Tracking LOOKS easy to us humans. But when you think about it, it’s not. Heck, we humans can’t even tell for sure HOW dogs are even able to track people accurately.
Today’s track was laid on a field that was mowed a few weeks ago and has been rained on, thus has some new growth. This is a field we tracked on regularly this spring and last fall. Typically Bea does very well in this field even though many trackers say it’s a hard one because it has flat areas and rolling hills and wet spots.
I start laying the track shortly after I get out of work and while I had originally thought this would be an easy-ish track I’m beginning to guess it won’t be. The sun is bright and it’s 78 degrees F, a beautiful fall day. BUT there is a pretty strong wind coming from West/North West and with all these hills and valleys…….. it’s going to be a drifting nightmare.
3 hours 5 minutes later Bea and I are here and ready to start. The temperature is now 75 degrees and dropping as is the sun and there is barely even a breeze.
We approach the flag from the side so that the track takes off to the left. Bea does a bit of the grass eating thing and is pretty excited. We always approach the flag very calmly but she just loves to track. I get the start article, a sock and she seems ready to go so I send her off. She eats grass and checks right and left and finally commits properly. This leg goes down a very slight incline and about 10’ past some round hay bales. Bea is tracking great until she passes the bales and then gets sucked left across the front of them. The bales are on a flat area at the base of a small hill and the scent was blown left across the flat. She seems to find the leg again and heads out to what I feel is the right angle. We pass another group of round bales to our right and shortly after Bea loses scent. She is working well so I say nothing. This is another flat area just past the base of the hill and is almost to the edge of the mowed field where an overgrown cow pasture begins on the opposite side of barb wire. Bea has worked too far past the corner I am sure and then searches left (the corner is a right). She then commits to something (drift, a cross track???) and heads up the next hill still heading left. She keeps stopping and starting but is pulling strong and I decide she is lost and I bring her back to where she lost scent and she just keeps trying to go up that hill while snatching grass. I hear the imaginary judges whistle blow..
I decide we will start all over and I make a wide re approach to the start. Bea thinks I’m nuts but I’m wanting to try a new thing.
Bea re starts and tracks MUCH more slowly this time. Sorting much more carefully. We are taking a slightly different line and just past the second set of bales she loses scent again where the wind channeled through. This time though she is searching right and is quartering. I know we passed the corner but she is focusing more to my right and slowly and gradulally drifts us in the right direction. It is clear that the scent is blasted all over here and she is trying to follow it as best she can.
I can tell she picks up a clear scent here and there and her search cone is getting narrower and more on the track as we pass the hill base and work through a narrow flat area before skirting the next hill base. She is on the track now only casting a small amount left and right. Mostly right. Just as we pass the base of the next hill she finds the wallet! She was right on the track exactly. GOOD girl! This is very hard Bea says!! I praise her to the sky for not giving up and she is so happy. Off we go continueing with this leg as it heads towards the tall grass. As we get to the tall grass near where a ditch is the line gets under Bea as she circles briefly to see if we turn of follow the weeds. I leave it not wanting to stop her. Bea hops down into the ditch for a second checking that. Nope. She comes back out, quickly checks the deer trail and then a bright yellow leaf on a milkweed plant (thinking it might be an article?). I’m saying nothing just letting her work and work she is. Bea comes back to the short grass and finds where I actually entered the tall unmown field area. Follows it a few steps, checks the next deer trail, checks around the grass and hits my track again. Follows it a bit further and then repeats the above. She gets to an area the deer flattened and circles a bit, checks the tall stuff more and briefly acts like the line is caught but then keeps going back into the tall grass. She once again checks to the side and then looks at me. I tell her “find it” and she gets right back to work. As she comes out onto the next flattened area where I turned I realise why she looked at me… POOR BEA! The line is wrapped around BOTH back legs right above the hock. In the tall grass I could not see her legs at all. But does she quit? Nope she is still working and even makes my corner! (a right) I stop her and tell her to wait while I unwrap her. Good God! She would have kept tracking in hobbles!
She restarts just fine right onto the track and right out onto the short grass again. Checks briefly each way and then tracks right on the track as it goes past a small pile of dropped hay. A good bit to the right are more round bales and as we get even with them (they are maybe 20’ or so to the right) Bea excitedly finds the cell phone. She tosses it right to me, picks it up again and dances around with it! Happy dog! (it’s an old broken one with a leather case) GOOD GIRL! Off we go again and Bea finds the next corner fine, only briefly checking past it in the wet area. She hits this left and speeds up again to her normal speed (she has been tracking very slow all the way til now). The track approaches another row of round bales but this time goes through the row through a 3’ gap. Bea quickly checks left and right along the row and dives right through the gap no problem. On the other side there is about 15’ before a rutted farm road and beyond that a tall grass meadow. As we approach the road I can see that there was vehicle traffic on the grass (not the road they drove on the field) and looks like it turned around on the track.
Bea has a hard time here and I’m guessing the people got out and milled around. Looks like more than 1 vehicle too. She spends a great deal of time checking along the left edge of the road (I made a right and followed the road). She comes back and checks the left again. We spend a long time here. She checks the road itself, the grassy center and a quick check to the grass beyond but she never enters it. FINALLY she checks behind me, in front of me and then right. It is clear that the scent is pretty trashed. She’ll get a step or two of it and then mill around. Then another step or two and more milling. She gets to the area where the truck turned around and yes it is right on the next corner, another right. Bea widens her circle and catches scent here and there. Checks the road again but comes right back clearly finding nothing. Again she finally finds the next leg and after a brief bit of start and stop we are off and away from all that contamination.
This leg runs about 8’ from the tall grassy and treed edge of the field that borders the paved road. Bea is having NO trouble now as the track heads down to an area of muddy ruts. She goes right across directly on the track. On the other side she does a quick, almost routine check left and right and then follows the track exactly as it heads up a small hill. As the track hits the crest there are 3 round bales that are broken open/spilled and Bea slows down and tracks carefully and deeply right up to the base of the bale and finds the glove!!!!!
While we would have failed on the first corner, my new tactic of starting over worked and Bea tracked more carefully and slowly. I also talked to her less and made an effort to NOT aid her or back up. I did praise for good work and offered a find it as described above but in general tried to work on MY handling. After the restart I think Bea did darn well and showed great heart under difficult conditions INCLUDING the line hobbling her. She never quit
The track was 670 yards long and 3 hours 5 min old. When we started it, the temperature was 75 degrees but by the time we ended it was 54 degrees, quite a drop and it makes me wonder… what does that do to scent???
She is such a good dog, it’s me that needs more work!