A Grady TDX ;-)

Cheryl Matthews


April 18, 2010 – The day started right.  It was cool, fairly cloudy, light breeze with highs expected in the upper 50s to 60 degrees; perfect weather for tracking.  This particular spring started out very wet, but now had been mostly dry for several weeks.  The unseasonably warm temperatures of the prior weeks had resulted in Mohunk Fields growing lush and green.  As I looked at the fields that morning, I recalled the spring test two years earlier when I was an observer.  That year the fields were still brown after winter’s end; what a contrast.  Regardless of the seemingly prime conditions, this handler had learned some lessons in her prior tests and was not going to be outdone by parting clouds and a hot, panting dog.  Have you ever tried sniffing while panting?  Prior to the drawing for tracks I exercised Grady and doused him with three gallons of water from home.  I then dipped each of his paws into a bucket of water.  

With my test entry I had applied two worker option slips towards the worker option track but did not get drawn in on the worker option.  I was drawn Entrant #6 of the six tracks.  So now, on test day, our track would be the one that was left after the first five entrants had drawn for tracks.  We were lucky – it was Track #2!  I like to go early and get it over with; less time to stew and be nervous.  The first track went to tracking Judge Ilene Morgan and her 18-month-old chocolate Lab bitch.  They made it look easy and for the most part motored right on down the track to the finish.  First track, first pass… I’m feeling good about this.  I was also determined that pass or fail we were not going to repeat any of the errors of prior tests.  My mind was re-playing a mantra – watch the transitions, remember to back-up if needed, ask him if he’s sure if he’s not appearing committed and so on.  I re-wet down Grady and put him back in the car. 

I elected to drive rather than walk the short distance to the track’s start, which was in the field adjacent to Gate House Road.  At the car, I put Grady’s harness on, donned my fanny pack (complete with balled up spare tracking line and two bottles of water) and attached Grady’s tracking line to his collar.  I walked him over to about 10 feet from the start flag.  After switching the lead attachment from collar to tracking harness, I knelt down to share a few words with my dog and released him to the start.  Grady had a nice, clean start.  He indicated the start article, a glove, with his usual pick-it-up-drop-it-and-sit indication.  He proceeded with commitment as I played out 20 feet of line and was pulled to follow.  I’m not sure how far into the first leg we were, I want to guess 50 yards perhaps, when from my left I could hear and marginally see a guy with a large black dog walking across Gate House Road towards us.  The dog’s barking and lunging spooked Grady and he stopped to stare.  I recalled words from my obedience instructor about not acknowledging distractions in other rings because then my dog would pay more attention to them too.  I looked straight ahead in the direction we had been going and told Grady to get back to work.  He shot forward a few paces in sort of a crouched down position as if he was afraid but unsure where to go.  The other dog was still barking.  I could hear the judges saying something behind me but couldn’t make out what.  Grady stopped again.  He was trying to look back now to where the dog was as they were now behind us; I presume walking the other way.  I heard the man say he was sorry.   I told Grady to get back to work a second time and off we went.

We continued straight down the short grass part of the field and eventually entered taller cover.  In the tall cover we made a right turn and crossed the far end of the tree-lined road where folks park when training at the fields.  After crossing the road we continued straight another 45 yards before making a right out of the tall cover and into the shorter, green grass again.  Grady tracked through the first set of cross-tracks without visible acknowledgement.  He found his second article, a small coin purse.  We continued straight, and then a left turn and now we were in the middle of the field.  Grady was slowing down.  He veered off our straight path to the right several feet and was expressing much interest in something there.  Since I was the required 20 feet back I could not see what it was but surmised that for this much interest it was either a dead something or a hole where a live something lived.  After a reminder to “track, track, find it” he returned to work.  As I passed, I gave a glance and saw some white things pressed into the dirt which may have been old bones.  Grady was still moving slower than he had been.  A few yards further.  Now he was veering off to the left and the right in a meandering sort of way (as compared to how he was tracking previously).  I wasn’t certain if he was checking out a corner, goofing off, becoming hot or had found more cross-tracks.  While he was panting a little, I was thinking perhaps he was goofing off after the veering off for the dead thing.  I was kind of annoyed.  I held my ground and reminded him to track and asked him, “Is that your track, are you sure?” each time he stopped to sniff a different patch of grass.  In case he was thirsty, as I did at each article that day, I offered him some water.  However throughout the track he wouldn’t take any.  After some more sniffing around he returned back to where he started and continued on straight ahead another 60 yards to a left, sort of open turn.  The judges later told me he had been checking out the second set of cross-tracks. 

After the left turn Grady spied his third article, a hat.  We continued on after the article and soon entered the woods.  In the woods Grady indicated loss of scent.  I backed up a few feet and watched him.  His lead got a little tangled around the trees as he went round.  It wasn’t too bad.  I did my best to keep my eyes on him and untangle it at the same time.  This is a skill I am honing the more I do it.  As soon as Grady determined it was a right turn he was off again.  Then it was all I could do to keep up with him.  When he found the final article in the woods, a glove, at first  I thought perhaps it was an “extra” article, something the tracklayer had inadvertently dropped.  I called out, “I have 4 articles, are we done?”  When the judges said yes I couldn’t believe we’d done it; I was so pleased!  I haven’t had a track end in the woods before so it was unexpected.  Grady had completed his 930-yard track in 14 minutes. 

In the end five out of six teams passed that day which must be some kind of record.  I can tell you there was a great energy in the air and it was a thrill to have so many passes and so many ecstatic people.  The conditions were right, the judges experienced, the tracks were well thought out and the handlers were not “newbies” to the test.  Even though I am a member of HVTC, I have only tracked at Mohunk fields twice.  The first time was 9/14/08, a week after Grady earned his TD.  George Bennett laid us a TD track which Grady ran perfectly.  We also did another short track that day with an obstacle and cover transition.  The second time we tracked Mohunk was on 11/2/08 when Paul D’Orenzio laid Grady a TDX-like track (except it did not have cross-tracks and was only around 600 to 650 yards).  So while Grady hadn’t been there in a year and a half, I knew he liked those fields. 

I want to say thank you to everyone who participated as you ALL made it a great day.  Thank you to HVTC for hosting the test, the land-owners for allowing us to use their property, judges Ray Desmarais and Stephanie Crawford for their knowledge and experience, my tracklayer for her detailed map and stinky feet, and George Bennett and Chuck Shultz for the beautiful pictures.  I’d also like to thank everyone who helped along the way, either by laying tracks, offering advice or just listening while I vented LOL.  Thank you to Karin Damon for our strong tracking foundation; without it we would not have been able to achieve this goal.  Thank you to Martha Windisch, Susan Palius and Lisa Pattison for consistently laying tracks for us and always lending an ear.  Thank you to Kristin Elmini for opening your property to fellow trackers.  We’ve been exposed to the experience of many, many trackers who have more experience than us and are thankful for that. 

Most of all I would like to thank my lovely dog, Grady.  He is a very special, very sweet dog and not a day goes by that I do not remember that, I love him so!  He will be three on May 22.  With the right mix of training, opportunity and luck someday we hope to complete his VST, when he will earn his CT.  This dog deserved this TDX because I knew he could do it – Go Grady!!!

He is now…. UCD Rocky Creek’s Making the Grade CD RE TDX TD(ASCA) CD-H

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