Sunday, November 29, 2009

Illiana Collie Fanciers 3-day trial

We spent the 3 days after Thanksgiving at the Illiana Collie Fanciers Agility Trial in Merrillville, Ind. I've attended this trial at least twice, and I really like the location and judges. Crating never seems to be a problem, and there are good vendors.

Friday Excellent JWW
This was Devon's first attempt at Excellent JWW. There were nearly 100 dogs in the 20 inch class, and Devon was about 3 dogs from the end. Even though we were the first jump height, it was a long wait!

Due to a technical error on my part with the camera being set wrong, we don't have a video of this run. It was a really nice run. Unfortunately when Devon turned to the weave poles, there was lots to look at, including a chair sitting in the goal area, the goal area itself, the empty room behind the goal area, and the numbered cone. By the time Devon got all that looked at, she couldn't possibly make the weave poles!

I restarted her in the weaves, but she went in at pole 2 and then weaved them out. Because she did most of them well, we went on.

The other thing I found with this run is because I ran the shorter path on the inside, I could focus on Devon. I could see when she was starting to lose her focus on her run and look elsewhere and I could stop my motion and give her a name call to keep us connected.

Considering Devon nailed everything but the weave poles, I considered this run a success.

Saturday Excellent JWW
This was another fun, fast JWW course. After a long wait on the start line, Devon was a little slow off the line, but I was pleased not to see any stress in her. Except for only a little hesitation, she read the rear cross very well. Devon also had a little hesitation at the first tunnel. These two tunnel entrances were actually very straight forward, and I wondered if Devon thought they should be harder than they were.

I thought I had Devon lined up for the weaves pretty well, but she blew by them giving me little effort. I turned her around, and she again gave me no effort in the weaves. This aggravated me. After two weekends of beautiful weaves, Devon suddenly wasn't weaving and not giving me effort. I considered making her do them again (you see me hesitate), but then decided not to pick a battle over the weaves in a trial when she's so green.

We went on, and it was a good choice. She runs the last line really strong. I had originally planned to put a front cross in two jumps before the end, mainly to prevent the distraction of the ring crew for Devon. After watching 90 dogs run this course, I decided a pull would be the better way to handle that since the few that tried the front cross barely got it in. Since I only walked the pull once, when I disconnected from Devon to check my location on the course, she did what I expected and was distracted by the ring crew.

In all, I wasn't very happy with this run. It was the worst she'd run in the three weekends, and I was unhappy that she didn't give me much effort at the weave poles. I was probably a little hard on Devon, because the opening and most of the closing was lovely and fast.

Sunday Excellent JWW
The third day, and this was our second 3-day trial in a row. I wondered what Devon would do today. On Saturday evening after the trial, I tracked both Devon and Page. Devon did a lovely job, but Page was too tired and I ended the track early. I woke up with a headache, and Devon took her own sweet time doing her business that morning. She got to spend about 30 minutes walking around the area of the hotel, so I think she had a lovely morning!

We had another great JWW course. Devon gave me just a little lip lick on the line, which was her first sign of start line stress in three weekends. I didn't notice it until I uploaded the videos on the computer, and you see from the start she doesn't seem stressed.

Devon read the pull after the triple like a pro. The third bar of the triple came down a lot, so I was pleased with the opening. Even better, after jump 5 in the pinwheel, you hear me give her a loud name call and hand clap. That was because she was landing facing the judge, and I didn't want her to go say hello. She didn't even flick her head that direction, so I was super proud! The rest of that line into the tunnel was just terrific.

Now we come to the baby dog moments. She came shooting out of that tunnel and saw me really far ahead and came right in to me. This was really my fault. I should have supported that jump better for her, but I was so worried about making that front cross. Devon was a good girl and came with me even though she went around two jumps.

We again had to make two attempts at the weaves, but Devon did go into them and give me effort so I was happy. After the weaves, I didn't trust my baby dog enough and didn't show her enough lateral motion on the 270 for her to get the landing side front cross. Poor Devon does give me a couple of head shakes through here to show me her stress.

