I almost chickened out.
The VST (Variable Surface Tracking test) is one of those ultimate tests, requiring skill and trust and teamwork (and good weather and good luck!)—and still, with all that, the passing percentages wobble around 5-8% of the teams who take the test.
That’s not a lot.
So when things went totally wonky a month ago, I thought hard about withdrawing. (I missed 2/3 of a favorite agility trial when I had an excitingly intractable heart arrhythmia and ended up at the hospital via ambulance, and the next day my family became immersed in an ongoing in-and-out of ICU saga with my dad.)
But Dart has been training for this test for nearly two years now, since he got his Tracking Dog title. He has the individual skills to pass, but struggles with the maturity to put them all together, you know, at the same time. Still, I entered him early.
My job with him is to stay grounded, wait out his vibrational insanity, and yet still know when the vibration shifts just enough to go with him. Dart at the start line and restarting after articles resembles nothing so much as a cat hanging onto the end of a fast-moving ceiling fan.
And Connery has been out of training since January, when he got his own Tracking Dog title and promptly went into stifle rehab along with the effort to get him off the steroid inhaler that made him so vulnerable to injury. But he asked and he asked, and a couple of months ago I tried him on a few urban tracks (skills he’s trained with all along the way), and he nailed them with vigor.
So I entered him, too. His challenge is that he wants so badly to be correct, he can get stuck in a spot by being too thoughtful. Encouraging him without misleading him is my touchy job, especially when it comes to transitions into hard surface.
So when the world fell apart that month ago, I really did think hard about withdrawing–while our chances of passing aren’t ever high, I still want to feel that I belong out there on the track.
But we’ve been waiting for this test all year, and entering is one way to support the club that provides these opportunities, and in the end…well, the test is tomorrow, and tonight I’m getting ready!
My challenge now is to put aside my natural sky-high performance anxiety and–in spite of everything going on in real life right now–let myself think on the track. With the VST, that means every step of the way.
We’ll be hunting four articles over 6-800 yards and a wide variety of surfaces, through a “moment of truth” turn out in the middle of empty asphalt. The test takes place on a busy campus where people regularly pick up said articles and let their dogs run around off-leash–with any luck, we’ll stay out of their way!
It’s Saturday night as I write this, and I’m getting ready! If you read this on Sunday, send some good thoughts our way!
TRACKLAYERS, PLEASE HAVE STINKY FEET!
PS Yes, there’s a wooden bridge on the campus, so my blog title actually makes marginal sense!