by Joan Luckhardt


First, thanks to the Lenape Tracking Club for holding seminars, follow-up workshops, organizing certification tests, and tracking tests. Phlaire and I could not have accomplished the TD without the help and training we received from Teryl Lebkuecher--our trainer, teacher, and tracking expert. Her encouragement kept us going over the rough spots!!

During the process of learning about tracking, I learned to trust my dog and respect her decisions!

Certifying Phlaire, my not-quite-two-year-old Golden Retriever, to track proved a challenge of weather and time. We did not succeed the first try at the Lenape certification test--but we did on the second--and in pouring rain!!

To enter an AKC tracking test (trial), a dog must be certified as ready by a tracking judge. Not easy to do as there are no tracking judges in New Jersey. I made arrangements to meet a judge in Pennsylvania, near Allentown at a farm where a track would be laid for Phlaire (there is a start article containing the scent of the tracklayer, a path walked by the tracklayer, and a glove or wallet at the end of the track--the track can be about 1500 feet with three to five turns). The day of the certification test arrived along with a torrential downpour, a downpour that increased with each passing hour. The certification test is the same as a trial, but without a second judge. Phlaire was the third track laid that day---and she certified in rain so heavy that I couldn't see through my glasses fogged from rain. Certainly I had to trust Phlaire to take me to the glove. As the judge said later, Phlaire is a really good tracking dog and nails the corners. That's the same judgment made by her tracking trainer. I really take Phlaire tracking because Phlaire loves tracking, showing it by barking as soon as I get her tracking harness out. Once we arrive at the tracking field and she sees the flags, again she starts barking. Once certified (which is really like a first tracking test), Phlaire could be entered into four AKC tracking tests. As there are always more dogs entered than there are tracks, her number would be pulled in a lottery. Phlaire won the lottery with a first draw. So we made the Lenape Tracking Club's Tracking Dog Test--and I pulled the fifth of nine tracks available that day.

On November 5th, Phlaire, not quite two years old, earned her Tracking Dog title at the TD Trial held by the Lenape Tracking Dog Club of Central New Jersey--nine tracks for nine lucky dogs (each track takes about four to five acres). On a very cool, cloudy morning, Phlaire with me attached on a 40-foot long line, sniffed the start article (a sock) and set off on her circa 1400-foot track on a sloping field with calf-high clumpy grass and weed cover. She was like an Amtrak passenger train on rails---she hit each of the five corners (four 90-degree turns and one 45 degrees), and in tracking dog language, she nailed the corners. She was going at such speed that I feared I'd soon be bodysurfing along behind her--so I let out the 40-foot line (a 20-foot distance is mandatory), hoping she'd slow a bit at the corners so I could catch up. I kept my eyes on Phlaire and, because of her speed, had no chance to look anywhere else. At the last turn she did slow by a stream, and then I could see what looked like a track to me, but she didn't choose it. Phlaire seemed to be following another track.

I trusted her and didn't try to woo her to the track I could see (obedience-trained handlers tend to want to direct their dogs). That was a good decision as it later turned out---Phlaire sailed forward up the slope, saw the glove, pawed the glove, turned to me and then belly flopped on the glove. I dashed up the slope and grabbed the glove--and we finished to the celebratory shouts of the gallery watching from the sidelines. Later the tracklayer told me what happened---as she lay track using the two judges’ track map, the wind took the paper map and it flew toward the stream. She dashed for it and had to lay a parallel track back toward the glove. Phlaire followed the track of tracklayer  who owned the scented start article, ignoring the original track walked by the judges the day before. As both judges said, she's a great dog, a great tracking dog. She's just good at everything!! So now she has a TD after her name--and as a parting burden after the trial, the judges and the gallery said, almost in unison--and she's so good, she needs to run the TDX (Tracking Dog Excellent) next. But we can only do that if Teryl has some time to help us again.

Use your back button to sniff out a new story