A “Tail” of Two Tracks

You just never know. It’s sort of like a test. One day everything goes right and on another, things don’t add up as you hoped. This pretty much sums up my weekend! Yesterday’s “hard track” went very well, and today’s “restful, fun and easy track” was a challenge! But both days had great wins and we learned a lot.

We are about 5 weeks out from our next try at UTDX. Last fall Ben did a “half-UTDX” (is that like a half-marathon?) and I identified some things to work on this winter. His tracking is great; articles are good; tolerance of distraction needed work. He soldiered through his track last fall but he and I had some holes in our bucket that we’ve been trying to plug – particularly his sensitivity to lurking students! We’ve done very well on this.

You can’t really change a dog’s personality, but what you can do is make sure he knows he’s supported and work through things together, positively. I worked a lot on MY handling and how I let Ben know I am with him, and that he is not up there on his own when things happen!

Ben’s tail was like a flag both days when we passed students. But yesterday he was cocky and today he was stressed. Yesterday, he did a beautiful, challenging track. Today he did a beautiful track that ended in a bit of a mess but in the end – we learned a lot and we are far enough from the test that pushing him, and pushing myself this way had a ton of value that I will process as we now begin to ease off and make things positive and fun sliding into test motivation mode.

MY FAVOURITE THING ABOUT BOTH TRACKS

1. When Ben is ON, I love his Border Collie crouch and intensity

2. His elimination of directions (which is something I teach):

Yesterday near the end, on the road – he checks the boulevard, then returns to find the track on the road. Video link HERE to view this in action.

 

And today in our first parking lot, turn at the centre median curb – he crosses the curb and says “Hey, no scent here!” Then comes back, finds it, and at a break in the curb quickly determines that he should stay on the correct side, to get to his light switch just ahead on the boulevard! Video link HERE to view this in action.

 

3. We always have fun and I enjoy his company, plus I take Jet and Ted the oldsters out for a walk at the same time. Tracking is FUN and enjoyable! 

April 22 Earth Day Track – the “hard” track

Yesterday, I planned a hard track, with the goal of following up with an easy, restful track today. As they say – best laid plans!

Yesterday’s track was 1030 meters and aged 6 hours – which is older than the average UTDX which should be 3-5 hours. It was also far longer than the average UTDX which would probably come in under 700 m and maybe even closer to 630 metres. I laid it around a student residence in hopes of some opportunities to interact and practice our teamwork. Prior to the track I did an article game (previous post on this blog). To boot, when we ran this track, the winds had picked up and were gusting!

Map

The track went very, very well! I am so proud of how Ben did, even when a student appeared by surprise from between two residence buildings. Ben’s tail went up like a flag but he carried on bravely! He was dead on the track and completed it with a beautiful non-veg turn.

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Student’s shadow can be seen and Ben’s special tail is UP but he carried on beautifully yesterday

You can see this part of the track on VIDEO HERE

Right after the incident of the student lurker I made sure Ben calmed down and he did some lovely tracking – note the difference here in his tail immediately after passing the student:

Ben went on to complete this track with a long leg and open angle turn, then another long leg to a metal article, near a chain link fence.

VIDEO of the open angle turn to an article HERE

VIDEO of the leg to the metal article (feature image at the top) – made me so happy as this article was placed off track deliberately! And he did a beautiful turn in gusting winds!

APRIL 23 “EASY” TRACK

TODAY I laid a 710 m track. Yes – longer than it was meant to be because I got a bit ‘lost’ trying to approach things in a different way. It is a lovely humid and cool day with damp veg. I only aged the track for one hour.

This should have been an easy track. What happened? 

First of all – I am really sick today. I forced myself out, with ringing ears, and I believe, a fever and body ache. “Must practice….,” I said to myself. I made it to church (of course – if I am going to track, I darn well better make it to church first!) and then called off friends saying I planned a short track, then home to recover from a bug.

