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On track again

Carlin and I had our second lesson in tracking yesterday. Dino, whom I worked for during the tracking test last month, invited me and other woman with her Golden Retriever out to help us get our dogs started. The weather was cloudy and cool, but not cold, and by Boise standards, rainy. (By Portland standards, it was a bit drippy.) The area was a field of short-ish, mowed grass-like plants in a local Idaho state park.

I personally had a blast. Carlin looked like he was having fun, too.

It was a short lesson. First Dino advised me to start putting together a “start routine” — a pattern of behavior that Carlin and I would repeat before every tracking practice, and eventually, every tracking test. So I got Carlin out of the car with his leash on his collar, put on his tracking harness (the same one I got for Cooper many years ago but didn’t use much), and then took him for a short walk. Then we walked out to the grounds where Dino was getting ready to set the track.

Once we got there, I put the long line onto Carlin’s harness, took the leash off his collar, and had him sit. Dino placed a scrap of fleece and a small flag in the ground, walked toward a distant traffic sign for 20 yards, and then turned and called to Carlin, waving a glove. She then put the glove (back-side down) on the ground, and tucked several tiny pieces of pepperoni under the thumb of the glove. Then she walked perpendicularly off the course.

Once Dino arrived back at the start, I put the fleece scrap up to Carlin’s nose and sent him off with a “Find it!” (a command he knows from an indoor game we play), followed by a “Find your track!” (a command he’s never heard before). He took off, nose down, straight toward the leather gardening glove. He never left the track, rarely lifted his nose from the ground, and quickly located the glove. He gobbled the treats off the glove. (Carlin loves pepperoni.) Good boy! We played tug with the glove for a few seconds, and then walked off the course.

We then moved about 30 yards away from the first track, and Dino laid a second track, this one 40 yards long. Same procedure, same result. Good boy!

The last track was 80 yards long. On this one, Carlin easily got to about 60 yards, but then lifted his head and looked back at me. At this point, I was only about 10 feet behind him. I just repeated my sequence of commands, “Go find it! Find your track!” He put his nose down again, and quickly located the glove. This time he gobbled the treats, picked up the glove, and brought it to me to play tug. After a short tug session, I let him keep the glove as we walked back to the car.

I have homework. This will be a challenge this time of year, since I go to work in the dark and come home in the dark. But we’ll figure out something. Carlin is obviously a natural at this, and I love doing things with my dog that the dog loves doing.

I was pretty sure that Carlin had talent based on our very first lesson, given by Mary Thompson a couple of years ago. Carlin was just over 6 months old, and she and I were both visiting some friends in Washington state. I had always hoped to get back to tracking, but most of my tracking friends in Portland practiced or gave lessons only during the week. I work during the week, and my weekends were filled with other dog activities. So I never pursued it.

But now we live in Boise, and things have changed. So we’ll give this tracking thing a try, have a good time, and see what happens.

All last night, I lay awake, worrying that I would get lost. Or, rather, I worried that the tracking dog would get lost, and when I would be asked to show the dog and handler the way to get back on track, that I’d be lost, too. I kept re-running the course and my map in my mind, and all of it was clear to me except this one spot where the grass was 5 feet tall and no landmarks were easily visible to which to orient myself.

This weekend was my first experience being a track layer for an AKC TDX (Tracking Dog Excellent) test. Actually, it was my first real experience with tracking at all. I’ve taken a few seminars in the distant past on teaching a dog to track, but I’d never seen a tracking test, much less work on one.

I’m not going to try to explain a lot about tracking in this post — you can read about it on the AKC web pages about tracking. But basically a dog follows a trail of scent left behind as the track layer walks along a course set by two judges. Along the way, the track layer leaves behind a number of articles — things like socks, handkerchiefs, wallets, glasses cases — that the track layer has gotten her scent on. The dog follows the trail and finds these articles along the way. This is how the AKC describes the TDX test:

The TDX track is 800-to-1000 yards long with 5-to-7 turns, and aged from 3-to-5 hours. The track also has two sets of cross (diversionary) tracks and has some of the aforementioned obstacles. The start is marked with a single flag and the dog must determine the direction of the first leg. There are four dissimilar articles for each track, one at the start and three more on the track.

