Archive for the ‘tracking’ Category

Saturday morning at the park where we run the dogs, there was a thin layer of snow on top of a 6″ layer of crusty, aerated ice. Sometimes, when I stepped on it, my foot would crunch down several inches. Sometimes, my foot would sink only an inch. All times, it was slippery.

Obviously not good terrain for tracking practice. I often have to run behind my dog while tracking, and no way was I going to run on that stuff. Mr. 4-Footed-and-Low-to-the-Ground wouldn’t mind, but I didn’t really relish falling.

It hadn’t been snowing, though, so on Saturday, my tracking friend D. and I resolved to find a parking lot on Sunday morning to practice urban tracking (i.e., on non-vegetated ground, also known as gravel, sand, asphalt, concrete, etc.).

But overnight, it started to snow again. The parking lots we found on Sunday morning were coated with patches of ice hidden by fresh snow. Way too slippery. But luckily we found a small parking lot that must have been heated. It had snow plow loads of snow on the dividers, but was totally clear of ice and snow on the asphalt. (And funnily enough, it was the parking lot of an orthopedics clinic…)

So — conditions:

  • Temperatures, cold, probably about 10 degrees as the highest
  • Winds, light but swirling around from all directions, bouncing off the surrounding buildings
  • Tracks, short with one 90 degree turn. At most, each leg was 50 yards (like I said, a small parking lot). My friend, D.,  laid Carlin’s track right next to a curb, which paralleled a sidewalk, and then turned 90 degrees to follow along another curb. Curbs were separated from the sidewalk by a 18″ high pile of snow.
  • D. also laid down several pieces of dried liver along the curb to encourage searching. This turned out to be totally unnecessary, as Carlin ignored the liver.

Carlin’s track was over in just a few minutes. Carlin took off from the start by following the curb for a few feet, then hopping over the pile of snow to the sidewalk. I stopped while he searched the sidewalk, and then went forward again as soon as he hopped back over and was following the curb.

At one point, he hopped over to the sidewalk again and thought briefly about peeing on a tree in the parking strip. But I told him “No!” and “Go track”, and he was happy to come back to work.

And then he just did it. He got back to the curb, followed it to the corner and made the turn, and then ran along the second curb to the glove. My friend had left a closed container of liver treats at the glove, so I was able to rip off my glove, give him a handful, and tell him what an amazing job he’d done.

He picked up the glove and we walked (or rather, I walked and Carlin strutted) back to the start. What a good boy. He’s doing so well. Now I’m thinking that I’m going to have to get someone else to lay a track for us, so Carlin doesn’t get the idea that tracking is always following D’s scent.

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This morning, it was 1 degree F. No breeze, no sun, grey-white sky, not yet snowing again.

My tracking buddy and I were at a large park nearby, one that was covered with 15″ of snow everywhere except the parking lots. The parking lots had only 4″ of snow. We were chatting, putting on boots, getting out harnesses and long lines, scent articles and leather gloves. We were getting ready to go tracking.

That’s when I asked her, “Are we crazy?”

“What?” she asked. “Why would you say that.” Hmmm. Not crazy then — maybe this is normal behavior for tracking aficionados in Boise in the winter.

“Well, it’s 1 degree out.”

“That’s OK. You go lay a track in an open W shape with 3 corners over there,” she said, pointing to one end of the park. I’ll go lay one with three turns for Carlin over there,” pointing in the opposite direction.

And we did.

Carlin ran his track first, about 15 minutes after my friend started to lay it. I learned several things:

  • If I don’t totally screw this up, Carlin is going to do well at this game. And he’s going to love it. This morning, he was so excited to go find the glove that his pre-track pee was only a few drops, but his post-track pee was the long minute’s worth he’d been holding while on the track. He did not pee on the bushes or trees or mounds of snow until he was carrying the glove in his mouth. That’s amazing all by itself.
  • I need to get in better shape. Carlin charged through his track at 3/4 speed through the chest-high (on him) snow. I managed to keep up with him, but was breathing really, really hard by the end of the 300 yard track. As a side benefit, I was also plenty warm.
  • I learned something about how Carlin communicates. When his nose is down, he’s sure he’s found the track. I can keep following him. When his head is up, he’s confused about where his track went and I should stop or move very slowly and wait for him to find it again.
  • I learned a bunch about leash handling. Mainly, I learned that when Carlin comes back toward me, I have to throw the excess long line behind me rather than dropping it at my feet. That way I won’t step into the tangle, get my feet wrapped up, and trip. How did I learn this, you ask? I am not telling. Except to remark again on the 15″ of soft fluffy snow.
  • And yet more about leash handling. Keep the line taut. That way I can feel what Carlin is doing. If he slows down even just a little, I’ll feel it in the line and can try to anticipate what he’s going to do.
  • Lastly, I started to learn about having no idea where the track is going. I was surprised by how disorienting that feels, to have no idea where I’m going. In past weeks, tracking in the snow, I could see the footprints because the bright sun created small shadows in each print. But today, the sun was hidden, the sky was the same color as the snow, there were no shadows, and I couldn’t see a footprint until I was right on top of it. And today we practiced in a public park. There were many, many footprints in the snow and no way to see which were my buddy’s and which weren’t.