Track too long! Why didn’t I approach from the normal end? I ran out of parking lots and went into a parking lot I have never used which was covered with geese, and surrounded by geese. I usually end in the parking lot at the bottom – but it is always good to try new things (maybe NOT when you wanted something easy though…)

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Geese. Everywhere. And their droppings.

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12 year olds Jet and Ted helped gently persuade geese to leave the roadway where cars were trying to get by. It was really sweet to let them do this, but the geese are annoying!

Students – two more appeared out of nowhere today. That is NOT what I wanted for this track. Today, Ben’s tolerance level was lower. His tail was UP UP UP twice on this track. It is “funny” but not funny, as mostly I just want him to soldier by. I am reminded of my own advice to people to not overtrain cross tracks, because you inadvertently can make them an issue. Have I over trained ‘students?’ EEEK!

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Today’s tail. But sadly he was more stressed after this encounter than he was yesterday

Line got tangled: It happens! But what a comedy of errors in a row today! Good it happened today though and we worked it out. Yesterday’s “hard” track looks easier and easier as I type this out though! Although he carried on, he was markedly more stressed with each of these things on the track adding to it.

Tangled

Truck: As we approached the final turn, a truck idled waiting for us. Ben crossed nicely. Not sure if this bothered him, but it made me rush a bit and really – I needed to be handling Ben thinking “the last turn” not “gather up the line and say thank you!”

Truck waits

Finally: Stress became evident at the end when he circled the new parking lot several times as he tested directions. That parking lot – long and narrow and covered with geese – was not our friend.

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The END of today’s track! Nothing sweeter than this

You can watch a video of the end of the track HERE!  It isn’t our best work (by far!), but I am never one to hide because my goal is always to share and hopefully help others! No one ever has perfect tracks every time, but we can all have perfect practice. 

The good news – is that we did it! This was our last HARD WEEKEND before the test. I always try to peak my training the way runners and elite athletes peak theirs. I gave Ben his line and let him take me on these tracks. He never stops working and on both tracks, made all of the right choices.

The wins – after a track like this one today it is important to tally the good things! 

  • Beautiful start today and lovely dead on turns

VIDEO of the start HERE

  • Beautiful circle and negative as he hits his first parking lot

VIDEO of Ben overshooting his turn, then circling back to find it (I teach this!)

  • Lovely search for the turn around a raised concrete median – identical to how he found his road turn yesterday through elimination (something I teach – as noted above)
  • Great article indications!!!!!!!!!! YEAH!
  • No attention at all to any geese or geese droppings across “goose lawn”

VIDEO of Ben crossing “goose lawn” HERE

  • Crossed a bridge – dead on!
  • Soldiered on past students, though visibly stressed
  • Aside from the final parking lot, dead on the track the whole way

Great observations for me, the biggest being to realize that as his stress builds, he gets less precise and I need to talk more to him positively and shorten my line – I don’t know why I let so much out at the end which you will see in the video and can only blame my fever.

I love training. I love tracking! It is such a process and always leaves me feeling happy, even on the tough days. As I type this, my dogs are all sleeping. Jet and Ted went for a nice walk with me while I laid the track. They are 12 this year and it is hard to believe they are aging so much. Ben is satisfied – as tracking is a great physical and mental activity for our dogs.

This is my last free weekend until the May long weekend! I am off to give a seminar in Regina, then judge a test in Red Deer, and then give another seminar in Olds Alberta!

Happy tracking and as always, have fun and enjoy the journey! I always give thanks to God for the luxury of enjoying this hobby especially in a world filled with strife. We are very lucky and no track should ever leave you feeling sad or unhappy. It is a sport where we can try for personal bests and always treasure the company of our dogs, like-minded friends and for me, there is a closeness to God I feel when I am out alone on days like today.

These are all great experiences! Ben posed at the end as usual!

Donna and Ben
Spiritdance Blackthorn Ben TDX UTD

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The Article Game, Seriously

We all think carefully about article composition, wind direction and placement, but I have to think that luck truly does play a much larger factor in article discovery and indication. Much more than we think. And this makes me even more determined to give my dogs the skills to locate articles with or without track layer scent, on or off track, hidden or in plain sight.

