TDX and VST Blind Starts

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.

Happy Tracking!

Allowing Bitches in Season to Participate

The AKC Tracking Regulations allow test-giving clubs an option of allowing bitches in season to participate in tracking tests. If a club decides to allow them, the club must state in their premium list that “bitches in season may participate.”

It is up to the entrant to notify the test secretary that their bitch is in season. The test secretary will notify the judges before the draw for running order. If there are more than one bitch in season, a draw will be held to determine their running order. The last track(s) will be reserved for the bitch in season.

Ok, but what if the judges were not at their daily limit and they have plotted and laid an alternate track that might be available for titling? When does the bitch in season run then?

The answer is that she runs the last regular track… before the alternate track is run.

The alternate track is to be used, first and foremost, to replace a track that has become invalidated. The alternate track does not become available as an “extra” titling track until all of the dogs that were “in” the test have been judged. It is altogether possible that the alternate track may have to be utilized to replace an unusable track for the bitch in season. So, the bitch in season runs the last regular track and if that last track is not invalidated, the first alternate exhibitor may run the alternate track for titling afterward.

It is also important to give the exhibitor with the bitch in season specific instructions as to where to park, where to exercise the dog and to ensure that the bitch in season is not on the tracking field until the judges indicate that she should be brought to the start.

Happy Tracking!

The Worker Option

AKC Tracking Regulations provide clubs an option to award certificates that can be used for an advantage in the drawing for entries at future club tracking events.  These are called Worker Option certificates.  Each club will decide on their own WO policies that will determine how volunteers can earn a WO certificate, if and when the WO certificate expires and if WO certificates will be given to judges.  A test worker cannot benefit from a Worker Option slot in a test in which they are working.

If a club decides to implement the Worker Option at a tracking test, the information and the number of tracks to be set aside must be published in the premium list.

The number of tracks that a club may set aside for past workers is determined by the total number of test tracks offered.  If a club is offering a combined test, then the tracks from all test types are added together.  For example, a 3 dog TD combined with a 3 dog TDX test would be considered 6 test tracks and would qualify to offer 2 WO slots.  Alternate tracks that might be available for running as a titling track are not considered as “test tracks offered”. 

Entries with Worker Option certificates are drawn before non-worker entries in each draw category (see lists below).  After the WO slots are filled, the remaining WO entries are added to the non-worker entries for the draw for the remaining tracks.  If the test is being given by a specialty club, then preference is given to the specialty breed before “other” breeds.  Non-titled dogs are always drawn before titled dogs.  A dog is considered “titled” if they have either a TD or TDU title in TD and TDU tests.

Happy Tracking!

Observation Without Influence

One of the essential responsibilities of every tracking judge is to observe everything that goes on in the field. It is important that judges do not place pressure on the working team by being so close that their proximity to the team influences the dog or handler in any way. Dogs need to be trained to accept that people will follow along while they track. Handlers need to be able to read their dog and follow the dog’s lead without cueing off of the judges.

At the start: The AKC Tracking Regulations state that judges will instruct the handler to approach the start flag from a distance of 50 yards for TDX tracks, and at least 30 yards for TD, TDU and VST tracks. As a judge, you want to set them up for success by giving them the space to collect their nerves, perform their regular start routine, and allow the dog to take scent from the start article without contamination.

On the track: While it may be possible to see an entire track from a single vantage point, it is virtually impossible to evaluate a marginal or failing performance from a single, stationary point. Judges should maintain a discreet and constant position behind the handler, either on the last completed leg of the track, or at least 40-50 yards on a long leg. This is a recommended MINIMUM and you should leave more room when there is an unobstructed view of the team. If judges are too close, they make it very difficult for the team to back up should the dog need to work through a scenting problem. This is a critical tool that may be key to a passing performance.

At corners: The position of the judges should not “give away” the direction that the track may go. Judges should stay on the track and not venture into a still-unused part of the field showing the handler that the track does not go into this area. It is also imperative that the judges not move until the dog and handler have committed to a new direction, and are well down the new leg of the track. Movement by the judges as soon as the dog takes a new direction will indicate the direction of the track to the handler.

“Observation without influence” should be the goal of both judges and people laying blind training tracks.

Happy Tracking!

Turns “Out In the Open”

The Tracking Regulations for Tracking Dog and Tracking Dog Urban test tracks state that at least two 90-degree turns will be well out in the open and the first turn on a Tracking Dog Excellent test track must be in an open area

The basic concept of a TD/TDU turn in the open is that the direction of the next leg is completely unpredictable. When the dog is at a 90-degree turn that is well out in the open, the track could go right, left or continue straight. Since you will need to plot at least two of these of turns, it is a great idea to plan for the first turn to be one of these “out in the open” turns. That way you will have half of your requirement taken care of and it will make plotting easier for the rest of your track. Leaving the “out in the open” turns until the end of the track is risky as you may be reaching the maximum required yardage or be constrained due to the size or shape of the field. 

In order to plot a good start, first leg and turn for a TDX track it takes careful consideration. There are four components to think about before you even step into the field! 

• TDX starts should be in the same cover as the first leg and first turn. 

• TDX starts should be in an area that permits the direction of the track to go in any direction within a 180-degree arc. 

• Obstacles are not permitted on the first leg of a TDX track (which includes the first turn). There should not be a scenting, physical or line handling challenge on the initial leg nor near the first turn. 

• The first turn on a TDX track should be in an open area where the track could go in any direction. 

Take a few moments to plan for these track requirements before you start. Plotting great tracks is an art form that takes thought and practice to master.  

Approving Articles

One of the required elements of all tracking tests is that the dog find and indicate articles. Trainers of tracking dogs spend a lot of time making sure that their dogs are reliable at finding these items and either training for a specific response to the find or studying the dog’s behavior at articles so that they can identify article indication.

The Tracking Regulations state specific requirements for articles at each title level. It is important that judges present each exhibitor with a fair test of the dog’s ability to indicate articles. Providing the best article experience takes a bit of planning.

Know your regulations when it comes to approving articles.

All articles (for every test level) must be inconspicuous in color in comparison to the surroundings. The articles are not to be visible from a distance of 20 feet and must not be covered in an effort to conceal them. Brightly colored articles are prohibited, except for the start article.

Remember to approve two prospective start articles of the same material. If the start article disappears, the tracklayer can have the replacement start article readily available.

It is acceptable for the clubs to provide articles and/or for articles to be supplied by the tracklayer. In either case, judges should not feel pressured to approve articles that do not meet the requirements of the regulations. Please give your tracklayer instructions on how to effectively impregnate scent into the article. This is especially important when the item is new.

TD track articles:
Start article must be cloth and the size of a glove or wallet
End article must be a glove or wallet and can be cloth or leather
TDU track articles (dissimilar):
Start article must be cloth or leather and the size of a glove or wallet
Midpoint article must be cloth or leather and the size of a glove or wallet
End article must be a glove or wallet and can be fabric or leather
TDX track articles (dissimilar):
Start, 2nd & 3rd article must be personal to the tracklayer, the size of a glove or wallet
End article must be a glove or wallet
VST track articles (dissimilar, common, safely picked up by the dog):
Sized between a minimum of 2″ x 4″ and a maximum of 5″ x 5″
Weighing no more than 8 ounces and easily carried by the tracklayer
Four articles; leather, rigid or semi-rigid plastic, metal and fabric
Start article must be fabric or leather
End article must be temporarily marked with a number “4″