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Tracking Stories

By Dennis Helm

TRACKING LOG: 9/18/97:


It looked like it was going to rain today so I set down an FH 2 track which was around two miles long. I went to eat lunch hoping it would start to rain.

We had not tracked in rain for some time. At the 1995 United Doberman National Trial we worked an FH 1 track just after a three hour downpour with two feet of standing water on parts of the track. We were going to try to do one more FH 2 trial this year and thought a "little rain" would be a good distraction.

One never knows what is going to happen on trial/test day and it is best to be ready.

After lunch we arrived at the tracking field in a slight rain. Just as an afterthought I took rain gear with. At 200 yards the downpour started. At 300 yards a deluge with driving rain and lightning was hitting all around us. I had a hard time seeing Panda at the end of the tracking line. Our open field portion of the track was not something, which would have earned us a high point score in a Schutzhund trial but was passable for an AKC test. We kept on in spite of what looked like some close hits of lighting. There was no place to go anyway. Eventually we made it to the dense brush portion of the track and some measure of protection. This was a little beyond an unreasonable learning experience and something we will avoid next time.

Hard rain and wind apparently do interesting things to tracking scent. From what I can determine the scent gets flattened out over an area of many feet on either side of the track. While the source of the scent is the footprint and remains so, the accumulated scent from the fermentation of the crushed vegetation in the footprint is spread out. Even a highly trained TDX and FH level dog will find these conditions challenging.

My dogs and I went back to the track 20 hours later and were able to re-track our rained on track. Apparently the fermentation process of the crushed vegetation goes on for quite a while. We have been able to track tracks, which have been aged up to five days.


TRACKING LOG: 11/01/97:


Tracking was a problem this weekend at the United Doberman Club’s Mid-Eastern Regional Championships held in Bowling Green, Kentucky. A pack of farm dogs started to go after Traci Mulligan’s dog and messed up the dog’s concentration. After being confronted by the track layer, Gene England, the pack kept its distance.

For our FH track I decided to let Panda deal with the distraction if the pack came after her. Panda is tough and hardened enough to have been able to eliminate the threat. She does not tolerate being disturbed when she is tracking.

After a two-hour rain, the dogs did not show up for Panda’s track. They did manage to run all over the area where the track was put down. We could have requested a new track but thought this would be a good test of Panda’s tracking ability. Besides, we have passed the 1,400-yard FH track many times in the past. With the rain and the dogs tracking up our track and a handler error, we were only able to earn 81 out of 100 points. For the day and conditions we did OK. Our score was enough to earn the High in Trial Tracking Trophy.

End Log

TRACKING LOG: 12/21/1997:


Dogs can track over water because the scent does linger over the top of the water and does not form mythical nonexistent pools of scent. The wind factor and the speed the water is moving at makes a difference.

This is not an area most normal tracking people ever get into. Tracking can take place under these conditions depending on the level of training the dog and handler have obtained. Panda and I have had a fair amount of success in this area.

For our FH1 track at the 1995 UDC National Trial, Panda and I had to negotiate two feet of standing water in a small valley. The water was left over from a three-hour deluge. After casting from side to side several times Panda continued the track through the water and was just about swimming for a while. There were several other areas of standing water on the track but none were ever over a foot deep.

The water was more of an obstacle than a barrier. This is not something an air scenting dog would be good at because of the lack of obedience to the track.

End Log

TRACKING LOG: 5/12/1998:


At the 1998 United Doberman Club National Trial held in the St. Louis, Missouri area, Panda (Von Dynasty BH, SchH3, FH2, AD, TDX, CDX, VC) and I signed up for and participated in the 2,000 to 3,000 yard FH2 portion of the tracking trial. We had earned the FH2 title last year in a long and exhausting track in Kentucky. We thought we were ready for this trial. (The FH2 is somewhat like a long VST track.)

Before we were to work our track, we were blessed with a two-hour heavy rainstorm, which left standing water on much of the area. Some of the "little" 4 to 5 foot deep gullies on the track had fast moving water flowing through.

Gene England, Chief Track layer and many times USA FH tracking champion, told Ray Carlisle, the other FH2 participant, and I that the conditions were such that we did not have a chance of finishing our tracks. Ray’s "Afra" could not find the scent trail and never was able to start the track. In FH2 tracking, the starting point of the track must be found by the dog. While "Afra" was probably the best tracking dog in the trial, it just was not her day.

