12-year old Ted’s Training Continues

Ted is almost 12. One of my goals is to enter a tracking test with him this year to see if we can pass a TD. I am NOT using my usual method to train him. He loves articles and will not take food at all. Even if I try offering him liver from my hand he averts his head in favour of the article. Ted is everyone’s favourite whenever they meet my dogs. He is a comedian but under that goofy exterior is a brilliant dog and I am amazed how quickly he is learning.

Ted play.jpg
Ted gives me “the look” while he shows off and plays with one of his prize gloves after the January 29 training session. Ted is all about the play so I am using that to train him. He will be 12 years old in April and is very healthy and agile. Thanks to Scott for the matchmaking.

So footstep trackers – (of which I am usually one) – avert your eyes! Or, perhaps you might also be interested in other ways to motivate a dog. My belief is that I can begin to add in more precision over time, as we work to get Ted test ready and doing an entire 50 minute old blind track that is roughly 420 meters. It is a personal challenge and will be fun to carry through.

Glen Johnson (author of the well known book Tracking Dog) founded his methods in early Schutzhund (IPO)- style training making use of food and play drive. He wrote that a dog must retrieve a ball and tug to have the right drive to track. He used straight lines to build behaviour and teach dogs, before moving on. Over the years we moved to motivational methods that will work for dogs that do not have the same kind of drive as a working German Shepherd, which was what he trained. As Ted is a working dog, from strong working bloodlines, I can see his strong drive for balls and for the leather gloves. In a way, I feel I am going back to some original methods – but tweaking them for Ted. Stay tuned here!

If you’ve been following this blog, you will know that I’ve decided to try again, but this time, I am harnessing Ted’s love of play with his smarts to motivate him. It is not a method I have ever used and it is more of a challenge for me to come up with the right ideas and let him go, than for him to find the scent and get to his prize. In the past I have been training so many other dogs. With Caden’s untimely passing, I won’t be working towards his Master TCH, and find myself only training Ben. Ted’s time has come!

This is unlike any tracking training I have ever done! And I love it because although I have a preferred method and behaviour, I love to learn so that I have more ideas to help others. I never try ideas out on others – I always try them on myself first. I still prefer my regular method (starting with trenches and footsteps, and using food). But it is always good to be open-minded and make every dog the best that it can be.

On January 21 in Lethbridge I laid 3 straight lines for Ted with a glove at the end of each. Child’s play, said Ted! These legs were 30 minutes old on a warm winter Chinook day.

Last Sunday, January 29 I upped the game and laid one straight leg, then two with turns going right, and left. As I added complexity, I took away aging and ran them at 10 minutes.

Leg 1 follows a natural dip that holds scent to keep Ted on a straight line, which is the behaviour I want.

View Leg One – Straight Line – Here (1 minute 30 seconds)

Leg 2 – I am walking alongside the white soccer field lines so that when I run Ted I see the line. My goal is for him to learn to be ‘straight’ but I am using a new method. He is 12 so it is all play drive. This leg starts into the wind which is optimal for a negative as he will realize quickly there is no scent ahead. He curves, and finds the turn (I will work on this!) and gets to his prize glove. Good boy! *One of the hardest things here for me is to let go, and not interfere – that trust thing again – and also observing to see if he truly is on the scent.

View Leg Two – Into the wind, then right turn to the glove (1 minute 50 seconds)

What do I see in this second video? He needs a bit of help to start (next time, a flag as a cue – duh – he is not ready to cut the track). My leg follows the white line – to one side of it (the left side). I wanted an accurate read of how straight Ted is truly moving. Into the wind is harder as it will lift a dog’s head. At 55 seconds, he gives a very strong negative, veering suddenly left, then right. He parallels the leg (still along the white line) but I go with him. At about 1:15 he hits the scent pool of the article and veers right, then finds it!

Leg 3 – Into the wind then a left turn to follow a chain link fence for a long 120 meter leg. Leg 1 was 50 m. Leg 2 was almost 1oo m. So in total Ted did about 260 meters. That is more than half of a TD which is our goal for the end of May.

Video of Leg Three (3 minutes 50 seconds)

What do I see in this third video? Ted first turns a bit early (due to the high winds that really picked up here) and then overshoots a bit at the tree line. Of course, trees will be causing scent to swirl a bit more. I give him line, and make the comment “As we say in herding, he created this problem, so I will let him solve it.” I am sure I heard the wonderful, late Bob Vest say this a hundred times over the years at clinics. Ted does solve it and the chain link helps!