Today I played a “serious” article game with Ben in a warm-up as his UTDX track ages (still aging as I write this).

VIDEO #1 Here he is finding the first article which is a soft leather ladie’s glove up on a cement block. He loves this game a lot, and we do it frequently in this area – so I had barely taken him from the van when he went to work and I was not even ready to film! You can see he is already in the scent pool and his body snap to the leather:

 

In the video above, the wind direction is from the west (in the direction of the gravel pile) and the moment he came out of the van he picked up the leather. I put the leather there intentionally to give him a quick easy win to start – using the wind strategically.

The articles Ben found today were sitting for 30 minutes while I laid Ben’s UTDX track, so they had a chance to build up a small scent pool although it is very cold today. I also wanted to remove the potential for Ben to follow my ‘track’ to articles, which we have seen him do! And when we have observed this – we always see Ben track to articles, and pass them consistently by a step or two, then always turning to face me. Is this because he is tracking? Or is it a Border Collie trait as he ‘herds’ them to me (I am serious, not joking! In the same way, one might consider that a terrier may view articles as their “mouse!)

There are a few more videos below, with more comments about my observations today. YOu can find more blog posts about Articles by clicking on the Category “Articles” in the sidebar menu. 

I have learned a lot of different article games in 30 years, and worked on articles many different ways. Since moving to Medicine Hat I’ve had the great fortune of meeting Dan Vas with the Canadian Search Dog Association. Working with Dan I feel as though I have had my eyes opened about articles. And I also feel as though I am one of those very particular people who takes great care with article placement in my training and for tests. Articles and evidence are the bread and butter of SAR.

There are obvious differences between SAR and CKC Tracking. In SAR a dog can be worked on or off line and in broad sweeping arcs, grids and back and forth to clear an area. Of course, this is crucial for the work they do. In CKC tracking, we work a line with some latitude given to left and right, ahead and behind. Because we have to judge dogs in this  ‘sport’ version of tracking, we need criteria. Dogs are given 20 metres or more if in the judge’s opinion it is warranted – such as on windy days. We can encourage or teach dogs to circle, we can back up, and we can try directions gingerly without giving up our position or going too far.

All great strategies. But how many dogs miss articles that are right on the track? How many dogs pass by articles that are only metres away? It’s a heartbreak. As a judge and as an exhibitor I have seen dogs and handlers go right over articles on urban tests. My own dogs have passed articles and thankfully done full body snaps to circle to them thanks to a wind gust… or maybe the scent registered after their feet had taken them steps beyond it.

VIDEO #2 Here, the article is a flannel knot that I tucked into the metal opening a foot above pine shavings. We have a few things going on here. I’ve discovered that flannel is one of Ben’s favourites, leaving quite a scent pool. Ben has pulled me to this flannel knot from 50 metres away. You can see that here, Ben knows there is an article. He is not a nosework dog, so doesn’t understand why it isn’t on the ground. His search pattern demonstrates the scent pool after 30 minutes around the vehicle, even with the horrible, competing smell of pine shavings (which cause a lot of issues in tracking).

In this video a security guard drove by scoping me out which is why I call Ben out of the trailer and ask him to lie down… all good. After Ben found this article, I put it back and let him find it again and he immediately pulled it out – showing that he learned he could look up. Quick study!

When we teach articles, we use treats, have parties, and place articles When we teach articles we use treats, have parties, and place articles in locations we believe make sense. We teach articles off track and make sure our dogs LOVE them (“like chocolate” I heard one exhibitor say at a test!). We don’t all have natural retrievers and many breeds in CKC tracking are not ‘retrieve’ oriented at all. Their repertoire is stronger in other things. But if we don’t find those articles, we fail no matter how well our dogs track!

