Today I wanted to work on starts and that first corner. That seems to be our current weakest point. I spoke to several very experienced trackers over the last couple months and their advice was to do a bunch of starts with medium or short legs and 1 or 2 corners, with and without articles (not counting the starts article and end glove).
Figuring that there was no way I’d remember where all those starts were, I went to the store and got some of those surveyor flags on short wire stems. Bea has never seen these before and they were blaze orange.
So I laid 5 short tracks on a field with grass ranging from ankle to knee height. The grass was very very wet from yesterday’s heavy rain. So wet that if you picked a bunch you could shake a lot of water off it just like freshly washed vegetables! Another odd thing about the grass was that it was exceptionally green smelling. Very strong, green smell when stepped on or driven on. When laying the tracks, after leaving the glove I would then take a big hop away and then a couple steps before planting the new flag and start article and starting the next track.
I started laying these 5 tracks at 10 am, it was cloudy with a swirling very light breeze from no particular direction and 54 degrees F. When describing the tracks, instead of listing yards, I’m going to say steps. I have 13 steps for every 10 yards. I will list total yards tracked at the end
Three hours later Bea and I are ready to give this project a try. Bea is her usual very excited to track. She does that grazing thing that she started this summer. I get her to stop and take her to the first flag (we approach it so the leg goes right from the flag). She pays zero attention to the start article and when I ask her to “find it” she eats grass and eats grass…. She starts the track then stops to eat grass. Oh for gosh sake! I get her back and re start and she takes off much better. This new over excitement grass eating just needs to stop… This leg goes up a VERY slight incline 27 steps and at the top turns right. Bea tracks right along and cuts the corner to the next leg. She missed maybe 18” of each leg doing this. She then trucks right along and then sees the flag for the next leg and wants to run over and see it and in the process runs right past the glove. <sigh> I call her back to the ½ way point and she then completes the 30 step leg to the glove perfectly. Then she eats more grass… Maybe this is not going to go well
I take her collar and lead her to the next flag (approaching so the track goes left from the flag) and again no interest in the start article. But she starts off well with only a couple mouthfuls of grass. The leg goes through some flattened tall grass and Bea mills around a bit but then gets back on track and finds a cloth glove article. She then re starts the track a bit awkwardly but finishes the 60 step leg fine. She overshoots the left corner just a bit (having spied the next flag) but recovers and makes the mere 7 steps to the glove.
On this next set I pull the flag without becoming fully oriented to the track direction and Bea pans left and right at the start. The track goes up an incline and the grass is a bit taller. She then pulls right along and then veers right. I the dumb member of the team think she’s off on another flag hunt (since she was staring at the next one) and think we are “wrong” I bring her back down the hill and look at my crappy map and realize this is the track with the OPEN right corner and Bea was actually almost right. I send her off again and Bea follows the 22 step track leg in almost the same line as before, bears right at the open turn and finds the leather article. I could almost hear her say “take that you moron!” and then she took off to the end of this 50 step leg to the glove. I took a break here and played with her and the glove a bit to unwind from the handler stupidness, patted, hugged and played tug.
Took her collar and approached the next flag from the left of the track and set Bea off. This 15 step leg ran across the face of the hill and Bea had zero trouble with it. Made the right corner exactly took the 10 steps of the next leg and made the left corner also exactly. Trotted the 60 steps along the crest of the hill to the glove. YEAH! We are warming up now
The last track we approached the flag straight and she went downhill on this 52 step leg at a good clip. She zipped past the corner a couple steps, came back, snuffled around it (it is right in the valley between two hills and right on a patch of knee high broad leaf grass. She checked left and then at the corner again, checked beyond a couple steps, checked the intersecting deer trail and then found the leg just 2’ beyond the right corner. This 23 step leg continues through this really wet, tall grass in the narrow valley and Bea is right on top of it. The track comes out onto short grass where the wallet is (right ON the border of tall/shorter grass) and I think she’s going to pass it but she backs up and finds it quite easily.
Bea is soaked, I’m soaked, the gear is soaked, the line weighs a ton and is dripping. This was an interesting project. You could almost see the excitement/over excitement interfere with Bea’s concentration at first and watch it melt away as she settled to the project, got used to the glowing flags and showed me that she knew what she was doing once she could REALLY think. The grass was strong and the swiling breeze interesting along with the hills/valleys and soaking grass.
I wished I had another tracker there to watch but I “think” this was worthwhile.
(to summarize: Basically this was five SHORT 2 or 3 leg tracks so that we practiced our start procedure (I walk her to the flag by the collar, she sits, I put the line onto the harness, grab the start article, show it to her and then say "find it"), handling the first corner and then the end glove is the "click/reward" that ends each track and you break a few seconds and start over again.
It was actually more disturbing to ME (not Bea) than I thought it would be. Felt like I was missing something (yea like 800 yards of track maybe???) By track 4 we had this procedure down just fine and were totally settled and calm AND by the 4th track we were getting MUCH better at the stuff (start and first corner) that, while it NEVER used to be a problem, has been an issue ever since our TDX test this spring. )
Overall she tracked about 274 yards, the tracks were 3 hours old, the temperature 57 degrees F and the sky still cloudy with the very light swirling breeze
Tomorrow we will try to run a real track