Scent is Everything to a Senior Dog

by Lisa Pattison


Lacey’s ASCA TDX 11/22/09 at The Garden State Australian Shepherd Association’s TDX/TD trial at Hopewind Farm in Lafayette, NJ.

I took Lacey out of the car and walked her for about 10 minutes to warm up her muscles and loosen up her stride. Next, I brushed her for additional stimulation and increased circulation for her mind and soul. I showed her the little red Igloo cooler which always contains the end of the track bounty. I then harnessed her, and she started cooing. The judges asked if we were ready and if I wanted to drive or walk. I chose to walk, favoring the idea of more gallery acclimation time for Lacey. Surely her tracklayer was among us, I thought, and that could only help to inspire my girl. Lacey casually swung out on her leash to inspect the dozen knees there as we awaited further direction. Lacey began to jog, scenting the earth as she went up the side of the road, leading the group. Excited ears perked up, head and shoulders popping up as she scented something in the field of brown vegetation we were passing on our left. Clearly, Lacey had connected something in the knee-reading to a tracking article in the midst out there. Just as abruptly, her head dropped to the shoulder of the road, and she followed the scent there intently. Moments later, the judge steered us across the road up into the field and said, “Any questions? There’s your start flag.” I straddled Lacey, talking in her ear about 30 feet from the flag. Crooning to her, she started talking back and thus signaling her readiness to track. I stood up and slowly let the line slide through my fingers as she tried to run to the flag. Head dropped, nose deep in cover, she started working.

Ambitiously, Lacey worked and worked the first two legs of that track. The field was steep, and it was windy. After the first turn, Lacey gave me her standard head pop in three directions. Lacey’s head pops generally indicate where an article lies if you drew a straight line out from where Lacey’s nose is pointing. She knows where they all are from the start flag. A collector by nature, she stores this information away for future use. One of Lacey’s greatest strengths is her ability to focus her attention single-mindedly on the task. As in the past, even though it was cool, Lacey asked for water repeatedly in the dry grass. A few yards past the part of the track where she pointed the articles out, Lacey discovered her cross-tracks. She spent less than a minute on each side and then headed up the main track again. Moments later, we were negotiating a turn into the woods while struggling with the milkweed pods that clung to and dragged down the line.

Up the sharp, sharp bank into the cliffside of the woods, she wound around barberries, rosebushes and giant rocks. I backed down the hill at times determinedly; she recommitted to her track. Multiple times, we veered to the right, ankle-deep in leaves, only to back up in the rocks. When she appeared to run out of scent, she would flow back to me and then, suddenly, become adamant the scent went to the left. She then would haul me through the trees in that direction. Adaptable and resourceful, she seems to use practical analysis for every piece of information from the track.

Sometime later in the thick woods on the sidehill, she came across the hat. Twinkle in her eye, big smile on her face, Lacey flipped the black lid up in the air for me to notice. Taking a break with her at the article, I danced and bestowed a paragraph of praise on her. “You’re the best dog ever!” Watered and rescented, she happily strolled away from me to return to her track. Several turns, in and out of the gullies and through the thicket, she struggled to get what she wanted. Boldly in pursuit of her third article, she leaned into the harness and dragged me down into another gully. There it was, her third article. We took another break. Excitedly, I danced for her again. Jazzed by the praise and attention, she sprung forward, climbing over the vines on the forest floor. We came up to the stream and she went right. I asked her again, and she went left. I studied her and waited for her to tell me again. I began to follow her cautiously, and with applied effort she convinced me. I followed her into the grass clearing. She made a turn into another grass corridor to the left but lost scent, so we backed up again. Persistently, she worked the three openings. Resourceful, she found something along the same line she took into the field earlier. I thought she looked like she was investigating an animal presence, so I questioned her. Moving on, she delved deeper into the deeper grass in the right side of the field. A minute later, I added some tension to the line, and she hopped back to where she scented the animal. She marked there. Standing tall and regal for a second, she suddenly gave me the tell-all head pop! We were close to the final article! Following the line off her nose, we embraced her final article, the black glove 20 yards past.

I couldn’t be more proud of my senior girl’s accomplishments. While earning the five tracking titles to her name, Lacey and I have learned a lot. We have learned to listen to each other; I have learned how to care for her emotionally and physically. Throughout her life I have sought to understand what appeals to her and to include those things as rewards. Scent is everything to a senior dog. For the senior dog, daily mental stimulation and memory exercises are key. I am grateful for the awareness and sensitivity to scent that I have acquired since my first TED with Lenape in 1995. Lacey and I discover new places for our nose work and gentle exercise. Lacey still enjoys my dancing at the articles she finds, but I am not so sure about the public.

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