Ziva passed her VST at the Weimaranaer Club of Northern Illinois tracking test on Sunday 10/1/2017 to complete the coveted tracking trifecta (TD, TDX & VST)!!! She is now officially Champion Tracker PAM Alta-Tollhaus Ziva VCD1, BN, RE, MXP, AJP, ACT1, DN, TKA, HIC, TDI, TC, CGC!!!!!!! To earn the prestigious title of Champion Tracker (CT). The dog and owner must have earned a Tracking Dog (TD) or Tracking Dog Urban (TDU), Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX), and the Variable Surface Tracker (VST) title.
Champion Tracker (CT). This title is awarded to dogs who have passed all three tracking tests.
According to the AKC, the VST test has an 11.44 % Pass Rate and 9.4% of dogs that attempt all 3 tests succeed to become Champion Trackers.
A brief description of the 3 test elements is listed below.
Tracking Dog (TD). The track is 440 to 500 yards long with 3 to 5 turns and has been “aged” for 30 minutes to two hours. The dog must “indicate” the article found. Tracks are laid in open fields with uniform cover and do not include changing terrain, roads, ditches, etc. Before a dog can enter this beginning level test they must be certified as capable of handling a basic track by a judge.
Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX). The dog must have a TD or TDU to enter. The track is 800 to 1,000 yards long with 5 to 7 turns and has been aged for 3 to 5 hours. There are two sets of “cross tracks” that are diversionary only and should not be followed by the dog. The terrain is more difficult, and the dog must indicate his find of four dissimilar articles along the track.
Variable Surface Tracking (VST). The dog must have a TD or TDU to enter. The track is 600 to 800 yards long with 4-8 turns and has been aged for 3 to 5 hours. There are 4 articles placed along the track & must include one each of leather, cloth, plastic, and metal. The dog and handler must follow the track without knowing where it goes and find all of the articles along the way. The terrain must be comprised of a minimum of three different surfaces, two of them non-vegetative (such as asphalt or concrete), where the dog is required to navigate a turn. This is a very difficult test of a dog’s ability to track in an busy urban environment.
We started our 10 hour drive to Illinois Friday at noon. I wanted to get her there by noon the day before the test on Sunday so she would have time to acclimate to the different types of vegetation in that area she would be tracking on. We needed time for some fun motivational tracks before the test. This was our second attempt to pass this test. 2 weeks before we were entered in a test & the judges were sure she would pass, but with the unseasonably hot 86 degree weather she tuckered out ¾ of the way through.
Ziva really loves the hotel life we live when travelling!
The day of the test was perfect, cool and slightly overcast. Ziva and I arrived at the college test area for the draw for tracks at 9 am. I got out of the car and looked at the busy campus grounds and thought this will be an expensive practice track, but a good experience for us. I was the 2nd person to draw and my track ended up being #3. The club had these pretty little jars filled with homemade dog cookies to choose and our track # was under the lid.
When it was our time, we drove to our track. As I got Ziva’s harness out of the car, she was whining and eager to go. My heart was pounding and hands shaking as I adjusted it. The judges were super nice, asking if I had water, and an extra line-something a nervous competitor may forget but are essentials to a successful track. We walked toward a set of buildings; saw a hot pink start flag & one of the judges said there is your start. Ziva saw the flag and knew what was coming and she enthusiastically pulled toward it. About 30 feet from the flag I unhooked the line from her collar and to her harness which is the cue to start. The start article was a knotted sock; she took, for her, a rather long sniff of it. Our start was on grass and she carefully checked the area all around the flag and when she was sure which way the track went, she was off so fast, I had to be quick to grab the sock on the way by. This campus had large drainage covers EVERYWHERE and she had to go investigate them ALL-it was very nerve-wracking for me, but after a brief investigation of each one she came right back to “her” track.
