Cole’s Track

by Edie Braginton


On Lenape’s Tracking Test day, November 5, 2000, the weather was cool and dry, with a gusty wind. I worried about the weather because October was a dry month, even making the record books. It had been dry for a very, very long time. Even thought there was a little rain two days before the test day, everyone was talking about the lack of moisture in the grass. Vicky Brown’s German Shepherd Cole, who I was handling, drew the fourth track. I was glad his track was not later in the day.

More worries! When we drove to the test area, the fields were still full of flags! One of the judges came over to the van and said, “Walk with me.” I accompanied her a little distance down the farm road that bordered the fields. We talked about dogs and obedience, but not about what was on my mind, which was the age of the track. I wondered how Cole, who had turned one year old a few days before the test, would handle the problems, including a fresh track in the wind. I thought about how the gusty wind could play with air scent in the gullies.

Cole’s owner Vicky and I waited and wondered. The Golden Retriever who had the third track seemed to take forever. She had a bobble between the start flags, then pulled out of sight beyond a rise. We couldn’t see anything for a long while Finally we saw the team in the distance on what we were told was the end of the track, and waited hopefully for a shout of success, but it didn’t come. The handler began backing up the final leg. More time passed. A herd of deer came out of the woods to gaze at us, then ran between the two tracks. The Golden appeared again, but this time with the handler and the judges. The Gallery groaned.

I asked Vicky to stay in the car while I handled Cole on the track. I watered Cole and prepared the line and harness. The judges signaled me to come up to the start flags. Suddenly I was all fingers and thumbs, struggling with the line, getting him into harness, getting the snap bolt on the D ring. When I got him to the start flags, he pulled so hard I wondered how much pressure I could put on him to get him to take scent.

In training, Vicky and I had started him by downing him at the start flag, but in recent weeks he had refused to do it. However, he was already on the job, working the area before the first flag, and then between the two flags, taking scent. Suddenly he paused and sniffed the second fag, from the ground up to the pennant at the top! A new behavior! I didn’t have time to think as he immediately returned to the ground scent, pulling strong and straight on the first leg.The first turn came, a right, and he found the new direction easily, nicely pulling me along the second leg. The second turn came, a left, and he worked it well, too. Then he veered slightly off the track to check on something. A mouse? Deer scent? He returned to the track, working a long leg paralleling a plowed field. The third turn came and he quartered, going behind me, then using a lot of the 40-foot line to go to the right, to the edge of a plowed field. I let him check the edge, but held my ground, wondering if the track went through the field. I thought he was intrigued by the smell of the dirt furrows. We had not worked him near plowed fields.

Cole came back from the edge of the plowed field and turned left. He pulled me along agin strong and my confidence in his tracking surged. This leg also seemed very long. There was an open turn, also to the left, but I tell you that because I am looking at a copy of the track as I write this. I didn’t realize it as we were tracking.

Suddenly Cole stopped, as if to smell the roses, but there were no roses. I couldn’t see what he was looking at. There was a clump of grass just before it, whatever it was. Could it be the article? I caught my breath. I swear he smiled mischievously at me, then sniffed it agin. I knew the gallery was very near in front of me but I could not take my eyes off him. He smiled again and indicated again, and again I waited. We had trained Cole to drop on the glove; I remembered he did not drop on the article during certification. What was going on? Did he give up? Three indications and still I stayed rooted to the spot. Suddenly, Cole picked up the glove and started to bring it to me! I raised my hand high over my head and ran to him.

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