You be the Tracking Judge! 5 UTDX Maps – Design and article placement

Welcome to the world of the Urban Tracking Judge!

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?
  • Drawbacks?
  • 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

Caden blank map

Option 1 – 730 metres

Caden May 22 730 m

Option 2 – 615 metres

Caden May 22 alternate 1 615 m

Option 3 – 630 metres

Caden alternate 2 630

Option 4 – 635 metres

Caden alternate 3 635 m

Option 5 – 645 metres

Caden alternate 4 645 m

On the Ground views

To see Caden’s start on video, click here. This will show you the first two legs (not the greatest video but it works!). On this day, there were buses arriving filled with students for a band competition so the middle grass island area of the start was very contaminated. Of course, I had no idea when I laid the track, that this would happen.

After article one (sock), track turns left here. He is approaching the turn.

Caden and bus

Leg 3, heading for article 2 – light switch

Caden double trees

Article two

Caden lightswitch

Leg 4, crossing road and median toward sportfield area

Caden road cross to sportfield 2

Article 3 – wood

Caden wood

Missing the portion leading to the parking lot – here he is after making his turn (I was too busy handling!)

Caden near article

Final article (remember, there should only be three, I used four, for training)

Caden article

Have fun and let me know what you think of “You be the Tracking Judge!”

Happy Tracking,



Tracking Apps and Old School Maps


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.

30 m flags
One tally. There is a 30 m directional always set out for a TD. On this track, for seminar purposes, there are flags set out every 30 m with one just before a left turn, to show what 100 m looks like. The tracking team is Debbie with her GSD Kona (who did a great job!) Click on the picture to see a large version. Flagging tape on the flags shows wind direction.

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!

Happy Tracking!

The NEW Spiritdance Dogs Blog! Catching up on CKC Judging, Clinics, Coaching and E-Books

Tracking CH Alta-Pete Jet
Tracking Champion Alta-Pete Jet

I was a blogger before most people knew what the word ‘blog’ meant! I retired the old Spiritdance Dogs Blog a few years ago, after making some major life changes including a big move to Alberta in 2008.

My dogs have walked beside me through every change. I should say, they’ve walked in front of me through every change, since the constant in my life has been my love for the sport of tracking.

Since moving to Alberta, I have completed the requirements to judge all levels of CKC tracking!

I’ve enjoyed judging assignments from the east coast to the west coast and in-between! I’ve had the pleasure of judging tests, meeting trackers and seeing their great dogs in New Brunswick, southern and northwestern Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, BC Mainland and Vancouver Island. Judging is a great responsibility and an honour. It is also a volunteer role, not a job, done out of passion for the sport. Judges invest in their own apprenticeships for the privilege of judging for the CKC. Clubs pay expenses and express appreciation through gifts and small stipends to help with things like dog boarding.

I am sure I can say, on behalf of all tracking judges, seeing the passes makes the slogging through fields, in the rain, heat and at all hours worth it! I usually return to work exhausted! (I do have a day job as a Corporate Communications Manager with government).

Clinics, Lessons, Tests continue

In 2012, Jet earned her TDX and UTDX in Alberta to become the first CKC Border Collie Tracking Champion. My German Shepherd Caden has also earned his TD (in Alberta) and his UTD (in Ontario). Jet’s son Ben is working on his TD now too.

Spiritdance is my CKC registered kennel name. Spiritdance Tracking started in 1995 when I began to teach lessons and give seminars in Thunder Bay, Ontario, my home town. I’ve continued to give lessons and seminars here in Alberta and through them, have made so many new friends! I’ve also been fortunate to meet IPO and RCMP tracking experts who have generously shared with me over the years, and who have even helped with seminars and lessons.

In Alberta I’ve been busy giving lessons and seminars, including the new and fun “Stinky Feet” Seminar that helps trackers understand the rules and prepare for tests with no surprises.

Coaching – including a word about what it is, and isn’t

I will be completing my professional certification this year with the International Coach Federation (ICF). The ICF is the largest and most respected coaching organization in the World, with stringent requirements for its members. This has contributed to my ability to work with people in tracking. I’ve also been providing leadership and performance coaching to individuals, teams and organizations and love to work with people to help them discover their potential and grow.

The word ‘coach’ is used by so many people now, because of it’s popular connotation connected with sports. It is one of the fasted growing services in the World. As with the world of dog training, it’s good to know that not everyone calling themselves a coach has professional training or certification. I am very proud of the education I’ve obtained through Erickson College, one of the top coaching colleges offering ICF curriculum – located in Vancouver BC.

There is a method used by professional coaches that empowers and enables people to make powerful changes with positive support and encouragement. Coaching is NOT instructing, advising or critiquing. It is about YOU, not about what I the coach thinks, knows or has experienced. When you receive true coaching, you will know the difference. It’s a great investment in yourself and your future.

E-Workbooks and E-Inspiration Books on Tracking

I’ve always been a writer and always been working on ‘a book!’ As Urban Tracking turns 10 in our CKC World, I decided the time has come for a new look at CKC tracking. I am working on four E-Books aimed at experienced trackers. They will focus on

  • An Introduction to Urban Tracking and a review of foundation
  • A look at what makes it unique, fun and challenging
  • Advanced training and test preparation
  • Organizing and judging CKC tests
  • Tips for teaching tracking, including some ideas about your brand, mission and vision as an instructor, to help you inspire new trackers and keep the sport joyful and alive
  • And – a variety of other information that I will draw from coaching, motivation, and my own experiences.

The E-Books will include exercises, worksheets, and practical, concrete tools, tips and ideas

I will use this blog to talk about this project and share ideas as it progresses.

Honouring River – Lindau’s  Uncharted Course TDX UTD

75 RiverfacekissI’ve written so much about my sweet River that I can’t imagine what more I can say – then more flows. River was my long-coated German Shepherd. Because I had cancer, she didn’t start to track until age 5, in 2005. We were both late bloomers in a lot of ways and it was in Alberta that we forged a strong partnership and friendship that I know no other dog will ever share with me. She was THAT dog, the one that was there when we have THOSE times in our lives.

At age 11, River came within 50 metres of passing a UTDX as an old girl on a very hot day. In my heart she is a champion. Not because she earned the title, but because she was with me through the ups and downs of learning about urban tracking. River became a seminar demo dog, and up to her last week, she would follow in my footsteps as I laid tracks for Caden and Ben – eating their bait and wagging at their articles. She always felt included and important, and we never stopped tracking together.

Thanks to her steadfast love and support, I learned, and I learned, and I learned. I will be forever grateful to her, and it is to River that this blog, and  these E-books are dedicated. It is hard to believe that on May 27, I will have been without her for one year.

23 River TDX

Thank you to old friends, new friends, family and future friends for joining me here, and for being part of my journey. Thanks as always to Creator God who gave us dogs to walk beside us, and nature to share together.

For details about my dogs, coaching and clinics please visit and click on the Dogs tab