We ended the course nicely, and Devon didn't go see the ring crew too badly after the last jump. In all, I think this was a nice run for a green team! P.S. Devon is sporting a new pink leash, which I bought for Page. It looks really good on Devon, and if it breaks in better than her purple one has, Devon will be running in it along with Page!

Overall I was thrilled with Devon's performance this weekend. She had some really lovely fast runs. My goal going into this month of trialing was to keep her speed up. I think we've done just that! Devon is now running at 4.5 YPS or faster. Ian's average JWW run was 4.22 YPS, with only five career runs over 4.5 YPS. That means I'm having to learn to run a faster dog than I've ever run before. Combine that speed with being a green team, and I don't think our mistakes are really all that bad!

The second thing I know about this weekend is that the weave pole spacing was only 20 inches. I found that out last year, and I remember it took Ian 3 runs to get his footwork down on those poles. Devon hasn't run on 20 inch poles in a long time, and she's a green dog. She doesn't have the experience Ian would have to stay in the poles and adjust. Since Devon's poles were fantastic the previous two weekends, I want to see what she does on "home territory" this week in class. I think if I don't make the weaves an issue, they won't be. However, I think some extra weave work over the holidays wouldn't hurt!

One final note on our runs. I tried a different warm up routine with Devon on Saturday. I don't notice that Devon relies a lot on her warm up routine, but I do have very consistent routines in all of our sports. Devon's weakest run of the weekend was Saturday. I went back to the "normal" warm up routine on Sunday, and she did much better. I was also able to get tugging into the ring area on Sunday and clear up to the practice jump. This was new, and it showed me she was very comfortable on Sunday.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Devon, OAJ -- Central Indiana Shetland Sheepdog Club Agility Trial Day 3

We ended this trial on a great note! After two days of beautiful runs, Devon did one for me today. She qualified with a clean run to finish her OAJ, with a second place (8 seconds under SCT) and 0.27 seconds behind a Border Collie.

Devon has continued to improve with every run. Her weaves were incredibly solid today, and she was fast. I led out to just past the first jump, which was new for us. When I said, "OK" to release her, I saw Devon lift straight up to come off that start line, and I knew I was going to have run RUN!! That push was a little harder to get in today than it was on Friday! No worries about her going around the first jump any more! I'm seeing none of the startline stress I saw the last time we trialed in June.

I was worried about the tunnel entrance because of yesterday, but Devon read it correctly. I heard her flying through the tunnel and knew I had to get into place to cue collection for the turn to the weaves just over the next jump. Devon handled that weave entrance like a pro and I think her weaves were faster today than yesterday.

After the weaves, you had to pull 90 degrees to the right with an off course jump pretty close in front of them. As I walked the course I knew I could show no forward movement and depending on how fast Devon came out of the weaves, she could catch me flat footed. I wanted to do a front cross two jumps after the weaves; but when Devon came flying out of those poles in the correct direction, I knew I wasn't going to make it. Looking at the video I think I might have made it, but it would have been close and I would have risked the off course.

The rest of the course was lovely, with me pushing for a front cross and then almost running into a post doing a pull to the finish. There were lots of compliments for Devon coming out of the ring! And I had a couple of people say I made that run look effortless. HA! I'm pushing for every step out there, and that wasn't easy! I'm just glad I have a fantastic partner!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Central Indiana Shetland Sheepdog Club Agility Trial Day 2

Today was an earlier day since JWW was first, followed by Standard. Since we're still in Open JWW, I got to work big dogs for Excellent JWW. It was great to sit in the ring and watch what was working and what was a train wreck. Unfortunately it didn't help me much. Judge Scott Chamberlain is being sneaky! He's nesting courses so there are hardly any actual jump changes, but he's making the path completely different from Excellent to Open.

As challenging as the courses have been over two days, I have really enjoyed them. I don't mind a challenge, and the dogs do get to rip on Scott's courses. Today's Open JWW was no exception. When I looked at the opening the first option I saw was to run the dog on left and rear cross the weave pole entry. The other option included a two-jump lead out push or a front cross after the second jump or a straight push (all variations of the same handling).

