Communicating with Exhibitors

Judges and tracking test committee members have an important responsibility when it comes to communicating with exhibitors. Tracking test participants should be well informed before the event, warmly welcomed at the test, and encouraged by their judges.

The AKC Tracking Regulations guidelines for judges’ state: “Judges are expected to be friendly and courteous to all. Without exhibitors, there would be no tests. For every experienced exhibitor there are many newcomers. The future of this sport is in the hands of the novice.”

Exhibitors are always going to have a few nervous moments when they are faced with having their tracking performance evaluated in a test environment. So much goes into preparation and training before the event, that it is understandable that the handler may feel stressed. We cannot know all the stressors, but we can do our best to alleviate some of the anxiety.

Judges should strive to be friendly and approachable. Take a few minutes at the test track draw meeting to introduce yourself and your co-judge. Thank the club and exhibitors for their participation and let them know that you are rooting for them. Explain the details of traveling to the tracking field… which car to follow, who will oversee the gallery and special parking restrictions. Ask if there are any questions, then give them time to use the facilities.

When you arrive at the tracking area, judges should let the exhibitor know where they can walk their dog and if the track is ready now or how long they will have to wait. Just before the team is directed to the start flag, take a minute to ask the handler if they have any questions and wish them good luck. Do not unduly hurry the team and be sure to give them plenty of space between your position and the start flag.

Once the dog has started the track, communication with the handler would be limited to granting permission to restart (TD/TDU only), to warn of a potentially dangerous situation or if the team has been failed. Judges should not acknowledge whether items found are official test articles until the celebration at the final article.

If the exhibitor requests information regarding individual dog’s performance, the conversation should be delayed until after the judge has completed the assignment and turned in the judge’s book. However, a judge should never continue a conversation with an angry or aggressive person. This is a wonderful time to point out all the things the team did well, and to encourage them for their next try at the title.

Happy Tracking!

Accommodations for Tracking Exhibitors

The Tracking Judge’s Guidelines state “The tracking fraternity is known for its friendliness, hospitality and encouragement of all participants.” This legacy lives on thanks to the efforts of club volunteers and tracking judges. Together, we endeavor to make tracking tests pleasurable for dogs, handlers and sponsoring clubs while upholding high standards for titling.

Encouraging participation in our sport is so very important. Thank you all for your role, whether it be to lay a track for a friend, teach a class, volunteer for a test, support a potential new tracking judge or put in the many hours of work as a judge for an event. The tracking community embodies the best of camaraderie.

Accommodating the special needs of tracking exhibitors is one way that we can support continued participation in our sport. Although we are not able to give an “easier” track to an exhibitor with physical limitations, we can help by modifying the draw so that they would run a track that has easier access to the start of the track. A track that has a nearby parking lot would be a better choice than a track that has a substantial walk-in to the field.

Exhibitors with wheelchairs, sight impairments, or other physical limitations may be assisted on the track by a helper designated by that exhibitor. The helper would walk behind the judges and provide momentary assistance to the handler without guiding the dog in any way. After assisting the handler, the helper would return to a position on the track behind the judges.

Additionally, an exhibitor may need to take a short rest during a test track. The handler can momentarily catch their breath, resting the dog and themselves. The handler must be made aware that no “restart” or guiding of the dog is allowed but can “rescent” and release the dog to go back to tracking.

Happy Tracking to All!

Mastering Track Yardage

One of the requirements for tracking tests at all levels is track length. Tracking enthusiasts and judges need to acquire several skills to lay regulation tracks.

Calculate your “walking-stride to yards” ratio.
Very few people have a stride that measures exactly a yard with each step. The first thing that you need to do is to find out how many steps you take in a controlled, measured length. An official running track is 437.45 yards, a football field is 100 yards from the goal line to goal line or 120 yards if you include the goal areas on each end. Practicing on these fields will give you a good baseline of your stride length but keep in mind that this is a quite easy walking environment, and your stride will shorten in heavy cover and on hills. Once you have your stride to yard calculation you can make up a conversion chart, use a multiplier or “skip a step” count as you walk.

Here are examples of ways to calculate yardage for a person that takes 125 paces for 100 yards (yours will probably be different):

Chart: # Step = # Yards
i.e., 5 steps = 4 yards; 20 steps = 15 yards; 60 steps = 45 yards; 125 steps = 100 yards
Multiply your steps by .75
Skip every fourth step in your step count
(1, 2, 3, take a step without counting, 4, 5, 6, take a step without counting, etc.). With this method you will always know your running track measurement in yards.