I had a wonderful article routine with TCH Caden von der KleinenWiese, my late GSD. We worked hard on his down indications, patterned after IPO but with some help from an RCMP trainer-friend. Caden, a working lines GSD, was hardwired to be obedient and to embed commands and routines into his repertoire. I LOVE the down indication! It is a great rest for the dog, clear to the handler and allows a re-orientation to the track, helping with spatial awareness.

But we all move on and as much as my current dog Ben, a Border Collie, has a lie-down embedded in his genes from generations of stockdogs behind him – Ben has abandoned the down. For his TD and UTD his down was offered without hesitation. Moving on to longer, harder tracks, Ben seemed to decide that if I wanted to ask more of him on the track, he would offer less at the articles. I made a rookie trainer mistake (embarrassing because I am not a rookie), expecting Ben to react to the same kind of praise and body language that I used for Caden.

Up to the advanced tracks, he seemed to. But as always, dogs teach us what they need. Even though I like to stay within certain parameters, Ben said he wanted something new at articles. He needed something different. My job was to respect this, and find a new plan. And this is what I love about tracking! Every time I think “aha!” with one dog, the next dog is always a bit different.

This is also the core of my Spiritdance Tracking system. I have never been a cookie cutter trainer. And my method is based on discovering what each dog offers and needs, in the context of the person attached to the line too! Every dog I train and every student I work with helps me to learn as I try to determine how best to help each team.

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Video below shows that Ben worked very hard to find this plastic light switch! Good boy Ben!

I am thankful to Dan Vas who showed me the article game. Heads up, my videos do not represent his method – I am not doing it the way he and the really seasoned SAR people do it – but I have developed a protocol that makes it fun, fun, fun for Ben! I have used every kind of article and multiple fabrics in the past year and wrote another post about them.

This brings me back to things I am taking more to heart about articles.

  • Not every article leaves a scent pool and some seem to carry no scent at all meaning a dog has to be tracking almost precisely on track to run across them – and even then dogs may walk over them. In urban tracking, as we know, dogs do not all track precisely due to contamination, air currents and scent spread on non-veg surfaces. And we are constrained in our handling by the rules making this even more tricky, and important
  • We already know that wood, plastic and metal carry less scent so try to place them with care. And we know that different kinds of wood and metal may hold more scent, or give off scent that repels dogs (like cedar). Plastic light switches with holes in them will allow more scent to pool than large flat plastic articles such as blue plastic lids.
  • Man-made fabrics carry less scent than natural fabrics. Wool, flannel and cotton hold more scent than the “poly” and nylon fabrics
  • Many trackers and clubs buy Dollar store articles which are cheaper and made of man-made fabrics (not real leather but plastic, not cotton but nylon or poly material)
  • The slightest shift in wind can cause a dog to miss a great article, well placed.

Video #3 In this video, I placed a plastic light switch against chain link and between metal pipes on gravel. I knew this would be hard, but it turned out to be REALLY hard. Ben continually worked along the chain link, and then broke off to search a vehicle upwind of the article. In a CKC test an article might never be in such a location (but who knows?)

In SAR my observation is that when a dog indicates that something is giving them grief, the handler will work that area and direct the dog using both verbal and physical help such as pointing and calling back. I resort to this with Ben and as you can see, it takes a lot of work for him to find the plastic He virtually stumbles onto it. Even when I try to direct him more closely, he ignores me as he continues to check the fence (chain link holds scent) and check upwind. He even sniffs a nearby rock. I find this so fascinating!

So how do we deal with this information?

So how do we deal with this information? We train well. We make sure our dogs are precise to keep them close to the track. We learn their body language. We observe. We learn about the wind shifts and pay attention when we are working. We use this in our training. We make sure our dogs are motivated. We build up appropriate verbals to encourage our dogs to search, and we learn all we can about how article composition, scent pools, scent drift, shifting wind currents and the affect of the urban environment have on articles.

I know! We all know this! But most of us are far more likely to invest our time in tracking and less on articles. In the past year I have been buying new articles and using articles on track that don’t even match the scent of the track layer. I’ve been challenging Ben to find articles using fun games like the ones I did today. And although I call it a ‘game’ it is very serious!

