SouthTracking Association Workshop

When the STA Board sat down to plan our fall educational event, we were hoping to have around 30 participate in the workshop. Within 2 days of posting a "Save the Date" announcement on the main Internet discussion lists devoted to tracking, we'd received 50 inquiries. By the time the workshop started on Saturday morning, we had 52 registrants and 3 walk-ins. Most of them were brand new to tracking or just getting started. Most were from the Houston area, but people came from Austin, Dallas, and Bryan to participate in the workshop. Who were all these people?

We started early Saturday morning with certification tracks. STA member judges Sally Elkins, Linda Bryan, Judith Bowers, David Meredith and Kathleen Milford laid 8 tracks and certified 5 dogs - what a great way to start the weekend. Two of the unsuccessful dogs were tested again the next morning and passed their tracks! David got to do double duty, as both judge and handler, and was able to certify with his Labrador Retriever.

The workshop sessions were divided into two "tracks" based on experience level. The goal was to offer a registrant something they could participate in during each session that was relevant to their experience level. These would be hands-on sessions, designed to demo techniques, build skills, and solve problems. An agenda this deep would require a lot of support from STA Members.

The beginners and novice handlers started out with an overview of AKC Tracking, glove games to peak their dog's interest, and an introduction to the various equipment needed to train a dog. They then moved outside and split into three groups, based again on experience level, for help with harness fittings, beginner starts, motivational starts, and drive building for the novice dogs. Emphasis was placed on developing a solid start routine and avoidance of pattern training our dogs to walk forward before they truly have indicated the direction of the first leg. The more advance handlers spent the morning working on motivation and confidence building with their dogs.

During lunch, everyone got to take a pop quiz on the Tracking Regulations and participate in a general questions and answers session with our resident judges. We shared resources for equipment, books, and videos. We gave each new tracker a leather glove, sold rolls of surveyor's tape and bundles of 20 pin flags for $1.00 each. Since we were offering so much information in such a short period, we provided lots of handouts as a source of backup for all they were learning.

Now that we all knew the rules, those who had never laid a track in a test before got to follow an experienced tracklayer as several TD tracks we plotted. Picking out reliable sight lines and corner markers was emphasized as well as developing a steady plotting pace and converting it to yardage. The rest of the group worked on proofing article indication and participated in a discussion on learning to read your dog.

We finished day one with a combined session on the importance of becoming an accomplished tracklayer, whether for training or at a test, and the importance of developing good map-making skills was demonstrated.

The second morning started with "Follow Me" sessions for everyone. The beginner dogs were introduced to a typical TD field and given ample time to experience the flora, fauna, and distractions of Bush Park. They encountered animal trails, dogs running off leash, hot air balloons, a smelly pond, and a man with a duck call. Their owners, who'd been instructed not to control, but just observe and go with their dogs, experienced the challenge of handling a very excited dog on a long line (or just how many times can you wrap yourself around a tree.) They learned the frustrations of trying to keep their long lines running down their dog's back when the harness wasn't adjusted right and kept slipping to the side, and patience as their tracking partners explored every square inch of typical TD field. Better to experience this at a workshop than at your first test! They then returned to the workshop headquarters for sessions on article indication, an introduction to corners, demonstrations on reading a dog, and restarts. A beautiful demonstration of the tracking dog's ability to work in a dirty field was set up with one of Kathy Daniel's corgis as "Spring" made her way across the area where at least 30 dogs were learning article indication, found her turn and made her way to the glove, demonstrating her own unique method of article indication. Everyone was quite impressed. We also had an area set up with a variety of "flapping" start flags and pennants so the beginner dogs could be introduced to these common, noisy distractions.

While they were out in the field, two relative beginners were chosen from a drawing, to lay regulation T tracks and make a map with enough detail that one of the instructors could follow their map, and find a marker, about the size of a quarter, dropped at the end. If the instructors were successful, the tracklayers would receive a gift certificate. They did a great job, learned a lot in the process, and earned their prizes.

The TDX and VST teams took off with Sally Elkins for a 2-hour "Follow Me" session through the parks' many changes of cover, all kinds of TDX obstacles, potential VST distractions, such as the picnic grounds and children's play area and scenting challenges created by man-made structures like ball fields, chain link fences, and very congested parking lots.

When the two groups reassembled, they were treated to a presentation on the use of compasses in tracking by David Meredith. David has a way of making this potentially confusing topic easy to understand and challenged all of us to become comfortable with the basics of orienteering.

The final sessions of the day were devoted to line handling skills for beginner and novice handlers and cross track work for the advanced group. Afterwards, a very tired group gathered once more as we encouraged them to get involved in the sport and find someone to practice and train with. Several experience handlers shared stories of their special tracking memories and we expressed our hopes that one day they all get to experience the joy that tracking with their dog has to offer. So, who were all these people? Several are involved in Schutzhund Tracking and are ready to try AKC sports. Many just need a tracking title to complete their versatility award. Some will become life-long trackers; some will be around only for the short hall. However, they all went home with a wealth of information and the basic tools they need to get started in tracking.

A workshop of this magnitude would not have been possible without the support of some very dedicated club members. STA's Board met twice over the summer to plan the sessions and give the weekend a structure that was manageable. Event Chair, Jeff Shaver, coordinated all of the registrations, last minute communications, and served as an instructor for most of the sessions. Other instructors included Sally Elkins, Judith Bowers, Linda Bryan, David Meredith, Kathleen Milford and Kathy Daniel with lots of assistance from Vikki Youngmeyer, Anne Smith, Kathy McLemore, Sue Jackson, Glenda Robbins and Steve Harden. Sally also handled hospitality for both days - you know you just can't have a tracking event without food!

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