Monday, December 15, 2014

TDX Training -- The First Two Months

Time for a review!  Eight weeks have passed and Rigby has been training every week for the TDX level of tracking.  I've been keeping a journal and I thought I'd take time to do some contemplating on how we're doing and what we need to work on next.

What did we do in the first two months?

Length: 440   400   650   650   835   730   650   700

Age:       45    30     90    90     70    100   135    90

Articles:  There have been at least 2 intermediate articles on each of Rigby's tracks and she's found them each time.  She retrieves the articles to my hand and gets a nice reward, usually salmon, for her effort.  Her restarts took some time to develop,  but she now seems to understand that the track doesn't end with the articles and she happily heads back down her track.  Articles have been in open fields and in the woods.  So far all articles have been cloth or leather.

Obstacles:  We've worked change of cover, short grass to tall; woods; dirt roads; stone roads

Starts:  We've consistently worked our starts at different angles and Rigby seems to have no problem finding the track.  Her toughest day was the track that was over 2 hours old, and that makes perfect sense.  On a day that is good for aging I'll work starts, laying three short tracks each one getting gradually older, to extend her ability to find older scents.

I've put in 2 of her 8 tracks, which is nice when learning something new, I know where the track goes, so I don't have to guess if she's right and can praise her at the optimum time.

Of her 8 tracks 3 have been totally unmarked, adding another challenge for me and helping me in reading her tracking behaviors and indications.  I love working the unmarked tracks and, because she is tracking so well, we've had very little need for help to stay on the track.

The biggest improvement I've seen, especially the past two weeks, are Rigby's restarts after finding an article.  At first she would go back down the track and stop at the point where she found the article and then return to me.  I had to encourage her to start to track again.  With one small aid, a piece of hot dog placed about 10 yards past the article, she now knows that the track is not over and she eagerly moves off again after receiving her treat for finding the article.

Some short notes taken from my journal for the first two months include:  Nice start; Happy and enthusiastic; Eating deer poop - BAD!; Great start; Be patient, let her work things out; Slow her down, especially in the woods; Nice job in the woods.

What have we achieved so far?  In my opinion, Rigby has learned most of the components of TDX tracking:  She's done the length, works well in the woods, finds her articles and restarts after and is doing well with the single flag starts.

What do we need to work on for the next few months?  My goals for the next two months will be to increase the age of the tracks and work starts at older ages, to introduce cross tracks, introduce more varied articles and to track on some different surfaces, such as paved areas.

Although there's usually one place each track that we need some aid from the track layer, I can't say she has had a bad tracking day yet.  Rigby always works hard, never quits and gives it her all.  She quivers in anticipation at the start flag and seems happy after every track .  So another goal will be to keep her attitude at this level and continue to make tracking fun by introducing more challenges.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Over the Rivers and Through the Woods : New Tracking Venues Now That Rigby Passed her TD!

October 19, 2014, Rigby earned her first performance title, Tracking Dog, TD!  I am so proud of this girl and love her enthusiasm for tracking!

Saturday Rigby and I drove to the Cleveland, Ohio area and spent the night in Westlake at a Red Roof Inn.  This was only Rigby's third night in a hotel and the noises outside our room still make her a bit anxious and neither of us got a very good night's sleep.  But come morning we were both ready to head out and have some tracking fun!

The weather was perfect for tracking!  After quite a bit of rain Saturday, Sunday was cloudy and cool, great for holding scent on the track.

The test was put on by the Cleveland All-Breed Training Club and was held at Charlemont Reservation in Rochester, Ohio.

We arrived early for the draw of the tracks which was to be held at 8:30.  The other TD entrant, Karen Phillips, and I were sent to a nearby cemetery to keep us out of sight while our tracks were laid. Karen and I kept ourselves busy reading the weathered headstones and wondering about the lives of the people buried in this old graveyard.

Then we had a few moments to exercise our dogs before it was time for the draw.  I played fetch with Rigby with a glove for a few moments, trying to make sure she was in a tracking frame of mind.

Karen was No. 1 in the catalog and she was the first to draw.  The draw gifts were large bags of homemade dog treats with one treat being in the shape of a glove.  Karen's treat bag had a 2 on the bottom of it, meaning she got the second track.  Of course, that meant that Rigby and I had the first track! 

The draw gifts were large bags of home made dog treats
 with one treat being in the shape of a glove.