Fortunately, I got some good instruction on making a course map from the Trial Chairman and from the judges, and, best of all, I didn’t get lost.

This is the map I made as I followed the judges when they were setting the course.

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The judges created the course yesterday (the day before the test), and along the way, they set flags on the course where they wanted the dog to turn and where they wanted me to leave articles for the dog to find. Then this morning, when I would walk the course 3 hours before “my” dog and handler team would start the test, I had to leave articles behind in the designated spots and pick up all the flags. The dog is supposed to figure out where to go based on scent, not on a bunch of flags. And then, if the dog lost the track and couldn’t find it again, my job would be to show the handler the track. So, since I don’t have a nose like a dog, I had to make a map so I can figure out where the course is without the flags.

If you have studied navigation for boating, you know about orienting yourself to two unmoving objects, one in the foreground and one in the background, that, in the position you are in at that moment, appear to line up with each other. If those two objects ever appear out of alignment, then you know you are not heading in the direction you set out toward. So I had to do the same thing while creating my map. You’ll see little drawings of trees in the background with a clump of dark grass in the foreground. Or a yellow traffic sign in the distance lined up with a metal pole, or a distant white stake lined up with a more distant conifer. Where I had these landmarks, finding my direction was relatively easy. Then all I had to do was count steps so I knew how far to go in each direction.

But there was this one section, almost in the middle of the field, where we had to go down into an (empty) irrigation ditch, come up over a culvert, then duck under a low tree branch, and then head out east-ish between some cattails and an old orchard. Well, the space where we came out from under the tree branch was filled with 5 foot high grasses. I couldn’t see anything distinct in either the foreground or background. And in the damp early morning light, everything was even less distinct than it had been the afternoon before.

And sure enough, the dog lost the track in the ditch and failed the test (which is really too bad, as she’d been doing a fabulous job up until then). So, while the judges left the course, I had to show the handler the way to get back on track.

Fortunately, it was still morning, and sunlight was still glowing through the cloudy east. I knew we were supposed to go pretty much east, so I pointed that way. As soon as we got through the grass, the track was clear and my landmarks showed up. The rest of the track was easy for me because I had a map. The dog got off track once more, but found all her articles and generally did a pretty good job.

Overall, it was a fun weekend. The test was put on by the nice folks of the Idaho Capital City Kennel Club, and I met a bunch of new people. One even volunteered to help me get started tracking. Probably I’ll start working with Carlin. He’s less likely to get distracted by critters than Tooey, and I know there are already many IWS who track successfully. It’ll be fun to give it a try — it’ll be another way to be outdoors and doing something fun with my dog.

Idaho, our new home, has lots of opportunities for those who love being in the outdoors with their dogs. Which, of course, is one of the reasons we moved here.

Today Carlin and I drove south of Boise to an area along the Snake River for a day of pheasant hunting. Specifically we were there to meet Steve, who lives in nearby Nampa, Idaho. Our paths originally crossed at some Spaniel Hunt tests in Oregon last August, just when we were planning our move. At Steve’s invitation, we had the opportunity to hunt with him and his English Springer Spaniel, Storm, at this beautiful location in southwest Idaho.

Steve and Storm, near the Snake River

Steve and Storm, near the Snake River

The day started with some excitement when Storm flushed a rooster out from underneath a tree growing next to where we had just parked — while the guns were still in the car. A good sign. Then, as Steve and I started out into the first field with Carlin, we had barely started when another hunting group dropped a bird about 60 yards in front of Carlin. And of course their two dogs raced off for a retrieve. It was an effort, but I managed to get Carlin in and away from that bird and the competing dogs. We immediately moved over to another field with some very tall cover.

