Variable Surface Tracking


Variable Surface Tracking is the post grad level of a tracking odyssey.  I am no expert at tracking, and I doubt many humans will ever truly understand even a small part of the knowledge and ability dogs possess.  JIB has lead me, literally, down tracks of friends, family and strangers.  He took me on the final ride to his CHAMPION TRACKER title January 17, 2010 in Bedford Texas.


Prior to that day two dogs had passed a VST test on Texas ground.  Passing rate for VST is slim everywhere, but our home state just doubled the statistics with JIB and a whippet on a beautiful test day.  Judges Darlene and John Barnard plotted tracks for eight dogs, on cool damp ground, through parking lots and around buildings for the first VST held by Dallas Fort Worth Tracking Club.


Though we live less than 30 minutes from this site, we have only once practiced there, and once tested.  The video of JIB working a VST test was taken in 2009 on a track at the Bedford location.  You can find it on the web site  


JIB passed his TDX test on the sixth test, and this was his sixth test at VST, so I hoped we were on schedule.  I drew the seventh track and enjoyed watching each of the dogs before us.  The conditions were very good, and dogs were doing well.  When the whippet passed, the gallery and judges were delighted and increasingly optimistic.


It was afternoon, about 60 degrees and calm when we approached the flag.  The start was a clearing on leaf covered sparse grass between a busy street and a tree-lined drainage.  JIB worked the start briefly after picking up the leather glove start article.  I was confident of the direction, and that gave me the patience to wait it out while he reassured himself.  If there is one aspect of handling in tracking that was hard for me, and I have improved on, it is patience.


JIB pulled ahead to a corner, past a tree line, with only one possible turn direction.  Again, I was assured of not screwing up as the dope on the rope.  There was very little vegetation, plenty of trash, and we were near the road intersection.  JIB worked hard, having passed the turn.  He refuses water before we start, and denied a need to void, but these things have a way of catching up.  Now I was able to give him a drink, and regroup by backing up as he did.  He then easily found the right turn and pulled stronger and faster as he moved down a dry grass curb strip toward the hospital building.


We passed over the drainage and still on the thick dry grass he grabbed a hard ninety degree right turn between a fence line and the drainage.  I had no doubt about his decision.  There was not an instant of question on his part, and he moved in classic form along this leg.  Article #2 was a metal disc, which he easily found and retrieved.  I was certainly having some fun now! 


Another sip of water, for both of us, and we were off.  Ahead was continued dry grass with buildings to our left and drainage to the right.  JIB found a turn, and took about 30 seconds to decide it went left.  I was just thrilled to see his confidence, which in turn gives me the same.

The fourth leg of the track went between buildings, onto a concrete pad, past a picnic area, onto sidewalk, and out into an asphalt square with loading docks.  This was obviously a heavy traffic area.  JIB kept straight, than went left until he moved over a curb and onto dry grass.  He indicated that there was no scent on the grass, so he came back my way.  I backed up to the spot we had entered the square, and gave him enough line to work.  He checked the area again, and this time turned right.  The entry road there between buildings had a small bit of grass on one curb.  JIB went to the grass, and pulled along the building, but broke off when we cleared one building and were in the open.  He seemed to be working something out, and turned back up the road.  Needless to say I was afraid this was a bad move, because behind us was the judges and gallery!


As I have heard so many times, “trust your dog”.  There in the middle of the street was a sock I had not spotted.  JIB retrieved the article #3, and accepted a drink of water.  He turned right when we were back on track, heading across a small parking area toward grass and the drainage again.  Once he was on the grass he stopped for that potty break refused earlier.  This seemed to distract him enough that we struggled on the next section.  JIB took me right to a dead end, than back left, tracking on grass, asphalt and concrete.  A spectator said later “he was pulling hard there, how did you know it wasn’t the correct direction?”     You learn the body language that is visible in this case I call it his Texas Two Step.  When JIB is on track his back feet take tiny determined quick steps.  He wasn’t dancing on this leg yet.


JIB returned to the grass area where a wooden footbridge crossed the drainage, and this time he suggested we take it.  I trusted my dog, and yet was still listening for a whistle.  But, when we crossed into a wooded area with dirt and leaves, no whistle sounded and JIB indicated track up an embankment.  He then took a slight left and moved down onto dry grass again, and stopped for yet another potty break.  By now, I am sure we are close to the end of the track, but he is not acting certain.  Right in front of me is a memorial statue with plastic flowers, and toys.  Thankfully JIB found nothing of interest and decided to work back up the hill to the trees.


Among the leaves he picked up scent and pulled with conviction toward a parking lot.  Only about six feet onto a sidewalk, he found a blue plastic lid, with the magic number FOUR taped to it!  Our VST photo with the judges includes the blue plastic lid in JIB’s mouth, as it should be.