By Jean Rassbach
Border Terriers love to track. With their excellent sense of smell, combined with high prey drive and desire to get the game, be it a fox, otter, rat or tracking article, they are naturals for the sport of tracking. Handlers too must be as determined as their dogs since tracking tests are held on all types of terrain in all weather conditions. Dogs and handlers develop a very special partnership, seeming to be able to read one another’s mind. Next to Earthdog tests, tracking can be your dog’s favorite sport.
The American Kennel Club defines tracking as “the demonstration of the dog’s ability to follow human scent”. Tracking is a vigorous, noncompetitive outdoor sport. Tracking tests demonstrate the willingness and enjoyment of the dog in its work and should always represent the best in sportsmanship and camaraderie by the people involved. There are three tracking titles offered by the AKC.
TD, which stands for Tracking Dog is the beginning level. The track is on grass, and is between 440 and 500 yards long with three to five turns. The track is between 30 and 60 minutes old. At the end of the track the tracklayer drops a glove or wallet. Tracking tests always have two judges who have plotted the track the day before the test, leaving flags to mark the start, each turn, and the end. On the test day, the tracklayer leaves a cloth article, which they have scented by carrying it in their hand or pocket, at the start flag and walks the track, picking up the turn and end flags as they go. When the track has aged, the handler takes the dog, who wears a harness and line at least 20 feet long, to the start flag, lets it sniff the article, then tells the dog to go. The handler is not allowed to guide the dog or aid it in any way, but must trust the dog’s nose to get them to the end. The judges follow behind the handler. They each carry a whistle which the handler prays not to hear, since they will blow the whistle if the dog gets too far off the track, and the dog is marked “failed”. When the dog finds the glove, everyone, handler, dog and judges celebrate, and the dog is marked “passed”. The letters TD can be added to the end of the dog’s registered name.
TDX stands for Tracking Dog Excellent. The dog must have a TD to enter a TDX test. The TDX track is 3 to 5 hours old and 800 to 1000 yards long. Four articles scented by the tracklayer are dropped along the track. One at the beginning, two along the track, and one at the end. There are at least 2 obstacles which the dog must negotiate. Obstacles can include a change of cover or terrain such as ploughed land, ditches, woods, streams, fences, bridges, or lightly traveled roads. Two people, walking side by side will cross the track in two places an hour after the track is laid. TDX is very difficult to pass.
VST stands for Variable Surface Tracking dog. This test was designed for urban areas. The track is between 3 and 5 hours old, and is between 600 and 800 yards long, with between 5 and 8 turns. Four common everyday articles, one each of metal, leather, rigid plastic, and fabric will be left on the track. One at the beginning, two along the track and one at the end. The track is laid beside buildings, through roofed parking garages, courtyards, parking lots etc. The areas are open to the public who can walk wherever they want, and sometimes stop to talk to the handler or pet the dog. The track will be laid across at least three different surfaces such as asphalt, cement, gravel, mulch etc. with no more than 1/3rd on grass. Many people consider VST more difficult than TDX.
Dogs who earn all three tracking titles are awarded the title, CT for Champion Tracker.