and the test was well-organized with very nice fields. Thanks to the tracklayers – Michael Craig, Wes Haynes, Jacquie Moore, Margaret Wing, Marilee Irwin. Without your stinky feet we would not have a test. Other club members also pulled together to make this test a success.
As I live just south of Red Deer, it was a treat to pick away at plotting over the course of a week at fields only 30 minutes from home. The Alberta fields are huge and the big sky made for some beautiful photos. It was also a pleasure to work with Shirley Klatt, who now completes her apprenticeship and will be another judge for Alberta tests. We all enjoyed her company and her contributions to the test outcomes.
As the alternate as absent on Sunday, we had to pick up the stakes for the TDX. Without aging it, we gave Jacquie Moore a chance to run it with her Bouvier NV. NV just won the Nationals Bouvier TOP 20 in Colorado. She was also BOS at the famous Westminster dog show last year. I believe this girl is also a natural tracker. Jacquie worked hard to lay tracks this weekend so we thought this would be fun. NV tracked the entire 940 metres. Next year, I think Jacquie will be in the tests!
This summer my personal training was like a part-time job. I was training Caden for the two most advanced tracking titles – Tracking Dog Excellent and Urban Tracking Dog Excellent. I was also motivating Ben to complete a TD (beginners) test, knowing he is capable of it, but making sure he could perform consistently in all situations. Caden’s advanced tests would each be 3-5 hours old with 3 articles. The field track (TDX) has crosstracks, and the urban track (UTDX) has 1/3 – 1/2 non-veg surface. Since I was entering both in Thunder Bay, I often laid both tracks and ran them back to back – just in case this happened at the test. And guess what – it happened!
By the end of the test I had a new Tracking Champion and a new TD dog. I am so grateful to Karen Boyes who always organizes a fantastic test, and to our judge Marie P. Babin who plots and judges so fairly – she is my role model as a judge. Pass or fail, I always feel good about either result when she is judging as I know we’ve had the best opportunity possible.
Day one – September 25 – Ben drew TD #3. I was so happy to watch my friend from Edmonton pass her TD with her Airedale Terrier Reggie. I had talked Peggy McCallum into entering in Thunder Bay, knowing that the conditions are always nice for tests, with high humidity and wet mornings perfect for tracking.
After Peggy and Reggie, we all watched Joan Kleinendorst pass a TD with her Cairn Terrier Skye. This is Joan’s third tracking Cairn. Her first, Dundee, was in my classes in Thunder Bay in the 90s. Her second, Stirling (son of Dundee) just finished his Tracking Championship last June and I was honoured to be the judge for that test. Ben and I passed too! We drew a field I’ve never been in, but I have seen other dogs pass their TDs in it way back when – notably Karen Boyes’ TCH Aussie, Penny, and Julie Hutka’s TCH Cavalier Austen. I felt it was a good omen and sure enough Ben trucked through the four turns and did a very nice down indication at the end. Yippee!
Next up on day one were four TDXs. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen so many TDXs in a test. I drew TDX#3. The first two entrants did not complete their tracks, and sadly, neither did Caden. It was a beautiful field, wet and lush. For reasons I’ll never know, he insisted strongly on a left turn when the track went to the right. Tracking is a sport where we trust our dogs, as we cannot see the track. When he pulled that strongly I had no choice to but to follow.
Hearing that whistle is so jarring but I am expert at unsuccessful attempts! After tracking for 25 years, with Collies, German Shepherds and Border Collies, I’ve had my fair share of failed tests. It is a part of tracking that we all must learn to accept. The track was fair and plotted by the judge following the CKC rules – and sometimes we will never know what happened when our dogs insist on a wrong turn… or perhaps we have misread them or handled in a way to lead to a failed attempt.
When it happens, I try to think about what I can learn from the day and go forward. The last TDX of the day also had a rough time, so all four of us were in the same boat, hoping for day two.