I went and got Rigby from the car, gathered up her harness and tracking line and headed for the start flag.  The judges, Ken Barna and Steve Ripley, told me that the track was properly aged and I could start when we were ready.  I put Rigby's harness on, fastened the line to the D-ring and encouraged her to start tracking.

While in between the two start flags Rigby hesitated a bit and searched off to the side of the track a bit, but with another word or two of encouragement she settled in and started down the first leg.

Honestly, I don't remember a lot about the track, it all went pretty quickly and I spent most of my energy trying to stay upright and not inhibiting Rigby's forward motion.  I thought the only things I said to her were the words, "Yes", "Easy" and "Nice turn," but I was informed by more than one person that at some point along the test I said to her, "Easy, don't kill me!"  So it gives you an idea of what was going through my mind.

The field her track was in went from scrub grass to areas of short mowed grass, back to higher grass, then into the short grass again.  There was a small ditch that I'm so glad that Rigby stopped and stood in, so that I saw it and didn't fall over it.  One time she also paused when the track went back into the high grass, turned and looked at me, as if asking if it was okay to do the change of cover.  I told her, "Yes," and off she went again.

I started to remind her to look for the glove on the next to last leg, I knew we were getting close.  She made that last turn just before the woods, toward the road, so I knew the glove was in that stretch of land and, sure enough, she paused and I could see the glove.  She gladly brought it back to me and I whooped in joy, as did the judges and gallery!!

Rigby's track was 450 yards in length and was 38 minutes old when we started it at 8:38 and she found the glove at 8:43 -- a very quick 5-minute track!

To follow the track, you start in the lower right-hand corner where there are two flags and follow it to the end.

The two photos above are of the judges, the track layer for my track, Lisa, and, of course, Rigby and me!  The field behind us is where Rigby's test was held.

I'm happy to report that Rigby was not the only dog earning a tracking title today!  Karen Phillips and her Golden Retriever also passed their TD test and Kim Cassida and her Belgian Tervuren got their TDX title!!

The CABTC doesn't give ribbons for the passing dogs, instead I got a fob with the letters TD and pretty stones, that I can hang on Rigby's crate or somewhere else in the car.  The fob was made by club member Karen Phillips.  I also got to choose a prize from among a variety of items and I chose a blue leather lead that should look nice on Rigby.  Of course, we also got to keep the glove that Rigby found at the end of her track!

I am so appreciative of CABTC for putting on this nice test and all the club members who volunteer and help out!  Thanks to one and all!!

We had a wonderful day and these will be memories I will cherish for years to come.

Now, on to TDX training, the woods, streams, cross tracks and all the other challenges!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

We're Certified, But, Oh, What a Day of Craziness It Was

This is a true story, you just can't make up things like this.  To protect the innocent, the names of the participants in this story have been changed, and those of you familiar with all those involved might find some humor in the way the identities have been "shielded."

Two weeks ago when I made the plans to try to certify Rigby for an AKC tracking test I never gave a thought to the fact that the date would fall on September 13th!  I was born on the 13th and have always considered it a lucky number, not a number to avoid.  I've never had triskaidekaphobia, even on those times when the 13th fell on a Friday!  After this morning I might be changing my opinion and never schedule anything of importance on the 13th of any month!

It started from the time my alarm went off at 5:45 a.m. -- I fell back to sleep and woke up at 6:08, not terribly late, but it put my morning into high gear to get ready to leave for the park and not forget anything, especially the harness, the line and plenty of good treats for Rigby!

I had hoped for a cool morning for our certification test, looking forward to dew on the grass, and hoping for no rain -- I just don't like to track in rain (Rigby could care less, she'll track in anything).  As soon as I started driving toward the park the rain started to fall -- at least it was just a very light rain.

On the way to the park I called one of my fellow trackers, Allen, to let him know that I'd be a few minutes late -- didn't want them to think I had chickened out at the last minute!

We arrived at the park to find out that I was not the only one who had overslept this morning.  The tracking judge who was to do the certification had a malfunction with her alarm clock, woke up late and decided not to come out to track.  Thankfully the tracking judge, Phyllis, called Allen to relay this message and Allen reminded Phyllis that she had agreed to do a certification track for Rigby.

So now we had extra time to wait before the certification track would be ready to run, more time for my stomach to get tight and the nerves to take over.

To keep me busy, I was assigned the task of laying track for one of the other TD dogs, Greta, and I put in her track and then followed along as she expertly followed my scent, making her always precise turns, finding a few hot dogs along the way, till she arrived at the glove.

