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  • Writer's pictureReyna Bradford

Back On Track (Written 9/17/20)

Little by little, the dogs and I continue to shake off the coronavirus doldrums. We haven't yet attended a practice show, but I have set up my own training ring here in the front yard. I've gotten some equipment fixed that needed fixing. I'm beginning to make plans and dream dreams.

And this afternoon, I took it one step further and started back to another doggie sport that has languished for the past year.

Today, Tassie and I went tracking.

The acre or two around the burned-out hay shed provided a perfect place to run two shorter tracks, far enough apart to avoid cross-scenting between them, and with room to walk out at the end of each track without interfering with the other. We all piled in to the car, and I hoped that I'd remembered all the accessories. Tracking harness, tracking line, flags, two articles for Tassie to locate and retrieve, training lead, training collar, bait bag, treats. I even had the right shoes on.

Everything present and accounted for.

Karen headed out to lay the first track. I hovered near the car, waiting. Tassie peered through the car window, wondering what in the world she was supposed to be doing. Locusts rasped in the grass.

I got the tracking line uncoiled and snapped it to Tassie's harness. She was out of the car and already sniffing before I had told her anything.

It always amazes me what dogs can remember. She knew what we were about as soon as she saw the start flag and the first article. She brought the glove back to me, I stuffed it in my pocket, and we were off, working in to a light, northeasterly breeze.

I let the line travel through my fingers, let the dog do her work, and let myself listen and feel it. Tracking is so quiet. Compared to the commands and praise and encouragement, the rapid-fire jumps and swift retrieves and fast-paced heeling of the obedience ring, tracking is methodical and deliberate. Tassie pulls and I follow. She does not wear a bell collar to track, just a light, chain training collar, so there is no backdrop of bells, either.

She pauses, working from side to side to find Karen's exact footsteps, then tugs too far to the right, and I stand still, not giving her line, allowing her to work it out. Back on course, she pulls straight and hard, and I give her line and we both go forward. I can hear her sniffing. Tassie is an eager but thorough worker, so we move forward slowly and evenly.

Locusts still rasp in the grass. A few birds sing. The wind falls off a little. Karen and my mom are far behind us, and I can't even hear them chatting anymore.

Then something changes. Tassie pulls hard, her purposeful walk becoming a determined trot. I know she's seen the end flag and the final article.

But I don't want her to blow over the rest of the track, missing all the treats and forgetting the scent. Tracking is about using her nose, not her eyes. So I stay steady, hold the line, and make her slow down.

She snarfs up the last few treats, digs in for the last few yards. Then with one more tug she's on the glove, gulping down the sausage hidden underneath it. With some coaxing, she finally returns the glove to me.

But it takes some convincing. She doesn't care about the silly glove.

She wants to keep tracking.

And so do I. Both of us are back on track now, and it does feel good and right. It's something I want to keep doing.

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