In the last tracking blog, in the wake of a difficult experience in El Paso, I was getting ready for another tracking test on the 3rd. I muttered about some of the challenges of getting tracking tests–finding the tests, dealing with the luck factor, maintaining the focus, blah blah blah.
So, on the third, we took the test, along with five other teams. This is what we all woke up to:
To be fair, we saw it coming. Several days of rare rain and 40mph gusts and…well, it was a lethal combination for desert-trained dogs. Hot scent, hot scent cone, hot background scent. Kind of like being used to communicating in whispers and suddenly finding yourself in the middle of a mega-mall at holiday time.
My tracklayer is a positive thinker, so she made an awesome keepsake plot for her track #3–and it just happened to have a Beagle sticker!
Here’s the world right before the first track. Yep, that’s snow/rain up there falling on the mountain and coming our way.
And here’s our #1 track handler, bravely sallying forth. No need to question the wind direction and speed…the start flag says it all.
I started my track at just after eleven. Kind of an artsy shot, don’t you think?
Here’s the official plot.
The wind was blowing strongly north, which is Up on the map. Dart made a wonderfully strong start and got maybe halfway down the first leg before he began to doubt himself. He doubled back to search out the scent cone*…where he spent a lot of time inhaling bunny poo, investigating a juniper critter den, and otherwise exploring the startling intensity of soaking wet wild desert.
*The scent cone is the spread of scent away from the hot track (actual step-by-step path of the tracklayer). The dogs have been trained to stick with the hot track, but on this day the strong wind quickly fanned the scent elements in its wake, and then rain came along to anchor it down in a way none of these dogs had ever experienced. See above, mega-mall at holidays!
Oh look. Here we all are at the start of track #3, wondering if this is as far as Dart and I will get.
The group at the start flag is composed of two judges and the tracklayer–waiting to see if Dart will relocate the actual track, which is leading left from the flag in this picture. At this point, I had no idea where the track was–I knew he’d started strongly and second-guessed, but didn’t know if he’d second-guessed toward the correct direction or away from it.
Lots of burbling panic hidden there in that patient stance.
Relocating the actual track was…holy cow. Relief. Also, why is there not an award for best use of meditative calming methods on a track?
Dart moved along that first leg with decently restored confidence, and found the first corner without too much fuss. That took us south, or downward, on the map, and also downhill into and out of an arroyo.
Oh look. It’s raining.
But then we found the first article! I was never so happy to see a humble sock–! It’s an X on the map. See?
But then I discovered a startling thing about my biothane tracking line.
SLIPPERY WHEN WET.
Panic burbled up again. “Holy Crap. I can’t hold on to my dog, never mind handle him.”
I wrapped the line around my hand. That worked but crippled the communication between us, so my panic didn’t subside much.
We made out second turn to track along the bottom of a distinct rise. I wasn’t much of a handler at that point–just trying to stay out of his way. He drifted north, where the wind had blown the hot, wet scent cone up against the hill. I knew about the drift, but he corrected and I thought it was enough.
At least, not enough. The squiggly upward line on the map is us. The nice straight line along the bottom is where we should have gone.
(The marching XXs represent the cross track, which is laid separate of the track so the dog can prove he’s staying on the right scent.)
Our path actually would have been okay if we turned in the correct direction, uphill, when we encountered the next leg. But the scent from the downhill track blew up in Dart’s face to beckon him downward, and down he went. Past the corner, plunging forth to figure out where the scent went because that’s what Dart does–he searches forward before he searches back. But he didn’t turn back soon enough, and the whistle blew.
So we were about halfway there, and we got to finish the track with the tracklayer–although Dart was dismayed and unfocused after the whistle, understanding perfectly well that it was a “correction” of sorts. Of course, he probably also felt my confusion, because I just couldn’t initially grok that he’d hit the fourth leg and backtracked, which isn’t something he’s ever done before. Bummer.
After the fourth track of the day, the weather cleared and the wind died. But all the tracks were laid in those rainy, gusty conditions and no one got very far.
We commiserated afterward with good food and good company, and I was able to study the plot map and understand more clearly what had happened. So there was some human backtracking to figure out the conditions and details, and to be very, very proud of Mr. Dart Beagle for making it as far as he did.
So, guess what I did when we got home! No, guess!
…I entered a Colorado test!
Think we’ll get in?
Wow. WHAT a day! I forget how startling rain can be in the Southwest. I wonder if swamp-trained dogs would have a problem with desert tracks?
Absolutely. For one thing, they have to learn to work with cactus. But generally speaking, a dog trained in humidity would need time to learn how scent behaves in these dry circumstances–just as dogs trained without arroyos would have trouble with the way scent behaves in those circumstances. And for my dogs, thick, heady meadow grass would be a surprise, along with such things as the rain.