Chain link attracts and holds scent. I wanted to make sure we ended on a positive note and this last leg was in a crosswind again – with winds that day gusting up to 60 kph. Once Ted hits the chain link, he works along it, traversing over soccer goals and other items stored along the fence (once it causes him to leave the line and get tangled, and I help. As you can hear throughout this track, I am cheerleading and encouraging him, and putting the slightest pressure on the line when he quarters a bit. His tail wags throughout.

He handily finds his hidden article – I HID that last glove and it posed no issue for Mr. T! I had so much fun doing this. I think it is a doable goal this time, using this method.

Pictures of the wonderful Ted doing what he truly loves

Some background – I’ve provided this before but for new readers here is Ted’s story. 

I bought Ted at age 2 as a ‘started’ sheepdog from Scott Glen. He is the son of a dog named Pleat who is world renowned, with unbroken records in sheep herding. His mother was a working cattle farm dog in Big Valley Alberta.

In the past I’ve tried to train him to track and it’s always ended with him telling me he doesn’t care for it. Once, he tried to pull me across a field to the glove rather than ..follow the track, and when I wouldn’t go with him, he decided to lie down and not budge – glaring at me in a way only Ted can.

Way back in 2007 – 10 years ago – when I had only had Ted for 6 months, I spent the summer training him to track back in Thunder Bay. He failed his test miserably, but quite happily! We were in a big field and to him that meant lets run wide and deep and look for sheep! I was so humbled as his serious stockdog training kicked in and did an override on any tracking we’d done. He was true to the training ingrained in him and I respected it.

Moving to Alberta, I (stupidly in hindsight) left my home behind in Thunder Bay – a hobby farm of 5 acres where I had sheep. I was never able to give Ted that stockdog life although he did well enough placing 3rd in a Novice trial with very little of my own training on him. 99% Ted and 1% Donna.

Over the years, Ted has always been my “clean up crew” as I leave an article here or there and let him range wide, running, to find it. I now believe Ted probably could have been an amazing SAR dog, but as I once read, “all dog training is regrets.” I read this quote in the fantastic book Eminent Dogs, Dangerous Men.

In this book, American stockdog handler and author Donald McCaig (known for his book Nop’s Trials) interviews the top stockdog trainers in the world as he searches for a new dog. Many of those he interviewed were quite old at the time of their interviews, to capture their wisdom. This quote jumped out at me, as we always wish we could go back to previous dogs with our new knowledge, or wish we could do things differently. Such is the life of a dog trainer!

 I’m hoping for a TD for Ted this year. Why not? No regrets Ted!


The Importance of Trust in Tracking

River’s UTDX training track Olds College 2009 (2 minutes)

Above is a link to a video that I saw in the sidebar menu of YouTube last night as I was working on uploading Ben’s problematic track yesterday. Of course it caught my eye and I watched it and reminisced about how I always felt such joy following River. She was my first urban dog, and a year after this training track she came within 50 m of becoming a TCH but sadly, we missed our very last turn after being DEAD ON for the entire track at the main building area of the U of Calgary!

23 River TDX
River age 11 posing in her TDX field in Thunder Bay

River died in 2014 as a sweet old girl, who helped me lay tracks to her last week. She is my official heart dog and was “Lindau’s Uncharted Course TDX UTD JHD.”

In this year (the video), 2009, I took a YEAR OFF of tests with River. We had driven all the way to BC for a UTDX and failed at the start. It was heart wrenching.  I had met Dan Waters, President of the IPO club in Calgary and someone who has become a friend and mentor. He won the IPO Nationals with his wonderful GSD Ali. Dan gave me some advice for River which I followed before that test in 2010. I decided to follow Dan’s advice and it really paid off.

Fast forward to Ben! Ben is Jet and Ted’s son, and River’s “grand-baby” – she sure loved him. And ironically, he is a lot like her. River never liked pressure and so I learned to track with her on a very long, loose line and saw (as you can see above in the video) that she was very trustworthy.