Our 1st change of cover was a traffic circle (grass, concrete walkway, pavement, grass center and then the same on the way out). She investigated a roadway leading off of the circle, but quickly indicated that the track went through the circle. Again, more drainage covers and investigation. Our first turn was to the left along a line of pine trees. There was a drainage ditch on the other side of the trees and she briefly scented toward that, but discarded that route and came right back by the tree line. Pine needles pose difficult scenting conditions, but she quickly adjusted and passed by them. Up ahead was a building on our left, she went up on the sidewalk that paralleled the building and about 60 feet in stopped. There was (I hoped) article #1, a concrete colored piece of leather. I watered her and adjusted the harness and told her what a super girl she was, then asked her to find her track again. Off she went down the rest of the sidewalk, then she suddenly zipped into the bushes planted alongside the building, then I heard it-the squeaking of chipmunks – curses. I had been concerned about squirrels on the campus, but had not seen any, so I thought I was home free. I spent many minutes asking her to get back on track, but the force of the chippies was strong. Finally, it was now or never, I sternly told her to leave it and find her track. Miraculously she went back to work with only a slight backward glance. We continued on until there was a choice to go either over a crosswalk or turn in front of a building. She indicated a turn in front of the building and at the entrance where there were 10 concrete pillars with an overhead arch. She spent a fair amount of time investigating the doorway and bases of the pillars, suddenly making a decision to move past them onto the mulched area in front of the building. The building ended near a parking lot entrance with concrete half walls. She entered the parking lot, but seemed to me to be investigating, not tracking. She did this for quite some time. I watered and rescented her on the sock several times & she went back out to the lot after each time. I paused and asked her again if that was her track since I did not see a way out and definitely had not gone even the minimum track length, nor was there enough room for our moment of truth turn on pavement. She kept investigating the bases of the concrete walls-I was almost in panic mode when she wanted to go further in knowing it had to be wrong and she WAS NOT tracking. I asked her if that was her track and she came back towards me. I backed up a bit getting closer to where I knew she was last indicating the track. She went back to sniffing along the base of the ½ walls. We were not making any progress and by now I was almost back to the lot entrance where I was sure she was on track. I watered her and readjusted her harness, not sure what to do. I rescented again on the glove and asked her to find it. She went past me back to the walkway where she had turned into the parking lot and then nose down once again almost dragged me across a median and across an access roadway. She hit the curb, went over the sidewalk with some brief casting about and then onto the grass that paralleled another building. Now she was tracking-what a relief! Approximately ½ way along the length of the building she stopped and stood. I did not see an article so I waited for a bit, not sure why she stopped, finally deciding to water her, readjust her harness and tell her what a super girl she was. When I was done I rescented and asked her to find it. She turned 90 degrees from where she had been and started to cast around me. She started down the incline to a ditch and roadway. There was no way that was a turn, not enough yardage, and she was not doing her typical tracking behavior on grass. All the rules on yardage and turns were rushing through my head. She was now at the end of my line and stopped dead. I asked her if that was her track, she turned her head to look at me and then turned back. OK, now what???? I marked where I had been when she was tracking and went down the incline. There between her front legs was an altoid tin. Holy Cow, was that an article, had the track really been down here and not up by the building?? What the heck. I squatted down to water her, scratch her ears and gather my composure. I picked up the tin, maybe it was and article, maybe not, but she indicated it so it was coming with me. I stood up and asked her to find her track and back up the incline she went to where we had been and again started her lovely “I’m on track Mom” behavior. After we passed the end of the building there was a huge pond filled with geese. When they saw us, up they went like a cloud. Ziva stopped and watched them fly for a brief moment then back to tracking she went. I am thanking my lucky stars that she herds ducks and we practice at an office park that has that same distraction. At the end of the day, 2 dogs that entered in the test saw the geese, lost their minds and were unable to recover. She penciled a right turn over a side walk, another grass area and into a big parking lot. No hesitation, she was totally committed to her path. About ¾ of the way into the parking lot she made and arcing left turn and confidently went in the new direction for about 35 yards, then she stopped. I saw something between her front legs. It was a small plastic container lid. I picked it up and saw the #4 on the back, the last article is the only one that is numbered. OMG, she found the last article- -we did it!!!!! Ziva was not sure why this piece of plastic was any different than the others she had found for me, but she joined in the excitement also. I turned to face the judges and stopped, no smiling, no congratulations-oh no, had we failed somehow-then I realized that maybe the 2 intermediate articles I picked up were not the right ones and we failed on the article search. One of the judges asked if I had 4 articles and said yes and gave them to the tracklayer who confirmed they were the ones she set out. Where did you find that metal article they asked? I told them it was down by the ditch of the last building we worked past on our track. The track did not go down there and they had not seen me pick anything up and were thinking they would soon be whistling us off for going off track. That article should have been just past the end of the building where we had the appearance of the geese. Apparently someone saw it, picked it up, walked with it and tossed it aside. The tracklayer tried to locate it after we passed the spot where she dropped it and could not, so we would have passed anyway because she could not find it. The judges were both impressed that Ziva was able to locate the article and convince me to come with her to get it. Then they were off to the next track leaving me on cloud 9.
There is a huge amount of work that goes into tracking. To quote ” You can cheer lead in obedience & agility or protection work is somewhat self-reinforcing….but tracking? At some point, the dog has to step up…..and that shows drive, work ethic, and the relationship between dog and handler.”
Ziva working the track next to a building.
The judges and our track layer Sally.
Letting Ziva know how proud I am of her. After all of the tracks run, we were the only pass of the day & the only pass for that club’s test in the last 5 years! This was also very special for me because it was on what would have been my Mom’s 95th birthday & I feel like she was helping to guide just like she did my whole life. When we were presented with our ribbon and track copies both judges spoke about her wonderful work ethic and her awesome methodical and thorough tracking style. They also said as judges what a joy it was to watch us work as a team, seeing the fantastic bond between us and how she consistently stepped up to the challenges we faced together in the track.
Ziva’s track. Ziva spent 40 minutes following a track of of 623 total yards, 241 yards (39%) vegetation and 382 yards (61%) non vegetation (concrete & asphalt). The maximun non-vegetative surface allowed on a VST track is 66%.
Ziva’s Champion Tracker title ribbon that came in the mail several weeks later.
Our celebration Wine!