Day two – September 26 – since there were no alternates, I was able to run Ben again on a new field! Ben did it again, and I had a happy start to the day. On to the TDXs once again. Once again, I drew TDX #3 – the last TDX of the morning. At the morning draw, I also drew UTDX#1. This meant that Caden and I would have back to back advanced tracks. The rules state that if an exhibitor that has more than one entry craws consecutive tracks, they have the option to redraw. However, they do not address an exhibitor drawing consecutive tracks with the SAME dog. In these days of combined and two day tests, I think the wording should be changed. I am always careful to follow rules (and more so, being a judge).
I had trained for this possibility, but knew it would be tough on Caden (and me!). I was glad TDX was first and that Caden would be fresh for that test. We have had trouble finding suitable fields for training and this was the test I was most concerned about.
Once again, the first two TDXs did not pass. It’s easy to be influenced by this, so I worked at maintaining a positive attitude and followed my rituals. The field was HUGE and one I have never seen or been in before. I looked out over the field and thought, this track can go anywhere! As I pulled Caden out of the van, I noticed he had a bleeding nose from barking in his crate. Great. On top of this, the temperature had risen into the 20s and the wind was up.
Off we went with a good start. He found article one and headed off for two more confident legs. At turn four – he circled and circled. Straight ahead was a thicket of dead brush. The track could have crossed the little field road leading to that thicket, or it could go left, or right. There was a hill just behind us to the left. I believe the wind must have been swirling here, as Caden repeatedly went ahead and lifted his head into the air, then circled without choosing a direction.
“Trust your dog” was all I kept thinking to myself. I have a tendency to overthink and I had told myself that on this day, he was in charge.
Finally he went left with purpose. Was I happy to see article two! For both articles he did a nice platz (down) indication. From there he was on to the end. He came over that hill to the final article and did a short search to find it.
I heard a cheer from the gallery and I literally collapsed to the ground. I think I was dehydrated and it was very hot. It was a well-earned title for Caden. We posed for some photos, then off we went for his try at UTDX.
I told everyone in the parking lot at Lakehead University that I was so happy to pass the TDX that I was just going to have fun on this UTDX track. It is a hard test and the winds had picked up even more, coming from the east and from the direction of Lake Superior. I poured a whole jug of water over Caden and rubbed him down so he was soaked, plus gave him a good drink. The area where we started is one I’ve seen used before for UTDs. Looking ahead I thought “a UTDX can’t fit here!” I was dying for a coffee. My head was throbbing. I was still in a stupor from the TDX.
At the flag, Caden took off. Suddenly he took a 90 degree turn to the right and I told myself to snap out of it! My dog was in the game and I was not thinking straight! Over a road, he suddenly started to cast back and forth, and then he pulled me to the left to a cloth mitten. Article #1! Shock was setting in. Seriously. Even though I had trained for this, to see him doing it in a test was surreal.
Off he went again, suddenly veering right. I did a quick look to the left and realized there was no way it went left so looked ahead and saw a bike path and a tunnel ahead.
THE TUNNEL! I’d never seen a track go through it. I felt giddy, as Caden roared through at full speed and then took another sharp right turn and then a left turn in the parking lot. I later heard that our judge Marie and tracklayer Deb Gavin were running to keep up with him.
Caden suddenly stopped and started to cast again. That blessed east wind was blowing article scent to him. He cast back and stopped at a wood article. Article #2!
At this point, I started to think he might really do this. I am embarrassed to say I was in in a fog. I went back and re-walked the track the next day to remember everything. He took off over a ditch, gravel and more grass, turning right in a ditch.
At this point he proceeded along a stretch of grass, a road cross and onto a big lawn directly across from the cemetery where my parents are buried. I remember saying to myself, “Mom and Dad, maybe you can see me, and I could use some help!”
Caden veered to the right and pulled me to a piece of paper which he diligently sniffed. I thought he was being visual, but later found out that the piece of paper was right on his leg. As we emerged onto the knoll, I could feel that wind. It pushed Caden to the left and he circled in and out of some large, decorative evergreens on the downward slope of the knoll. I simply followed him as he worked and worked this area.
I saw that his tongue was hanging out of the side of his mouth. He went to a tree and relieved himself. He rarely will do this on a track and I approached and squirted water into his mouth. I thought that he was done – and it would have been ok, as he had given me everything he had.
