Saturday, January 7, 2012

2011 Flashback: CT Devon!

I cannot believe it's taken me this long to post about Devon's VST/CT pass. Devon is my first certified tracking dog, first TD, first TDX and second VST/CT dog. Devon and I have learned tracking together, and she has been a wonderful teacher. Without Devon, Page would never have earned her CT ... even though it was a year earlier than Devon's pass. I've told Devon since we got Page that her journey is going to take a different path than Page's - and that's OK by me!

Devon made the third draw in the Oct. 2, 2011, Glenbard Obedience Training Club's VST test in DeKalb, Ill., on the campus of Northern Illinois University. This was the second time I'd made the trip to this campus and this test. It was the site of Page's pass on Oct. 3, 2010, and of Devon's first VST test.

I was more than ready for Devon's VST journey to be over in October 2011. The first fall had been fantastic. Page earned her VST at her first test, and out of three tests in the fall of 2010, Devon nearly passed two coming within approx. 100 yards of the final article. I knew my dog could pass this test! I was content that most VST/CT journeys take several tries and a lot of time due to the difficulty of getting into tests and then passing them. I knew it was your track on your day, so I was fine to hold her over the winter.

But the winter of 2010-2011 was very cold and snowy without much tracking. Then we started entering spring tests and NOT making the draw. UGH! Here I had a dog ready and no tests! We finally made the sixth test we entered, the last test of the season in late May. It was a sunny day and the first 85 degree day and my dog was toast. At that point, I knew I'd have to hold Devon over the summer, and with work ramping up I knew it would be tough to track.

The summer of 2011 was HOT. I realized that Devon couldn't track VST above 75 degrees. As fall approached and the October VST test deadlines were looming, we'd only tracked about 7-8 times. Devon looked good ... but then I again was I dreaming she looked good? We'd hardly tracked, so was she really ready for the grueling VST test? I entered, trusting my dog, and we made the draw for the first test of our fall season.

It was good we'd been to DeKalb. I knew the area and was comfortable. It was also good I knew the route, because Sunday morning came with pockets of very heavy fog. There were times on my drive to the campus that I couldn't see past the hood of the van.

I got to campus very early and waited. I chatted with two wonderful people with Goldens, one new to tracking and working the test. Finally the draw came, and we got track #2! Yeah!!! I LOVE early tracks. I had hoped for an early track, because if it ran like the year before, the early tracks were on the west side of campus in the less populated areas. The down side of those tracks was geese, as I'd learned the year before. The downsides of the later tracks were people and squirrels!

In a last minute judging change, Darlene Bernard was joining her husband John as the judge because the original judge was ill. This was the same judging panel as I'd had the previous year. I stayed at the draw site, as they wanted each of the participants to stay there during the track before them.

I heard quickly that the exhibitor at track #1 failed, so it was our turn! I drove to the track, but there was no parking near the start, so I handed over my keys to a wonderful person in the gallery, got Devon, and we walked with Darlene to the start.

Here is where the test got REALLY interesting. Devon's start was almost exactly where Page's final article had been the previous year. I knew this was going to be tough for me not to want the track to be like Page's track. I was going to have to watch and trust my dog.

Darlene told me as we were walking to the track that they moved the start up because there was a bunny nest near it (i.e., don't let my dog go backwards!!). Then Devon saw a squirrel playing near her start as we walked up. I was NOT going to let her go squirrel hunting this year (an evil squirrel on this campus last year is why she didn't pass).

Devon started well, and indicated her first turn nicely. However, when she got halfway down the leg, she start circling. Unfortunately, she had to poop, which makes her very distracted while tracking. The first orange box on the map is the search area she made after she pooped. This was again very hard on me, because this was the exact search area Page had on this test the previous year. The track could have gone on either side of this street, and as much as I thought it was on the other side, I doubted myself as to whether I wanted it there because it was last year.

Devon finally dragged me across the street (the blue line) and came up with a plastic article. Later, Darlene said that was one of the nicest pieces of tracking she'd ever seen from a VST dog, and the fact that I followed her unquestioningly was a nice piece of handling. This was also the same location where Page dragged me back across the street last year to track to her pass. Things were very eerie for me!

