The Road to Walter’s Tracking Dog Excellent Title

Walter became the first Black and Tan Coonhound to earn the AKC Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX) title on February 8, 2015 at the Gateway Tracking Club in Sullivan, MO.

“Walter” (Windbourne ScoutOut Hightailing Howler CD BN TDX CGC – IPO/BH) was born September 6, 2011. Though young Walter has an accomplished list of achievements and titles, the TDX title was extra special. Two levels of tracking testing must be achieved before dogs can enter for their TDX test. In July 2014 Walter’s tracking ability was certified by an approved AKC Tracking Judge; then in October 2014 he tested and was awarded the Tracking Dog (TD) Title.

Faith Pawlik is Walter’s proud human, his enthusiastic trainer and dedicated handler. For her, tracking scent-work is a team sport that solidifies a fascinating bond with your canine partner. It is a relationship based on knowing your dog well enough to read their behavioral responses on the track, having trust in your dog to let them do their job and above all - having patience. She recommends tracking as a great venue for dogs with bright, busy minds. The mental focus that tracking requires provides a great outlet for an active canine brain and a rewarding workout for the most discerning sniffers. Most dogs Faith has watched tracking really love the challenge and spending time outdoors with their special human.
Tracking by nature is a vigorous, yet noncompetitive performance dog sport. It allows a trained dog to be tested on their ability to recognize and follow human scent and locate and identify articles left on the track by the person they are tracking. Specific levels of tracking accuracy must be demonstrated as the canine-sleuths maneuver the track. The handler is only responsible for encouraging the dog to do their job.
Walter and Faith’s tracking adventures began when he was about 6 months old. Puppy scent pads and short footstep tracks were used with food rewards. This developed a solid foundation for positive tracking behaviors. It was apparent how much Walter enjoyed the challenges of using his nose instinctively, so Faith read every tracking resource she could find and continued to build on this foundation.

More formalized tracking training began when Walter was about a year old. Under the guidance of a friend with more extensive tracking and trialing skills, they tracked a couple times a week working through beginner and intermediate tracking and problem solving. Soon, both Walter and Faith were hooked on everything involved with tracking. Walter is such an enthusiastic partner that he even helps with training plans; he loves to root through their box of tracking articles to help select which ones to use for each tracking adventure.

Memphis does not have a local AKC tracking club so Walter and Faith trained solo quite a bit, though much less in summer months due to the hot, humid Memphis weather. Eventually Walter and Faith were invited to train with a local Schutzhund Training Club. This was exactly what they needed to expand their tracking knowledge, skillset and improve Walter’s tracking performance and confidence. One weekend a month the club hosts a well-respected dog trainer from Dallas, TX that works with the group and individual handler/dog teams. Everyone learns from observing each other. Walter has benefited from this group training exposure and has developed a solid tracking style that is a beautiful combination of AKC and IPO/Schutzhund performance behaviors. Walter is now eligible to enter both AKC tracking tests and IPO/Schutzhund tracking trials.

AKC Tracking Tests are pass or fail. The Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX) test undeniably measures the dog’s ability to discriminate scent and that the dog indisputably possesses the stamina, perseverance and courage to do so under a wide variety of very challenging conditions. A TDX track is 800-1000 yards long with 5-7 turns and is aged from 3-5 hours. Often these conditions include obstacles such as woods, tree lines, streams, fences, lightly traveled roads and cross tracks from two people other than the primary track layer. The dog must actively work throughout these challenging conditions without interference or guidance from the handler. Weather is always an unpredictable factor so it’s imperative to train under various conditions.

Below is Faith’s victorious recount of Walter’s TDX Test Day!
It was a cool day in the low 50’s, windy and partly cloudy. Vegetation was somewhat moist and still brown from the winter. We drew the 4th track out of 6 TDX handler teams so I had the opportunity to watch the first two tracking teams of both seasoned handlers and amazingly talented dogs. My heart sank each time the judge’s whistle blew to signal the end of an unsuccessful attempt. It was really unnerving to watch not one, but both of them fail.

My thoughts raced, my emotions churned as I worried whether we trained enough or if I had forgotten something important. A wise woman in the viewing gallery must have noticed the fear on my face. I will always be grateful to this person for reaching out. She kindly reminded me to relax and not to change anything about our normal tracking rituals. She suggested I go spend some time with my dog. Walter and I took a relaxing walk as our track was aging and we (maybe more me, than he at this point) focused on our tracking team mindset.

Once we arrived at our designated tracking field, all worries were left behind. Our track was aged 3 hours and it was 845 yards long with 5 turns. There were 4 articles on the track including the start article. We tracked 180 yards before the first left turn! Walter checked that turn three times before finally committing to the direction. In retrospect, that must have been where the judges and tracklayers stood the day before while plotting the track. This lingering scent pool of people was a slight distraction for Walter.

TDX 2nd Leg
Our first article on the track after the start was placed 360 yards out which is a LONG distance to wait for an acknowledgement and reward. Walter downed beautifully at all the articles and was visibly happy to hear “good boy” for each article find. As we tracked toward a tree line we came upon a bent over barbed wire fence. This was not an obstacle I ever envisioned! I didn’t think it could be right! Yet Walter was so committed to move forward through the barbed wire, I trusted him and off we went. He, of course, was right. One of our final track legs was 300 yards long going through another tree line and heading up a slight terrain incline. At this point, the wind was blowing erratically and Walter started to air scent. I could tell he was beginning to feel mentally fatigued and I hoped, surely we are close to the end. As he reached the windy ridge area he started whining and turning back to look at me. I calmly told him “good track, track, you are a tracking superstar.” He struggled slightly to locate the scent direction, but finally pushed forward. Then much to my surprise, there was an open left turn along the tree line for a final 50 yard leg.

I can’t tell you the joy and relief when Walter came upon the end of track glove article and gave his fabulous down indication. With tears of joy, I praised my tracking superstar while jumping up and waiving the glove for the judges. There was also some enthusiastic (though less dignified and more slobbery) rolling on the ground and hugging with Walter. I remember looking back and the previously stoic judges were cheering!

Walter “talked” to the Judges the entire walk back to where they were waiting; he was clearly letting them know how hard the track was. The judges praised Walter’s methodical commitment to the track, his concise article indications and my patience with Walter. It was a GREAT day!
End of track and celebration with AKC Judges Bob Willoh and Jeff Whitsitt.

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Created 8/18/15 by esa