Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Lakeshore Pembroke Welsh Corgi Club VST Seminar 2016

     Dan and I set off on an adventure on Friday, April 15, 2016, heading to Delavan, Wisconsin with Rigby to attend a Variable Surface Tracking (VST) seminar.  It was a long drive, but mostly easy, the exception being the area around Chicago during rush hour.

     The seminar was well worth the trip!  I was struggling to figure out how to teach asphalt and concrete surfaces to Rigby so that she understood her job in this new situation.  I feel I came home with a toolbox full of ideas, exercises and a much better idea of how we should proceed.

     Beth Walker was the presenter at the seminar.  Beth is a tracking judge with over 20 years of tracking experience who has put Champion Tracker titles on 4 of her Belgian Tervuren.  She freely shared what she has learned about tracking on concrete and asphalt and the method she has developed to achieve the success she has with her dogs and the dogs of her students.

     The seminar format was two-fold, morning and afternoon lectures on training VST, including exercises to work starts, placement of articles to teach and reward the dogs, conditioning, handling and testing.  The lectures were alternated with workshops for dogs and handlers, with 10 total teams working during the weekend, five on Saturday and five on Sunday.  Beth plotted and laid 5 tracks in the morning and 5 in the afternoon each day and the five working dogs ran a morning and afternoon track.  The tracks were laid in the Delavan Business Park on grass, asphalt, concrete and mulch, were each about 200 to 250 yards long and were aged to about 2 1/2 hours.

Listening intently to the morning lecture.

Beth Walker explaining her VST training methods

     Saturday was Rigby's day to work and she was assigned the first track.  I, of course, was quite nervous to be the first tracker and arrived at the start flag without Rigby's tracking harness, a true novice mistake!  Once that was remedied Rigby set off on her track, which started on grass, went about 60 yards to a right turn, still in the grass, and into an asphalt parking lot.  A few feet into the parking lot was an article, placed to let Rigby know she was correct and to give me a chance to reward her.  She continued on after the article to a turn on the asphalt to the left.  She worked it a bit and when she moved in the correct direction, I was instructed to go with her to help her know she was correct.  She came to her next article at a curb leading into an island that was covered in mulch.  She tracked across the mulch and back onto the asphalt until she came to another left turn which took her back to the grass and her final article.  She did a nice job, but there was a lot of help from me to let her know she was right, an attempt to start to build her confidence about tracking on solid surfaces.

     Now, I have to admit that Rigby's track was all a blur to me and it all happened so quickly it seemed as if we had only gone about 100 yards.  I was able to sort of relive the track the next day when one of the Sunday dogs ran the same track 24 hours later.  It was fun to watch a Corgi on Rigby's track and it helped me to remember much more about what Rigby and I experienced.

     The second track on Saturday was run by a 10-year-old Golden Retriever who did a lovely job.  The really tough part about this track was the sidewalk, which the dog wanted to avoid and wanted to track in the grass alongside of it.  We were informed that sidewalks are very tough and we need to spend a lot of time training on sidewalks and for turns on sidewalks.

     Track 3 went to a Miniature Schnauzer who seemed to do very well on the asphalt.  There was a turn behind a large truck and at the corner of a building, which brought in some air movement aspects and was interesting to watch.  Again, article placement was used to reward the dog and help to teach turns and transitions.

     Track 4 was another Golden Retriever.  This dog was a real thinker and you could just see how he was working so hard, trying to figure out the puzzle that had been put in front of him.  He did a great job and was fun to watch.

     Track 5 was a young Corgi who found it relaxing to take a good roll in the grass before heading out on his track.  He worked hard and seemed to be grasping the concept of tracking on surfaces and made his way to the glove.

     The afternoon tracks were similar to the morning, but it was interesting to see how the dogs were already catching on to what was expected of them.  The Corgi did some really nice tracking on concrete, the two Goldens both improved, as did Rigby and the Schnauzer.

     Rigby's track in the afternoon was Track 9.  It was grass to a left turn, to asphalt and a right turn, then a left turn onto grass, another left and back onto the asphalt where her final article was found.  Even though the afternoon was warm and sunny Rigby had great enthusiasm on her second track and did a nice job.  You could see that she was starting to catch on to the transitions and that she was willing to try this new type of tracking.

