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 🙂