Catching up with Ben’s 2017 UTDX training

Ben end of track
Ben poses at the end of the track on January 21 – Lethbridge University (end of this post)

Ben has been doing so well this winter! It was a cold winter, and we had a long spell with no tracking – brutal! We picked up our training again in mid-February. This area has a lot of chinooks which give us warm enough weather to get out. I have been doing a LOT of long hard tracks which are described below.

Today I did a short 30 minute old urban serpentine. My goal was to give Ben an easier track after a very challenging one yesterday.


It is very apparent when you have an advanced dog that their sense of smell is so acute that a 30 minute old track almost has too much scent, especially as it was on moist yellow grass. I had to remind Ben to stay on track a few times as I think there was residual in the air, but he was a good boy and focused on his primary track.

Here is the map


These videos show three little problems I gave him to resolve on this short track:

Start with a little serpentine to article one. He tries to cut a corner and I say “uh-uh” and he is a good boy.

A road cross with a little challenge: I leave the boulevard – walk down the road – and walk up on the next boulevard about 20 m to the left. I call this an offset scuff. Sometimes dogs just cross without really following scent. I put in scuffs here with treats, but again, the scent seems to be hanging and he is not as veg-oriented as I’d have liked. Still a good effort. I ask for a down and he is distracted so it’s delayed. He usually retrieves these days but today, I actually think he is still a bit tired from his long track yesterday!

A curb turn – rather than going out into the parking lot I step down into the curb and turn left. Ben does great! He trots out about 15 m, looks at Judy, has a shake, then circles back to find the track. It is amazing to see how aware they are of scent even on hard surfaces. I loved this moment!

What I love about this curb turn is to see how Ben circles back to me after he loses scent. He shakes and gives a very clear negative. He has been taught to circle back. Love it!

Tricky turn in a turn circle rather than on a parking lot. But what happens is Ben seems to cut straight to the glove. AND I STOPPED HIM! I got so carried away with MY idea that he should follow the primary track that I forgot it was only 30 minutes old and the wind was bringing the scent of leather straight to him. You can see him look to see if I am coming. At that moment, I stopped him, and he ended up not very happy with me.

I ran it again and we finished it well. I had Ben lie down and baited the leg leading to the turn circle, then ran him again, but I did not feel very happy with myself. I am very sure Ben forgot about it quickly as we took lots of time to play. It was a good reminder that his nose is a GREAT UTDX nose. I’ve been working on his articles. And I blew it. Sometimes it happens. We carry on! I like to share these things because training is not always perfect but since we usually have very good tracks and lots of positive moments, this will pass 🙂

Read on to see the other tracks we’ve done since February!

March 18: 850 m – 5 hour old track

Yesterday, I laid an 820 m long track for Ben. It was an easy pattern (linear) with moist, yellow spring grass. I aged it for 5 hours, with my goal being to challenge him a bit as we prepare for UTDX.

820 m 5 hours UTDX
March 18 – 820 metres and 5 hours old

I laid this track at 10:30 and when we ran it at 3:30, we were in the middle of a WIND WARNING and one of his articles had blown 30 m off track. Winds were gusting up to 60 kph. On top of this, it was 22 C.

This is a big switch and Ben was visibly working very hard but he persevered and ran a great, challenging track – nailing his non-veg turn at the end! The entire track is 20 minutes long and I ended up with camera issues. Here is the non-veg turn. 

March 11: Residence Serpentine

Last weekend we ran a short track in -11 C. It was a serpentine around the college residence buildings. I could hardly keep up with Ben. I am using a new light line and he is moving very freely on it. My old line was 30 feet, and this one is 35 feet. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but he seems to like the distance better. I could hardly keep up with him, but it was really fun even though my fingers were frozen by the end!

March 4: 670 m in a new place – 4 hours old

March 4 650 m in a new place – Lions Park and Strathcona Senior Centre

The first time I tried the new line, which is mountain climbing cord, was a few weeks ago when we had another chinook – it was about 15C. We did a lovely UTDX track in a new location I discovered, having only lived in Medicine Hat for one year. My friend hid in some shadows to give Ben some ‘lurker’ experience as Ben has had some discomfort at times around residence areas which are commonly used for ran tracks.

I was so happy with how he did! The camera did a better job of filming this one (compared with yesterday).

Full Track – 15 minutes

If you don’t have 15 minutes, here are two highlights:

Two nice turns leading to the intermediate article
End of the track and non-veg turn

This was one of the funnest tracks I’ve done in a long time!

February 19: Brooks UTDX training – 610 m

My friend Judy and I drove an hour west to this beautiful government property in Brooks Alberta. We walked together and did this track for Ben. I have been trying to find him new places.

Ben's Track 610 m

On this track, I gave him as much loose line as possible to let him make his own decisions. I had a very sore leg, and at one point, he stops on a roadway to look back and make sure I can climb the embankment, just like Lassie! (you do know, the Rough Collie and Border Collie were once the same dog, right? But that is another story)

Here is the video of this track. I can’t wait to go back here. Below Ben poses at the start, after completing the track. Lovely grounds!

Ben end of track

February 11: 580 m – 3 hour old track in a huge, contaminated parking lot


On February 11 we got back to tracking after a very cold spell. It was wonderful to be out again! February 11 I found another new place – Holy Family Church. The parking lot is HUGE!

Here is the track. It was beautiful!

I loved being behind Ben on this one. 4 hours old and 580 m. I ran it an hour after church ended. When I laid it the parking lot was filled with cars. Just imagine the contamination. He aced it. Dogs are amazing.

Good boy Ben!

End of track


And on one warm weekend in January, we drove to Lethbridge!

The January 21 track ended up being 850 meters due to unexpected obstacles but this is roughly what we did there. I hoped to find a new location and track around students. Before the track we walked around the campus too, while it aged. Ben did a fantastic job. I feel like I keep saying this – – and he does. He is a good boy and loves to work. I feel very blessed.

The map is below. The video can be viewed here (11 minutes but the end is missing due to camera issues. The end of the track is below)

You can see the end and his non-veg turn here.  I love his little leap when he smells the article!

Google Earth image

Ben poses at Lethbridge University with the coulee in the background! The photo at the top of the page is also taken at the end of this track. You can see the big drop-offs in the google map above.

lethbridge u arch






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

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