On Saturday, Laev and I will attempt to certify to enter an AKC tracking test.
We are utterly unprepared for this.
1) AKC tracking tests require that the dog track in a harness. Laev has worn a harness only a few times in her life since being just weeks old, and always for bitework, not tracking. I borrowed back an old harness tonight and Laev will track just once in it on Friday before testing on Saturday.
2) We have also never tracked anyone who was not me, as I've always laid my own training tracks. Saturday will be the first time that Laev will track a stranger.
3) I have also not adequately prepared Laev to work at the required distance, as I have been fairly close behind her during her training thus far and I have to maintain a distance of at least 20' on Saturday.
So why in the heck are we doing this to ourselves, anyway?
Frankly, I think it's because I'm scared. Really scared. Laev's mystery ailment has not improved; she has lost weight and she will yelp and snap when jostled by another dog. She is also definitely not pulling as hard on the tracking line (we track on a collar) or on the leash (she has a lovely heel, but I've never bothered to really teach loose leash walking). Bloodwork and hip, elbow, back x-rays all look just great; I suspect a neck injury.
I am terrified of what it will mean if that is confirmed. If she is injured, and if it's something that cannot be fixed or will reappear with risk to her, that means her career is over. And that would be devastating -- not because we wouldn't be able to compete for titles, no! but because training and specifically training in bitework is Laev's most favorite activity and I can't imagine not allowing her to do it.
Bitework is a full body, full contact sport. It requires an athletic dog in excellent condition. I have a good club with a training director who's very concerned about the safety of the dogs; we don't take unnecessary risks. But like any sport, there's always the possibility of landing just slightly wrong and suffering injury. There was never a moment when I knew Laev had just suffered lasting damage, but dogs (and particularly Laev) are tough; they'll keep going even if something hurts, and what might have been a minor injury can be made major.
And Laev, not do bitework?! Already we're suffering because I haven't let her train for nearly two weeks, worrying about her mystery ailment. She's going a bit stir-crazy and I picked up tracking because I thought it would be something suitably enjoyable and mental for her. I mean, obedience has jumps and heeling, agility is even worse, what else could we do but scent work? But she's been sloppy on the track, weaving out of the footprints, and I wonder now if it's caused by some pain from the line; we'll see if it changes when I put her in the harness. If she doesn't light up looking for a helper when I put the harness on, that is.
I'd been thinking for several months I should work toward her AKC TD, and when we had to take a break from everything else, it seemed like a good time to try that. And now that I'm absolutely terrified that I might learn she won't be able to do anything else again, we're going to go out and try this, just so we're not sitting at home and fretting. I'll take the certifying judge a nice gift for his time; even if we do a really ugly job because my dog's unprepared and her handler's a nervous wreck, we'll be outside enjoying each other's company, and what could be wrong with that?
We have an appointment late Friday evening with a veterinary chiropractor. I don't know what he'll find, or if he'll tell me there's nothing and I'm back at the start with no clue as to what's wrong with my dog....
I am just so scared that this is something big, really big, and this tracking test is my denial. See, I am out there training my dog, we are working together, everything's fine. Really.