Ben’s demo UTDX training track

It’s only a pine cone! Or is it? Read on…

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.

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Map of Ben’s training track at Olds College

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?

This is the link to the video

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.

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Spiritdance Blackthorn Ben TD UTD

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.

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