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WPO Tracking '99
By Tim Tieken

Since returning home to the wet side of the Cascades, where most everything is both wet and green, I have come to a greater appreciation of the stark contrast between the tracking conditions in which I customarily work and the conditions at the 1999 International Police Canine Championships in Reno, Nevada. In her commentary, Julia Priest aptly described the tracking grounds as ‘the surface of the moon.’ I too had the impression that I was at least near the Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho, if not on the moon itself.

When the first Gruppe of dogs was called to the tracking field, the sun was low in the morning sky and had not yet burned off what little moisture collected in the top eighth-inch of dusty soil during the near freezing hours of the previous night. The dew mildly inhibited the dust from billowing around the dog’s head as he pulled his legs from the depths of the soft dirt. At times the dog’s legs would sink to the stifle. There was no vegetation, no rise or fall to the land, just flat, dry, soft and deep loose dirt. The only advantage for the dog and handler was that the track was easily seen, as the track-layers footfalls were deep and obvious. It is a testimony to the quality of these competitors that they maintained scores in the 90s, and that with the judge using a sharp pencil.

By the time the second gruppe was called to the field, the sun had evaporated the dew. Now the dust billowed more with each track. Slightly compensating for this increase in difficulty, each new track had been laid on slightly firmer and more shallow dirt. However, the dust took its toll on each dog’s performance as the track proceeded. One dog, who normally downs well at articles, only acknowledged the articles with a head swing, refusing to down in the deep dusty soil. In his commentary on this track, the judge commented that the dog did a perfect track other than neglecting to down at the articles. In spite of missing the article indication the dog received a score of 81. Another dog in this gruppe faltered slightly on the last turn of his track and while diligently working out the corner, he inadvertently picked up on a cross track laid by a fisherman who had come by after the track was laid. The fisherman’s track was not noticed until after the incident occurred. Unfortunately the judge did not grant another track.

The Reno competition was a grueling test of these dogs' ability to track. All competitors should be proud of their performance; they validated themselves among the best tracking dogs in the world and in harsh and foreign conditions. Ulrich Gerling and his dog Haky were awarded 98 points under these adverse conditions. It is no wonder they placed first in the overall trial, and high score in the obedience and tracking phases.

Most of the deficits I observed during the obedience and protection phases are easily placed into the "off day" category and accounted for about 90% of the points lost. The remainder of the losses correspond to the experience level of the handlers. As one would expect, the more experienced handlers had a polish that rescued the day for them. It was these very slight differences that determined the outcome of the trial.

Copyright 1999 Tim Tieken; ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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