I spent the weekend in the company of fourteen women. Thanks to my son, I volunteered my services and time to the Gloucester County Kennel Club over the weekend. We settled into Lake in Wood earlier in the week, starting our summer stint of workamping. We opened the Gnome Cafe on Friday and welcomed back many of the local mainstays. However, I committed to assist the Kennel Club much earlier and Saturday and Sunday found me being welcomed into the world of tracking dogs in South Jersey. Ryan and I drove to nearby Millville after procuring sandwich trays, refreshments and desserts as his club was part of playing host to the judges and entrants into dog tracking tests. After setting up the goodies, we went afield with a truck bed full of flags in varying colors to begin, “laying track”.
This is all part of the testing program to qualify a dog as a “TD”, (tracking dog). It begins by following the judges to a starting point and placing a flag into the ground. Then the walk begins to lay the track. Another flag is placed approximately 50 yards away to show direction. From there, the judges may take any directional point for another 100 yards. Place another flag here! Now a secomd turn, followed by a walk, and then another flag placed. The idea is to lay a course, or track taking a dog on a series of long stretches, interrupted by turns, veering to an ending point. From aloft, the course may resemble a chair or a stick figure. All along the way, flags are placed at turns finalized by two crossing flags signifying the end point or success for the dog. I then had to chart this course and make a map of my own for the next day trials. Six courses of varying difficulty were laid out on a magnificent farm that encompassed several thousand acres. So you can see why this venture took us a good part of the day.
Saturday’s preparation was followed by Sunday’s field trials. Five a.m. proved an early arisal to drive to the farm in South Jersey and prepare the final steps for the dog tracking. I had to make sure my orienteering skills were correct and trust the map that I made yesterday. Out in the field again, I placed a sock at the starting flag. This sock I had to sleep with to transfer my scent onto for tracking. Now to walk to the subsequent flags, removing each one of them from the ground, all the while making sure my steps and distances were correct as the dog would follow this track without the assist of flags. After several hundred yards of walking and retrieving the flags I came to the final crossed two. There I placed a glove, one of which slept with me and the sock the previous night. Pulling the final two flags. I dropped the glove and proceeded back to the truck and onto the barn to meet with other track layers. This same process was done with the other five tracks as the sock and glove needed to be place, and flags removed all prior to three hours of the dog tracking to “season” the course. By 8:30 a.m. my track was readied for it’s entrant. She was a middle aged Golden Retriever who had a few failures under her belt so I was a bit nervous for her success. She started slow but in a short fifteen minutes she had her nose to the ground as I watched her sniff toward each turning point, making the shift and sniffing onto the eventual prize. She was followed by the judges and myself on the course and quickly came up with the glove I had laid at the end point. If she had failed, it was my job to walk the course with the dog and it’s handler, showing each direction and waypoint without the assist of the flags. This is the reason my handmade map was so important. I felt good that ‘my dog’ was successful after her earlier attempts. In the end, this Golden proved the only successful dog of the day. I felt a part of that accomplishment.I enjoyed the orienteering, mapping, utilization of compassing skills and but the ambiance of being afield in such a bucolic setting. But the best part of the whole experience was making new friends, and engaging with new people and coming away with smiles.