After walking the course, I decided on my initial thought of a rear cross into the weaves. This is something Devon handles well and has done in competition before (in June). I felt it was also my best option for getting speed off the startline by running with her.

Next, the course required a front cross after the weaves. Again a skill Devon does well, but then I realized I was doing two of the hardest handling moves at the weaves on an Open dog. Oh well, we'd see what she could handle!

The only other concern I had on this course was the front cross with an off course tunnel in their face. Even though I didn't like this option, this was similar to what the Excellent dogs had. The handlers who chose to pull and then rear cross the jump before the tunnel struggled. The dogs didn't read the rear back to the tunnel and thought they were going forward to a jump, causing a very wide and ugly path for the dog. I didn't want to potentially shut Devon down with this handling because I was concerned even if she went wide she would think she was wrong.

Below is our run. Devon handles the weave poles like a dream! Unfortunately I was slightly late on my front cross near the tunnel and Devon was already fully committed to that tunnel way before she took off for the jump. You can see she does look at me before going into the tunnel, and bless her buttons she knows exactly which jump to take and in which direction when she comes out of the tunnel! What a good girl! After I got situated, we finished the course very strong. The rear in the close worked fine, but I felt like I could have had time to do a front cross. Unfortunately with the pole and how tight the jumps were through that section, I think a rear was my best option.

What a great run this was! Yes, I would LOVE to get a Q ribbon and get out of Open JWW, but I could watch those weaves all day! Devon is just looking so strong, and it's giving both of us confidence. This was my goal, and as long as she's looking good, I'll continue to be happy.

Oh, and day two of the mesh crates is still going just fine. We had a couple of problems with Page's toys mysteriously disappearing from her crate. Surprisingly they showed up in Emma's crate. Hummmm. However Sadie the Golden showed up when Emma was out and Page's bone took a tour of the building with Sadie. After Sadie gave it up (with a little persuasion), it went back to Page's crate.

I think the girls got Emma back, though. After she left, Devon and Page grabbed her toy off her crate and it made a tour of the building and parking lot on the way to our van. Never fear, it's back safe and sound on Emma's crate tonight! What will these Goldens think of next??

Central Indiana Shetland Sheepdog Club Agility Trial Day 1

Our first 3-day agility trial in months! We got to sleep in on Friday since we were only running Open JWW and the trial started with FAST, then Standard and finally JWW.

We arrived around 12 noon with lunch (including a yummy Peppermint Chocolate Chip Milkshake from Steak 'n Shake - I love this time of year!!). I am trying an experiment this weekend. Both Page and Devon are in mesh crates. Since Devon has eaten her way out of one as a puppy, I've kept her in metal crates for 3 years. But recently I tried mesh crates at a run through and they worked fine. I had the van with me so I had metal crates available if something went wrong. But so far so good!

Devon had an absolutely beautiful run. It was a challenging course, but I decided to stick with my goal of getting fast, drivey runs regardless of Q rate. I also decided that I would handle Devon as I would a seasoned dog. I can trust her. She knows her job, and she's confident.

The opening was ideal for a two-jump lead out push. However, I never did those in competition with Ian. Even though he could handle the skill, he was insecure sitting on the startline so far away from me. Instead I would lead out and just do a push.

Leading out past the first jump is risky with Devon. In the past she's been insecure about being left and will come around the first jump. So my plan was to get at least to the jump standard and then run like heck! It worked like a charm! What a good girl!

Next were two pinwheels both needing front crosses. Devon did this very well. She wanted to disconnect in the second pinwheel, but I never let the connection slip away.

Devon's weave entrance was beautiful, as were her weaves ... until she comes out and visits a bar setter. I was so shocked to see her come out of the poles, and halfway to the bar setter I think she realized she wasn't supposed to do that. To keep her from worrying, I didn't react and got her back on course to a lovely finish. I had been worried about that tunnel entrance in the close, but Devon a fantastic job with it.

So in spite of Devon's brain fart in the weaves, this was a fantastic run. And both girls spent the whole day in mesh crates with no escaping! That makes set up and tear down easier!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Page is 9 months old!

