Layla's TD

by Amy Novak


Our tracking journey is kind of a long one.

We attended Lenape's TED way back in 2010. We took lessons occasionally, and tried getting certified at two of Lenape's certification days (I think 2014 and 2015?) but didn't come close to passing. We mostly do agility and a little obedience, and tracking took the back seat. Layla turned 11 this September, and I came to the realization earlier this year that if I didn’t get serious about making tracking a priority we would never get it done.

As a side note, tracking is easily the most difficult activity for me. I'm good at agility. I'm not a great handler in obedience but at least I understand what I should be doing. For tracking, I feel clueless. I still struggle to read Layla. I don't see the changes in her body language, I don't feel different tension on the line, etc. It's definitely a "me" problem, not a dog problem.

We took lessons this year almost every week with Teryl. My goal was to get certified to be able to enter Lenape's test in the fall. Two weeks before entries closed, we headed up to see Gina DeAlmeida for our first certification attempt. Well, first attempt this year since I made an honest dedication to put an effort into practice; our third attempt overall. Didn't pass though. Good thing I gave myself two weeks, and scheduled another attempt the following weekend with Gina. Lucky for us, Layla passed! One day after she turned 11.

I sent in my entry for Lenape and got lucky to get the worker option (laying tracks at tests a few years ago paid off!). At the Lenape test I drew first, and drew track 8 out of 8. Figures. We didn't pass that, either. She kept indicating a certain way and I kept asking if she was sure. She backed up, went that direction again. Backed up once more and again she took that direction. I figured 3rd time's the charm (and trusted my dog), and it was the wrong way. Oh well. She did pretty good, considering. We weren't the worst there and I took it as a positive experience.

Next, we were heading to Ohio for the Malamute national. Tried to get into a test there but didn't. Tried another test in Maryland, also didn't get in. Both of these tests we were way down the list, 14th overall or so. At this point I started to see what people say about "the hardest part is getting into a test" so I just sent entries all over. Vermont, Virginia, wherever. I was pleasantly surprised to get into a TD test in Vermont on December 3rd. Well, it's a little further than the Lenape test but that's what I get for sending entries in all over. What's a little road trip? So off we went: me, Layla, my brother and my younger malamute, Enda.

I've heard the location in Vermont is gorgeous but it didn't prepare me for seeing it. The fields and scenery were just gorgeous. When we were looking at the draw items I asked my brother Russ which one he'd pick. He told me; I chose another one. I got to draw first and again, picked track 7 of 8. The one he pointed out was track 1. You could have heard the "I told you so" back down in NJ. The first 4 dogs in a row passed. Dog 5 did not. Dog 6 passed. Then it was our turn. Our track was a good distance away from the rest and a good drive away.

It could have gone either way; all the passes could have made me confident or more nervous. They made me more nervous.

We got to our field, and I started to get her ready. I followed our usual routine, got her lined up to the start flag and switched her to her harness. She went right to the start article, sniffed, and kept going. The first leg was 130 yards. When Layla came to the turn, she did one of her "endearing" habits - she briefly indicates a left turn (I'm learning her indications, slowly but I am learning!), and then she checks the turn by running at the end of her tracking line like a horse on a lunge line. She circles behind me, runs in front, circles back around. It's usually 2 full spins but sometimes more. After she finished her runs she again went left so I followed.

No whistle! Ok, that's something. We start going down the second leg and I see I'm directly in front of a telephone pole across the field. Maybe that was a landmark? And then Layla does her horse lunging again. She kept spinning so I walked backwards in case she passed the turn. She kept going, and I kept going backwards. We got almost halfway back to the judges, and she was at the end of her 40 foot leash going near the judges. I gave her water and re-scented her, then I told her (with not-so-mild encouraging profanity) to knock it off and get back to tracking. She headed back straight toward the telephone pole again and then turned. Another successful turn with no whistle!

At this point I had an even harder time reading her. Her head wasn't down, she was just walking. Was she tracking? Was she just taking a walk? I have no idea. She makes another turn and heads toward the corner of the field. She got to the end of her tracking line and to the weeds on the edge of the field against the road (and stopped to pee). I knew we were close to either the glove or the whistle. The glove wasn't in the corner of the field. If we made the opposite turn we'd be heading back toward the start. I gave her more water and told her, it has to be around here; there's not much more of the field we haven't seen. You use your nose and I'll use my eyes. I glanced at the judges and saw their bodies facing the gallery and the start. Another instance of me being clueless for tracking: did that mean something? Is that where the track goes, or are they just being polite and facing that way so she isn't likely to try and visit them? Layla saw the gallery and stopped to smile at them. Again, more water, re- scenting and encouraging profanity to find it because it has to be close. As she started walking toward the gallery and the start I saw something grey that she was moving toward. OMG I couldn't believe it. I had to do a double take to be sure it was actually the glove. She grabbed the glove and shook it, I took it and held it up for the judges. I still can't believe it! She carried the glove all the way back to her fans in the gallery to show off what she found. Then back at the car she got her favorite jackpot ever: a small container of milk. Don't ask me why, but milk is her all-time favorite treat.

The track was 450 yards, 5 turns, and aged 1 hour 18 minutes. Layla ran it in 20 minutes but it felt like 2 hours. My favorite part of her map is the spirals for where she did her circles. I'm so, so proud of her. I know it was mentally hard to keep going; it was mentally hard for ME to keep going and I wasn't the one tracking. She didn't quit, she kept working and I couldn't be happier. It's amazing how success happens when you actually practice. 😉

Thank you Lenape for hosting your TED that long ago. Through your TED I met people who were directly involved in our achievement. A HUGE thank you to Teryl for not giving up on us and always being there for us! We never would have passed without your lessons and guidance.

This TD title also gives Layla her VCD1 title. She's only the second malamute ever to get it, and the first female. She's now MACH Owyhee's Spirit in the Night BN CD RA MXS MJS MXF CA CGCA CGCU TT THD TD VCD1

Use your back button to sniff out a new story