As we were finishing up Greta's track Phyllis arrived and, after a brief discussion with Allen, left to lay the certification track.  I headed in the opposite direction to lay a track for Phyllis' dog, Perry, that would be run after Rigby's certification attempt.  I was finding it tough to keep my mind on the tracks I was laying, getting anxious to see how Rigby would track on this damp September morning.

Finally it was time to head out to the field where Rigby's track would be run.  I got her out of the car, we headed to the start flag, harnessed her up and away she flew.  The track started in the very center of a large field that we normally divide in half to make two tracking fields.  I was surprised when Rigby's first turn went to the right, as I thought that that side of the field had been used for the track of another TD dog that had not yet run his track.  But Rigby's indication was true and off we went.

Putting Rigby's harness on.

Rigby was moving very quickly and I was just trying to stay with her and watch for indications of the next turn, but what she did seemed very odd, she dropped down about 10 yards and then seemed to follow a track that ran a bit lower than the previous track we were on.  To my dismay I heard Phyllis call to me, which meant that we were off track and we would not certify.  Then Phyllis signaled for me to look ahead of where we were and I saw two start flags about 70 yards away, it was obvious that two tracks had been plotted in the same field, and the second one had hot dogs on it, as it was a training track, not a testing track.  This meant that our certification track had been fouled and Phyllis agreed to put in a new track in a field that had not been used already.

You might wonder how this could have happened. Well, so do we.  All I can tell you is that sometimes communications get crossed and the wrong messages sent.  Phyllis thought she had the entire field to work with and Allen, who laid the other track, thought Phyllis was using only the far end of this large field.

My concerns were with Rigby.  She was tracking with great motivation when suddenly she was pulled off the track with no chance to finish or find a glove. 
I've always been told this is not something you want to do with your tracking dog as it can be demotivating.  I took Rigby back to the car and put her in her crate and gave her some hot dogs while telling her what a good dog she was.

I was beginning to think that this was just not meant to be the day that we would get to certify, nothing was going right.

We left the area while the new track was plotted and put in. Thankfully I was able to go watch Allen track his Irish Water Spaniel (well, she almost looked like one after her track) Zsa Zsa, which took my mind off another wait for our track to be ready.

We drove back down to the field and were told that the track was ready to run.  Suddenly a car swerved off the road and into the parking area between my vehicle and Phyllis' van.  A man jumped out of the car and almost ran over to Phyllis asking for directions to someplace he was trying to find, all they while ranting about how he dislikes Pennsylvania. Just what I needed, another delay.

Once the man was dispatched with the needed directions, I got Rigby out of her crate and we headed to the start flag for the second time.

I put her harness on.

She eagerly took off on her second track.

There was no problem with motivation with this dog.

She tracked as true as she usually does.

Headed up to the corner of the field that always gives her problems.

Made that turn and tracked across the top of the field.

She found the glove with no problem, retrieved it to me and passed her certification track in a mere 5 minutes.

Heading back to the cars after the track.

Rigby would keep tracking if given the chance.

Two happy girls on a great tracking day.
So now I'll be sending my entries in to try to get a place in a tracking test this fall.  But you can be sure that I won't be entering any tests that fall on the 13th of the month!!

Later in the morning, while heading out to track Phyllis' dog, one of the other trackers mentioned that he sometimes has his birthday fall on Friday the 13th.  Ironically, Phyllis said her birthday is also on the 13th and I said, mine too!  Then we started comparing months and I found out that both Phyllis and I were born on January 13th, although not the same year.

NOTE FOR NON-TRACKERS:  Are you wondering what it means to certify a dog in tracking?  Well, in order to enter a tracking test a dog must first be certified by a tracking judge that the dog and handler are able to pass a tracking test.  So, in essence, before I can enter Rigby in a tracking test we have to pass a test with the same requirements, to prove we can do it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Rigby and the Memorial Day Tracking Challenge

In an effort to keep moving forward in our tracking progress, I decided to lay a track for Rigby to start off the Memorial Day holiday.  I had taken her for a walk at the fairgrounds on Sunday, the day before, and it was then that I decided what her track would be the next day.

On Saturday about half of the fairground fields were mowed, leaving areas of short and long grass that could be used.  I thought this would be a good time to give Rigby a lesson in changes of ground cover, as well as giving her a chance to track on freshly mowed grass.

I started her track going downhill on the mowed grass for about 100 yards and then straight ahead into the long grass for about 30 yards.  Then there was a right turn in the long grass, 30 yards of long grass and then into a lane of mowed grass that was about 20 yards wide and back into long grass again.