This is a good exercise to do from time to time, as your stride can change.

Develop a Good Sense of Distance.
You must be able to gauge (“eye”) distances accurately in the field to know if it is possible to plot elements like:

  • A minimum, 50-yard leg
  • A minimum, 100-yard leg to hold cross-tracks
  • Plot a Moment-of-Truth turn with at least 30 yards of non-veg after the turn
  • Stay more than 50 yards away from another track
  • Have enough space for a regulation length track in a field

Much like a golfer who hones his ability to estimate the distance from his golf ball to the pin to choose the right club, a tracking enthusiast can train themselves to estimate distances in the field or urban surroundings. You can stand at a corner and find a landmark out in the field, jot down your yardage guess and then see how close you are. This can be done in everyday life as well… park your car at the back of the Walmart lot and see how close you can come to estimating the yardage to the front door before you walk off the measurement. Practice makes perfect. You will be glad that you played these games and own this skill.

Happy Tracking!

Gallery Considerations

Spectators at tracking events are important for our sport. The people who come to watch the test are often friends and family of the exhibitors, dog owners who may be there to see if tracking might be something that they would like to do with their dog, and club members who are volunteering their time in support of the test. Any of these reasons for attending would place these people in the “VIP” category and it is important that we treat them as such.

Spectators form their opinion of the sport through seeing the actions of the judge, handler, and dog. Care must be taken to avoid any action that might reflect poorly on the sport. Judges should work to maintain spectator appeal in the sport while keeping foremost in mind the welfare and convenience of the exhibitor and the dog.

When plotting tracks, the judges should always consider the staging of exhibitors and gallery. Especially in urban tracking, smart use of the parking areas is imperative. If parking lots are at a premium and must be utilized for non-vegetative yardage and “Moment of Truth” turns, using a centrally located parking area for test parking and starting a couple of tracks in different directions from that lot can really help with test day organization.

It is also important to give clear instruction to the handlers and gallery at the draw meeting. To ensure that the spectators do not interfere with the dog’s work, indicate the location of direction of the track or contaminate unused tracks, these instructions should include:

· Introducing a test committee member who has been authorized to lead the caravan to the staging areas and move spectators into an area where they can safely observe the team. Make sure that this Gallery Control Chief has been advised of the judge’s instructions for each track.

· All those present should be mandated to stay with the group as they move to the track area and use only the specified areas for parking, exercising their dogs and available restrooms.

· Spectators should be reminded to keep talking volume low and noise to a minimum. If they wish to walk the track behind the team and judges, the gallery must stay in a tight group and only move with permission of the judges or gallery person. This includes controlling the gallery as they walk back to the start area after the dog has failed or passes.

It is the judge’s responsibility to make certain that spectators remain more than 50 yards away from the start flag until the dog, handler and judges have moved out of the starting area.

Dogs should be trained to accept and ignore the presence of people in the tracking areas at all levels of testing. Sometimes, handlers request that a gallery not be permitted to watch their track. Observation by the gallery is integral to the test, and such a request would not be granted unless unusual circumstances occurred. We can, however, assure the handler that the gallery will be controlled and will not interfere with the dog’s work.

The tracking fraternity is known for its friendliness, hospitality, and encouragement of all current and future participants.

Happy Tracking!

Plotting TDX Cross-Tracks on Leg 2

Plotting cross-tracks can be one of the most challenging judging tasks when designing Tracking Dog Excellent tracks. The AKC Tracking Regulations require the cross-track layers to stay at least 75 yards away from the start of the track. It is important that the dog have an uncontaminated area around the start of the track to “lock in” on the primary tracklayer’s scent left on the start article and first leg of the track.

Many tracking sites have limited access to fields leaving judges few opportunities to bring in cross-track layers and get them out of the field without getting within 50 yards of the track (except when they are crossing the actual track). It is essential that the judging team have a plan for cross-tracks before they start plotting. Often, when faced with limited access to the field, you need to plan to bring in cross-track layers on the second leg of the track.

There are several options available to you when plotting the first cross-track on leg 2. Choose a design that works well for the field space available and ensures that the start area is unaffected. The following illustrations show three ways to effectively plot regulation cross-tracks on leg 2.

Don’t forget that the cross-tracks must be perpendicular to the track and be in a straight line at least 50 yards before and 50 yards after each crossing. Cross-track layers must also be instructed on how to exit the field in order to stay at least 50 yards away from any other portion of the primary track.

Happy Tracking!

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.