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Play Play Play!

I want Ben to associate any article, with any scent, anywhere, with a reward. I have given up on this vain idea that my dog should ONLY indicate articles with the track layer’s scent. Articles in our vehicles for months, used over and over, will carry a lot of scent, whether it is ours or someone else’s.

A new work glove or new plastic light switch; even a new cheap Dollar Store item, is going to be leaching all kinds of chemical scents and will not hold the track layer’s scent – even if they do sleep with them or put them in their boots. I’ve been playing with new articles, and articles from ‘Value Village’ mixing them in with things from my article bag – on the same track. Ben has given me some awesome reactions – from leaping backwards to giving me the stink eye. I praise him equally and strongly for everything he finds. I am NOT going to fail a test because of an article!

Video #4 In this video, Ben finds a NEW leather work glove, never used before. At first, he goes to see where the security guard entered a building. Then he finds the glove. In this case, the scent is nicely funneled by the little sheds and held by chain link. “Child’s play” says Ben!

And so, I am building some new awareness in Ben, and in my own  And so I am building some new awareness in Ben, and in my own observation of Ben on track. Last fall he failed his first try at UTDX (after a great try, and got half way!) but I was thrilled with how he searched a parking lot filled with some student food and paper refuse near a residence. Ben methodically searched around vehicles then suddenly stopped at a piece of wood to give me ‘the look!’ When I flew home, I immediately let Dan Vas know I gave him the credit for that indication as he inspired me to work differently on articles.

I am also trying to use my ideas when I plot tracks for tests, and when I judge, all within the rules of course. I feel so lucky to be able to judge and witness so many teams and breeds of dogs in so many areas across Canada – in wind, rain, snow, and dry conditions. It is such an education!

I’ve always worked hard on articles and I am sure you do as well. I am also a firm believer in learning new ideas and am so grateful when others share with me. I’ve been lucky to have mentors in many other varieties of tracking. I’ve also been blessed with my own dogs, since 1989, each of which have taught me what they need and how scent works.

I hope that you enjoyed this and if it has made you think a bit more about articles I’d love to hear from you!

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Into the van at the end – always rewards here after tracking!

Now I am off to run his UTDX track. It will be 51/2 or 6 hours old by the time we run it. I thought about article type and placement for today’s track. The articles are wood on grass, a lady’s leather glove on grass, a cotton towel (his personal favourite) held in place by a metal square in an indentation where there used to be a tree, and off track and finally, a NEW work glove on his non-veg turn. I will let you know how it goes! And what I’ve learned.

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!

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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.

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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.

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

 

 

Tracking Champion Caden and Ben TD – Dream Weekend in Thunder Bay!

New TCH Caden von der Kleinen Wiese. What a journey!
New TCH Caden von der Kleinen Wiese. What a journey!

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.

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Spiritdance Blackthorn Ben TD. I love this photo with the dairy farm behind us. Thanks to Marie P. Babin for sharing it!

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!

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Peggy McCallum of Edmonton and Reggie TD! Reggie is officially known as Monterra Regan TD PCD AGIS AGNJS CGN. She made an impression on the crowd for her tracking style, as it is not common to see Airedales in tracking tests. Way to go Peggy!

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.

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Ben again! Passing TD on day two. There were no alternates so we were able to run again!

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.

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Caden and I out in the big field on day two – TDX. So hot and windy!

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.

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Nearing the end of our TDX, day two

“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.

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The end! I had to sit and take it in. Happy happy! TDX!

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.

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UTDX start. I was still in a stupor, and realized, “he is tracking!” 35 minutes between our TDX pass and our UTDX start.

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.

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UTDX article #1. Shock is starting to set in as I realize he is ON and I need to step up.

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!”

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Heading through the tunnel. Just ahead we turned right on a patch of grass / marsh / ditch and into the parking lot unseen to the right, where he found his wood article. He was moving, and the judge and tracklayer later told me they had to run to see the parking lot turn!

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.