I prayed, “God, please help my dog.” I know that God has big things to worry about, but I also believe he cares about our happiness and I’ve always felt close to God when I track. Plus, it was Sunday, and I had started the morning with a prayer of thanks for a good day ahead, no matter the outcome. I’ve always believed that we are so lucky to enjoy this hobby when there is so much strife in the world.
I looked down and saw that piece of paper again. As I was dwelling on the fact that we were back to that point, Caden suddenly took off again! This time, he pulled me to the right, and within seconds, he was standing at what looked like a rotten, black banana peel. I walked up gingerly, and saw that it was a black leather glove.
As I picked it up I heard that sweet sound of cheering from the crowd. I had actually forgotten they were there. Marie and Debbie came for hugs. Pass!
It hit me that Caden was now a Tracking Champion. I thought I would simply have a fun time on that UTDX track. It was our first attempt at that title. My Border Collie Jet also passed on her first try. I love urban, and I am sure I pass it on to my dogs. There wasn’t a lot of time to gush, because my friend Katie Jaremy was running UTDX #2 with her Golden, Scarlett. We drove to the College and watched as Katie and Scarlett calmly made their way to the end, with the second UTDX pass of the day!
We did the rosette and medallion presentations and headed off for a lunch together. I looked around at the familiar faces. I am from Thunder Bay and everyone at the table feels like family to me. Plus, there were my two Alberta friends, Peggy and Judy Wallace. Without Judy’s offer to travel together in her van, I would not have been at this test.
To what do I attribute passing these back to back tests? Mostly I thank God and am happy when things come together. Certainly, I train a LOT. Anyone who wants to succeed at a sport knows that time and miles that are dedicated to training. I have cobbled together my own ideas over the years and worked hard with Caden to harness his drive in a way that I can be a worthy partner.
At this test, as with any, things aligned. It was one of those dream weekends, between Caden and Ben’s passes and the joy of seeing others do well too. I’ve been lucky to have great training partners, friends and mentors. I’m especially thankful to retired RCMP member Jean Blondin and to Dan Waters, President of the GSD SchH Club of Calgary for all of their patience and kind help over the years with Caden.
Tracking is such a great sport because we all root for each other. This kind of positive energy is crucial to doing well too. We also have to factor in the conditions, the judge’s expertise in offering good tracks to each team, the help of the tracklayers, and the organization that goes smoothly so there are no hitches and no anxiety.
And then of course, there is the dog. Caden is by no means an easy dog with his high drive. But he has a great heart and strong desire to work. Behind him on his dam’s side are 8 generations of German National Herding Champions. On his sire’s side – the well known Orry vom Haus Antwerpa, who won the SchH Worlds two times, and Siggo, an Orry son who won the American Police Nationals.
When I got Caden, I knew he would be more challenging as he’s my first working lines GSD, but I really did not know what I was in for. He has been a great teacher. And he is now Tracking Champion Caden von der Kleinen Wiese. I can’t thank his breeder Sandy Wilson (Pennsylvania) enough for trusting me with this boy. I’ve learned so much with him; and I learn from every dog I’ve trained along the way.
All this aside, what I love about CKC tracking is that any dog has the opportunity to go all the way with the right training and motivation. Sometimes, we fail. Sometimes, it is our day. Every dog I’ve trained has been different and it is our job to bring out the best in each one.
I’ve been tracking since 1989 and this is the second ‘dream weekend’ I’ve experienced. The first was in 1994 when I passed two TDXs, back to back, with my GSD Hawk, and my Rough Collie Kate. I remember the judge, Dawn Sanderson, saying enjoy it, because it doesn’t happen often. 21 years later, I’ve had another!
Thank you Caden and Ben. You are good boys. And now, a new journey begins with Ben. I am looking forward to new challenges and as ever, the wonderful quiet times out early with my dogs. As for Caden, he is moving into a new challenge with me, to be my running partner. Wish us luck!
More pictures from this great weekend are below! Including the maps. You can click on the image to see it in a larger size:
More pictures of Caden’s UTDX
The day after the test, Caden was just a dog – swimming and having fun. The Border Collie family also had a fun swim and walk!