     Sunday brought another 5 dogs to the same tracks as were run on Saturday.  Two of the Sunday dogs had more experience and it was interesting to see dogs who had been training in Beth's method were truly learning to track well on the solid surfaces.

     Since I was not tracking on Sunday I brought my camera along and got some photos of the dogs tracking.  These photos will be a help to me as a visual memory of what took place and to reinforce what tracking on asphalt and concrete can look like and how to handle article placement and treats.

     Track 1 (the track Rigby ran the day before) was run by a Corgi.  The photos will explain what happened better than I can.

Found the article right after the transition from grass to asphalt and awaiting that treat!

Tracking on asphalt

The second track Sunday was a Rottweiler.  This dog and his owner had taken Beth's seminar a year ago and then they had some lessons with her over the summer.  Watching a dog trained with Beth's methods was all the proof I needed to know that this style of training can really work and has in a variety of breeds of dogs.

A down at the start to let the dog really get the track layer's scent 
from the start article and the scent cone at the flag.

Off they go on the grass...

A down to indicate the first article -- looking for that treat reward!

Tracking on asphalt, his head was up, but he was tracking true.

Another article.

An article on the sidewalk

The third track Sunday went to a Golden Retriever who got his TD at the Golden Retriever Nationals, running his track, literally, in 2 and 1/2 minutes!  He is a powerful tracker and a great working dog!

Working on the concrete...

He loves working in the grass!

Proud of his final article!

After he was finished tracking.

The fourth dog to track on Sunday was a Border Collie who has also been taught with the methods we were learning about from Beth.  Again, it was amazing to watch this dog work on the different surfaces and make the transitions so smoothly.

Tracking on asphalt

Finding the article after the turn and transition to grass.

Transition from grass to asphalt.

Waiting on that treat!
The last dog on Sunday was a Smooth Collie with an experienced handler who has put VST titles on a couple dogs.  Once again it was interesting to see the difference in tracking styles from dog to dog.

     This area of the country, Southern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois is known as the birthplace of variable surface tracking.  The Delavan Business Park is a lovely site and is used for several VST tests each year and has the highest pass rate of any of the VST sites in the country.  I'm hoping to travel back to the area again some time to learn more or, hopefully, for a test!  

     Delavan reminded me a lot of my hometown area, mostly flat with a lot of agriculture in the area.  There was a pond just outside the business park and a block from the hotel where I walked Rigby Sunday morning, it was very peaceful and enjoyable. 

The buildings in the background are part of the
Delavan Business Park where the tracking
component of the workshop was held.

Photos from the afternoon tracks of the same 5 dogs:

Discussing the track that was just run.

Beth answering our many questions about VST!

     The workshop came to an end much too soon for my liking, I could have used several more days of watching and learning.  I think I got more benefit from this seminar than any other I have attended, as there was just so much information that I was able to take in, understand and that will be easy for me to put to use.

     The Lakeshore Pembroke Welsh Corgi Club did a great job with all aspects of the weekend and were wonderful hosts.  We had nice accommodations, great food (and plenty of it) and even some delicious and adorable Corgi cookies to make the event more festive.  Thanks again to Beth, Gina and Sharon for a great weekend of tracking and learning!!

Corgi cookies made by Sharon -- cute and delicious!

     I met so many wonderful tracking folks and enjoyed getting to know them and their dogs.  I look forward to keeping track of the other attendees and cheering them on in their future tracking test passes and congratulating them on their Champion Tracker titles!

     Dan and I also took the time Saturday evening to drive to Lake Geneva for dinner at Popeye's, where we had some good barbecue and enjoyed the local sights.



  1. Omigosh, Nina! You did an awesome job covering 'the story'! Felt like I was there all over again. It's so good to be able to review what was presented. Thanks for putting this together.

    1. You're welcome! It is like a review and I know it will be of benefit to me as I work on these things!

  2. Omigosh, Nina! You did an awesome job covering 'the story'! Felt like I was there all over again. It's so good to be able to review what was presented. Thanks for putting this together.