Monday, March 14, 2011

Tracking Trial/Test

The "food court/gathering place".
Last Sunday I attended my first Tracking Trial/Test, at McKowen's farm in Jackson, LA., about an hour from home.  I didn't have a dog entered, but our club sponsored the test and several members were entered or at least there to help out, and I went to observe and get a feel for the sport, see if maybe it is something I might like to do with Lucky.  I enjoyed the country air and scenery, the merry band of participants, being in charge of the food, and ferrying track-layers and other folk up and down the country roads.  But I found that tracking is not a spectator sport.

Here's my description of tracking:  One harnessed dog at a time, at the end of a 40' lead, nose to the ground, walking too and fro in tall grass in an expansive open field, looking for/following an invisible track for 20 minutes or so, far in the distance and sometimes disappearing over a rise or into a gully, and nobody but the judge knows if D is tracking the track or is following other scents, since nobody can see where the track is.  We're watching the sport from the back of a pick-up truck on the side of the road, or tromping across the field a great distance behind.  And since that track can only be used once, the entire crew in several cars is then transported to another field, sometimes miles down the road, where someone has gone and laid a track, and sometimes a cross track, hours before.

Cheryl and Grace try for their TDX.
I was asked to photograph what I could, even tried to video Tracey with Spirit from the Start flag to finish, but used up a whole lot of video and didn't get much worth keeping.  Comparing that with agility runs, where you can always see both dog and handler, runs only last a minute, and screwups as well as victories are obvious, trying to video tracking is tedious. As to photos, my little Sony Cybershot just didn't cut it.  One needs a powerful telephoto lens for distance shots.  So I borrowed this one from Cheryl's web gallery.

I had envisioned more excitement, like on TV where a dog bounds through the marsh grasses to find a duck his owner has just shot out of the sky, finds bodies in the rubble after a building collapse, or tracks a criminal with unwavering certainty. But then, I only watched 2 dogs track (Spirit and Grace) because the tracks were so spread out, and I didn't see the titling performances -- the two teams that got their TD or TDX.  Plus, the weeds were tall, the briars aplenty, there were logs to trip over, soggy mud, my boots were not as comfortable as my tennies, it was growing hot, and I was on the lookout for snakes the whole time.

No doubt the performing teams found it exhilirating, but as a spectator, I found it painfully slow-moving. Maybe if they ran all-out, and pointed or howled at the articles, the action would seem more intriguing.  So as for me, for now, I'm thinking that I have plenty enough other opportunities to be outdoors and work with my dogs, and Agility is right where I am supposed to be putting my efforts right now.

Still, I'm glad the sport exists, glad our club puts on a trial each year, and glad to help, but I wish there was some other way to test my dogs' tracking abilities.  How are their noses compared to other dogs?  And I still intend, someday, to give lure-coursing a crack.  I would do so next weekend except that we have the Mobile Agility trial on the same weekend.  Bummer!

Upwards and onward,

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