Panda was able to start and did a high scoring track for the first 1,800 yards; she had successfully worked her way through several gullies with 6 inches of fast moving water. One of the gullies seemed a little on the deep side. While there was standing water on most of the track it was nothing like the 1995 UDC Nationals where we had to work through 2 feet of water in a depression that was left over from a deluge which had lasted the three hours the track was aging.

At about 1,800 yards the scent trail seemed to end for Panda. She is almost 9 years old and may have been tired from running a 12.5-mile endurance test the day before. After a restart Panda tracked around a sinkhole 6 feet by about 30 feet and completed the hard surface portion of the track.

The 3rd FH participant was "Wesson," a new FH1 dog. "Wesson" is owned by Melodie Limpach DVM owner of the Dynasty Kennel in located in Kenosha, Wisconsin. "Wesson" gave his best but could not finish his track. (The FH1 is a 1,400-yard track that is somewhat like an AKC TDX track.)

While Panda and I were satisfied without tracking efforts, this was not a good day for FH tracking. There was no trophy given out this day but the experience was wonderful.

End Log

TRACKING LOG: 10/03/98:


After only being able to track 3 times since the UDC Nationals each of my tracking dogs were able to get in 10 miles of tracks during the past five days. I am starting to realize how lucky we are having around 5,000 acres of trackable land within 15 minutes of where we live. We have massive open fields along with the nasty stuff when we feel challenged.

During our layoff, Panda apparently forgot that the article was to be located between her front feet when she indicated and not under her. I found Panda trying to lie on the articles during the trial last weekend. This may have been because of the stickers on the field. She corrected her self-this week.

Panda's three-year-old daughter "Q" had not tracked since before the UDC Nationals and she is as good or better than Panda, and she has never been food or force tracked. Now that we have her tracking training down it may be time to get her "B" title. "Q" is working 2 to 4 mile long FH2 tracks with ease. She did get her AKC TD "Tracking Dog" title at 10 months.

We were about a mile into "Q's" track this afternoon, when a lady of horseback rode up and asked where the horse trail was. She was apparently wondering around rather lost. I gave her directions and made sure she crossed our track. Got to take advantage of a free cross track when it comes up. I forgot to ask how long she had been looking for the trail.

"BO" my 15 month old Doberman is starting her tracking training using the same method I used on "Q." It will be interesting to see which training method or combination of training methods works for "BO."


TRACKING LOG: 10/05/98:


This morning Panda, BO, "Q" and I were out tracking in a rather dense undergrowth section of our Rock Cut State Park. Tutton was along as a supervisor. Tutton is mainly used as a search, defense, and protection dog so he supervises rather than tracks. I was out setting down a track in an area that had been clear of washed out trenches and animal made holes so I felt confident concentrating on walking a semi straight line through the brush. This was a mistake. About 100 yards into the track I dropped about 4 feet into an entrance hole of a fairly large critters den. The top of the hole was chest high.

Finding these unexpected problem solving opportunities is always something of a shock. This one had been covered with undergrowth and not visible even after I was able to pull myself out. Once back on my feet I continued on with the track.

Panda was the first dog to track. I reuse my tracks working the strongest dog first and so on. This way the less experienced dogs benefit from the reinforced scent trail. I started Panda on the track and she was intensely working. I had forgotten about the hole in the track. Just as I remembered Panda disappeared, giving out a surprised YIP. On her way up and out of the hole I told her "Watch out for the hole." She was not impressed with my timely warning. The rest of the track, which was a route a lost person might take, was worked without a problem.

"Q" tracked next. As usual, when she comes to these hidden traps she will put her nose in the hole and then jump over and keep on tracking. BO, my 15 month old I picked up from Kathy Males, was the last dog to track. BO fell in just as Panda had. When we work the open "safe" fields we tend to forget about what the rest of the park is like. The next time we are called on to find a lost person we will know of one more trap to avoid.


TRACKING LOG: 10:29:1998:


This morning Panda and I had to return to the scene of an accident and try to locate the personal effects of my wife Carol. Carol is an RN and was on her way to a private duty assignment last evening. A drunk driver ran a stop sign at a high rate of speed. Carol's car was knocked 80 feet off the road being stopped by a large oak tree. My Doberman Kids and I arrived at the accident as she was being cut out of her car.