The grass was so tall that I lost sight of Carlin, but I did see a rooster fly up that he flushed. A quick shot dropped it back into the cover, out of my sight, but Carlin was on it and delivered it to hand. It took him more time to find me than the bird.

First bird of the day

First bird of the day

The heavy cover was a real effort for man and dog to bust through, so we gave Carlin a break and brought out Storm. A lot of hunting from that dog, but no birds. After she was spent, we gave Carlin another round that lasted less than 30 minutes. He slowed to a trot and was pretty much done hunting for the day.

Carlin heads into tall cover in front of Steve

Carlin heads towards the tall cover in front of Steve

So back into the car with the boy and another round for Storm. This dog was not be stopped, and so we went for another hour in all types of cover, but the only birds put up were a covey of quail. One shot each from both Steve and myself did not add any quail to tonight’s dinner.

We did however have a great day, in a new state, hunting with new friends. And will be enjoying Carlin’s second Idaho rooster for dinner tonight.

Carlin’s First Bird in Idaho

161111_0013blogRather than wind chill factors and deep snow, today’s November weather threatened us with sunburn and overheating. But before it got too warm today, Carlin and Tooey flushed up this nice rooster pheasant from a field not too far from Horseshoe Bend, Idaho. I was also fortunate to bring it down with a quick shot from my 20 gauge for an easy retrieve for Carlin.

This makes it Carlin’s official first bird of Idaho, which he can now add to his list of successful bird states that includes Oregon, Washington, Montana, California, and Colorado. Tooey already has some Idaho birds on her resume, but is willing to keep adding to her tally. Carlin will have to hustle to keep up with her bird numbers. And he still needs to add a few states to his list in order to match Tooey who has the same list as Carlin plus Kansas and Utah, and the province of British Columbia.

Life is good, especially with good dogs . . .

Tooey goes to work

I love my new job. And one of the many reasons I love my new job is that we can bring dogs to work.

Of course, there are rules. The dogs must be well-behaved. They must be up to date on their vaccinations. They must not chew, scratch, pee on, or otherwise destroy the furniture. All completely reasonable requirements.

So, having signed a piece of paper that says that Tooey will follow all the rules, I got to start bringing Tooey to work.

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I have an office with a glass-paned door. (Amazing, in this day and age, that a non-management person can have an office with a door. Mostly, I’ve worked in cubes.) So when I’m in my office, Tooey can be out of her crate, hanging out, chewing on her bone, watching the people go by in the hallway. When I’m not in my office, say for meetings or trips to the copier or coffee machine, she’s sleeping in her crate.

And at lunch, we go for walks in the surrounding hills. Lately, it’s been lovely — warm but not too hot, sunny, and not overly crowded. The hills surrounding Healthwise, my employer, have popular trails where dogs can be off leash. But in the middle of the work day, we share the trail with only a few people walking their dogs, a couple of bicyclists, and several joggers. And up at the top of the hill, there are moments when we have it all to ourselves.

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Carlin did his thing today, well, actually, several of his things. Early this morning, he ran around in a park, burning off energy (and I think generating more) as he ran. We’re lucky here in Boise. From November 1st to February 28th, many of the public parks are open to off-leash dogs. The theory is that the dogs will scare off the geese. And right now, the morning temperatures are in the mild mid-40s F, so the grass isn’t frozen and the ponds are not ice. So Carlin and Tooey both ran around to almost their hearts content, on green mowed grass, with nary a grass awn or goat head to bother anyone.

Then, off we went to meet an unofficial subset of a local hunting retriever club. I had met one of their members at the Treasure Valley dog shows several weeks ago, and hearing that we had Irish Water Spaniels who needed a group to train with, she invited us out to train this morning.

Russ was handling Carlin, so I stood out in the field and threw bumpers. I like that job — you can get a good view of all the dogs and how they work. There was quite a variety of breeds represented. Labs, of course, but also a Golden Retriever, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, a Flat Coated Retriever, and today, and Irish Water Spaniel.

