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.