Friday, June 27, 2014

AKC and Int. Ch. Briarbanc Brych Red Dog, VCD1, RE, AX, AXJ, JH, TDX

Clifford, TDX!!!!!

Clifford and I went to Montana and passed the TDX track.  On *not-flat* ground.  In the Mountains. Over bunchgrass, through snow bush, aspen and pine trees and along an old wagon road.  He passed.  That's the important part.  The rest of this post is story telling, and gives me a chance to relive the thrill.

On Villa's last practice track, things didn't go as well as I'd have liked.  The test had at least one "alternate" entry, so I pulled Villa out of the test and let the alternate entry run in her place (The dog, a Rough Collie from the Spokane area, also passed!)  So, on the Thursday before the test, Clifford and I and all our "stuff" left Auburn for Missoula.

We arrived in Missoula fairly early on Friday, after spending the night in Coeur'd'Alene, Idaho.  I drove out to near the tracking site where I'd been told I could practice with Clifford.  Oh, my.  The cover was bunchgrass with not much vegetation between the plants.  The footing was tricky in places and there were lots of critter holes.  It was sunny and a little breezy.  I laid a short track up through some waist high snow brush, up a steep hill and along the top of the ridge.  Then waited.  And waited, and waited a bit more until the track was about 2 hours old.

Clifford picked up the track after casting a little at the start, moved along briskly to the snow brush where he cast back and forth to find just where I'd gone in.  Once through the snow brush, he motored up the hill and cast for the turn on top.  He paralleled this a ways away but came back to the two articles.  At the "end", he got his special treat - a can of cat food.  YUM.  I considered this "acclimation" track a success.  Clifford's attitude and performance were good.  He got hot, though, and it gave me something to worry about. Sunday's forecast was for sun.  Though the air temperature was only going to be in the upper 60's, the sun made everything feel hot.

We relaxed the rest of the day.  I got to visit a friend and see her flock of Gotland sheep, which was quite a treat for me.  Saturday, Clifford spent most of the day sleeping and I knitted, watched him, worried about sunshine and practiced positive visualization.  Really.  I think it helps.  I "practiced" reading his body language, "rehearsed" his article finds and giving him water, and planned for lead handling in potential snagging situations.

Sunday, indeed, came with clear skies.  We got to the site early enough to watch one of the TD tracks, then headed to the campground for the drawing.  Three dogs were present for the TDX.  We drew track number 2.  A Golden Retriever from NW Montana drew track 1, and the Collie from Spokane - the one who got to run in Villa's place - drew track 3.  The actual tracking site was a little ways from the campground, so we caravanned up the side of the mountain.  At first the road was quite steep and through evergreen trees, but we soon broke out into grasslands punctuated by bands of trees.  It was very, very pretty, and had nicer vegetation than the land by the campground.

The Golden started off well, but quickly ran into trouble and failed.  We moved to the start of Clifford's track and had a few minutes to wait before it was aged the required 3 hours.  I used the time to untangle my 40' tracking line and spray Clifford with water to help keep him cool.  By this time a few clouds had rolled in, and it was only partly sunny.  What a difference the clouds made!  

When his track was ready, I put on his harness.  He is so used to wearing it that he waits patiently and holds up his front legs one at a time for me to put them through the leg holes.  Our start flag was only about 20 yards from the road and we walked over to it and the start article.  In typical Clifford fashion, he just nosed the article and was ready to go.  I clipped the line onto his harness and immersed myself into "reading" my dog.  There was now no time for nerves; only time to watch Clifford and follow him on the track.

He cast in a couple of directions at the start, then moved purposefully away from the road with his head down and moving from side to side, taking in the scent.  I stumbled on a critter hole and concentrated on letting him follow the track.  The first leg went slightly downhill through the grass, and soon Clifford broke off and started casting around.  His first corner?  Yes!  He zeroes in on the scent going off to the left and I follow.  We go flat for a ways, then he jogs off to the right, slows and weaves a little.  Cross tracks, I think to myself, and just like that we're continuing on the second leg, now going uphill.  

I'm occasionally jogging behind Clifford and am getting winded.  Fortunately, he breaks off again and I get a breather.  It's brief, though, as Clifford starts off again to the right, slightly downhill, through a little patch of brush and into more open cover where he stops!  Stopping???  It's an ARTICLE!  Yeaaa, Clifford!  Throughout his tracking career, Clifford has cared little for articles; he'd much rather follow the track.  Yet, here he was, with a very clear indication and definite stop.  GOOD BOY!  I went up to him, petting and praising, held up the article for the judges to see. We were both relatively fresh, and not in the sunshine, so I didn't offer Clifford any water.  As I poked the article (a pretty, needlepoint, oversize checkbook cover) into one of my vest pockets, Clifford was off again.  

After another little jog to the right (second set of crosstracks?), I could see that we were heading right toward a grove of trees, aspens, as it turned out, at a fairly steep angle.  It looked impenetrable.  As we got closer I could see what looked like maybe a clear path into the trees.  Sure enough, with little hesitation, into the trees went Clifford.  I had a chance to close up on him - in trees and bushes and other obstacles, the handler is allowed to move up to 10' from the dog.  It helps to keep them from getting tangled, and to be close in case they need to be untangled.  Going through the trees was challenging for me even though once we got in, the ground was relatively clear of brush.  Clifford moved right along, occasionally going around trees.  Once I wove with him, once I had to reach around a tree and grab the lead because there wasn't room for me to get through quickly.  

Ahead of Clifford, it looked like the brush got thick and indeed, when he got there, he turned right and within a few steps was back out in the grassland!  This leg was downhill and he moved right along.  I was back to alternately jogging and speed walking... and the sun came out.  It had been nice and cool in the trees and now it felt HOT.  

I didn't have much time to think, Clifford disappeared over and down a berm.  I got to the top just as he decided to go LEFT along the ... road?  I had just formed the thought... I wonder if the judges would follow the road? when off he went, first on the right side of the narrow road, then on the left.  I took three big jumps down the berm and onto the road to follow.  This "road" turned out to be an old wagon road and was set several feet deep in the mountainside.  It was rocky soil with little vegetation and a few trees growing at the edges.  Past a couple of these trees, Clifford stopped again.  ARTICLE TWO!  Yes, oh, yes!  

This time we were both hot and I got out the water bottle and his bowl.  I poured water for him and he drank.  Another unusual thing that told me, indeed, that he was getting hot.  Clifford usually refuses water while he's tracking.  Like leading the proverbial horse, I can only offer.  I poured him a little more and he drank it, too.  And I drank some.  I held up the article for the judges to see, capped the water and stowed both.  I had just enough time to pick up the bowl and pocket it as I followed Clifford off again, down the wagon road.  

There probably is a lot of history in that wagon road.  Several of the wagon routes west came through this area of Montana, but my mind was not on that.  It was focused on Clifford.  I tried to count how many legs and turns we'd had on the track so far, but couldn't do the multitasking.  Clifford had broken off the wagon road just past a little tree and was up the left side berm.  I could only react by scrambling up behind him as fast as I could.  Once up off the road, I could see more grassland ahead of us.  Clifford was headed straight toward a grouping of pine trees, uphill again.  He wove through the pines and one grabbed my hat.  I poked it back on before it left my head.  The lead was almost all the way out and I didn't have much to maneuver with but I did get it passed around another tree.  Winded again, I was doing my best to keep up with Clifford, when the next trees grabbed my hat and I let it go.  

A little ways past the trees, we started through a section of low scrubby bushes.  Clifford got through them, then started casting.  And casting some more, and even more.  For the first time during the track, I had time to look and try to guess which way the track went.  I couldn't figure it out.  He kept casting; I kept my attention on him.  Finally he went to the right, but broke off after about 25 yards.  I knew I had to let him work back to that section of bushes.  It took a little time and he eventually came back to the bushes.  He was hot and tired.  I stopped him and offered more water and a rest.  He again drank.  I petted him and let him roll on his back on the ground.  I got out the sock article and showed it to him, offered him more water, which he drank.

