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Tracking '99: Part I
By Julia Priest

Welcome to the surface of the moon....the sun glinted hard on the powdery, putty-colored dust that made up the tracking field for the Nationals. Golden yellow leaves falling against a crack-blue high desert sky framed the acreage holding thirty tracks at a time.

To the inexperienced, the sight of the visible tracks might have sparked some enthusiasm. As it turned out, these conditions proved to be difficult for a number of very experienced dogs and handlers. Although short in length (the average appeared to be around 500 paces), the tracks were laid quite close together on newly disked soft dirt, known here in the west as "moon dirt." The fine powdery texture held little moisture, and what there was of that disappeared by about eight in the morning.

Most dogs appeared to start all right, and handled the first leg with relative ease. However, that sinking feeling hit quite a few of the competitors as they saw what looked to be their dog's deep sure nose dissolve into either confused or frenzied searching at the corners. The layout of the field caused many of the tracks to be laid with corners at the edge of the field in harder dirt with tire tracks from the plowing tractors. Those tracks in the middle of the field seemed to go a little better, and certainly there were some exquisite performances.

Friday morning I watched Alan Bartelson with Reijko, and was impressed with the dog's clear dedication to his work. While many seemed to have special trouble with the last article at the end -- a small wooden stick about three inches long -- I watched as Reijko purposefully searched each footstep and went down surely and promptly at the end. Many spectators saw 100 points there, but Judge Bill Fields commented that the dog had a bit of a high nose at the end and awarded 99. This was the problem with this dirt -- so fine and powdery that many dogs had their nostrils full of clay by the time they reached the last article, and had a difficult time keeping their noses in the dirt if they wanted to scent and breathe too...

Copyright 1999 Julia G. Priest; ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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