Devon came up with the plastic article, but she did it coming perpendicular to the track. I suspected this, but when she started working forward, I let her explore. Again, I wasn't sure if I was reading her correctly or wanting it to be like 2010. Finally when she worked back toward where we found the article, I opened my shoulders toward either possibility, sat her, watered her and rescented her. When she worked along the purple line, I stepped out in confidence behind her. This was a difficult mental thing to do, because I had so many doubts.

We came upon a pavement pad between trees and a dumpster and imagine my horror to see the ground covered in broken glass (marked on the map in the red box). Lots of it! I took a subtle peek behind me and Darlene was still directly behind me as was the gallery (always a good sign), so I pushed Devon through the glass. When she wanted to circle, I guided her on through, not caring if I got a reprimand from the judges. I was not going to injure my dog! (I checked and washed her paws thoroughly after the test.)

Out onto the parking lot, and in VST, that means you are looking for an MOT, or Moment of Truth turn. For those non-trackers that's a 90 degree turn on a non veg surface where the dog cannot accomplish the turn by fringing on veg; typically it means no veg within at least 30 yards of the turn in any direction.

When Devon indicated a right turn, then double checked herself and indicated it again, I went. You can see by the blue line on the map, she turned a little early. As we tracked forward, I was searching the area for another article, knowing most judges will try and reward the dog with an article after the MOT if they can, and we had not yet had an article on non-veg (at least one article needs to be on non-veg). I saw the article about a split second before Devon winded it and headed that way.

At the article, I knew two things. First, I knew the track diverged from the 2010 track here, because Devon's article was at the spot of Page's MOT in 2010. Second, I knew the track went forward along the building and into the grass because we had no place else to go. We only had to find that last article, and we still needed one more turn, but we were close. In fact, Devon and I had been this close on two other occasions the fall of 2010, but I was determined we'd finish this time! We had only a little more parking lot and good lush grass in front of us!

After a water break and a rescent at the article, Devon tracked strongly across the parking lot to the grass. I could see the tracklayer's steps in the wet grass into the pine trees. Out of the pine trees, Devon started circling. The orange box shows you the search area, and the photo here is of us during the search. Devon looks confident, doesn't she? The final article is to my left up the hill, beyond it's crest and to the right of the two pines and shadows of the trees.

I think this is the only place I really almost panicked. We were so close, and we'd failed at this point two other times! My mental game slipped, and I was ready to put my nose down and find that last article myself!

What you can't tell from the map but can see in the photo is that we had to go up hill for the final article. After seeing the end of the track and the terrain, I do know why Devon struggled here. Remember I said it was very, very foggy that morning? Fog is damp and damp holds scent. I now know she was working the scent cone from the final article. It had traveled downhill with the fog and settled in that valley area, especially the taller cover she wanted to go into. The tracklayer's scent was trapped in the trees, but once she cleared them, Devon was exposed to this large fairly dense scent cone she needed to explore. Her early article search about gave me heart failure!

Finally we worked back to that pine tree area, where I knew the track was. I sat Devon and watered her and rescented her and she settled right back into her job, moving forward and uphill. As we crested the small rise, I saw a bright teal sock on the grass and as Devon crested the hill right after me, she saw it too. Devon made a beeline for it, and as soon as it was in her mouth I raised my hand in success!

Can you see me with my arm in the air on the hill in the upper middle of this photo? And Darlene with her hands in the air by the pine trees in the lower left. Darlene was all smiles when she saw Devon come back down the hill, sock in hand. She cheered in delight, as did John behind her and the gallery sent up a cheer, too. I think that's my tracklayer in the gallery with her arm in the air.

I was in tears as soon as Devon had that sock. I ran down the hill and threw my arms around Darlene and thanked her for passing both of my girls to their Champion Tracker. The first words out of her mouth were, "I know! And did that track look familiar???" What a hoot! I bet Darlene was floored when I drew track #2.