Now we were back in the middle of the bushes and he cast all the way back to one of the judges.  This is the first time I'd seen the judges since we started the track, which is actually a good thing.  Okay, so the judge should be on the track, but Clifford kept casting, this time on the left side of where he'd come through just a few minutes earlier.  He was working and working.  I again got out the water, but he refused it this time.  He rolled on his back again.  I scratched his back when he got up, showed him the sock and he started casting further to the left side of the patch of bushes.  I ask the judge if I can move up to the 10' mark behind Clifford because the line keeps getting caught on the little scrubby bushes.  He says "bushes are bushes" somewhat enigmatically, and I shorten up on the line.

The judges are by now well within their rights to call us off.  Clifford has cast in this area numerous minutes, has stopped and rolled on his back twice and shown no indication of following the track, wherever it is.  Clifford, does, however, get back to work and finally leaves the bushes, moving to the left along a line of heavy brush and trees.  

He works the edge of the brush and gets caught on a little snag.  I have to move up and pull the line off the little snag.  As soon as he's freed, he goes back the other way around the snag and gets caught again.  This time, though, as I get him freed up, he angles up the hill behind me and away from the trees and brush and starts looking like he's found THE TRACK!  Relief floods through me and I'm back into "follow your dog" mode.  

We're now moving through thinner vegetation with a lot of bare dirt showing.  I can see the ground at Clifford's feet and mine.  Any article should be eminently visible and I'm looking.  Up a little rise next to a couple bushes, Clifford circles and pokes around with his nose.  Nothing there.  He pokes and circles a little more, but there is no article near him.  I don't remember now who said something first.  I remember shouting "He's indicating something." back toward the judges and hearing from them "Look back here!"  Nooooooooooooo.  We can't have missed the end article.  I was dejected... but.  There was no whistle to indicate we failed.  Both judges are standing on the route we'd just traveled.  I could see the ground between us.  No article. 

Clifford is still casting, circling, working back and to the right of where we'd just come through.  Judge says "You look, too."  What??  Then "Over there" just about the time Clifford finds The Glove.  It was about 15 to 20 yards off to the side of where he'd just tracked.  I met him at the glove with lavish praise, scritches, hugs, water.  Afraid we hadn't passed, but also knowing something wasn't right.  Then "CONGRATULATIONS!" from the judges.  Oh, Amen, Amen and sweet relief.  Clifford had passed the TDX track and earned the title "Tracking Dog Excellent".  He made it look so easy up until the last corner, and that probably influenced the judges to let us work just a little longer on that corner.  

All my attention is on Clifford, yet I hear the tracklayer say to the judges, "Yes, I put the article right here" - back on the track Clifford had been following, right next to a little tree.  The judges verify, "yes, the article should have been right next to this tree."  Then they're all up with Clifford and me, congratulating us.  I'm grinning from ear to ear.  Clifford is soaking up the attention.

We'll never know what happened at the end of Clifford's track.  "Something" had removed his article and it ended up well off the track.  Would he have come back to find it if I hadn't hesitated when I recognized his search pattern, and then heard the judges?  or would he have followed the tracklayer's path off the field?  Had that "something" also messed with his final corner?  Perhaps dropping the glove there?  Had a pack of coyotes played keep away with the glove?  Crows picked it up and dropped it?  I saw no scratches or bite marks on the glove.  It's a mystery.

The rest of the day was pretty much a blur.  The judges left to follow the Collie from Spokane - who also passed!  The gallery who'd watched Clifford's last corner and the missing article swarmed us with congratulations and hugs and lots of wonderings and expressions of relief.  I eventually made it back to the truck where Clifford got his can of delicious cat food and as much water as he wanted.  I got to watch the Collie track across the hillside, under a downed tree and off toward their final article.  We all celebrated at the campground.  It was hard to leave.  I wanted to stay.  I wanted to go back up and rewalk Clifford's track, take photos, bask a bit more.  Practicality won out and we headed for home.  Victorious!

Start is at upper left.
Green line - approximate track
Blue line - approximate Clifford path
Red line - Planned Cross tracks
5th leg is on the old wagon road

Thursday, May 29, 2014

...and Just for Michelle - Shetland Lambs!

The sire of these lambs is EverRanch Nut Brown Ale, a Moorit Gulmoget from Boulderneigh Bloom and Night Cap.
A moorit ewe from Baby Bee, and a Gul-Kat ram from Valise - POLLED!:

 A half polled white ram from Popcorn:

 A moorit ewe and moorit gul ewe from Val - yes, triplets from Valise!:

 And Val says, That's all Folks!

