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.