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The final leg to a black leather glove. Caden got hung up in the trees you see behind us, on this windy little knoll, then suddenly got a second wind and finished the track. His tongue was literally hanging out of the side of his mouth. What a great heart he has.

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!

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Emotional moment at the end of his UTDX track. New Tracking Champion! I had trained for this, but to do it was like a dream come true.

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.

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Thank you tracklayer Debbie Gavin!

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.

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Thank you Marie! Back at that tunnel. Caden still clutching his leather, which he carried all the way to the car.

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.

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Leaving the parking lot and heading over a ditch and some gravel after finding article 2.

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:

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Caden’s TDX map
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Caden’s UTDX map
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Ben’s TD day one!
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Test organizer, tracker Karen Boyes with her two TCH Aussies Penny and Jasper, plus her new TD girl Cassie.
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Katie Jaremy and her UTDX girl Scarlett – GCH Docmar’s Just Don’t Give a Damn CD RA TD UTD AGN UTDX
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The gallery at one of the TDX sites
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Joan Kleinendorst and new TD Warkshire’s Skye of BK Cuillin
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Three for three TD passes!
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Ben! A new journey to begin with this little boy, son of my TCH Alta-Pete Jet. Thank you Marie!
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Caden TDX with tracklayer Gord Boyes and judge Marie P. Babin
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Caden TDX – article one
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Me with Caden and judge Marie. Check out his tongue. Hot and windy.
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Ben, leg one, day one – TD
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Ben TD Day two!
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End of TD two, good pup!

More pictures of Caden’s UTDX

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I am so thankful to Judy Wallace for coming with us and sharing this trip. Judy’s Border Collie – Britanny cross Shiloe is a talented tracking dog and hopefully will be able to take part in a CKC tracking test. Here she is in a field by Loch Lomond, in Thunder Bay, a few days before the test when we did little motivational tracks. Thank you Judy!

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!

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My two TCH dogs. Best of friends, and both passed on their first attempts. I love urban and the dogs do too.

Caden and Jet

Ted

And thank you Ted for being a great tracklaying assistant. Maybe there is still a TD in your future 🙂

You be the Tracking Judge! 5 UTDX Maps – Design and article placement

Welcome to the world of the Urban Tracking Judge!

Each of these maps represents a choice for a UTDX track at Red Deer College in Central Alberta. I’ve played around with all of them over the years. I know this area and they all work – no fences or barriers to worry about when you are ‘on the ground.’ One map is 615 m and another is 730 m, with the others all in-between.

A UTDX by the rules must meet these requirements:

  • 600 – 750 metres
  • 1/3 to 1/2 non-veg
  • 3 – 5 hours old
  • 5-7 turns both left and right and no acutes less than 45 degrees
  • At least one 90 degree turn on a non-veg surface plotted so that the leg after the turn is at least 25 metres long before changing back to vegetated surface (or the track ends with the final article)
  • Obstacles such as guardrails, stairs, open buildings (gazebos and breezeways) are permitted but it cannot enter a closed building
  • 3 articles must be placed, with the first at 100 metres, the second somewhere between the first and last, and the third at the end. The first two can be cloth, metal, wood or plastic. The last article is always leather.

On each of these maps below, I have put a measuring line showing 100 metres to help you eye up leg length. Where tracks cross a road and are parallel on the other side, the minimum distance on these maps is 70 m and the maximum is 100, so none are connected by a short, 30 m leg (in which case, they cannot be parallel).

Remembering that scent works differently in an urban environment, things to think about are listed here – but most of these can’t truly be assessed until you are walking and plotting. Note – some judges like to plot up to two days in advance to allow scent to leave an area, in case they have walked in multiple directions. Frequently a judge will go look at an area and ask the tracklayer to stay put to prevent tracklayer scent from spreading too much:

  • Cars moving scent up and down on roads
  • Proximity to buildings that can loft scent or hold scent along the walls
  • Scent refraction near trees and lightposts
  • Scent spread on flat, non-veg surfaces like asphalt parking lots
  • Curbs, bus stations, parking pay stations, building doorways and main entrances, sidewalks where scent might flow or be drawn away from the track
  • Areas of heavy pedestrian traffic and areas of light or no pedestrian traffic

So – your assignment, Grasshopper, is to look at the blank map, and then the one I did with Caden (Option 1) as well as the other options. The total lengths are provided. There aren’t really any rights or wrongs, but the amount of non-veg will change, leg length will change, article placement will change, problem areas may be included or avoided, and turns may be easy or hard!