My two TCH dogs. Best of friends, and both passed on their first attempts. I love urban and the dogs do too.
And thank you Ted for being a great tracklaying assistant. Maybe there is still a TD in your future🙂
Each of these maps represents a choice for a UTDX track at Red Deer College in Central Alberta. I’ve played around with all of them over the years. I know this area and they all work – no fences or barriers to worry about when you are ‘on the ground.’ One map is 615 m and another is 730 m, with the others all in-between.
A UTDX by the rules must meet these requirements:
600 – 750 metres
1/3 to 1/2 non-veg
3 – 5 hours old
5-7 turns both left and right and no acutes less than 45 degrees
At least one 90 degree turn on a non-veg surface plotted so that the leg after the turn is at least 25 metres long before changing back to vegetated surface (or the track ends with the final article)
Obstacles such as guardrails, stairs, open buildings (gazebos and breezeways) are permitted but it cannot enter a closed building
3 articles must be placed, with the first at 100 metres, the second somewhere between the first and last, and the third at the end. The first two can be cloth, metal, wood or plastic. The last article is always leather.
On each of these maps below, I have put a measuring line showing 100 metres to help you eye up leg length. Where tracks cross a road and are parallel on the other side, the minimum distance on these maps is 70 m and the maximum is 100, so none are connected by a short, 30 m leg (in which case, they cannot be parallel).
Remembering that scent works differently in an urban environment, things to think about are listed here – but most of these can’t truly be assessed until you are walking and plotting. Note – some judges like to plot up to two days in advance to allow scent to leave an area, in case they have walked in multiple directions. Frequently a judge will go look at an area and ask the tracklayer to stay put to prevent tracklayer scent from spreading too much:
Cars moving scent up and down on roads
Proximity to buildings that can loft scent or hold scent along the walls
Scent refraction near trees and lightposts
Scent spread on flat, non-veg surfaces like asphalt parking lots
Curbs, bus stations, parking pay stations, building doorways and main entrances, sidewalks where scent might flow or be drawn away from the track
Areas of heavy pedestrian traffic and areas of light or no pedestrian traffic
So – your assignment, Grasshopper, is to look at the blank map, and then the one I did with Caden (Option 1) as well as the other options. The total lengths are provided. There aren’t really any rights or wrongs, but the amount of non-veg will change, leg length will change, article placement will change, problem areas may be included or avoided, and turns may be easy or hard!
I had a hard time deciding on where to put articles on Caden’s track (Option 1) so used 4! Which of the first three would you remove from his track today?
Where would you put articles on the alternate maps?
What type might you use where (cloth, wood, plastic, metal)?
How are you making your decisions? Think – what might help the dog and handler team?
What appeals to you? Don’t let the fact that I did one influence you. It might not be my favourite. I’ve done these others too over the years with Caden and my TCH Jet
What positives do you see for each?
Just because one is shorter – is it easier?
These are all “5 turn” tracks but you could consider that meandering first leg to be two legs as well. Would you add another turn to improve the track (you can have 7 total)
What questions would you have about the tracks? What would you look for on the ground?
Other ideas you would consider? Why not print and play with the blank one!
Blank map with notes about features – click on a map to see it better, then use the back arrow to return
Way back in the old days, we used a paper and pencil to make our maps for tracking. But today…… we use paper and pencil! Ha, gotcha! In the days of so many apps, why do we still do it “old school” for tests? There are a few reasons:
Detail of mapping required with ‘on the ground’ and visible landmarks for turns and articles
Maps must be hand drawn and turned in to the CKC with other information about conditions, timing and tracklayers
Judges know their own paces and measures and while it may not be perfectly dead-on, they ensure that every track is equally measured
The path of the dog is noted on the map when judging – by hand – as the judge watches and follows
Technology can have glitches
I re-measure my own stride every year by walking along with tracking students between markers. It has to be measured on the field, and on hard surfaces, because it will sometimes vary. Paces can also vary depending on your well-being, ground cover and time of year, time of day and if you are tired, gear carried, and the degree of difficulty of the terrain (flat, hilly, steep, wet). Soldiers also include the degree of danger of a mission.
