When we last saw our heroes (AKA Dart & Connery Beagle), they were preparing to take the imminent Variable Surface Tracking test…not much expecting to pass, given our ongoing family crises, training interruptions, and etc (well, even without those things, because this is hard!).
But. One goes, one does one’s best, and one gets everything possible out of it. And these things did happen, and we all had a grand time.
The weather, in spite of its pleasant forecast, was cold and blustery–though the worst of it didn’t come until everyone had run their tracks, thank goodness. I was track numbers one (Connery) and three (Dart). We didn’t pass, in case that hasn’t been obvious. In fact, although there was a lot of really nice handling and really hard working dogs, there were no passes in the day’s test.
I love the maps we got of our tracks–the surface notations and calculations are so painstaking, and I can’t imagine trying to put it all together in a regulation track–so many yards of vegetation, so many yards of asphalt, all while working around buildings, streets, and other challenges. Google maps must be a great boon to out-of-town judges!
Connery did an awesome long first leg over all those surface transitions, and then headed out into the first parking lot where I knew he was lost when he indicated random trash.
The Random Trash Indication is his “tell”: he knows he’s off the track, so he tries to find ways to make himself a Good Boy. We searched like heck and I had the feeling the turn was behind us, but he has a hard time going back when he’s uncertain, and active guiding isn’t allowed.
So we failed there, after which he did an amazing job on the rest of the track. (That’s the cool thing–one gets to finish the track with the tracklayer while the judges move on!)
If I’d known it’s possible to make a turn at a transition point–in this case, along a curb–I might have handled Connery differently. But alas, I understood the rules to be exactly the opposite, so…I messed up. It was the one spot I wasn’t asking him to be certain about his forward movement, so as not to interfere with his morale while entering the asphalt surface.
But I have some solace about my misunderstanding, because everyone else was just as surprised as I was! So we all made little mental notes. “Train for this!” And it was a very good thing to learn.
Anyway, the rest of the track had some tricksie stuff that Connery nailed, and I was really proud of him. I’ll enter him in the local March TDX (barring issues with his health) just because after this, he deserves the chance to play. He asked to do it and he proved himself.
Dart was…wow, so very Dart.
He charged forth at his usual plunging speed for a long track across a couple of parking lot entries, then noodled around the first turn for a while and took it across the street and into a big parking lot.
There he was strongly on track until, lo! He veered off into a twisty little alley between buildings, quite possibly picking up on the scent from the other side–you can see it on the map.
Halfway through that he reversed course, returned to emerge into the parking lot, and circled in on the first article, pouncing on it. Yay!
But then the little beast put his hands on his hips, struck a superhero pose, and said:
“I did it! I did the hard thing! I am awesome!”
I said, “We’re not done.”
And he said, “Yes, we are. I just know it.”
I chivvied him on a little further but he was in fact done, and eventually led me off entirely in the wrong direction (but I really did know it). He did a random job of completing the track and was a tired little sack of limp Beagle when we returned to the van.
But lessons learned…invaluable. I now have a plan of action for his TDX training and further VST training–something I’ve been noodling with but has now crystallized for me.
So that was our first VST.
I had a good time. I learned a lot. The dogs had fun–Dart had a lot to think about, and Connery was proud and happy. And I feel as if I have strong forward momentum and ideas to continue solidifying their understanding of their tracking tasks. AND I get to relish the surprise of the judges when they later learned these were my first VST tests. Happy handler!
So, VST fail…but VST WIN!