Ben rocky turn.jpg
In this still from the video you can see the long, loose line as Ben makes this turn with me well behind

Ben has flown through his TD, UTD and TDX in three straight tests. For UTDX we have suffered a bit in our teamwork. Ben stopped indicating articles reliably. And his tracking has become very serious. That is ok – he’s a working dog and his tracking is excellent but I have been trying to bring some joy back into Ben’s tracking for the both of us, and some enthusiasm for articles.

Yesterday he had an off day. It happens. But it was disheartening. This morning I woke up and as is my practice, I started my day with a Bible Study. Part of the message in that Bible study was that we often rely on our own intelligence or intellect to fix problems, when we really should have faith in God’s plan, and trust Him.

Trust. Such a vital element in tracking! And when our dogs are advanced, we need to put this into practice. As usual, tracking is a metaphor for my life and relationship with God. What a lesson today.

Proverbs 3:5 says: Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding

Suddenly I sat back and thought of following River with all of that trust. I remembered how it felt to follow so quietly behind her, just enjoying watching her discover the track. She was a good girl and on that test day, I had that same joy following her – and heard later that I was literally standing on every corner until the end – on that very hot day. I am still so proud of how we did. Age caught up with her and that was the closest she came to passing. But what a TEACHER! As a Christian, I am always humbled by how God cares about these little things, and uses them to teach us – and I believe that tracking is a great dog sport for me, as it always seems to reflect on great lessons that help me to grow.

Today I got out that old, long, orange line. It is 50 feet long. I decided to lay a track in the same area for Ben, mirroring yesterday’s. I aged it for 2.5 hours, not 3.5, as it was quite cold and winds were gusting to 60 kph today.

Here is the video of Ben on that long line today (12 minutes)

It isn’t “pretty” but it is pretty happy! I gave Ben space without pressure to sort things out. He came through for me and was happier about articles with no cues! I think I have something I can work with, to tighten up his precision and achieve my training goal for this spring’s test.

Play the Rocky theme song!
Yes, it was fun! And tracking should be fun – because… you can’t push a rope!



Lessons from 11 year old TCH Alta-Pete Jet

Jet finished her Tracking Championship in 2012 earning all four CKC titles, and today, I took her out for fun and it reminded me of a few things that I thought I’d share. As I was aging a UTDX track for Ben, I decided to lay a short urban track for Jet. Yesterday I did a little article game for her, and she so enjoyed it. In her prime, Jet was a formidable tracking dog. She is one of those tough-as-nails stockdog-bred Border Collies who will work her heart out and loves a job. While I meant for this to be fun for Jet, she ran into some interesting problems – though she still enjoyed it and tonight has been sleeping very soundly as I type.

I am very humbled to say she passed her UTDX on her first try. My father had just passed away and I was an emotional mess so just followed Jet with so much trust and she pulled us through, even with two giant hares on her track that I am sure looked like sheep to her – one right before her final non-veg turn! When she finally broke from her trance, she came back to the track, took about 10 steps and turned as if she could ‘see’ the track painted on the asphalt.

Jet had a habit of standing off track to stare into the distance when she assessed the scent picture. I learned to let her do this, and stand neutrally until she “decided” and whirled off the right way. There were times she amazed me as she did this on very aged tracks on huge parking lots.

Here is a video showing this habit. It is a training track, that was well aged and on a huge parking lot. I never get tired of seeing this video!

But remember, the nose needs regular exercise to maintain those connections to the brain, and to discern scent at a very complex level. That is why we need to regularly practice ‘easy, maintenance tracks’ in the same way runners spends most of their training time running easy paces, to keep up that kinetic memory and practice breathing and other things that will make them successful in harder, competitive races.

Today, I could see that Jet is out of practice. The track I put in was in the fold of curbs in a parking lot with a nominal veg start, and a bit of veg at the top end of the square U. I decided to share this for two reasons though. It may be useful for beginners to urban tracking to see how Jet simply believes the scent MUST be on the veg. There was a day she would have raced along that curb. I probably should have placed an article half way or put treats to reinforce this to her. But as this is all for fun, I let her sort it out.