ARTICLE PLACEMENT

  • I had a hard time deciding on where to put articles on Caden’s track (Option 1) so used 4! Which of the first three would you remove from his track today?
  • Where would you put articles on the alternate maps?
  • What type might you use where (cloth, wood, plastic, metal)?
  • How are you making your decisions? Think – what might help the dog and handler team?

TRACK DESIGN

  • What appeals to you? Don’t let the fact that I did one influence you. It might not be my favourite. I’ve done these others too over the years with Caden and my TCH Jet
  • What positives do you see for each?
  • Drawbacks?
  • Just because one is shorter – is it easier?
  • These are all “5 turn” tracks but you could consider that meandering first leg to be two legs as well. Would you add another turn to improve the track (you can have 7 total)

OTHER STUFF

  • What questions would you have about the tracks? What would you look for on the ground?
  • Other ideas you would consider? Why not print and play with the blank one!

Blank map with notes about features – click on a map to see it better, then use the back arrow to return

Caden blank map

Option 1 – 730 metres

Caden May 22 730 m

Option 2 – 615 metres

Caden May 22 alternate 1 615 m

Option 3 – 630 metres

Caden alternate 2 630

Option 4 – 635 metres

Caden alternate 3 635 m

Option 5 – 645 metres

Caden alternate 4 645 m

On the Ground views

To see Caden’s start on video, click here. This will show you the first two legs (not the greatest video but it works!). On this day, there were buses arriving filled with students for a band competition so the middle grass island area of the start was very contaminated. Of course, I had no idea when I laid the track, that this would happen.

After article one (sock), track turns left here. He is approaching the turn.

Caden and bus

Leg 3, heading for article 2 – light switch

Caden double trees

Article two

Caden lightswitch

Leg 4, crossing road and median toward sportfield area

Caden road cross to sportfield 2

Article 3 – wood

Caden wood

Missing the portion leading to the parking lot – here he is after making his turn (I was too busy handling!)

Caden near article

Final article (remember, there should only be three, I used four, for training)

Caden article

Have fun and let me know what you think of “You be the Tracking Judge!”

Happy Tracking,

Donna

The NEW Spiritdance Dogs Blog! Catching up on CKC Judging, Clinics, Coaching and E-Books

Tracking CH Alta-Pete Jet
Tracking Champion Alta-Pete Jet

I was a blogger before most people knew what the word ‘blog’ meant! I retired the old Spiritdance Dogs Blog a few years ago, after making some major life changes including a big move to Alberta in 2008.

My dogs have walked beside me through every change. I should say, they’ve walked in front of me through every change, since the constant in my life has been my love for the sport of tracking.

Since moving to Alberta, I have completed the requirements to judge all levels of CKC tracking!

I’ve enjoyed judging assignments from the east coast to the west coast and in-between! I’ve had the pleasure of judging tests, meeting trackers and seeing their great dogs in New Brunswick, southern and northwestern Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, BC Mainland and Vancouver Island. Judging is a great responsibility and an honour. It is also a volunteer role, not a job, done out of passion for the sport. Judges invest in their own apprenticeships for the privilege of judging for the CKC. Clubs pay expenses and express appreciation through gifts and small stipends to help with things like dog boarding.

I am sure I can say, on behalf of all tracking judges, seeing the passes makes the slogging through fields, in the rain, heat and at all hours worth it! I usually return to work exhausted! (I do have a day job as a Corporate Communications Manager with government).