This spring, I used a soccer field on morning one of a seminar, because soccer goals are suppose to be 100 metres apart. I pre-measured it using Google Earth just to be sure! We also measured our stride on a college asphalt parking lot.
I like to count paces because in the Tally System (used by engineers, foresters, other outdoorsy types) only every LEFT footstep is counted. Lower numbers work for me! The Tally System is tried and true for measuring distance and also for estimating travel time and is based on the number of paces someone would take to travel a measure of one kilometre.
The average paces for 100 m in the Tally System are:
1 step = 2’6″ or 762 mm
1 pace = 5 feet or 1.525 m
65 paces = 100 metres or ONE TALLY
10 Tallies = 1 kilometre
If you’ve ever used the symbols at the top of this post, you have used this old, old method of counting tallies.
Tracking measures – rough distance in km and tallies (and CKC rules):
TD = ½ km or 4.5 tallies (400-450 m)
TDX = 1 km or 9-10 tallies (900 – 1000 m)
UTD = 1/3 km (3-4 tallies) (300 – 400 m)
UTDX = 2/3 km or 7-7.5 tallies (600 – 750 m)
On average it takes 40 minutes to travel one Km or 10 tallies. Experienced bushwhackers use a small length of string called a Tally Cord, tying knots for every 1 km. Other people use beads on a string. Their advice: if you lose count, start counting at “30” and you will only be out by a half-tally or 50 m – which is great if you aren’t tracking, but for tracking we need much more precision.
Not everyone who tracks knows about the Tally System. However, it is very commonly used in Bloodhound Trailing. I learned about it from a student in my tracking classes who was a member of the North American Search Dog Network with his Bloodhound. To this day, when I lay a long track, I fold one finger for every tally. It works!
Since our tracks are roughly structured around fixed lengths and metres, the Tally (100 metres) is a great tool. Not only is it old school, it is ancient school! In a book called Mathematics in Civilization, the authors H. Resnikoff and R. Wells note that a tally count like the one pictured at the head of this post, was found inscribed on wolf bones that are 30,000 years old.
My paces are as follows:
64 paces = 100 m in the field
60 paces = 100 m on hard surfaces and for urban tracking
And of course, I have measures for the important tracking test distances like 30 m and 50 m. When plotting with inexperienced tracklayers, I usually tell them to use the average paces if they have never measured their stride (even though I am making my own map and placing out stakes in the field which they will remove on test day, it is a good exercise for tracklayers to make their own too).
Measuring wheels are available from hardware stores and can also be wheeled along to measure distances. These are great on urban surfaces, but not that easy to use in the field. They are a bit pricey and people who use them recommend the bigger wheeled version. I have never used one but have played with measuring wheels owned by friends. This is the Lufkin Pro available from Home Depot.
Before I go to judge a test, I play around with Google maps at home or printed versions on the plane. It saves a lot of time to have a game plan. Every tracker should download a free copy of Google Earth, mentioned and linked above, and learn to play with the path feature to pre-plot tracks and measure tracking areas.
BUT experience will show you that it MUST be plotted on the ground to make sure it is accurate, doable and that you have significant landmarks on your map. Google Earth maps may be out of date, and don’t show new fences, snow fencing, construction or new roads and buildings. Other pitfalls are that sometimes, for urban tracking, a flat building roof can look like a parking lot! I know of one judge years ago who pre-plotted urban tracks on building rooftops. The newer version of Google does allow street views and 3-D. Use it!
GPS, Smartphones and Tracking
Who knew that tracking would force us to keep up with internet technology? I absolutely LOVE using new apps and GPS for tracking. It is fun, and way easier than drawing a map by hand. If I am training my own dogs, I use this technology all the time. It has really served to broaden my understanding, or ‘spatial awareness’ of where I am tracking. When I make a map by hand, I look at my immediate surroundings only. The bird’s eye view is given by Google Earth, but it is really enhanced by GPS mapping that shows exactly where you are in real-time, in relation to all of the obstacles and opportunities in the area.
