Tracking practice days for the group I track with take place on Saturday mornings, most every Saturday morning -- usually it's only frigid cold or dangerous road conditions that will keep us from meeting up at the park.
Since most tracking tests take place on Sundays (with plotting days on Saturday) there's always been a saying amongst the tracking group that anything is fair on Saturday, meaning if the track you put in for someone would not exactly be considered legal for a test track it's all good, this is training, not testing and we accept deviations, such as short legs, an article close to a turn, etc.
The past couple months most Saturdays have consisted of just Phil and I tracking together. Phil is known for putting in rugged, challenging tracks and, because he's been doing this for a while and is very familiar with the park, all tracks he lays are blind -- no markers to indicate where there are turns or articles. So having Phil lay your tracks is a great way to learn to really read your dog, because the dog is all you've got to find your way.
Quite often when we meet back at the cars after putting in tracks for each other's dogs Phil will say to me, "Remember, it's not personal, it's just training."
On those days I know I'm in for a wild ride, probably lots of woods and steep, slippery hillsides in the woods. Over time I've found it fun to put in similar tracks for him and before we run his dog on the track I remind him that it's not personal.
Yesterday when I finally made it back to the cars, taking almost an hour to put in a track for Como, Phil's Dalmatian who is working towards a TDX, I told Phil there was a new name for tracking with me -- Track with Nina and see the world.
Phil chuckled and said, "Oh, you went to some new places today. So did I."
So what happened, you might ask, that takes someone an hour to basically walk 800 to 1,000 yards? Well, sometimes you can get caught in a place where there's no way out and, unless you want to ruin a perfectly good track (at least to that point) you can't turn around and go out the way you came in, you have to find a way through whatever is blocking your path.
I started Phil's track in an open field and all went great for the first 3 legs of the track. I gave him two blind turns and took the track through a short tree line into the next field and then, after the third leg, turned into the woods at the back of that field. The woods were open, not thick with growth, and I made my way deeper into the woods than we usually go, but it was so green and pretty and spring-like that I was just enjoying the scenery.
Part way in I left the first article for Como to find, a small faux-leather change purse, with some chicken inside as a treat. When I got about 20 yards from the article drop I really looked around to see where to head next and that's when I realized that all of a sudden the growth had gotten very thick with lots of thorny growth and I was stuck in the middle of the woods with two choices -- either ruin a really nice track in the woods or blaze a new trail to get back to the fields to finsh the track. Thank goodness I had brought my clippers with me, I knew what I had to do.
I looked up at the tops of the trees and tried to figure out which way was the shortest way out of the woods. I decided to go to my left and started clipping thorny branches and forcing my way through the dense undergrowth, forging a new path, battling my way to freedom -- I know, a little dramatic, but, well, it kind of felt that way! It took a lot of time, because it was so thick, but in time I finally made it back to a path we usually use for tracking and then I was out of the woods in no time.
I then took the track back through the cut at a point further along the field and was again in the field where the track started. The track then went across the field to the bottom, turned to follow the line of the woods on the far side of the field and then another turn towards the front of the field where I had started the track -- I left the second article on that leg that was about a hundred yards long. I put in two more short legs and left the glove at the end of the track.
All in all my measurement of the track was close to 800 yards, shorter than I usually put in for Phil, but long enough because of the time spent in the woods and the difficulty there might be for Phil and Como to navigate the close quarters getting through the woods.
The track was aged for 2 1/2 hours before it was run, but Como did a great job. She found her way to the first article in the woods and then I reminded Phil that he was going to need to use the two words EASY and WAIT a lot before we left the woods, as the dogs can always make it through the brush so much quicker than we humans can, as we're sometimes forcing our way through the thickets and stepping over logs or avoiding vines. I had marked the path through the woods heavily with clothes pins with pink surveyors tape tied to them so that Phil knew exactly where the track went, and I was so relieved when we were all out of the woods and back to field tracking!
Como continued on the track back to the first field, made the turns, found the second article and then went on to the glove!
As for Rigby's track, she had a very nice start on a track that was aged about 2 hours. She made the first turn and headed diagonally uphill across the field.
She was moving at a good pace on this second leg when I heard Phil tell me to stop that there should be an article right about where I was, that Rigby had passed up. Missing an article is quite odd for Rigby, I always feel really confident in her ability to find and retrieve articles -- but not this time. I looked around and just to my right I saw a small, black article. It was a business card holder made of faux leather.
I stopped Rigby's forward progression and I backed up and called her to me, giving her another chance to find the article. She still didn't find it. I told her to "find it" and she started circling and circling, going right over the article, but still never indicating it. Finally I picked it up and showed it to her and threw it a few times for her to fetch and bring to me before I gave her her usual treat of canned salmon for finding an article. Phil told me Rigby and I would be seeing a lot more of that business card holder article in the future, so I'm sure she'll get better at finding it!
Then we continued on her track up to some piney woods that split that field from the upper field. She did well in the woods, came out turned left and tracked parallel to the woods, to the next right turn that went uphill further into the field. Another right turn and Rigby found the second article, a leather wallet, which she retrieved to me (and I gave a sigh of relief that her article finding skills were still intact.) After celebrating the article find with another small container of salmon we were off again and there was another right turn heading us back downhill.
A left turn took us into the woods to the side of the hill and I shortened up my line and slowed Rigby down as much as I could. Phil had opened up a new path for us and it was mostly downhill, through woods, over logs -- a challenge to keep my footing while holding a tracking line and watching where I was going, let alone keeping track of Rigby and constantly slowing her down. The slowing her down worked wonders for her tracking and she followed Phil's winding track trough the woods with amazing accuracy and found the final glove resting on the forest floor.
We must have done at least 75 yards in that stretch of woods alone. My handling in the woods has gotten better, as the line never got tangled as it has in the past and I was able to keep Rigby from moving at her usual breakneck speeds!
As a reward, and to save me from being dragged through the rest of the woods back to the cars, I let Rigby have some off leash time as we all made our way down a deer trail and across the creek to the edge of the woods.
It was a fun day tracking, as usual, with new trails blazed and happy dogs at the end.