Clinics, Lessons, Tests continue

In 2012, Jet earned her TDX and UTDX in Alberta to become the first CKC Border Collie Tracking Champion. My German Shepherd Caden has also earned his TD (in Alberta) and his UTD (in Ontario). Jet’s son Ben is working on his TD now too.

Spiritdance is my CKC registered kennel name. Spiritdance Tracking started in 1995 when I began to teach lessons and give seminars in Thunder Bay, Ontario, my home town. I’ve continued to give lessons and seminars here in Alberta and through them, have made so many new friends! I’ve also been fortunate to meet IPO and RCMP tracking experts who have generously shared with me over the years, and who have even helped with seminars and lessons.

In Alberta I’ve been busy giving lessons and seminars, including the new and fun “Stinky Feet” Seminar that helps trackers understand the rules and prepare for tests with no surprises.

Coaching – including a word about what it is, and isn’t

I will be completing my professional certification this year with the International Coach Federation (ICF). The ICF is the largest and most respected coaching organization in the World, with stringent requirements for its members. This has contributed to my ability to work with people in tracking. I’ve also been providing leadership and performance coaching to individuals, teams and organizations and love to work with people to help them discover their potential and grow.

The word ‘coach’ is used by so many people now, because of it’s popular connotation connected with sports. It is one of the fasted growing services in the World. As with the world of dog training, it’s good to know that not everyone calling themselves a coach has professional training or certification. I am very proud of the education I’ve obtained through Erickson College, one of the top coaching colleges offering ICF curriculum – located in Vancouver BC.

There is a method used by professional coaches that empowers and enables people to make powerful changes with positive support and encouragement. Coaching is NOT instructing, advising or critiquing. It is about YOU, not about what I the coach thinks, knows or has experienced. When you receive true coaching, you will know the difference. It’s a great investment in yourself and your future.

E-Workbooks and E-Inspiration Books on Tracking

I’ve always been a writer and always been working on ‘a book!’ As Urban Tracking turns 10 in our CKC World, I decided the time has come for a new look at CKC tracking. I am working on four E-Books aimed at experienced trackers. They will focus on

  • An Introduction to Urban Tracking and a review of foundation
  • A look at what makes it unique, fun and challenging
  • Advanced training and test preparation
  • Organizing and judging CKC tests
  • Tips for teaching tracking, including some ideas about your brand, mission and vision as an instructor, to help you inspire new trackers and keep the sport joyful and alive
  • And – a variety of other information that I will draw from coaching, motivation, and my own experiences.

The E-Books will include exercises, worksheets, and practical, concrete tools, tips and ideas

I will use this blog to talk about this project and share ideas as it progresses.

Honouring River – Lindau’s  Uncharted Course TDX UTD

75 RiverfacekissI’ve written so much about my sweet River that I can’t imagine what more I can say – then more flows. River was my long-coated German Shepherd. Because I had cancer, she didn’t start to track until age 5, in 2005. We were both late bloomers in a lot of ways and it was in Alberta that we forged a strong partnership and friendship that I know no other dog will ever share with me. She was THAT dog, the one that was there when we have THOSE times in our lives.

At age 11, River came within 50 metres of passing a UTDX as an old girl on a very hot day. In my heart she is a champion. Not because she earned the title, but because she was with me through the ups and downs of learning about urban tracking. River became a seminar demo dog, and up to her last week, she would follow in my footsteps as I laid tracks for Caden and Ben – eating their bait and wagging at their articles. She always felt included and important, and we never stopped tracking together.

Thanks to her steadfast love and support, I learned, and I learned, and I learned. I will be forever grateful to her, and it is to River that this blog, and  these E-books are dedicated. It is hard to believe that on May 27, I will have been without her for one year.

23 River TDX

Thank you to old friends, new friends, family and future friends for joining me here, and for being part of my journey. Thanks as always to Creator God who gave us dogs to walk beside us, and nature to share together.

For details about my dogs, coaching and clinics please visit http://www.spiritdancelifecoaching.ca and click on the Dogs tab