Well Earned UTDX Title!

Cathy and Whisky created quite a sensation when they passed their CKC Urban Tracking Dog Excellent Title in extraordinary circumstances in Courtenay in May.

Whisky worked his way through a children’s Sports Day event, through children kicking soccer balls, off leash dogs and family picnics, finding all 3 articles along the way.  The team arrived at their track after the 3 hours of aging to find the site overrun!  The show must go on!, as they say, and it did!, to the amazement of the judges and gallery watching!

Here is the story of the incredible track that earned Whisky his UTDX title and some well deserved fame as a result as the little terrier that could…. They succeeded through over the top distraction and contamination, and all the while, this dog knew what he was looking for.  What an amazing dog, and fine handling by Cathy to work through it all successfully.  The scent memory of this dog, with just a scent pad start on a contaminated busy field, and no start article or re-scenting allowed, was astounding.  Although many of us have practiced under these kinds of conditions, few of us ever have to test under them.  Well done, you both have come a long way on the incredible tracking journey!  Maureen 


Cathy and Whisky UTDX Courtenay

This last weekend, Whisky and I made what is turning out to be our semi-annual pilgrimage to Courtenay for one sort of tracking test or another with the Forbidden Plateau Obedience and Tracking Club.  This time, we were there for our UTDX test.  We just got our UTD in Abbotsford last fall with the Golden Retriever Club of BC, so have been training most weekends since then for this.

We pulled Saturday for our test.  The day was very cool in the morning, but warmed up quickly, with very few clouds in the sky.  They were anticipating 20 degree temperatures that day. Whisky and I drew the first UTDX which ran at about 10:30 am, so thankfully, it would still be cool.

After watching the last UTD, I asked our judge, JoAnne McLeod, where our track was to be run, and she said Highland Secondary School.  Oh man – I had been told tales of woe about this track site from others, about how challenging it was, how few had passed there, and for some strange reason I started to smile and chuckle to myself – just finding it really humorous. The tracking gods have a real sense of humour I feel. “Why not?” I thought. Perfect.  What the heck, we’ll just go for it.  Kind of a devil-may-care attitude I thought was needed in this instance.  I knew that it was going to be tough, but believe me, not to the extent of what we finally encountered there!

Our first leg started parallel to a large stand of trees that separated a large park and playing fields from Highland Secondary, it turns out.  Our flag was behind a baseball back stop and there was some Saturday sports event building on the other side of it, I could see.  There was a slight breeze blowing in from behind us and pushing to our left.  Whisky wasted no time at his start flag and really proceeded quite quickly down his first leg.  We encountered a few people walking from the school over to the playing field, with their kids and bikes in tow – crossing in front and behind us, going to whatever event was going on.  But as we got down to the end of our first leg, Whisky strongly committed to the left and we found our first 90 degree corner.  I began to look forward to see what was on the next leg, and my eyes widened, and then I really started to laugh – it was either that or cry.  We were going into a playing field full of kids, adults, balls and dogs – off leash. The little kids were kids milling about, or running and kicking balls, three off leash dogs that we had to deal with, and at least two others that I recall.  Lots of smaller balls (just the size Whisky loves) for little kids, parents with picnic blankets laid out, food – you name it, we had it.  Apparently all we were missing were the remote-controlled airplanes!

