Monday, May 31, 2010

Observing a VST test

Since one of my goals this year is to get Devon and Page test-ready for VST, I thought I should go watch a VST test to see what I was getting myself into. In mid-April, I went to Chicago to watch the Moraine Tracking Club's VST test at Lincolnshire. I even got to see one dog pass!

This is a wonderful tracking club, full of great and helpful people. The grounds at Lincolnshire are perfect; what a lovely office park they have to test in. Judges Ted Hoesel and Beth Walker plotted interesting tracks, and I was able to walk behind all 8 participants that day.

I think my greatest observation from the test is that thanks to training with Steve Ripley, we are on the right track (no pun intended) with our training. We're working on the things the dogs will be tested on, specifically transitions and "moment of truth" or MOT turns. I will always be grateful for the opportunity to learn from Steve and from all the tracking teams he's followed in his years of judging.

I got to see some great handling and some really bad handling at this test. It reinforced to me how important it is to trust your dog and how to be patient while the dog is working out scenting problems. Handler Allison Bently who passed that day with her GSD Meghan was the perfect example of patience and trust. After working out a MOT turn, Meghan cut the corner of the next turn when she spotted her plastic article in a parking lot. Meghan came up on the article from the south, but the leg ran east-west with the track going east to Allison's right.

After picking up the article, watering and rescenting, Meghan continued north in the direction she traveled to find the article; it was also the direction Allison was facing. However, after 15 ft. Meghan's head lifted, she circled, and she correctly identified the track to Allison's right and tracked off in that direction, 90 degrees from where Allison was facing and from the path they had taken to the article. The gallery knew this was correct, but Allison was running a blind track. When Meghan showed Allison tracking posture, Allison immediate turned and followed her dog across the parking lot and eventually through two more turns to the final article.

Following your dog in a different direction after picking up an article has got to be a hard decision. And in this case, Allison correctly chose to trust her dog and their team was rewarded with the coveted "Champion Tracker" title. Those decisions are easier to make when you know how to read your dog and you have had lots of tracking "mileage" under your belt.

Equally as educational but monumentally frustrating was following another team where the handler failed mightily in his job to read his dog. It was the team's first VST test, and this amazing Golden Retriever made the first leg of this track look easy. I learned from club members and seasoned trackers, that the leg full of transitions in front of a large building with the wind coming off the pond was extremely difficult. After turning at the side of the building, the dog didn't hesitate to track straight into the middle of a parking lot.

Even to me, it was clear when the dog indicated loss of scent and wanted to make a right MOT turn. The dog indicated this turn several times and the gallery became hopeful we'd see another pass that day. However, our hopes were dashed as the handler forced the dog forward ignoring more than a dozen indications of a right hard surface turn.

The ever patient judges allowed this team to work left and eventually the dog brought the handler back to the very same spot and again indicated the right MOT turn. This time the handler took it and our hopes soared. However, when dog and handler reached a grassy island and the dog indicated a left turn on the island, the handler again ignored his dog. Eventually the confused handler circled back around to the right and ended up on the previous leg (even walking right past the judges going in the wrong direction) and again pushed his dog past the MOT turn the dog had worked so hard to accomplish. That is when they heard the whistle.

As a member of the gallery, I got to witness first hand how frustrating it must be to be a VST judge. After seeing more than a dozen indications of that turn from the dog, I lost count how many times that dog told his handler where the track went, only to have the handler think he knew better. No matter how much you think you know, you must over-ride your brain and follow your dog. The dog has the nose and knows where the track is. Your job is to recognize when the dog is on the track and when he/she isn't.

Finally, I got to see several MOT turns on actual test tracks. I now have a better understanding of these turns and how they can be used. According to the AKC's Tracking Regulations, a MOT is defined as:
At least one (1) moment of truth 90-degree turn will be in an area devoid of
vegetation and will be plotted to allow at least thirty (30) yards before crossing
or returning to a vegetated surface.
I had always envisioned MOTs as turns in the middle of a parking lot or non-vegetated area and no vegetation within 30 yards in any direction. While that is an example of an MOT, I also got to see other examples which were turns that were devoid of vegetation, at least 30 yards from vegetation in many directions and could not be successfully accomplished by fringing the scent on vegetation.

Here is an example of two MOTs. Turn 2 is what I would typically think of as an MOT. However, Turn 1 is also an MOT. There is an island close to one leg before the turn; but the turn could not be successfully done with the dog working any vegetation and the track did not cross vegetation for more than 30 yards. Seeing turns like this gives me even more ideas for working MOT as we train.

Our trip to Lincolnshire was educational and worth the time we took. It encouraged me that our training is going in the right direction. And it gave me real life examples of how important it is to read your dog and trust your dog while tracking.

No comments: