Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fat Lot of Useless! A funny story about a lack of practical skills.

"Do more night tracking." This was the advice of a training buddy while I was having trouble with Laev. His dog was sighting for articles and it had helped them as a team.

Laev's issue wasn't sighting for articles or flags, and more night tracking would probably just result in greater injury for me faceplanting while Laev tracked at high speed. However, I didn't get to leave as early as I wanted tonight, and we reached the park at twilight. So I quickly laid a track and tried to get started before dark.

We just barely made it, though well after technical sunset. I could see my hot pink tracking flags when I was within ten feet of them. I certainly wasn't giving Laev any help on the track, that's for sure!

We didn't spend as long settling before the track, because I was worried about the light. I had my phone clipped to my jeans and a protection-trained Doberman with me (meaning that at a word I could set her to looking nasty enough to call someone's bluff, even if she isn't trained to bite a regular human), so I wasn't as worried about being alone in the park at night, but I did want a chance of success on the track and I wanted to be able to see if Laev missed a corner or veered too far from the footprints. So after some sit-fronts and calm downs, we started with a trail of kibbles to the start flag.

Laev launched, it was ugly, and I disgustedly pulled her back to restart. I got her eating off the scent pad and we started again, still emotionally higher than I'd like but at least really tracking and eating. Already I'd lost the correct direction of the first leg but I trusted my dog and the reassuring crunching of kibble telling me she was indeed on the track. Her first corner caught me totally off-guard, but she was correct. At least I know she's not secretly reading the track from me!

I'd added articles back onto the track, and her first article was very nice, even though I barely saw it before she did. Whee! At least that's held together! I know my cue to track is extremely loaded, and so I just breathed it as a whisper at the same moment that I set a little pile of higher value food between her paws. She ate it and then set off down the track.

Trouble came a few minutes later when Laev realized there were CRITTERS coming out of the woods. Hey, at a popular park, the local wildlife probably eats well and has little fear. Laev started to get frantic and I downed her. We waited, Laev staring intently into the dark toward the trees, me watching Laev, until she finally relented enough to eat a kibble off the track while she watched. I reached into my treat bag, fed her some higher value food, and cued her to track.

LAUNCH! Laev careened down the track, pouring all her critter frustration into her work. I couldn't even properly fix her, without being able to see where exactly the track was. Somehow she fell onto the right path and an incidental pile of kibble, and I guess the fact that it was dinnertime won out. She slowed enough to eat the pile and proceeded to track, though fast, to the next article. There she downed promptly. "Oh, yeah, this!"

She wasn't calm enough to start slowly again, though. She leapt right over the offered food and set off down the track, clearly torn between track and critters. I think, though I am not sure, she missed a corner and picked up the next leg, but she did end cleanly (if speedily) and downed nicely on the final article. I fed her copiously and took her back to the car.

RACOON! Laev scented it, but I saw it before she did, hiding behind a bush. It ran as Laev was clearly hunting it, and she shrieked her fury at being unable to give chase. She did hold herself, actually, after the first couple of seconds, and she sat between my legs and screamed. I apologized for being a terrible mean handler who wouldn't let her chase the local wildlife and loaded her into her crate. Collar off, line coiled, treat bag and articles put away, mobile phone--

Mobile phone. I'd lost my phone.

I looked over the dark field. Stink. There was no way I was going to find it in the pitch blackness that we had now.

But I had a tracking dog! The phone was somewhere along the track, that was certain. And it was saturated in my scent. Laev couldn't ask for a better article.

Unfortunately, Laev's thinking was that we had already run that track once, a second time would be boring as heck and there were RACOOOOOOONS in the dark! Prey prey prey prey prey! So our search ended up being me scuffling along behind Laev as she scanned for critters. Fortunately I hadn't been stupid enough to give any real cues; as my husband quotes, "A good general is one who doesn't give an order he knows won't be obeyed."

Maybe now is a good time to mention that last night, the same training buddy who had recommended night tracking had lost his phone on the training field. He found it himself, as our club field is well-lit. Hmm.

I kept an eye on the car that cruised slowly past, but it wasn't security -- whom I would have asked to call my phone -- or anyone who stopped for less altruistic purposes. Laev glanced briefly at the car and went back to sniffing the air.

So picture us, unable to find my phone. At all. And it's not necessarily Laev's fault, as I had picked up our tracking flags and had no idea exactly where our track had run. It's a big field and I couldn't see any landmarks at all in the dark. I was wishing now I'd trained for the StP (Random Article Search); at least then I could put Laev on a long line and send her back and forth to search for anything with human scent.

Still, there I was, in a field, with a very talented scenting dog and no way to find my lost article. This was pathetic.

But Laev is not interested in human scent, she wants racoons. I want my phone, which has all of my business information on it. Finally I return to my car and, in a fit of inspiration, get my Bluetooth headphones I was using to listen to an audiobook. If I could get within 30' or so, I would be able to get a signal between headphones and phone!

So I began wandering the field pressing the voice dial button on my headphones, waiting for an answering beep. I didn't even know if the headphones would wake the phone, which would have shut itself down by now. Meanwhile, Laev was dragging hard toward what must have been a racoon party, but I held my ground.

Success! I got a static-y response from the phone, and I quickly told it to dial my husband's number. If I could just get him calling my phone, I could track the sound of the ring!

Straight to voicemail. Bad husband! I started swinging about, heading in different directions as the static increased or faded while the chirpy automated voice told me I could leave a message. I felt rather like one of the Baileys' spy cats, tracing a directional tone. By the time the voice stopped, I had achieved a pretty solid connection, and I guessed I was within 25' or so of the phone.

I tried another voice dial, thinking of others I could reach to ask to ring my phone, and as I spun around I was rewarded with a glimmer of light from the black ground. My phone! That was my screen, lighting up for the voice tag!

Laev and I hurried toward it, and she gave it a cursory sniff. I quickly cued her to "find it," an informal cue to indicate, and she picked it up. Dummy. I had her drop it and indicate, and I treated her for pointing to the phone. Who knows, maybe that will come in handy in the future.

Hm. Maybe I will train for the StP.

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