Tracking Dog Excellent and Variable Surface Tracking tests require the dog to demonstrate an advanced skill at the start flag. The handler is instructed to approach the start of the track without indication of the direction of the track. The dog takes scent from the start article and without guidance from the handler, must commit itself to the direction of the track before the handler may leave the start flag.
In order for judges to plot a good, one-flag blind start, there must be careful planning before they enter either TDX or VST fields. Both of these tracking tests require a start in an area that permits the direction of the track to go in any direction within a 180 degree arc. The judges must include a 30 yard, straight walk-in by the tracklayer, to ensure that there is not a turn at the starting flag. For TDX tracks, the judges must also think about staying away from obstacles on the first leg and plotting the first corner out in the open. For VST tracks, the judges must have at least 20 yards of vegetation after the start flag.
At the time of plotting, it is important for the judges to discuss the exact approach and path the handler will be advised to walk in with their dog to get to the start. This is important for two reasons. The first is to make sure that the handler’s direction of approach is less than 90 degrees in relation to the first leg. The team should not have to work an acute angle at the start. The second consideration is to ensure that the handler brings the dog to the start flag at an angle that does not give away the direction of the track and allows the dog to demonstrate his ability to take scent from the start article and find the direction of the track. This is a fundamental requirement for advanced tracking dogs. Handlers work hard training their dogs to be competent at indicating direction from a blind start and they expect this component at the test.