Tracking is a Team Sport

(reported by the Pat Etchells portion of the team)


When Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Raggs was just a little puppy, he and I had a discussion about tracking. I told him I would take him to fields where hotdogs grew, and in exchange he would put his nose down and track. Here in Oregon, tracking is primarily a winter activity because of foxtails and rattlesnakes, so this project was taking several years. But when we started meeting other trackers regularly, I realized that he really did know how to track and arranged to meet a judge while we were down in California for a show in February.

After he got certified, I thought it would be easy to get into a Northwest test because the pool of trackers had dried up when everyone was passing because of the wet conditions all winter. (I was even test secretary for a TD/TDX/VST in late March that had NO TD entries at all.) But when I started mailing in my entries in the Bay Area the two weekends following our combined test, dogs had come out of the woodwork, and we were ridiculously far down on the alternate lists. Our last shot for 2017 was in Eugene, Oregon, which held a 12-dog test on Easter, and we got in. Doing my part again, I paid the entry fee, and we left home at 4:00 a.m., navigated a number of mountain passes in the fog in the pitch black and got to the site in time for the 7:00 draw. Then I told Raggs it was his turn to contribute to the effort.

The track started out in ankle high lush cover and then changed to stripes of scalped grass and short grass, but Raggs and I were pretty much working as a team until the last quarter of the track. We were confidently going down the field, and he told me the track went through mud toward a treed mound. I believed him for a while, then realized that according to the tracking regulations, the track couldn’t go so close to an obstacle and that he had passed the job back to me.

After the basic tracking tenet of “trust your dog”, the second most important thing to remember is that when you’re in trouble, back up! (And backing up in boot-sucking mud for me and belly-deep mud for him was quite a challenge!) After getting back onto firmer ground, I started encouraging him to circle – and he started off at an angle. Not really trusting him after he had dragged me into the mud, I held him back and backed some more. He came up to me and started offering behaviors – sitting, standing, chewing the lead, whining, lifting his leg. I said “track” and he stared at me.

Now what? I knew I absolutely couldn’t point to the ground – but I had to get this dog going. I untangled his lead, let him sniff the start article, and backed a little. He moved a little then glared at me. So we did the article sniff again, I backed again and did a little in-place footwork – and finally he gave me a disgusted look and took off – back down where I thought he was lying before.

At that point, I had to go with him. There was no whistle, so we kept going. After a short way, I saw something lighter to the left of where he was. It was my turn to help out a little, so I encouraged him to circle and find another short leg - and he homed in on the glove. Happy tweets of the judges’ whistle after about 20 agonizing minutes! (Here on the Left Coast, short tweets mean success. A long whistle is … the whistle.)

(At the wrap up, I learned that the treed mound was home to coyotes and all sorts of other fascinating critters and that there were, indeed, two 50-yard legs at the very end.)

So he’s now Skylark Raggin’ a Tune With Deerhill, CD, TD, RN, DJ, CGC

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