It was a great couple of hours. I’ve always loved being outside with my dog, doing what the dog loves to do. I can’t think of a better way to spend a cold, cold winter day.



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I knew it was going to be cold this morning, and sure enough… That’s 3 degrees Farhenheit. Brrr…


But you know how, when talking about desert heat, people say, “But it’s a dry heat”? Well, the same thing can be said about the cold here in Boise. It’s a dry cold, and when it’s dry and not windy, 3 degrees isn’t quite as bad as I thought. Of course, I did have on three layers of long underwear, fleece, and windbreaker, neck to ankle, and lots of wool everywhere else. That helped, too.

I tracked with Dino again today, and she and I talked strategy.


Dino suggested that today Carlin should track his first corner. In other words, he’d track Dino’s scent a distance in one direction, and then, hopefully, he’d find the spot where she turned a corner, and make that same corner himself.

Carlin was sure something was up when I moved the long line from his collar to his harness. He was, thankfully, good about not pulling me off my feet on the icy asphalt, but he definitely eager to go.


We got to the start flag, and Carlin gave Dino’s knit hat a good sniff.


I told him to “Track!”, and off he went. Pretty fast, too. Fortunately, he didn’t go so fast that I had to run, but for sure I had to move right along. In the picture below, he’s about halfway to the corner.


I don’t have any photos of the corner, but when he got there, he kept going straight for a bit instead of turning to the left. This is training, and the corner, made by footprints in the snow, was obvious to me, so I just stopped at the corner and held onto the line so Carlin couldn’t get too far off track. I pointed to one Dino’s footprints, and when Carlin came back to me to see what I was pointing at, I told him to “Find your track.” He circled the corner a couple of times, looked up a squirrel in the big tree but (YAY!!!) ignored it, then put his nose down again and picked a direction to go.

Fortunately, it was the right direction.

He went along that way for a bit, and then came to a section of disturbed snow. Some large animal or two had really kicked it up sometime earlier in the morning, and Carlin got distracted sniffing around. But after I pointed again at a foot print and reminded him to “Find your track,” he got through that, kept going some more, and then found Dino’s “lost” glove.


I don’t know exactly how long each leg of the track was, but I’m guessing the first one was 40 yards and the second was 80 yards. I was pleased. This is only Carlin’s 4th time out, and he found his track and his glove. I think we’re going to love this.


Note about tracking in the snow. I wondered if Carlin couldn’t just see the footsteps, and simply follow them. That would be cheating. Plus there won’t always be snow or foot prints to follow in a tracking test. Or, if there are foot prints, they might not be the real track. If the tracking test for which I was a tracklayer is any example, there can be stuff on the ground that looks like a track but isn’t — things like foot prints made by people jogging through the area, little flags placed by retriever trainers, plants crushed by other animals passing through, etc.

And then, when I saw Carlin initially go straight at the corner, I knew he wasn’t following the foot prints themselves.


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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.

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We may have found something that Cooper is good at, wants to do, AND that we want to do with him. There’s lots of stuff that fit the first two categories: underwear stealing, private part grooming, playing keep-away with the tennis ball, etc., etc. And there’s stuff that fits the third category: walking with our dog nicely on a leash, having him come when called, delivering the tennis ball to hand, etc. Riding in the car fits all three. Hiking in the park does, too, as well as boating. We wondered: what else?

So when the opportunity came up to take a beginning tracking class from Jill Jones, we jumped on it. It started with a half day of lecture and explanation — the requirements for the various tracking tests available (TD, TDX, VST), how you get certified to take a tracking test, the very strange method of deciding who can take a test (choosing by lot from the group of entrants, rather than first-come-first-served), how to choose a harness, how long the long line leash should be, how to handle the leash (and later, the long line), how to lay a beginning track, the importance of wind direction, obstacles on the course, all kinds of stuff.

The afternoon is where the fun came in. Handlers paired up — one would lay nine very short, straight tracks, and the other would run their dog. Then the two would switch. The photo above shows my partner laying down the glove and treats at the end of the first track — only 5 paces long. Cooper was raring to go, as you can see.

The left-hand picture below shows Cooper pulling me down one of the longer tracks (about 40 paces). That’s how Jill wanted us to do it — she kept reminding us, “Don’t run with your dog. Make him pull you!” OK, so I “made” Cooper pull me, but believe me, this is the only situation he will be allowed to pull me. And it makes me realize how important getting an official harness will be. When he’s got his harness on, he can pull. When not, definitely not.

The last picture shows Cooper bringing back the glove he successfully tracked. A few dogs, like Coop, picked up the glove. Most were content to simply eat the treat that had been placed on the glove — who cares about the glove.

Note that my hat and scarf are missing from the two pictures below. They came off after running the first track. All that running — “making” your dog pull you — keeps you warm!


(Note added later: The next evening after work, we tried the routine at a local park, in the dark, in the rain, at 70 paces. Cooper did just fine. Found the treat and retrieved the glove.)

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