Page is 9 months old today. She's such a great dog, and so full of personality and life! She has a great sense of humor. A couple of weeks ago I was cleaning off stuff that had been stacked on a chair for months. I thought it would be a great place to sit and read in the office/family room. I took the last of the stuff downstairs to the garage, and as I came up the stairs, look who had already laid claim to the chair and was peaking at me around the corner of the room!

Page still has poor Ian terrified, but I'm slowly letting the two of them hang out in the same areas. It lasts for a little while until Page starts chasing Ian and "tasting" his black fur. She's such a devil. He freaks out (which is what she wanted) and runs upstairs. She just trots back into the living room with her head held high and a very proud look on her face.

And of course all the bones in the house are hers. It doesn't matter if she's standing in a pile of bones, if one dog is chewing on a bone, she must have the one that dog is chewing on. She's so annoying that the dogs all give into her. Here's a couple of video clips of her annoying behavior. You can see in the first one Devon comes up to ask me to make her stop. In the second clip you can see video evidence of multiple toys in the room for her to play with! I'm not sure why Devon thinks I can make her stop, because it's never worked in the past.

WARNING: you might want to turn down the volume before hitting play!

So happy three-quarters birthday, Page! I love you even if you annoy the daylights out of your canine siblings! They were once puppies, too, and you'll get it back someday when another generation comes into the house!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Congrats to MACH Grace and Debbie!

I want to send out a huge congratulations to Debbie and Forrest Held and MACH Grace (a.k.a. MACH Van-M Goodness Gracious CDX, RA, MX, MXJ, NF, HIC, CGC, DPP). Grace is Debbie's second agility dog, with her older dog Rose earning a PAX. Debbie has worked very hard with Grace, who is her first MACH dog at the ripe old age of 3! I'm really proud of this outstanding team. I think Debbie's huge smile in this photo tells the whole story! Way to go girls! We're super proud of you!

Bearded Collie Club Agility Trial

On Saturday, we drove to Lewisburg, Ohio, and Circle G Arena for the Bearded Collie Club's Agility Trial. I only entered Saturday, because Page was entered in a TDX test in Chicago. Of course, with her pass last weekend, we allowed someone else to take her spot, and we didn't have the pressure to get home to rest.

Because of the running order and not entering FAST, I got to sleep in and didn't rush to get to the trial. It's been almost a year since I've trialed in Ohio, and it was wonderful to see all my old friends.

Devon's teeter fears have returned in the last 3-4 weeks (more on that in a future post), so I pulled her from Standard and just ran JWW. We have not trialed in 5 months with hunt tests and tracking tests. Devon has become a very confident agility dog in that time, running Excellent/Master level courses with ease. I was excited to trial this weekend to see if her confidence in class transfered to the ring.

Our Open JWW course by Lisa Rieves was a course I liked. When compared to Excellent JWW, it had the same opening (1-6), the same entrance into the weaves (8-11) and the same close (11-18). The Excellent dogs ran the course well, and several big dog handlers came out smiling and said it ran well.

I saw two options for handling the opening. Option A had dog on right from the start with a landing side front cross after 3. Option B had the dog starting on right and doing a take-off side rear cross on 5. Either option had me doing a landing side front cross after 6.

For the close, I again saw two options. Option A was a landing side front cross on 14 with a pull to the finish. Option B had a rear cross on the flat after 15.

Based on the Excellent dogs, the start was demotivating for most dogs, with an opening pinwheel and the dog headed right into the ring gate off 1 and 2. A landing side front cross on 3 worked well for a solid, seasoned dog who trusted their handlers and for fast drivey dogs. However, that bar on jump 2 came down a lot or dogs pulled off jump 2 as handlers moved in the opposite direction to get into position on jump 3.

The Excellent dogs handled the close very well, so either a front cross on 14 or a rear after 15 worked. Hummmm, what to do? Based on her history, Devon has preferred me to get out of her way and rear cross at trials. It's not my comfort level, but I need to support my dog. So after walking it several times, I decided to rear cross on the take-off side of 5, front cross on the landing side of 6 and rear cross on the flat between 15-16.