- Franna and the Sheepies

A Tracking We Will Go

What is tracking? you might ask.  It is a dog sport wherein the dog must follow a path walked by a stranger and find along the way, one or more personal articles that the tracklayer left behind.  The distance varies from 400 yards( minimum) in the basic urban, TDU, test to 1000 yards (maximum) in the more advanced TDX test.  Turns, distances, age, and other features are all spelled out in the AKC rulebook for Tracking Tests.  In a test, the judges and tracklayers will plot the tracks the day before the test, then just the tracklayer walks the track on the day of the test.  Tracking tests are held all over the US and in other countries; scenting conditions and terrain vary from site to site.

Tracking is a wonderful activity to do with your dog, and unlike obedience and agility, the dog is in charge, having the vastly superior nose to find and follow the correct scent.

Over the years, tracking has waxed and waned in popularity.  It's popularity right now, and for the last dozen years or so, is at a high, and in the Western Washington and Oregon area, tracking tests typically have alternate (waiting) lists of a dozen or more dogs.  The number of dogs that can be tested by one pair of judges at any one event is limited to 12 in the basic (TD) test, 12 in the basic urban test, 8 in the VST (advanced urban), or 6 in the advanced (TDX) test.  AKC has combinations of these limits for clubs who put on two or more of the events in one day.  The passing rate is low, about 50% in TD, 17% in TDX, less than 10% in VST, and TDU is so new that I haven't seen statistics on it, but it's pretty low, too.  Not very many dogs earn tracking titles in any given year.

I have been participating in AKC Tracking off and on since the late 60's - as a young 'un, and have been judging since 1978.  Currently, I'm working with "my" three household dogs, Clifford, Villa, and Lucy.  Clifford has his basic Tracking Dog title and is working on the two advanced titles - TDX and VST.  Villa just earned her TDU title in March, the first Labrador to do so.  Even though that is her first tracking title, she's been doing advanced tracking for several years.  Lucy is still a beginner and not quite ready for the basic TD or TDU test.

So, now what?  Why am I going into such detail about tracking?  Well, after several years of ending up on alternate lists and not being tested, and at almost 13 years of age, Clifford "drew into" a TDX test!  Not only that, but Villa drew in as well!  Does it matter that the test is in Montana?  Well, yes, it does.  Montana is a ways away, involves a multiple days trip, and scenting conditions are quite different from "home".  Does it matter that the test is on a mountainside on terrain that has been described to me as *not* flat by several people.  Again, yes, it does.  I am a bit "fluffy" and still recovering from ankle surgery (how long can I milk that for???).  Clifford is a senior citizen and not as physically fit as he once was. heh... I can sure relate to that!  Regardless, we're going and hoping for the best.  We have trained in a variety of conditions, terrain and vegetation, plan to arrive a couple days early to acclimate a little, and will hope for the best.

This satelite image is from Google Earth, waaaay up in the air (the little line on the left is a state highway) and is the TDX site on the SE slope of Boyd Mountain, which is NE of Missoula, MT.  It *is* not flat.  I have seen ground photos, too.  It is beautiful, even in its non-flatness.

 Okay, so we're practicing.  Today's practice was at Flaming Geyser State Park, near Auburn, WA.  I had heard that the daisies were going to be in bloom.  Yes, the daisies were in bloom... and *everywhere*!

I put in a track for Clifford and one for Villa.  Lucy came along for the ride today.  The tracks were about half TDX length, about 450 yards each, had multiple articles and as many non-flat details that Flaming Geyser Park offered.  The last leg on Clifford's track also had...

...a group of about 18 home schooled model Rocketeers.  About an hour before Clifford's track had aged long enough, they started launching Rockets... and retrieving Rockets... all over the field where Clifford's track ended.  This was okay.  It added some challenge, which was good.  I had talked to the setup crew - a father and son - while they were setting up, and told them what I was doing, too.  The son was expecting an English Shepherd pup very soon and was happy to talk tracking a bit.  It was a happy event, sharing the field of daisies.