After a quick hug for John, Devon ran to the gallery to present her sock to each and every one of them. They all gave her the adoration she deserved! I was fortunate to have one other VST judge in the gallery, Beth Walker, who later passed with her Belgian Terv earning another CT. Jeanne Ramirez was also in the gallery, wife of judge Vince Ramirez and another multiple CT Terv trainer/handler. Both complemented us on our pass and me on my handling.

In addition, my tracklayer had Goldens and just started tracking. This was her first VST track she laid. She said several folks in the gallery remarked on my good handling. That's important to me because I've never wanted to fail my dogs by my handling. Several in the gallery also remembered Page's pass last year, and they were very impressed with both my dogs. At the end of the day, Darlene asked me when I was going to bring another Gaylan's Golden Retriever for them to pass to be another CT. I told them it would be a while! I had no more tracking dogs left in my house to finish!

Now for the details: Devon's track was 655 yards long, with 379 yards of veg and 276 yards of non-veg. It was aged 3 hours and 5 minutes. It had four turns (yes, really!), and leg lengths were 115 yards, 66 yards, 169 yards, 260 yards and 45 yards. Devon passed in approximately 25 minutes, which is very quick for a VST pass (Page took about 45 minutes). There were a total of 3 passes at our test, which is a very high pass rate out of 8 tracks.

As has been the case from the time Page entered our lives, Devon's pass is intertwined with Page's pass. Their journeys, while different, are so interrelated. The October Glenbard Obedience Training Club's test at DeKalb is the test where Page passed her VST/CT. For those of you who do tracking, you know that it is a random draw to even get in a test. Then, once you reach the site, you have a second random draw for tracks the day of the test.

There are 8 tracks at this test. Devon got the third draw and drew track #2. In 2010, Page had drawn track #3. Imagine my surprise when they took me to Devon's track, and the start flag was almost exactly where Page's final article was! The map here is an overlay of Page's track from 2010 (pink) with Devon's track from 2011 (purple). What where the odds that I drew that track when 75% of it was Page's track from the previous year backwards! It was incredibly difficult for me to handle Devon wondering if I was seeing what I wanted to see or she was really tracking what she was supposed to!

So that's Devon's story of her VST pass. While Page's was a great accomplishment, her journey was much shorter and straight forward. Devon is my first certified dog, and we worked for four years for this title. When Devon certified to track at 7 months, the first words out of the judge's mouth were not congratulations. They were, "Did you know what she did back there before the last turn?" My response was to ask if we'd passed; I'd never certified I dog before. Judge Steve Ripley said, "Yes you did, but did you see what she did?" I said no.

He then told me Devon indicated a 48-hour old cross track he'd laid in the field 2 days before. He asked me how far I wanted to go with this dog, and without really understanding what I was saying I said, "I want a Champion Tracker." Five years later, that dream came true!
I have to thank Steve for teaching me what he knows about VST tracking. Steve and his wife Janet who laid hundreds of footsteps for Devon to track were an important part of success.

Devon and I learned tracking together, she taught me what I know about how dogs track scent, and she is my heart dog. Frankly, I'm glad our journey was longer; there was more to savor. What a great joy it was for us to accomplish this goal together! She is a truly wonderful dog.


Amy / Layla the Malamute said...

Congratulations!! I love your detailed tracking test posts - but I guess that's the last one for awhile! You guys are more inspiring to get back into tracking than any books I've read. I really wish I had some instructors nearby - or even some suitable fields lol - but we'll see what we can do. Congrats again :)

Deb said...

I do love to track, and I'm still constantly driving around checking out buildings, parking lots and fields for practice sites only to remind myself we don't have to track anymore! I have two awesome trackers. I am a little sad that chapter is done.

Amy / Layla the Malamute said...

I'm re-reading your tracking posts again (they really are that good!) And I have another question.

A few weeks ago, we were at an agility trail and Layla was tracking something in the parking lot. Don't know what - and I don't care. I saw her following a scent on pavement, and it made me realize, she CAN be a tracking dog. It's just a matter of me working at it and keeping it fun for her.

How often do you recommend tracking? I don't want to overdo it but I do want to keep it fresh. We aren't very advanced anyway. We weren't doing full length tracks or very aged ones, but they did have turns and not very many food drops. She was at the point where she was tracking scent and not eating every hotdog on the field.