This is a retriever group, so we worked on marked retrieves and blinds. Fortunately, Carlin has not forgotten all his training during the long months while we were preparing to move, packing, actually  moving, and settling in. He stayed pretty steady at the line (with a reminder or two), and he did a great job of finding his 100 yard blind retrieve. He also did fine on the shorter marks, but got a bit lost on the 120 yard marks — we’ll have to work on those.

One of the fellows in the group brought his camera along, and got a great photo of Carlin running back with a bumper. You can see the kind of cover we were working in, the fact that it wasn’t raining, Carlin’s short field cut, and the intensity in his eyes.

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Carlin returning with his bumper–photo by John Arrington

When everyone was done training, we came home for lunch, a shower, and a bit of re-grouping. Then Carlin and I headed out to the state fairgrounds for his third rally trial. It was a lovely small show put on by the Idaho Capital City Kennel Club. There was Obedience in the morning, with Rally Obedience starting in mid-afternoon. The novice classes always go last, so I didn’t actually have to be there until 3 PM or so. I watched the dogs working at the Excellent level, which is always a treat because you get to see such good work. (I was disappointed that yesterday’s exhibitor in a wheelchair didn’t compete today. Watching her and her dog do both Excellent and Advanced Rally really made my heart happy. They were such a great team, in wonderful harmony with each other.)

Today I hoped Carlin would do better than he did yesterday, and he did! Yesterday, during his second trial, he bested his first qualifying run of 83 with an 87. He was distracted yesterday by this horrible air conditioning system that screamed before it started blowing cool air, and then by a young dog who also screamed at something. Carlin has been a nervous competitor, and these distractions made yesterday’s run a real test of his concentration. He knocked over a sign and sat crooked at some of the Sits and Halts, but he also did a nice job with most of the 270 and 360 degree turns and the serpentines around the cones.

So, with these two qualifying scores, today I was just hoping for something better than an 87. I’d have been happy with an 88, but Russ sent us out the door today, telling Carlin to get a 90.

He kept it together much better with the screaming air conditioner today (I am not exaggerating — I saw people jump every time it came on), and with fewer dogs in the show today, he seemed to be quite a bit calmer. He sat and downed much straighter, and he mentally stayed with me for most of the run. What a good boy — this is hard for him, and he really tried hard.

We beat the 90 Russ told us to get. We ended up with a yellow squeaky toy, a green ribbon for a score of 93, a 4th place ribbon, and an RN title ribbon! I am so proud of my boy, and pleased that we can work together.

rally

When we were done, I got Carlin a vanilla ice cream cone, and then we headed home to dinner.

Carlin and Tooey ton their Idaho pheasant hunt

Carlin and Tooey taking a break during their first team pheasant hunt

I had hoped to make the move to Idaho by the opening of pheasant season, but I missed it by a couple of weeks. So here we are at the beginning of November. We headed 30 miles north of Boise to an area along the Payette River. Both dogs totally knew what was up — having left home with blaze orange and a shotgun means only one thing.

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Normally when hunting solo, my preferred method is to take one dog out at a time. But this time, that method precipitated a severe temper tantrum with the remaining pup. Nothing like working a field while listening to your other dog barking non-stop in the car, a half mile away.

Today’s goal was not to come home with a lot of birds, but it was to reward the pups for their patience over the last month while we disrupted their routine with our move to Idaho. So I succumbed to the whining, and took both dogs out together to work as a brace covering the fields. It actually worked out quite well. They stuck together, both keeping inside gunning range, and when one became focused on a specific piece of heavy cover, the other stepped in to help scour out any potential birds.

After a few hours of this, we didn’t flush any birds, but we did come across a nice rooster pheasant. It was a simple retrieve as it was found lying dead at our feet. Some other hunter must have shot this one, but was not able to locate it. Based on the body temperature, it appeared to have been downed only a couple of hours earlier. And so with that bird in the hand, we continued to look for our own and enjoy the cool Idaho November day.

Final score: no shots fired, the one retrieved rooster, a few miles of hiking, and two very happy dogs.

Life is good . . . .

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