Click here to view Jet’s Track (11 minutes)

Track description
Leg one goes into the wind, which was gusting at 60 kph. At the top end she makes it across “the chasm of the road” between two veg islands. Just imagine how the wind is blowing the scent here! That is not an easy crossing. She is rewarded with a metal article at the top. Leg 3 has a tailwind. She is very careful to check a snowbank before committing forward. At a certain point, I feel a bit bad for her as she keeps finding trace “residual scent” on the veg. I give her a hint by saying YES when she is on the asphalt, and Noooooo when she is on the veg. After this you can see her come and really check out the non-veg. She knows these verbals well.

What is very interesting is her non-veg turn. I thought it would be a no-brainer for her. Her leather glove is literally 40 m to the left. BUT, for the last 4 minutes of the video you can see Jet seem to struggle, stare at ME (not into the distance as she usually does) and look very lost. This really bothered me. I try to stay neutral but realize I better help as I see her losing her determination.

When I get close and into an alcove where she has been a bit lost – it REEKS of bleach! There is a medical lab in that wing of the school and I fear – what have they dumped here? So I asked my friend Judy to check it out and she confirms, it is bleach, and maybe the windows have been washed and some fell on the brick which retained the scent. In any case, it certainly explains her loss of scent. And it is another great example of why we need to be able to read our dogs. Jet showed me she was lost.

As a judge, I have seen dogs take minutes and minutes – LONG minutes (sometimes 10 or more) to find one turn. These may be dogs that have tracked well to that point. In urban especially there is always a reason. Patience is a virtue in tracking. So is a level head. And, we need to keep those lines of communication open. The usual thing to do is BACK UP away from that area, or FOLLOW FORWARD to pass a problem area. In this case, as I laid my own track, I did back up.

Once Jet is away from the alcove, she stands staring into the distance – a good sign. She seems to clear herself, then SUDDENLY, SHE RACES THE RIGHT WAY TO THAT GLOVE!

Taking out my lovely Tracking Champion was fun and as usual a good lesson. When you train more green dogs, you begin to forget things that only our really experienced dogs can show us. I spent years learning to read Jet and be the partner she deserved. It’s comforting to follow, and in her silence on the track, she spoke volumes to me and we worked together like old partners do.

The picture at the top of this post is of Jet when she completed her Tracking Championship in 2012. This photo was taken today, and she is still very full of herself! She saw Judy pulling up and refused to look at the camera! How I love my bratty, brilliant girl.

I hope this has helped you with your green dog or to think about things with your advanced dog and if so, please let me know. I will give Jet a cookie of thanks!

Your coach,

Donna Brinkworth and Jet!
Spiritdance Performance & Motivation Coaching






Article Game in a NEW PLACE!

We are having a Chinook in southeastern Alberta! And the days are getting lighter! When I got home from work I decided to go play with articles at the College which is only 10 minutes away. We went to a new place and Ben LOVED IT again! I am so pleased with his happiness and confidence when playing this game. My goal is to meld this joy into his tracking which is very strong but serious.

Chinooks come over the Rocky Mountains and bring warm air – and wind. Over two days, my yard is almost bare of snow. But we have a wind warning in effect. When I got to the College the Day Care area where I usually go was still busy with staff and idling cars. I circled the college and spotted an area that looked promising.

Not wanting to lose light, and not knowing the area well, I quickly placed 6 articles, making mental notes of their locations.

From top to bottom in pairs they were: leather and sock; wood an cotton glove; wool mitten and flannel knot.

I videotaped this session, but things happened so fast that I also created a Photo Album of video stills that show his body snaps and how he discovers each article.

You can see the photo album HERE and the video (5 minutes) HERE

Every time I think he will do this or that, Ben surprises me in this session! High points for me were how he zeroed in on a cloth glove that he couldn’t reach because of chain link – he runs to it three times! When he gets to the other side he is nearly giddy with happiness to get that glove! He also runs straight to a wood square placed near chain link, which can amplify scent.

Here are stills of each area and the article locations:



The last two articles are hidden in open spaces in metal beams. I thought they would be tricky and he really nails them – including a wool sock hidden in the end of one beam, which Ben nails in 4 seconds. He also jumps up to collect the leather article.


In the ‘bad handler’ category, Ben ran straight to his wool mitten when we started. I decide to run the other way thinking he will come through the other side. Later I realize he was retrieving it and he dropped it half way as he comes out and around the way I ran. BAD ME! I should have followed him. Never take your eyes off your dog!

I love learning these lessons.

Check out his discovery of the “Tricky Sock” in 4 seconds!