Now that my handling was decided, I reviewed my only goal for the run: to stay positive and see a very fast drivey run like I've seen in class. This is why I'm trialing Devon in JWW even when I'm not running in Standard. I want her to learn trials are fun and she needs to run fast. I don't want her to feel pressure and slow down to a crawl.

Analysis of our run: Devon was in fine form going to the line. Although she stopped tugging the minute we walked in the building, she was really pumped. She loved the high value treats (steak and ham) and was foaming at the mouth for more. Jostling outside the ring when I set our stuff near where they posted the results only to find my way blocked three times didn't faze her. And we went in a dog early when the dog in front of us who had checked in wasn't at the gate. Again, Devon wasn't bothered.

Devon sat quickly at the line with none of her past startline stress. She was ready to go. She was slower off the start line than I expected, which was probably caused by the demotivating start I had already identified. I was glad I decided to continue to support her through jumps 1-3 and not pull off for the landing side front cross.

However, I think I showed a little too much motion and acceleration through 3, 4 and 5 because there was no stopping Devon! She was flying and didn't pay any attention to my lateral motion to cue the take off side rear cross and took 14 as an off course. Oh well, the qualifying score was gone with that off course, but I still needed to reach my goal of staying positive and having a fast drivey run.

Devon came back to me with a good attitude at jump 7 and did a lovely job into the weave poles. The off side entry wasn't easy. On the video you hear Kim complimenting Devon's weaves, and they did look fantastic. All the work we did this spring and the confidence she's gain in classes over the summer has really paid off.

In the close I probably should have done the landing side front cross after 14. First, I was standing still to get the rear cross, which always means you would have had time for the front cross. More importantly, with me behind her, Devon was able to focus outside the ring and get distracted, causing her to miss jump 17. Kim's comment of "devil" was pretty accurate!

Overall, I think I met my goal of staying positive and getting a drivey run from Devon. She was happy out there, and her tail was wagging clear to the end. While I saw a lack of focus a couple of times (not surprising because she is so environmentally aware), I didn't see stress of slowing. Even better, she was more than 9 seconds under SCT even with the off course. That's a great improvement in her speed!

I wonder if our past experience with rear crosses working so well in trials had more to do with me staying out of Devon's way (i.e. not micromanaging her) and trusting her to do her job than the rear cross itself. I think I should trust her in trials and push for more seasoned dog handling, which includes landing side front crosses. We perform them well in class when I push and trust her, so it's time for me to relax and work them in the ring. We'll have lots more practice, because we have three weekends of agility coming up!

An evening of VST tracking

Friday evening I laid a VST track for both girls. Page had been especially bored this week, so I knew she could work. And if I want to finish out the girls' tracking titles, I must get out and train!

Page's track
Page's track was 284 yards long with 164 yard of non-veg (57%). It was aged 3 hours and 10 minutes, and it had no chalk or extra scent. I thought she did a great job transitioning onto the parking lot. I thought about her hard surface turn and put it into the curb. I think that actually confused her more than if it had been on the sidewalk! Page had a difficult time finding the scent in the curb, searching the grass, sidewalk and parking lot. I finally pointed to the curb and she locked in and moved forward.

I gave her a bit of veg before taking her past the front of the building under the pull through drop off. She got a bit of confidence back on that grass and in the grass on the opposite side of the doorway. Page did a great job tracking across her last bit of parking lot and into the grass to the end of the track.

I did forget to load some treats into the articles, and Page missed the metal article in the curb. That's a good lesson for me that we'll have to work article indications all over again for VST. She did a great job on the plastic article that was in the open in the parking lot, and right after indicating it, she gave me a good, "not mine" indication on a bit of trash. Page did find the leather article at the end of the track well.

Generally, this was a very nice track. It was fully aged with no assistance, so we're off to a good start for VST.

Devon's track
Devon's track was across the driveway by the next building in this office park. Her track was aged about 3 hours and 25 minutes. It was 282 yards with 192 yards of non-veg (62%). It did not have extra scent, but I did put chalk on her MOT turn.

Devon did a lot of searching at the start. We were in a grove of ornamental trees, and the leaves were falling. I had to rescent her, and she finally got to work. After checking all the other possibilities, Devon took the turn onto the parking lot, and then confidently tracked across it.

