Melt Very Swiftly Passes a Tracking Dog Test

by Martha Windisch


On October 9, 2016, I made an early morning trip to Hoffman Park near Clinton, NJ because my golden retriever Melt was entered in Lenape Tracking Club’s Tracking Dog Test.  In a random draw, I drew the last track of probably 7 or 8 tracks.   As the morning went on, the club realized that some of the tracks had been messed up so several additional fields had to be found for the test. 

How the tracks are set out is that the judges and tracklayer plot where the tracks go the day before.  During this time they place a 4’ flag (a wood stake with a colorful cloth flag on top) at the start, at 30 yards from the start and also at every corner and at the end of the track.  The tracklayer, a club volunteer, goes out at the correct time the next day, the day of the test.  The track age is usually around 45 minutes old, but can be two hours old according to the rules.  The track layer walks the track and picks up all the flags except the first two.  Also while laying the track, the track layer drops a cloth article at the start to give the dog scent. At the end of the track, the track layer drops a leather glove.  To pass the test, the dog must follow the entire track and find the glove.  Passing earns the dog a TD (tracking dog) title.  Of course, dogs don’t really understand what a TD title is, but the tracking dogs like to track, like to find the glove at the end, and really like to get attention and praise for doing a good job.  The tracking dog gets an extra special dinner after the test (not that they really understand what it is for, but they really like it). 

The club first realized that some of the tracks were fouled because the tracklayers noticed the flags had been moved and placed on the top of the many hay bales in the fields.  This was most likely due to kids playing and not realizing they were messing up a test.  It ended up that one of the fouled tracks was only messed up at the very start and could actually be used.  The other two were not usable.  Since we drew the last track, Melt and I got to wait for the judges to finish plotting and laying the new tracks. Our track was in a long narrow field of many hay bales.  Of course, I didn’t know where the track went, but later discovered that it zigzagged through the hay bales, like a lightning bolt, from one end of the field to the other.

When Melt started, he tracked very fast, passed the second flag and took the first turn. Then he stopped and marked a hay bale.  Dogs do not fail for peeing on the track, but it’s always a concern when the dog is doing something other than tracking.  After Melt took the break, he started tracking like it was a race.  He was running and tracking at the same time. He found a couple more turns. I was barely keeping up. At one point, the nylon tracking line slid through my gloves and hurt my finger where I had a pretty bad cut.  I reacted to the pain and dropped the line and had to run after it.  Fortunately, Melt was on a straight leg of the track and I was able to grab the line without Melt realizing it had been released.

Melt made one last turn and continued very quickly down a long final leg to find the glove.  After the test was over, I received photos of my track, and realized that Melt had tracked so fast a turkey vulture figured I wasn’t going to survive and soared overhead waiting for me to go down!

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