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A few more great stills (sorry about the low light) – giddy with his cloth glove! Body snap to leather and jumping up to get it out of a well in the metal beam post. Retrieving it!

So happy and proud of my boy. My goal is to combine his joy in this game with his strong ability to track, though quite seriously.

After this fun game, we all went for a walk around Medicine Hat College. Nice evening!

The little family – Ted, Ben (centre) and Jet on the right. Mother, father and son Ben.
Ted, Ben and Jet at the Cultural Centre, with the College in the background.

2017 Training Begins

The game’s afoot!

Training Plan shaping up for Ben’s UTDX test at the end of May

On the Spiritdance Tracking Community Facebook Page the members voted that our first group discussion should be about Goal Setting and developing a Training Plan for spring tests. Perfect! I can always use extra encouragement to work on my training plan.

Yesterday as a bonus I posted a link to a 50-minute presentation about goal setting. It is only part one, as we put foundations in place for a plan with a lot of meaning. When goals are tied to values, people are more likely to commit and follow through. Our values are a deep-seated part of our make-up. When we realize how achieving a goal will satisfy a core value, we want to see our plans through.

Presentation on the Spiritdance Tracking Community Facebook page – How to set goals and reach them!

As I have been leading the group through this exercise, I came up with my own goals and matched them to my values. Of course, one of my big goals for 2017 is to pas UTDX with Ben. We made it through a half-UTDX last fall. I am hoping he will be bomb-proof in May so that we both feel more confident.  Breaking this goal down – something I will be working on is article indications. And these goals tie in well and support my values of Knowledge and Learning; Challenge; Competence and Fun (those are not all of my values, but they are the ones linked to this!)

Last weekend I was fortunate to meet up with Dan Vas, past president of the Canadian Search Dog Association, to do article searches in a heated, empty greenhouse. Ben LOVED it so much he was almost giddy as he located four articles quickly, kicking up dust in the process! And what an honour to see the CSDA dogs work too including Dan’s German Shepherd Cairo and a Chesapeake Bay Retriever owned by another member (Liz). In the photos below, Ben ran up on plant racks trying to zero in on a leather glove. I was so pleased to see his enthusiasm – and his courage in a new place. I have posted a few more photos at the end of this post of that great morning last weekend!

Today I decided to do another article search game with Ben, outside in one of his training areas. I tried to make it as fun for him as last weekend. He LOVED it again! He was all business, trotting and running on the hunt for my articles. Here is a map of the article placement (picture it white with snow!)

This is the search area I used today, at Medicine Hat College and the order in which he round his articles. It also shows the wind direction. In order they were 1) leather 2) wool mitten 3) wood square 4) leather 5) wool sock and 6) flannel knot. I missed another sock which was above #5, and had already rewarded Ben with his toy, so I let Jet and Ted find it and have fun!

I basically walked back and forth to each area without giving hints, and let him tell me with an alert or body snap that he was in the scent pool or got wind of the article.

Click here to watch the video of Ben finding articles

I am not a perfect trainer, but I am a dedicated trainer. I am very goal-focused and I focus on progressing. I do not enter tracking tests unless I KNOW I am ready and I believe this hard training and preparation has increased my personal success rate (as we know, so many other things factor in too – but being ready is very important).

In the video you will see that Ben runs from my van away from the article area. When he turns to run back, at the 10-second in mark, he does a body snap to the leather glove up on a snowbank. He zeros in on it by 40 seconds in. From there and at a fast pace he finds the others at a rate of about one article every one and a half minutes.

The funnest one was a leather glove that I tossed into the snow on top of a random set of concrete steps just sitting in this maintenance yard. Ben knew it was there, but circling at a run. So I encouraged him to come downwind and he zeroed right in. In the stills below, you can see him approach from the downwind side and leap up to get the glove!

The hardest one to find was his flannel knot, which he usually finds very easy. It was thrown behind the tire of a big maintenance truck in the middle of four trucks. Ben ran around them and knew it was there, then finally located it. I was so happy, I think that is why I forgot about the 7th article!

Time to pose, then play!

When I realized I missed a sock, I let Jet and Ted find that sock! Jet is a Tracking Champion and 11 years old. Ted is also 11 years old and he loves finding articles (which he calls toys!). They are Ben’s sire and dam. All in all it was a fun exercise.


