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







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