On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Dottie and I passed our AKC Tracking Dog (TD) certification. This is really a big accomplishment for me since I have never done an AKC tracking event before, and even though I trained all three of my current dogs for tracking at the same time, Dottie is the first dog who has been successful enough to certify.
The purpose of the TD certification is to be allowed to enter an actual tracking test. In most parts of the US, tracking tests are few and far between due to lack of suitable land. Then, when there are tests, there are usually openings for only 3 dogs. So the thinking is they don't want totally unprepared dogs entering, taking up a spot, then failing badly.
The certification is the exact same as an actual test. It has all the same elements. Once you pass, the AKC tracking judge who laid the track gives you 3 certificates that are good for a year and that you send in with each entry. If you enter a test and don't get in (each test has a random draw, so hopefully my lucky streak comes into play) the secretary sends you the certificate back. The only time you won't get a certificate back is if you enter the test then fail. That way if you fail three tests in 1 year you will have to re-certify.
Dottie's certification track was held in an empty industrial lot in town, next to the freeway. The cover was dead and very short and not uniform- mostly thin, but also some bare patches. Lots of pokers, and huge ground squirrel and gopher mounds. However, there was basically no wind, which is always nice. The track was aged for 40 minuets. The judge puts 1 article at the start for the dog to take up the scent, and one article at the end that the dog must find or you won't pass. The track is a quarter of a mile long. Which, for a SchH trained dog, is very, very long to go without an article.
I had a lot of confidence in Dottie since not only does she have a good nose and doesn't quit, but I can also read her very well. She is very clear when she is on the scent, vs. when she is searching for it and when she thinks she is on it, but isn't 100% committed.
I have NEVER done a blind track before, where I have no idea where the track is and have to trust her. Yes, it was hard, but since she is so clear in her signals, it wasn't as hard as it would have been if it had been Pie or Fancy who pretend they are tracking, but are really just guessing. The other thing I haven't done before the certification is tracked her on a harness. But I kind of liked it because it kept the line from getting wrapped around her leg so much if she gets into search mode.
Dottie circled a bit at some corners (we had 5) and in the middle of 1 leg had quite a bit of searching. The judge thought she was sniffing the animals ("crittering") but Dottie doesn't do that when tracking. It is possible all the animal scent confused her, and he also mentioned a man and his dog crossed the track, so that also might have confused her. The part that confused me was our last corner. It was an obtuse angle, instead of the 90 degree angles I am used to. I didn't realize an obtuse angle was allowed, so when Dottie took off at a direction not perpendicular to the way we were going, I wasn't sure what she was up to. However, everything about her posture told me she was on the scent, so I followed along. That was our last leg, and my agony of confusion was short lived since she found the wallet. Most people use a glove, so the judge thought he was being funny when, after I indicated my dog found the article, he told me that wasn't his. But, Dottie has never incorrectly indicated an article, so I didn't believe him.
I have three entries ready to send off tomorrow. 2 in San Diego (3 hrs away) and 1 in Sacramento (8 hrs away). Those are the closest tracking locations. All 3 are in February. I hope I get into one! If not, there are a few more coming up in March.
Next I have to work on aging the track more because for the Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX) the track will be aged from 3-5 hours!