She again checked all the possibilities on the next turn before committing onto the sidewalk and to the front of the building. She was again very confident once she committed. Of course I lost my metal article. I figured I would when I left it in front of the building. Darn it!

Devon continued on the sidewalk very confidently and then transitioned up on the grass in front of the building. I wanted to give her some veg tracking before asking her to go into the parking lot and do an MOT.

She overshot the veg turn, but worked her way back and practically dragged me across the drive. She found her plastic article easily, even though I forgot it was tucked around the corner of the island. I LOVE Devon's article indications. She thinks this game is so much fun and to find articles are like finding food to another dog!

Devon did some circling on her parking lot leg, but not the frantic circling I've seen in the past. She did continue to make progress down the leg. She overshot the MOT turn, and she wanted to keep moving past it. I held her and asked her to work. I couldn't see the chalk, but I made the turn on a white line so I knew where it was.

She worked in the correct direction twice but didn't commit, and she worked other directions, too. After a water break and another rescent, Devon dropped her head on the white line of the new leg and took off down it. Once on the center island, she worked easily down the veg. Devon overshot her leather article to inspect a drain, but she worked back to find it.

In thinking about MOT turns, I plan to put some extra scent down for Devon with hand prints the next time I lay them. I think that would give Devon more confidence as we re-visit this skill.

Overall, this was a very nice track. Because I saw stress in her tracking this summer as we were working field, I wonder if I was reading too much into her searches on her corners. After thinking about this track, I believe she did her usual amount of loss of scent/ruling out other direction searching. I need to be careful that I don't compare Devon and Page's tracking styles and expect Devon to look like Page. I've been tracking Page so much, I think I was projecting Page's style onto my expectations of Devon.

I don't believe Devon is less of a tracking dog, but she does track differently than Page. Page is a meticulous footstep tracker. She has her nose down on the non-veg surface most of the time. Devon doesn't have her nose down as far as Page, and she searches a wider area. These are differences in style I need to learn to read. Hopefully, tracking them more often and together will help me do that.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Videos of the big day

One of the White River Golden Retriever Club members created this fantastic video of our fun day at Prophetstown for the TDX test. Hope you enjoy the clips! You can tell we had a great day!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Page, Tracking Dog Excellent!

Yep, you read that correctly. At the ripe old age of 8 months and 3 weeks after passing her TD, Page earned her TDX on her first attempt. The TDX test has a passing rate between 15-19%. While it's my favorite tracking to train, the test is grueling. The test track is 800-1,000 yards long, aged 3-5 hours, between 5-7 turns with obstacles (woods, roads, creeks, fences, etc.) and intentional human cross tracks put in two places 1.5 hours after the initial track is laid.

I think TDX work is my favorite to train, much like Open and Utility are more fun for dog and handler than Novice obedience. Once you've trained a dog in tracking, TD work is "boring" much like Novice obedience is all heeling. TDX work acknowledges the dog knows how to track, but then applies it to all sorts of circumstances. The dog learns to problem solve more, and the handler learns how her dog thinks and solves those problems. I also enjoy being outside in beautiful parks seeing nature and animals, especially in the fall as the leaves are turning and the weather is cool.

Now onto Page's track. If you've been following the blog, you know I taught Page all aspects of tracking from the beginning. She got her first TDX track on May 30, and we have it on video that she handled it very well. After Page certified for her TD at 19 weeks, I concentrated on VST and TDX work, with occasional TD tracks. In September I stopped working VST and stuck with TD and TDX tracks since I knew she had tests coming up. So while many people are shocked an 8-month-old Golden Retriever passed her TDX, Page had been working TDX for months and I knew she could handle the work.

We also made sure she could handle long, test-level tracks because Steve laid us two blind TDX tracks that Page passed. Those tracks were important, especially the last one which was 990 yards long. It told me a lot about how Page would handle the length and stress of an actual test. One important thing I learned is that she is less precise and overshoots turns when she's tired. That knowledge would come in handy!

