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“You are so lucky,” the woman said. I had just confirmed that yes, I do work at Healthwise. “You get to bring your dog to work, and then you get to walk these trails at lunch.”

She smiled, and I smiled back as we each went on our own way. She was headed out into the Boise foothills with her dog, and Tooey and I were headed back in to work.

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At the time of this photo, we were about 20 minutes away from the building, which is nestled right into the base of the Boise foothills. The building is so close that its parking lot is often used by folks who bring their dogs to walk or run the trails. But from where we were, you could look out south, toward the building, but not see it. Just snow, juniper and other desert plants, and the cloudy skies that will bring more snow tomorrow.

And she’s right. I am lucky. Not just for the reasons she stated, but also to have this winter landscape so close, and a companion handy to explore it with.

Tracking in the snow

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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