So far the total is 1 dead, 1 in the process of dying, and Carol will survive with broken ribs, chipped vertebrae, internal injuries, and lots of dents. Panda and I went back to the accident scene to try to find and recover personal items that were missing.

At the command "Find Carol," Panda became very serious. Her nose went down and she started making a U shaped search pattern, from side to side, along the car's path. The other van ended up in a cornfield with its front end missing. Our car had traveled along a brushy ravine, alongside the road, before finding the Oak tree.

Now and then Panda would down and indicate on objects in the brush she thought were important. There were a lot of parts of the car covering the ground. I thought motor parts were supposed to stay with the motor. Over the next hour we found almost everything we were looking for. Without Panda being trained to search as well as track, much of what we found would have been missed.

We now have a paid for, low mileage Oldsmobile, with a door cut off, that resembles an accordion.


TRACKING LOG: 11/01/98:


Today a former US Army Ranger brought his dog "Ranger" out from Chicago for tracking practice. I have been helping David and Ranger for six weeks now and have Ranger to the point when he can pass an AKC Tracking Dog Test. David will need a little more work but they are ready to start their training with Gene England next month. The basic training is finished.

Today we tracked in a dense brush area of our state park. This area in inaccessible during the summer and is extremely hard to penetrate this time of the year. I started the track out on nice field grass and proceeded into the high brush for a mile track. This kind of track is more tiring than a track several miles long but would be just the thing for Panda and "Q." For 16-month-old Boo and 14-month-old Ranger it would be an interesting test of how far they had progressed in 6 weeks.

David often talks about how ruff the US Army Rangers are so I thought he would be right at home in this kind of ground cover as it reminded him of Ft Brag, NC. I had to take a few days off from tracking this week so I needed the exercise.

Panda and "Q" tracked first with David following behind. The dogs seemed to totally enjoy a dense brush track. Boo worked about ¾ of the brush track before getting lost so we placed an article for her to find and ended the track. As David and I were tracking Boo I could tell that David was getting worn out and we still had one more dog to work. As we were emerging from the brush he said, "I thought you Air Force people did not like to go into the brush." I was in the Air Force 37 years ago and we were basically technicians. I told him that "I was in the old Air Force." Ranger became lost at about the same spot Boo lost the track. So we left the brush area before we frustrated Ranger. The dog must always feel that he has been successful so he will look forward to next time.

When we were through the x-Army Ranger was exhausted and wondering why I was unaffected. I was hurting bad but was not going to let on.


TRACKING LOG: 11/20/98:


For the past week, and for the next two weeks, the organization I work with "EPI" has been and will be out of state investigating and providing armed intervention in a work place violence case for a major US corporation. My function in this situation was to provide armed back up for the company's unarmed guards at their main gate while the rest of our people and off duty local police tracked our subject as he moved through the city. Others provided security for the object of our subject's attention and the security provided was impressive even by our standards.

My function involved 14 to 16 hour days. The way this usually works out is that 99 percent of the time the job is totally boring while 1 percent of the time the work borders on near total terror. It is much more interesting being on the team hunting down and tracking the subject.

The first evening, at about 6:30 PM (or 18:30), we noticed large number of police cars speeding by the plants gate with their lights on. That was interesting but at the moment what the police were up to did not involve us and we did not have a scanner available to find out what was going on.

An hour later the police shift commander came to our locating and wanted to know if I could use my Panda to track down a wanted felon who, along with 3 of his friends, held up a store a short distance away. One person had run off and gotten away from the police.

Working this kind of track is much different from a sport track because of the scent of fear and adrenaline working on the subject's body chemistry. This makes a "hot" track and they are interesting to work. Well, I was told to leave my Panda a home for this trip and so informed the police commander. His reaction was "Nuts" (or something to that effect) and he went off to organize his search. He did request that if a person of a certain description came through the property we stop and detain him for the police which would be done.

We lost an opportunity to work a "hot" track but considering the subject of the track was armed and scarred, perhaps it was for the best. I would not want to get Panda killed.

Friday evening a new work place violence case came up in Rockford so I am back in town ready to go to work but with Panda and her brother riding shot gun. My hours will only be 10 to 12 hours a day this time which will be nice.

We had the opportunity to do some real night tracking but had to pass it up. The next time we go out of state at least one Doberman will be with.


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