It has heightened my appreciation of the complexity of urban tracking. That one building beside me is not the only thing affecting scent movement or the scent environment. Depending on the day, there can be a domino effect of scent leaping and bounding and swirling and moving, caused by the many other things just beyond what we see from the ground.
I love the app Tracking Dog, which is a German app available for smartphones. It isn’t free, but is not expensive (about $5.00). This app even gives the total metres, weather conditions, and allows you to put tags where you have left articles. The downside is the amount of data it uses on your phone. By the time I lay a track, I sometimes need to charge the battery of my iPhone to take photos or record (or – use a camera or separate device!).
After chatting with another tracking judge, I purchased a TomTom Runner’s Watch with GPS. This will do something similar to Tracking Dog without using my iPhone data and battery life. The runner’s watch has GPS and can calibrate your map, distance, and speed. Using a USB connection, it gives a report to a website that you can access on your computer or smartphone, including a detailed map. It is waterproof (resistant) and has a 10 hour battery life. It retails for roughly $130 but can often be found on sale (like mine!) Nike and other brands including Garmin have similar runner’s watches or GPS devices.
I can hardly wait to try using it to plot, and then to run my dogs, and overlay these (thank you Laura McKay for the idea!) The downside of GPS? The battery will eventually need to be recharged. Some weather and environmental conditions prevent a good GPS connection (glitch!) And it is not “on the ground” accurate.
I often tell this story at seminars: I was plotting tracks for a field tracking test a few years ago with great volunteers. One person had a Garmin and was using it. I don’t mind, because I know that the tracklayers have stakes to guide them when they rewalk in the morning, plus their own maps. And of course, as the judge, I know where every turn and article is placed using landmarks and paces. I enjoy using apps, and I love to see dedicated trackers trying and enjoying every aspect of the sport.
As we plotted I mentioned, “OK, that’s 100 metres.” The tracklayer checked the Garmin and said, “Actually, it is 94 metres.” I paused, and then decided that as a judge, I would use MY measure. This tracklayer was not with me to plot every track. To be 100% sure I was plotting equally for every participant, my counts had to preside.
Old school mapping benefits the exhibitors because a very detailed map can be produced for each one showing the exact locations of turns and articles. By the rules, every exhibitor (pass and fail alike) gets a copy of their map at the end of the test as ribbons are presented. I always write ‘not to scale’ on my maps because when I draw them, a 100 m leg might look shorter than a 60 m leg, as I try to fit the map into that square page provided by the CKC. Trackers always pour over their maps with great interest. Judges spend hours (HOURS) on the evenings before tests translating their rough field maps into works of art for the tests, giving the distance, landmarks, timing, weather, terrain and other information.
I do not think an exhibitor would like a general ‘Map my Run’ – style map. Whether they pass or don’t pass, everyone likes to see a good representation of the test they entered. As a trainer it is important to build these skills and not just relay on technology and apps. The apps give us a great perspective and context and they are fun – and easy! But the hand-drawn map gives the detail.
Science of Hand-writing v. Using Technology
Science shows that there is a connection between the brain and the hand that is not replicated when we use technology. Hand drawing a map actually fires connections in the brain that help us to remember detail and visualize the on-the-ground environment.
No app can duplicate how our brains and senses work in concert! Science shows that there is a unique neural circuit stimulated when we write or draw by hand. We remember better, we generate more ideas, we are forced to record detail we may overlook, we are less distracted, and more complex areas of the brain are stimulated (the ones associated with learning and memory). Scientists and Psychologists actually worry that these areas of the brain are not stimulated when we use technology – even when we type on a keyboard.
How does this apply to trackers?
It is good news! This is a sport about relating to the conditions around us and on the ground. While the apps are a great tool (and I love them) , we need to train ourselves to be aware of our surroundings. The more we make this a practice, the more it will become a habit and it will improve your tracking, as you learn to recognize, take in, and interpret conditions and surroundings quickly! This will help you in a test.
Got an app you wish to share? Or a question? Please leave a comment below! Thanks!