Thursday, March 28, 2013

The World of Tracking

I got introduced to tracking (AKC-style) several years ago and thought it might be a great thing for Bourbon. HA! Unfortunately, he'd rather track critters than people so we didn't go very far :).

What? Someone said critters?

But Bourbon's nose has allowed him to be successful in nosework, which is a bit more controlled in terms of environment (in other words, not out in a field full of wildlife!). Sadly, at this time I don't have a dog that I could really excel with at tracking. I find the 'sport' fascinating though and so someday I'm sure I'll stumble across a partner to participate in it with.

This past weekend was the Cyclone Country Kennel Club's (CCKC) annual tracking test. This was actually the first year I was able to participate, which I was excited about. Usually, we have an Illinois Doberman Rescue Plus adoption event on the same weekend, but not this year! So out I went Saturday morning to help lay the tracks for the trial on Sunday.

Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, It's Off to Work I Go

I'm bringing up the rear carrying the extra flags.
Photo taken by Cheryl Clark for the CCKC club.

Hard at work :)
Photo taken by Cheryl Clark for the CCKC club.

My job was to help carry the flags that would outline (show where the turns where) the tracks to be laid for the trial. I followed the other flag-carriers and also the tracklayer and the judges. Next to the judges, the tracklayers are the most important members of the test. LOL, they are the 'scent' the dog is to follow.

The judges design the track, instruct the tracklayers how to walk the track, prepare charts that accurately depict the track's design, and approve the articles used (we used a bandana and a glove). And obviously, the judges also determine the start time for each dog and evaluate the dog's performance.

The first two people are the judges, then the track layer in the middle, with
the three flag carriers bringing up the rear.
Photo taken by Cheryl Clark for the CCKC club.

Plotting out a track.
Photo taken by Cheryl Clark for the CCKC club.

Check out the CCKC's facebook page for more pictures from the trial or post any tracking questions you might have for our tracking experts :)!

How a Tracking Trial Works

A tracking test is a two-day commitment (for the workers) and continues regardless of the weather (which can be not so fun in Iowa at this time of year!). The actual test is held on Sunday, but the judges and tracklayers (and flag minions!) spend most of Saturday plotting a track for each dog entered. The flags do get removed when the tracklayers walk the track the morning of the test (otherwise it would be a bit easy for the competitors to see the track!).

On the morning of the test, the exhibitors gather for a 'draw' which determines the order the dogs go in. Then the tracks are aged the required time and the exhibitor gets to begin the track. The dog is not allowed off lead at any time! The dog must closely follow the path the tracklayer has walked and find the article(s) dropped along the track. The judges follow the dog and handler to determine if the dog is on or off the track. If the dog is off the track and the judges determine the dog cannot return, one judge will blow the whistle signaling the dog has failed. There is no time limit as long as the dog is working.

There are four titles dogs can earn through tracking (for a description of each title click HERE):
  • Tracking Dog (TD)
  • Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX)
  • Variable Surface Tracking (VST)
  • Champion Tracker (CT)
Sounds fun, huh? :) Unlike obedience and agility trials, where dogs respond to the owner's commands, in tracking a dog is completely in charge, for only he knows how to use his nose to find and follow the track. It brings trusting your dog to a whole new level :).

Getting Started in Tracking

Getting started in tracking is pretty easy because your dogs instinctively uses their nose, you are just fine-tuning his natural ability and giving it a focus. And since all dogs have that natural ability to follow a scent, any breed is capable of learning to track. I would recommend finding a tracking class to make sure you start out covering all the foundation work. I'm sure there are some great reference books out there as well; however, I can't recommend any because I haven't studied any! Also, tracking requires very little equipment. You just need a harness, a 20-to-40 food lead, a few flags to mark your track and an open grassy area free of obstacles (such as roads, ditches, or woods).

So, not too daunting!

Dogs need to sniff the ground; it's how they keep abreast of current events. The ground is a giant dog newspaper, containing all kinds of late-breaking dog news items, which, if they are especially urgent, are often continued in the next yard.  ~Dave Barry

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