So we first had to track through a ditch, which Whisky negotiated very well, and then he headed in a straight line right up to the edge of the kids playing in some sort of chaotic 6 yr olds’ soccer game – I’m sure you know the kind I mean. So, I said to Whisky, “Okay pal, it looks like we are going into this ball game to some extent anyways, so let’s do this.”  And then a Labradoodle swooped on over to have a howdy-doo with Whisky. Now, if you know Whisky, he is a Border Terrier, and the operative word here is terrier – a few dogs he actually likes, some are just okay, and he has a couple of breeds he plain old hates.  Today, the labradoodle was quite polite, so he did really well, but I had to be cautious of course, though Whisky is much more focused when he is working.  We concurrently had a nice exchange with three young boys wanting to know what we were doing, and one remarked, “That’s a really long leash”, and “What’s your dog’s name?, and, “Wow – searching, for what? Lost kids?”  “Can I pet your dog?”  Meanwhile, I kindly asked the people if they could just hold onto their dog and we would be out of their way in no time.  And they generously pulled him away, but we got to do it all over again a few moments later.  Then we actually got to get back to the track and Whisky pulled hard 90 degrees to the right and I was following, when a large off leash dog running through the field got wind, or sight of, Whisky and swooped around and converged on him.  This one I can honestly call Whisky’s nemesis – a big, black, hairy mixed breed, dominant male, hackles raised and tail curled up over his back.  Uh oh, hunting behaviour – not good, Whisky does not like to be considered prey. I got a close hold on Whisky and asked the nearest adults to kindly grab their dog and I would be out of their way in a second.  And they did, and actually moved off.  I took a minute to give Whisky some water, just to re-center us both and prepare us for what lay ahead, and he gladly took it.  But then when we got back to tracking, we ended up taking a line going thru the little kids’ soccer game, avoiding the dogs to the right.  I thought we’ll take our chances at the school’s edge and see if we could pick up the track there. So we rolled through the kids’ game and started to work the edge of the school building.   And the people kept coming, streaming past us in all directions. Line handling was a challenge so as to not get it stepped on, wrapped around or snagged on anyone or thing. I’m sure the judges lost sight of us a few times.  Thank goodness I was wearing my bright blue hoodie as that probably showed up amongst the crowd every once in a while.  And then as I am avoiding people and kids and intently watching Whisky from about 15 feet away, he turns sharply into the feet of a little boy who is sitting on the grass with his legs outstretched.  There Whisky indicated our first article – a piece of wood.  Man, oh, man, how did he ever find it amongst all that chaos?  I definitely did not see it.  Good dog!  I held it up for the judges to see, then pocketed it while I had a nice little conversation with this boy – the keeper of the wood.  “What’s that for?” he asked. “Whatcha doin’”?  “We’re in a search and rescue test”, I said (thanks Sue Sorensen for that term to explain to the public). “Oh, that’s cool”, he says.  And we say our goodbyes and Whisky and I were on our way again.  Now, I didn’t know it at the time, but that article had been moved.  It was either thrown off the field or just picked up and placed on the edge of the sports field, whereas it was originally placed approximately 30 feet back into the field.  If we hadn’t have come at it that way, it would have been much harder for Whisky to scent, I believe, but what did I know about what was harder?  How did he ever find it in the first place, amongst all that melee?  What a great sniffer he has! But we had severely cut a corner to get to that article.

So now, unawares at the time, we line out perpendicular from the article, as we had approached it the wrong way, and it had been moved, but Whisky quite soon curled to the left, and pulled us into a gravel path alongside the building, with yet more people streaming through.  It led to the driveway/parking lot at the front of the school, and after searching right and showing me negative, we turned and went left 90 degrees and he marched down that asphalt like it was a piece of cake – it certainly was compared to what we had just gone through! Finally the people were starting to clear and after just passing a few more people, he pulls into a crosswalk and indicates our second article – a black and white piece of cloth, weighted down with four little stones, so it wouldn’t blow away.  It was very cleverly disguised by the black and white of the crosswalk.

We are now at the back of the school and he pulls into the grass again, but he pulls back out and follows the driveway, which is sloped down and out.  I could see he was panting and not really sniffing, so decided to give him a drink of water again. He had worked really hard up to this point. The water helped and he pulled into the grass again.  We worked down the edge of the building and at the corner he indicated left and nose tapped some garbage strewn about and then followed the building to a chain link enclosure – for housing some mechanical I believe.  It had a narrow cement walkway to the left and it was about 30 feet square.  To the right of it, it opened out to a large grassy area abutting an evergreen tree line.  He sniffed the far left corner of the chain link fence, then followed it right, down to it’s end and then out into the grass. And I knew we had to have our final article somewhere in the vicinity.  We had almost wrapped the building. I said, Whisky, buddy, we’ve come all this way, through hell and back, we can’t go home without this glove.  But we then went into more of a search mode, rather than tracking, and we got pulled downhill into that tree line. He wanted to check it out, but I was reticent.  I knew we could be going into a scent vortex and might get stuck in there.  I also thought, yes, they could have walked out that way.  So we had to check it out. We spent some time down there, and apparently just as JoAnne was about to blow the whistle, we came back out and went directly up to the edge of the building where he picked up the track again on the other side of the chain link fence, and a few moments later, found his final article – the leather square.

A track to end all tracks.  Whisky, the ever-enthusiastic Border Terrier, really earned his title that day!

Thank you to JoAnne McLeod, our judge, and Allyson Fennell, our apprentice judge, for being so patient with us as Whisky worked so hard though all the contamination and distractions.  Thank you to our track layer Barb Loree, who said she walked it barefoot – great stinky feet you have indeed!  Thank you to all the members of the Forbidden Plateau Obedience and Tracking Club for putting on such great event. I know it takes a village. Thank you to Sue Sorensen and her husband for the lovely plaque we received.  And thanks to all our supporters who were cheering for us in the gallery. And a special thanks to Louise, one of my tracking compatriots, who kindly videotaped the whole ordeal!  I have to also thank my coach, Maureen Fielding, without whose tireless guidance and encouragement we would never have come as far as we have.

And although I’ve been avoiding it, as Whisky has a strong preference to just eat grass in hay fields rather than track, I guess we have to go back to there to try for our TDX for the final leg to get Whisky his championship title.  Hopefully, that test will be a little less eventful than this one! 🙂

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Cathy and Whiskey with Tracking Judge JoAnne McLeod

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Track Design Map showing moved article

Cathy and Whisky, the ever-enthusiastic Border Terrier!