We entered the White River Golden Retriever Club's annual TDX test. This is my local club, and the site was only 1 hour north of me, so I had tracked there four times. In those four tracks, Page has done her weakest tracking. Only once did I think she tracked well, twice I had to walk her through sections of the track and once we had to end the track at the first article.

This week of training was about two things: confidence building tracks for Page and my mental game. I think confident tracks for Page was more for me than her. I ran a track in a location I knew she tracked well on Tuesday. It was aged 3 hours and 10 minutes but it was only 470 yards. On Thursday my friend laid a TD track, but aged it 3 hours and gave me extra articles to work indications. Page aced these tracks, so I had confidence in her tracking abilities and knew I could read her.

Now for my mental game! I did a LOT of positive visualization this week. I stayed up beat all week and replayed the good tracks Page had run to this point, putting the bad ones out of my mind. I recalled that Page tracks other people very well, and that I'm probably boring for her to track. I even visualized the telephone calls I'd make to Gayle and Lise and the email I'd send to Donna upon our successful track. On the drive to the test, I thanked God for the beautiful weather and my very smart puppy. I laughed and joked with my friends before the test and made sure I had a smile on my face 100% of the time. I found little things to make me laugh. It's hard to be stressed when you are smiling.

Our draw items were adorable little flip flop boxes that had been painted by Janet Ripley with tracking flags, paw prints and a glove. I chose the Raspberry flip flop (for Ms. Raspberry of course) and we drew track 3. This was the same as her TD track, and our tracklayer was Kris Kothe, the same person Devon tracked 2 years ago. I know Kris is a very capable tracklayer, so I was pleased. I hate running the last tracks, so I was thrilled with a fairly early draw.

I didn't really watch the first two dogs, because I lose my focus if I do. The first dog didn't really commit off the start flag and didn't get past the first turn. The second dog made it past the first turn but got sucked into the cross tracks on the second leg. Then it was our turn.

We had to wait 10 minutes before we could run our track since the first two dogs failed so quickly. Seriously, how much small talk can you make with the two judges before you start? Page was ready to go and was barking and wagging her tail whenever anyone looked her way. Finally they told me I could "suit up" and get my dog out and we headed to our flag.

It was a lovely start in a small mowed path with prairie grass on one side and heavy cover on the other. Page saw the flag and made a beeline for it. She paused at the start article and as I got next to her and started to lean down and pick it up, she was off on her track.

So much for giving her some kind of a command! Apparently she was ready and only needed me to drive her to the test and walk her to the startline. It reminded me of a what Donna says about Page's mother, Bizzy. She'll lock on a mark and say, "I got it, Mom! Send me!" Apparently Page didn't wait to be started, she had it!

The first leg was 110 yards. Page showed me loss of scent, and we had heavy cover now on both sides. I turned to my right and saw a really clear path up the hill. But Page checked left, then forward, then left. I figured we'd be there a while.

Page is a footstep tracker, which means she is very meticulous. She worked for a few seconds, then came right to where the track turned and sniffed the ground and you could see her say, "OH! It went THIS way!" And up the hill we went at full speed! Over the hill and we were in a set of woods and now going down hill at full speed.

I've said there's a reason I wanted to do Page's vegetative tracking while she was still less than 50 pounds and I can stay on my feet while she's tracking. Sure enough I got one foot hung up in a limb and about went down face first about the time I saw something black in the leaves in front of us. I kept my feet and felt sure I was looking at Page's first article.

Article indications have been tough for Page. She loves the game of tracking, but feels no reason to stop and show me articles that are right there on the track where I can trip over them. In the last two months I've really insisted on an indication and won't let her track on without one. While I prefer a retrieve of the article, we have finally compromised on Page stopping and standing over the article until I get it (and usually give her a treat). Of course, I was fully prepared for Page to give me no indication and for me to have to fake one for the judges. Bless her heart when she stopped dead (even with all that momentum coming downhill) and gave me an indication for a black hat!

We had 125 yards of that woods, then we broke out of it for a road crossing. Now most people might fear a road as an obstacle, but I was thrilled. Page has been working VST since she was only a few weeks old, so she's very comfortable on non-veg.