The second leg was a total of 110 yards and turned right, uphill, for 70 yards, to a left-hand slightly open turn across the grain of the hill.  That third leg was 80 yards, with a right turn that continued the track uphill for 70 yards to the glove.

Map of Rigby's track.
Started at the start flags (in blue on the right) and finished
 at the top of the page on the left side.
The blue-striped area denotes the high grass and the white area is the mowed grass.

Rigby started from the first flag at 8:15 a.m. with a very nice start.  She tracked the entire mowed portion of the first leg with no problem, only stopping a couple times to find a slice of hot dog.  She also showed no hesitation when she reached the long grass, heading in right in.  She showed loss of scent at the end of the leg, circled to the left and then picked up the right turn.  

She came to the mowed path and crossed it quickly. At the tall grass she did a bit of searching both below the track and above before choosing to head into the long grass on the track.  She tracked quickly to the second turn and again circled left before taking the turn to the right and back up the hill.  After another quick leg she found the left turn with little searching and made the open turn.  She continued to the fourth turn and made the turn to the right, again uphill.  She was moving a bit too quickly on this leg and tracked right over the glove until I called her back to find the end of the track. In hindsight, I should have thought to put some hot dog slices in the glove to aid her in finding it in the high grass.

I started to play with Rigby following her track, and then remembered to check my watch.  It was 8:21, only 6 minutes since we started the track, which means she did the track in about 5 minutes!

What I thought would be a challenging track, with several changes of cover, ended up being nothing new to Rigby and she proved again her love of tracking and her wonderful scenting abilities.

She ended the track soaked in dew from working in the tall grass.  We ended our tracking time playing with the glove before walking out to pick up the start flags and putting away the equipment.

Rigby in the tall grass.

Pretty girl.

And happy girl!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Obedience Training Update

I haven't written any posts for a couple months so I'll try to catch up with a quick summary of Rigby's progress in her training.

Currently Rigby is training in three areas, tracking, obedience and agility.  Her tracking continues to improve, as she is doing TD length tracks with up to four turns.  Lately her obedience training has seemed to start coming together and she is making strides.  She just started her second series of agility foundation classes and it is no surprise that she seems to love jumping and learning all the obstacles.

This week at her obedience class Rigby's heeling, including her figure 8, showed much more consistency in attention and smoothness.  She did a stand for exam for the first time, having done a sit for exam in all her previous classes.  Besides working the novice level exercises she did a recall on the flat AND over the high jump and also performed the broad jump exercise.

Rigby's level of maturity is displayed by her ability to relax more at class and during training.  She is settling in more quickly when she arrives at a training site and it's easier for her to focus her attention on her training rather than all the other exciting things around her.

Friday evening I got some video of Rigby heeling, doing some figure 8 work and doing a recall.  The heeling shown here is not the best she can do (this video was taken after we had been training for quite some time that evening), but it gives an idea of where she is and shows her happiness in her work.

Thanks to Karen Schroeder for taping Rigby and I at our practice session.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

GTOTC Basic Class 2014

This post is for the GTOTC Basic Obedience class that I taught starting in January 2014 and ending with graduation day on March 10, 2014.  Assisting me was Stephanie Barber, and I thank her for all her help and support, with a special thank you to her collies for being our outstanding demo dogs throughout this basic class.

We had a nice-sized class of 8 dogs and even through a couple months of horrible winter weather we kept up a very good attendance record as a whole.

The dogs were all very quick learners and there was a lot of progress in behavior over the 8-week class.

As a graduation exercise on the last night of our class I set up a rally course that included heeling, sits, downs, heeling through cones and a few tricky turns. The class also successfully completed their 30 second stays in the sit and down position.  We also practiced our recalls one last time.

Here's a series of photos from the last class and the presenting of the graduation certificates: 

A very nice sit by Max

Weaving through the cones

Nice sit, Bailey!

A very good front.

Ares shows a good front...

... and the finish!

Jack getting ready for the rally course.

Happy heeling.

Max in the cones.

Max performs the "down."

Another very nice sit by Bailey.

Bailey finishes her "finish."

The "sit" ...

... and the "down".

Ares weaves through the cones.

Pretty sit, Ares!

And the "down."

Jack shows a good "front."

"Down, Jack."

The celebratory cupcake cake with a dog cookie on top!

The following photos show the dog/handler teams who were present receiving their certificates:

Congratulations to the whole class on a job well done!!