Resilient or Just Plain Nuts?

by Doranna

yymm.dd.dart.storycover.28.NOT.SMEarlier this month, we headed off to an adventure: our first tracking test away from home.

Tracking tests are hard to find.  In our area, we have one TD, one TDX, and one VST per year.  (Tracking Dog, Tracking Dog Excellent, and Variable Surface Test.)

Those tests are often overfilled, meaning there’s a draw to get in; non-local tests are five to seven hours away.  And with the passing rates (painfully low), most of us have to take the tests more than one time.  Sometimes lots more than one time.

It’s not always about the dog.  It can be about a bad luck track or bad luck weather, and it’s a whole lot about the way tracking requires a complicated skillset and absolute focus, plus the time and space to practice (especially once you start driving out an hour, lay track for an hour, and then need to age the track for another three hours before running it.)

Anyway, doing all this on the road and in unfamiliar terrain adds a whole new level of crazy.  But with the local test options limited and Dart definitely ready to tackle the TDX, we entered our first test in El Paso, and were lucky enough to make the draw.

That’s about where the luck stopped!  The details of which I’m about to share, but mainly to make a point…

The hotel turned out to be a Fail, with nasty surrounds, profoundly rude staffers, an inadvertent intruder who was assigned our room on top of us, and cleaning chemicals that triggered an fierce perma-migraine.  The latter were just annoying, but the words “migraine” and “absolute focus” rarely go together.  *wincey wince*

On test day morning, the hosting club greeted us with pleasant cheer…and the news of record-breaking heat. So the migraine and I drew the final track and we ran it under the noonday sun.

Getting ready to head out.  Dart's wet, my back is wet, and the van is draped in every shade cloth we have.

Getting ready to head out. Dart’s wet, my back and hat are wet, and the van is draped in every shade cloth we have.

Handling Dart is…interesting.  He’s a dog of vast atomic vibration of both brain and body.  Managing the tracking line usually takes everything I’ve got–my best strategy is to feed it out to a gentle stop, hope for a long first leg (say, 100 yards) during which I can shorten the line a bit and find a happy ratio of speed to thoughtfulness without demotivating him.

Our first leg on this track was, sadly, as short as the regs allow them to be.

It also took us into a massive patch of mesquite.  With thorns.  Lots of mesquite.  Mesquite everywhere.  Mesquite that I had never seen before.  With thorns.  So Dart was still going full blast, the tracking line was still out to its full 30 feet, and Dart turned around to hunt the corner and promptly knitted himself into the mesquite.  This took about a minute, during which he was repeatedly jerked to a stop much faster than I could untangle him.

Much Was Learned about handling in mesquite in Very Short Order.

At the start flag, and heading for that thicker collection of thorns, thorns, THORNS to the left.  Dart is there behind that mesquite in front of the start flag, I promise.

At the start flag, and heading for that thicker collection of thorns, thorns, THORNS to the upper left. Dart is there behind that mesquite in front of the start flag, I promise.


When I got Dart untangled, he quit trying to find the turn and continued forward in dejection.

After that, it’s hardly worth mentioning the four big ATVs that rumbled to a stop directly in front of us and the friendly riders who tried to strike up a conversation over their idling motors.  As they left, Dart hopefully indicated a random piece of trash–just in case–and then dutifully moved onward in an equally random direction.

Let’s just say the Whistle of Doom came as no surprise.

One of the nice things about a tracking test is that once you fail, you can still complete the test with the tracklayer.  So of course we chose to do that, and Dart–once redirected properly–was happy to blast on down the track.  But sadly, he had just learned a very important lesson:  Do Not Go Back To Search for Corners.  So about the time he blew past the second corner, the tracklayer got…lost.

Really lost.

Repeatedly really lost.**

Eventually one of the two judges kindly came out to find the corner and then stuck with us, helping us through the initial shambles where Dart was simply no longer willing to commit to a track at all.  Then we found the first article!  And Dart’s tail came up and off he went to finish the rest of the track very nicely indeed, giving him the chance to regain a little confidence. Back at the van we poured water over him and slapped the cool coat back into place, and soon enough he was fast asleep.

And then we ate lunch and celebrated the two of six who had passed, and THEN we got in the car for the long drive home.

I said, “Wow.  That sucked beyond suckage.”

I said, “Holy &^*%$#!, I can’t believe the Overlapping Awful.”

I said, “I want to cry for a month, eat chocolate, and never do anything like this again.”


Then I said, “Hey, I have an idea of how to help retrain Dart on corners.  I wonder if I can do that in the two weeks before our local test?”


On Sunday, we find out…

(Resilient, or…?)


**Note, this happens to all of us sooner or later.  The feeling of losing a track you’ve laid for someone during training is bad enough, so I don’t even want to imagine what this person felt under the circumstances.

About Doranna

My books are SF/F, mystery, paranormal romance, and romantic suspense. My dogs are Beagles, my home is the Southwest, and the horse wants a cookie!
This entry was posted in D'Artagnan Beagle and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Resilient or Just Plain Nuts?

  1. Mona Karel says:

    We who do things with our four leggeds are probably nuts but it’s a good sort of nuts

  2. Morgan says:

    Resilient. Resilient is a good word.

    • Doranna says:

      I swear I spell-checked that, because I knew I had it wrong. But I was migrainy… Must fix!!

  3. Heather Dryer says:

    Resilient is indeed a good word. Good luck Sunday!

    • Doranna says:

      Thank you! I’m happy with the final practice we just ran. Monday should have been the last but I wasn’t totally happy with how that went (some interference from dogs on flexis–not that he didn’t handle it, but it wasn’t the final message I wanted to leave him with), so I did one today. He seems quite ready–now let’s see how the handler does–!

  4. Pingback: Backtracking | Book View Cafe Blog

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