In fact during the awards ceremony, judge Ule James said it was very clear Page had worked VST since she actually tracked across the road. Our track angled across the road, and most dogs will square up and jump the road and find the track on the other side. Page actually put her nose on the blacktop and tracked at an angle across the road. It was so cool for the judge to tell everyone how smart she was!

The photos here are two perspectives of our road crossing. One if from the gallery's perspective taken by Susie and Ginger Rezy. The other is a judge's perspective taken by Ule James.

After the road we had 35 yards of veg then a 5 yard walking/biking path then back into vegetation with trees (this second leg was a total of 240 yards).

Toward the end of this leg, Page flicked her head to the left and showed loss of scent. She worked forward and to the right, but also indicated left. As she worked the loss of scent/turn, I could tell she knew the track went left, but as a footstep tracker she couldn't find the new leg and was only catching the scent in the wind.

As she worked, I wanted to back up, because I realized we were past the turn. However with the wind at our back, it was pushing the scent in front of us and to the right so as Page worked the scent cone, she was working away from the actual turn. I couldn't walk backwards because she wasn't going behind me searching for the scent.

It was incredibly frustrating to watch her work and struggle but not be able to help her except by rescenting her. Had I walked backwards I would have been whistled off (failed) for guiding my dog; I had to wait until she worked backwards. I knew she could solve this problem, because she has many times in the past; but the with an 8-12 mph wind working against her, it was a much harder problem to solve.

Finally after more than 10 minutes on this turn she started to solve her problems, working out the scent cone and finally moving backwards. I immediately adjusted to help her and she finally found the track 5 ft. behind me. She had worked 18-20 yards past the turn before she recovered. I don't know what the gallery or judges were thinking, but I had was never so grateful to see her lock into a leg in my life!

Page didn't flinch on her first set of cross tracks, which were on a 120 yard leg in medium cover. She over shot her third turn, but not as badly as the second one (only about 20 ft.) and worked it out quickly. As soon as she committed to the fourth leg, I figured we had the test made.

The judges said she scalloped to the right at the second set of cross tracks. I do remember her going right and readjusting, but I wouldn't have realized it was due to cross tracks. Thirty yards past the cross tracks, she got her next article, a grey wool sock, again with a perfect indication.

The article gave her a second wind. She was off like a shot and I had to leap over a hole and jog to catch up. Page railed her last two turns, and once on the final leg, I was scouring the ground in front of her for the glove.

Page winded the article and was searching for it, finding it before I saw it. She stopped over it and turned back to look at me. I told her she was brilliant over and over until I reached the glove. I put my hand in the air to tell the judges she found it, and then I wrapped my arms around her neck and hugged her, kissed her and cried! We sat on the ground playing tug until the judges and tracklayer got to us. The gallery was pulling their cars up and honking. Once they parked, they came running into the field for more hugs and tears!

Page's track was 850 yards long. It was aged exactly 3 hours. It had 5 turns. Our obstacles were an open woods, road and path. She ran the track in 26 minutes. It was sunny and 65 degrees with a slight (8-12 mph) wind. Page was the only dog out of six total to pass our test. Our judges were Ule James and Steve Ripley.

If you ever get to track for Ule, he carries a camera (you've seen his photos here), and he makes the most incredible maps -- they are to scale! He also writes little notes on them like "got it" for the articles and "good recover" (that was for that second turn) and "good job!" for the cross tracks.

What a wonderful way to earn Page's TDX! We were at our home club with all our tracking buddies. Good friend and mentor Steve Ripley was one of our judges. Good friend, ace tracklayer and artist Janet Ripley made adorable draw items for me to treasure. So many friends who have supported us and laid tracks for us were on hand to race out into the field and give us hugs of congratulations. Susie and Ginger took great photos and made a fun slideshow with perfect captions.

White River held up their expectations for a great post-test pitch in lunch, and I was ravenous! Page enjoyed the cake and Bernie shared the rest of his meatballs and chicken chili with Page. Someone asked me if I was going to stop and give her a hamburger - not after she enjoyed the pitch in and cake!

And did I mention I think I have the greatest puppy in the world!! Boy I love this dog!