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Flash, Our Champion Tracker

Flash works the Variable Surface Tracking TestAfter our failed tracks this spring, my mom and I decided to enter the VST in Wisconsin under judges Ed Presnall and Mary Thompson. Naturally all three dogs got in, so this past Thursday we packed up the car and drove from NY to WI. At 5 am Sunday morning, we reported to the draw, and much to my dismay Flash and I drew the 8th and final track. Several hours later and many degrees hotter, Flash and I started our track. Our start leg went down a slight hill on grass in between a few pine trees and some taller grass. Flash investigated all that, but then got to work. At the bottom of the hill, we turned into a set of four parking lots. I later learned that we had overshot the turn a little ways, and actually had been supposed to turn before the start of the parking lot, go up along the edge, turn down the median between two of the lots and then turn again to go across one and partway through the next before turning in the middle (known as a moment of truth or MOT turn) and exiting. There was a slight breeze, so the scent from the track must have been blowing off the medians and into the first parking lot, where Flash followed it. Instead of only working through two of the lots, we worked all 4.

I figured that out MOT probably wouldn't be in the first or fourth lots as they were a little narrower. That still left the center two lots, and Flash was going to check the first anyway. We slowly worked our way through the lots, often backing up to check again. It was over 80 degrees, and I kept giving Flash water because I was afraid she was going to get too hot. She barked at me several times to let me know how hard this was (it's much easier to track on grass as it holds more scent) and that she was hot, but she kept working. At many points I asked myself if I should just call the track and quit, but I knew I would never forgive myself if we were still passing and I pulled her off. After over half an hour of working through the four lots with cars zipping around us, Flash gave a weak indication to the left in the third lot. I had no idea if she was right, but followed her anyway because the worst that could happen was a judge blow the whistle, and then we'd be done and would get to go in the shade. When Flash stopped standing over the metal article at the edge of the parking lot, I could hardly believe it! Anything that happened from then on I would be more than happy with, as we had never gotten to the second article before (the first one is always at the start flag to use to scent your dog). I did some celebrating and made Flash drink some more, then told her to keep going.

At that point we exited the parking lots from h*** and headed up a sidewalk, where a couple people stopped us to pet Flash and ask what she was doing. Next we came to one of the campus roads. Flash never showed any interest to the right, but to the left was grass, shade and people. Even so, after checking the grass some, she said it crossed the road. A car was coming a little ways off, but it was so hot I didn't want to stop Flash while she was on a roll so I just grabbed at my line and we dashed across. Luckily the driver did not hit us. The sidewalk continued on the other side of the road, going up a slight rise beside a building. On the mulch across from the building was our plastic article!

Generally, once you have three of the articles the fourth isn't far away. I was a complete wreck, sweating from sun and nerves but trying to stay calm so Flash wouldn't give up. From what Flash and I had done, we had only made 2 turns, so I knew there had to be at least one more before the end of the track. Of course, had we not taken the path less traveled, we would have already made 4 turns (by overshooting the one at the bottom of the first hill we then picked the track back up as it made the third official corner). We crossed another small road and went onto some fresh laid sod. At the far edge of that Flash started acting like there was a corner. I knew it couldn't go left because there was a building. Flash showed very little interest in the mulch and parking lot straight ahead, but ended up going right. I followed her a short ways until we hit a bike rack, behind which was a dumpster, a short stretch of grass covered in trash and then a chain link fence. At that point Flash was acting like she had lost the track, so we backed up so our patch of sod again. This time, Flash went a little further out into the parking lot and after some searching started off in an open turn from where I was standing, going diagonally across the lot. Once she hit grass on the other side she kept going strong, so I followed.

Kate and her cheerleaders with FlashBy then I just wanted that last article and I wanted it NOW. Every light pole and tree we went by I checked all around, searching the ground just in case I missed Flash's article indication as it is very slight when she's hot and/or tired. But Flash kept saying we needed to keep going, so I followed, worrying that after coming all this way we were going to miss the final article. Flash went around a sort of brick well thing, and at the other side flipped a leather square with her nose - the article! I screamed, and fell to the ground beside her, telling her what a great dog she was and trying not to cry. Flash just panted at me and poked my pockets hoping for a cookie or two (or ten...). The judges and the gallery gathered around, all congratulating us. I still can't totally believe it! And because she already had her TD and TDX, earning her VST finished off her Champion Tracker!!! I am SO proud of my little dog. It is amazing just that she is still active at over 11 and a half years of age, let alone to be able to pass a VST in 80+ degree weather with bright sun. Our track lasted an hour and 18 minutes. Needless to say she got a double cheeseburger on the way home and will be able to get away with all kinds of badness from now on :)

For those of you who don't know much about tracking, here's a brief synopsis. Basically it is like search and rescue, where a person walks a path, or track, and the dog is to smell where the person went, follow the track and indicate any items (articles) that the tracklayer left behind. TD is the first level, and then you can go on to TDX and VST. VST stands for Variable Surface Tracking, which means the dog has to not only track on grass and dirt, but asphalt, cement, mulch, etc. It is also known as urban tracking. A regulation VST track is 600 - 800 yds long, with a third to a half of that being on non-vegetated surfaces. The dog must stay fairly true to the track (our deviation was close enough to still be ok), find all the articles (if an article is missing the dog is not penalized) and execute a moment of truth turn, which is in the middle of a nonvegetated area and proves that the dog really can track on that type of surface. The pass rate is 5%. The VST and CT (Champion Tracker) have been around for 15 years, and in that time only about 200 dogs have earned their CT. Flash is the 9th or 10th Pem to earn her CT, and I am the youngest handler. It is a huge accomplishment, and I'm just so glad that Flash has stayed fit and active and we were able to do this together. Of course, now I have to get Tia and Queezle ready. But Flash will always be the best :)

by Kate Eldredge

My dogs:



Multiple Group Winning BISS CH Chateau Blanc I'm Coyote Trouble RE TD HT NJP NAP OAJ NA OF A-TD CL1-F CL1-R "Queezle"

Photos by Ed Presnall © 2009

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