So, while I waited for the two tracks to age, I first went to the Black Diamond Bakery... for a latte.  Right.  A few other goodies jumped in a bag for me.  :-)  The Black Diamond Bakery is world renowned, or maybe just a local, historic icon.  Whichever, it is well worth taking a side trip, or even a special trip, to enjoy the atmosphere and the goodies!  They have a small restaurant, a coffee bar, and of course, the bakery.

Then, back at the ranch... errrr, park, I got out my knitting and watched rockets blast off, kids run across Clifford's last leg, and the Rocketeer Moms set up a picnic about 10 yards from Clifford's final article.

Clifford ran first.  It's not easy to get photos while handling a tracking line and walking over uneven, or for that matter, even ground.  It is easier to get them behind a dog who tracks at a moderate pace, like Clifford.  However, today, Clifford didn't go at a moderate pace, he kept me jogging until the last leg, when I did get a couple photos.  I didn't keep the blurry ones.

In the third field of daisies, after the path through the woods:

And across the road into the Rocket Field of daisies:

Where he did a little casting at the end, but basically followed the track in most excellent style.  He didn't even notice the picnic Moms until we exited the daisies.  Good Boy, Clifford!

Villa, on the other hand, takes two hands on the line at all times, and a very mindful stride, lest I get pulled onto the ground nose first.  I did get a shot of the first leg of her track... sans dog.   Yes, all the white is daisies.  The Red is her start marker.

Villa's first leg went right down the middle of this mowed strip, until the strip went left and I went straight.  The mowed strips make nice scenting obstacles and pathways to turn off of and onto.  They are used a lot by park-goers for walking paths, so they have plenty of cross tracks and scent other than mine.  Villa's track (and Villa with me in tow) went crossways up a little hill through ferns, back into daisies, down the little hill next to a big evergreen tree, back into daisies, across another mowed strip and to her final article!  She mostly did good work, is exceptional at locating articles, and I kept my feet down and my head up.  Good Girl, Villa!

Clifford's next track will be in Montana.  I try to keep him interested and wanting more by tracking less often and rewarding him with high value treats.  Villa has a little less seasoning and more rough edges, along with much enthusiasm, so we might go out once more before Montana.  Whatever happens, it will be an adventure.  A not flat one.

- Franna, with Clifford and Villa.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Awakening the Blog

My last post was two years ago!  My how time flies.  I'd forgotten my password... which happens far too often, and I need to figure out how to post things again.

Quick update:  The puppy was born July 7th and arrived here in September.  She was christened Stufield's Comedy Queen or Lucille, which quickly became Lucy, then Lou.

Here she is getting ready to go to the Welsh Springer National specialty in April.  She isn't too thrilled about getting groomed.  Lucy is a kick to train and is working on rally, obedience, agility, tracking and field.  She really would like to try herding, too.  Lucy earned her Rally Novice AKC title at the Welsh National.  

Of course, we still have the sheep.  Gotlands and Shetlands.  We sold the last Scottish Blackface ewe last spring.  This year we're up to 93.75% with the Gotlands.  The last 3 years we've used semen from the Gotland's home country, Sweden.  The lambs are gorgeous!  Below are twin ewe lambs by Nors Fox.  Mom is EVR Sapphire, a NZ Hoppy daughter, UK Daniel granddaughter, and UK Denzel great-granddaughter - three countries of Gotlands represented in our flock.

These two are trouble in the making.  They're rams out of EVR Smokey Diamond ( a Granby Mr. Big daughter) and EVR Shine (a Sindarve Shaun son).  Beautiful curls and masculine heads on these boys.

These are two of EVR Lola's triplets.  Lola is one of my favorite ewes.  She had triplets for her first lambing, by Nors Fox, two ewes and a ram.

Not to be outdone by the sheepy cuteness, we also had puppies of our own this spring.  Int. Ch. Winroc Winsome Winifred, RN, TDX, WC had 7 puppies by GrCh. Aquarius Stonewall Stuart.  

Everyone is in their new homes, California, Colorado, and Washington.  And... this little cutie is making EverRanch her home!  Meet Jennie, Winroc Clan Evrrnch Jenina, now 4 months old and smart as a whip.  Dave is training her well... or is it vice versa?

While the password is fresh in my mind, I'll try to update more often than once every 2 years!