Saturday, March 15, 2008

Tracking Test -- epilogue

I was nervous at the tracking certification this morning. I hadn't been, comparatively speaking, but then the judge mentioned that he'd visited my business website the night before, and I started tensing.

See, I had carefully sent him email from my personal address, deleted all signature references to what I did for a living, etc. (I think he found out when he heard the greeting on my phone.) Not only is it kind of arrogant in my mind to go in advertising that I'm a professional trainer, I think it puts unfair pressure on both judge and competitor. After all, pros don't ever make mistakes, right? ;-)

Well, this pro was a nervous twit. We talked about the differences between Schutzhund and AKC tracking, about the fact that Laev hadn't tracked much in a harness before (just yesterday), and a few other things that I don't really recall because my brain was already starting to check out. Drat, he knows that I'm supposed to know what I'm doing. And I know some AKC tracking people completely disdain Schutzhund tracking and some Schutzhund people disdain AKC tracking, and now I'm representing Schutzhund tracking to this guy, so we'd better be good....

I'd brought a judge's gift. I'd asked on a list what was appropriate and received answers from all over and of all types. "Don't bring any gift at all! It's offensive. Judges do this as part of their judging and they don't expect anything for it." Or, "A judge has to take time out of his schedule for you, and you should take something pretty nice -- at least a $25 gift card to a nice restaurant." Oookay; apparently there are different expectations in different parts of the country.

No one local had answered, though. So I'd split the difference and brought a couple of big packages of treats which I thought were useful for tracking training. While we were talking, I thought about the gift bag, but then it seemed wrong to offer it before the track, almost a bribe. Better to save it.

Finally the track was sufficiently aged and I could get my dog. We heeled to the start flag as usual and then I cued Laev to track. She passed over the first article as I'd expected and started.

About ten feet into the track, I knew I didn't have a tracking dog. Whether it was my stress of the past two weeks (a really dizzying mix of highs and lows), my twitchiness of the morning, the late chiropractic of the night before, or just the fact that it was a stranger's track, I knew right from the start that she wasn't comfortable on the track. She usually hits the line like a ton of bricks, and yesterday in the harness she was right back to that, but today she was hesitant, uncommitted. She zigged a lot on that first leg, really ugly, and she never ever once looked "right" on the track.

She found the first corner, did a bit better, and then missed the second corner and couldn't find it again. Our judge kindly informed me after a bit that we were past the third leg and had failed, but he gave us the visual line so we could work through the rest.

He said that she'd looked up the correct leg and then, seeing mounds of dirt, decided the track must not be there; I don't think that was the case. Laev may well have looked up the right leg and then failed to follow it, but not because of dirt -- I'll lay tracks through almost anything. (We were tracking through mole tunnels earlier this week.) I suspect she was still uncertain about the stranger's scent, or me, or whatever.

Laev was flustered by now and she dove for a molehill as an attractive diversion. I pulled her off and set her back on the track. (No hesitation by the molehills earlier this week, so that's an indication of how "off" we were.) She was clearly hesitant on the rest of the track, even with me close behind her and me now knowing exactly where we were going, so it wasn't simply a need for help. Even when we found the glove, she kind of just crept up to it and then lay down to indicate, glancing at me for confirmation. Poor confused dog.

I felt really bad for the judge, too -- I would never have chosen to show him such a tracking picture! And my left eye had started streaming from the wind, like it always does, but probably appearing that I'm crying as I'm gibbering about how she just didn't look right....

He tried to help me, he did. He explained that I had followed her when she lost the track instead of standing firm. (Yep, I had -- it was because she had never looked "right" so I had a harder time telling when she was wrong.) He referred me to a popular trainer not far from me to "help me with the transition" from Schutzhund to AKC. That was a very nice way of saying that it didn't look like we had a clue what we were doing out there. :-) Also, I took this to mean that he thought we were one of "those" Schutzhund folk, those who train tracking with a lot of compulsion, who micro-manage the dogs on the tracks and never allow the dogs to learn to make decisions.... I suspect this because he talked about letting Laev get off and then put herself back on. I do that anyway, but of course today he had *no* way of seeing that.

Anyway, he talked slightly down to us, but I couldn't blame him in the least. He was trying his best to be helpful and encouraging to what certainly appeared to be a blathering young inexperienced fool who hadn't really ever let her dog track on its own before. And I was definitely blathering -- I even said, "But she did a great track yesterday!" /rolls eyes/ But he was very nice about it, and he did all he could for us under the circumstances.

I did choke up at the end, as I put Laev away and mentioned that earlier in the week I'd thought she might be retired permanently -- that was too scary then and it's still hard to even say. That had nothing to do with failing the track, though; Laev's health and happiness is worth a lot more than any silly set of letters. But that probably confirmed whatever the poor man was thinking about emotional crazy woman Schutzhund trackers. /sigh/

I gave him the gift bag of treats, which seemed to vex him a bit; apparently I should have been at one end of the continuum or the other to avoid offense. Drat. I really need to find someone local who can give me the lowdown on local customs. I escaped with my dog.

So we'll do some more work with stranger-laid tracks, get me more settled and less stressed, and then try again. I feel certain Laev can do a TD track, but I'd obviously cheated on her preparation for this particular day -- we've never tried a strange track with me reeking stress pheromones just hours after adjustment. Sheesh. And I have never, ever seen her look as questioning and uncertain on a track as she did today.

So we'll work and come back to try again. I'd definitely use this judge again and would recommend him -- he was friendly, helpful, and Laev liked him enough to give him a friendly nose poke. (I'm using to reporting in for a temperament assessment before starting the track, so I took Laev up to him. He was good enough to not respond to her and distract her before we started, which I appreciated.) So we'll contact him in the future to make up for today -- if he won't suddenly have a schedule too full to handle another go with the teary blathering novice who hands out bags of treats. ;-)

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