This is a small step forward as I start working towards my May UTDX goal. It was colder than I expected today, and I almost cancelled. But the beauty of goal setting is that you become responsible and accountable when you declare your goals to others!

I shared my goals in my presentation to the group on Facebook and told everyone I would be going out today to play at articles. It nagged at me, until I did do it. And you know what? I am so darn proud of myself. It only took an hour to drive there, place the articles, then run Ben. Right now I am looking at him curled in a tight ball on the couch – a happy, tired pup.

This is what coaching can do! It even motivates the coach!

Everyone is welcome to join the Spiritdance Tracking Community by clicking this link and submitting a request. For coaching purposes, I need your permission to add you to this group.

It is a training and coaching focused Facebook Page for trackers. As I grow and expand Spiritdance Motivation & Performance Coaching, this is another way I can reach out to people to share my passion for tracking AND coaching!

More photos of our Greenhouse Article Training session last weekend

Ben and I, plus Judy Wallace and her Border Collie Lark

Dan Vas and Cairo

Liz and Nia – I love this sequence! Nia realized the article was hidden in the next aisle and leaped under the plant racks!

Ben’s New Year’s Eve Snow Track

This afternoon after a fun walk, I laid a short 370 m snow track for Ben.The dogs and I all walked in a coulee for almost an hour before this track, so Ben was well exercised and could put his mind straight to tracking. It has been very cold lately, and we have not been out a lot, so making sure he was focused was important!
Ben, Jet and Ted at the coulee, with the South Saskatchewan River in the background
I was losing light, and decided to make the track short, because he hasn’t been out in a month, and you don’t need a long track to practice well! I used kibble here and there in my footprints too. I laid it, then ran it at about 20 minutes old. It crosses other tracks, dirt dips with tire tracks where footsteps can’t be seen, plus includes some hard packed snow and bare asphalt road.
MAP (picture snow)
The track is 370 m. I had to draw in the roads, which are not shown in this Google Earth map. You can see the dead end before one road – with the wind at our back so that he was set up to keep going. I also took a BIG step when I took the turn towards the playground, so that he would miss that footstep as he headed to the dead end. The legs here are quite close but with the wind coming from the top (north) and snow, it’s not a big issue. You can see the curb serpentine as well – I had to draw in a thin line for the curb in this map.


Here is a rundown of what I see in the video, to guide you along:

  • Started in the shelter of the building – grass is evident, no wind, walking start
  • We turn into the wind on turn one
  • I wonder if he will cut his second corner, I place one piece of kibble on the turn itself and sure enough, he cuts it by about one body length but turns back to hit the corner (brown dirt spot)
  • His next turn puts the wind at our backs again and about half way along this leg is a turn left, but I went straight first to create a dead end
  • At the dead end, Ben TURNS BACK towards me as he’s been taught! When he loses scent, he has been taught to circle back
  • This is where a chest harness and video camera will let me handle my line better! I encourage him verbally and as we back up, he hits the left turn and then finds his wool mitten
  • We carry on, turn in the play area, then cross a road – he has a hard surface turn here on the road but the wind pushes him to the boulevard, which I let Ben figure out.
  • He finds the track in the curb – then finds the step up onto the boulevard
  • At the next step off, I stepped onto the hard surface and not the snow and he shows lovely loss of scent and works very hard to find the leg; I wished i had better line control here (hands were freezing) but he finds it with my verbal assistance and I tighten the line a bit
  • The end! his second article indication is non-existent as a woman is walking to her car and it throws Ben off however I don’t mind after this nice bit of work, good boy!

It is not his most stellar track, but for an impromptu track after a month off, I am very happy with him. We need to work on the articles, and as always with Ben, his distraction factor as you see at the end, when he loses focus because of one person walking to her car. Sometimes he is fine and other times he really seems to be bothered by this. Lots to work on for May!

I took this when I went back to collect my flag. You can see our track, and the pattern of my line dragging in the snow. I did not make a scent pad but actually did a walking start here, and placed the flag about 15 steps up from my walking start with one piece of kibble. A walking start is a faster start than a scent pad and lets the dog build up flow right away.

I hope this inspires you to try winter tracking!

Your Coach


http://www.spiritdancelifecoaching.ca > Tracking and Dogs menu tab for lessons and seminars