Keeping Track (written 12/17/20)
Tassie, Karen, and I have been off track lately. Literally. Between the Thanksgiving holiday, uncooperative weather, people not always feeling well, and just a couple of curve balls thrown by life in general, tracking has languished.
But today, we got our chance. Today was a perfect day for tracking.
Sunny, no wind, warm for the time of year, and everyone's schedule free and clear. A perfect day to grab the gear, grab the dog, and crowd in to Karen's car for the ride to the park where we train.
Karen, my friend and track layer, hopped out and laid the first track, while I sorted out the paraphernalia. Tracking line uncoiled and untwisted. Tracking harness fitted and snapped in place. Reyna's attitude upbeat, positive and optimistic. Check, check, and check. What a perfect day.
After so many weeks of not tracking, Tassie was eager to work. She has only recently begun practicing turns, rather than just straight tracks, and Karen had built a nice left turn in to this run. We got to the start flag and Tassie snagged the first dropped article - a white, utility glove. I took it, she found the scent line, and we were cruising. Fifteen yards were behind us, and coming up on the turn. Steady, focused, forward motion. She was on her game.
She hit the turn and turned with it. It was like her nose was pulled around the loop by a magnet. Awesome.
And then, she waffled. She raised her head, her soft ears at full, collie alert, and woofed.
"Quiet," I told her. There had been a couple of dogs running around earlier. They had been in a fenced area with their owner, so I hadn't bothered much about it. But they had also been making some noise. Tassie hadn't fussed about it, either, but now she was definitely seeing something that I wasn't.
I sighed and gritted my teeth.
"Go track!" I said, gathering up line and taking a few steps toward her. "Where's your cookies?"
She put her head down again and took a few tentative paces, but her attention wasn't in it.
She stopped, swiveled to the left, and gave a sharp bark.
"Tassie, quiet!" I said, more firmly this time. What in the world was going on?
And that's when I heard the voice.
"Is this some kind of training?"
It was a female voice, high-pitched, perky, about thirty feet away from us, and directly on our track. It was, in fact, a woman with her dog, fortunately on leash, but very interested in us and in the sausage Karen had dropped as bait along the track.
For crying out loud!
"Are you guys doing some kind of training?" she asked again.
Okay, Karen, I thought. I'll handle the dog. You handle the person. At least I had convinced Tassie to shut up by this time.
"It's tracking," said Karen, trying simultaneously to be polite while transmitting back-off signals.
"Tracking? What do you track?" Perky perky perky.
"We use sausage," said Karen. The situation was becoming desperate.
"That's so cool!" Did I mention she was perky?
Tassie and I stood there, frozen, as her dog snuffled up the last of our sausage within the radius of the leash. Then they sauntered away, and Tassie was left to patch things together.
We faked it through the red zone where Perky and her puppy had fowled things up. But with that tenuous section behind us, Tassie got back in stride. We wrapped up the last twenty yards with flying colors, and she hustled to the finish flag and scooped up the end glove with a flourish.
Talk about a hard-won victory.
We usually run two tracks during these sessions, so Tassie and I piled back in the car while Karen laid the second one. I focused on reclaiming my positive attitude. It was all fine and good for a person to be curious, and of course, I'm always willing to educate people, especially dog people, about what dogs can do. But there is a fine line between curious and courteous. I felt like Miss Perky had crossed that line. But what can you do? It's not like she had actually seen the track and deliberately messed it up. And as the old training adage goes, we had, at least, ended on a good note.
Time to hit the reset button.
As I snapped the tracking line back onto Tassie's harness, Karen dropped the second bomb.
"I hope she does okay on this next track," she said. "I didn't see that there's a dead animal down that way until I was almost ready to lay the turn."
I laughed. We ran the track. And she did do okay. She did great. Maybe it hadn't been the perfect day we'd hoped for, but things rarely are perfect. We had worked with what we'd been given, and my girl had succeeded. And in my book, that's pretty close to perfect.