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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Journey to the Win - Part 3: Pre-test and Competition

by Andy Bensing

continued from

Four weeks and 5 training lines into my spring training it was time to take the pre-test for the DSI Competition. Deer Search requires dogs to prove a certain degree of ability before they are allowed to enter the yearly competition so as to weed out dogs that have no business being there. That's what the pre-test is for. I felt well prepared for the pre-test but a few hours before the test I had what could have been a small disaster with Eibe on the drive to NY for the test. I pulled off to what looked like a safe spot to exercise her and when I let her out of the truck, she jumped out of the truck almost directly onto a rabbit I didn't see sitting there. She went tearing off into the distance after this rabbit completely ignoring my recall command at first and disappearing into a suburban neighborhood. I am lucky I didn't get arrested running though peoples yards that Sunday morning yelling for my dog. Actually she did try to come back but unbeknownst to me at the time she was stuck behind a fence. Once I finally found her stuck behind the fence and got her out and back into the truck, she was all torqued up and as gamey as you can imagine.

I was really concerned that in a couple of hours when I got to the pre-test and put her down to track, all she would do is go look for another rabbit. To settle her down after this incident I decided to stop before the pre-test and do a little mild obedience to remind her we do what I want not always what she wants. It seemed like a good plan to salvage the situation and it was a good plan, until the next disaster. I accidentally over corrected her with the e-collar and she got sucked into me like glue. Not a big deal any other time, the next day she would have surely been over it with no problem but I was going to be taking the pre-test in about an hour.

When I got to the pre-test I tried to mentally loosen her up but it wasn't looking good. She didn't want to leave my side by more than a few yards. With no time left to loosen her up, I took her to the start of the test line and started her in our usual routine. It took me about 3 minutes of coaxing her with encouragement and one re-start but she finally kicked in and did an excellent job on the pre-test line. Basically perfect. She ran the 450 meter line in 7 minutes flat once she finally kicked in. I certainly do not advocate high obedience pressure on a dog so close to a hunting test like accidentally happened to her but there was no doubt in my mind that the accidental over-correction made Eibe really focus on the blood trail and not fool around one little bit. I'm just glad that same overcorrection didn't go one step further and just completely shut her down for the rest day!

During the three weeks after the pre-test and before the Competition we did 3 more training lines continuing to focus on the same techniques but having less and less opportunity to do so because her line control had vastly improved and she rarely overshot a turn anymore. If she did overshoot a turn, she worked the check close and by herself with the pattern I had been teaching her. We were definitely ready for the Competition.

The weather forecast the week leading up to the DSI competition was not very promising for good tracking conditions. Cool and damp, which sounds good but too damp the day the blood is laid is never good. It was forecast to rain the day the blood was to be put down. I've seen trials and competitions in the past where the blood was laid in the rain or it rained shortly after the blood was put down and very good dogs the next day could barely smell it. The weather seemed to cooperate at the last minute on Friday when the tracks were laid. It was a little misty at times but it didn't actually rain until about 5pm when the last track was put down. I and everyone else expected the tracks should be fine. Saturday morning, the day of the Competition, started out damp and drizzling with there having been some light rain during the night. I thought tracking conditions should be pretty good

At the draw for running order Saturday morning the best draw I could get would be #4 and lucky for me that it what I drew. Competition rules state that certified dogs run first and then uncertified dogs run after that. There were 3 certified dogs competing, so they would get lines 1, 2, and 3. My thoughts were that the early lines would be the best since they had the most time for the blood to dry before it rained late on Friday. As it turned out scenting conditions were quite tough for all the lines and the draw position did not really matter. The 3 experienced dogs before me, 2 of which had won the Competition for a combined 4 of the last 5 years, had a tough time of it. As they tracked along, parts of the line seemed easy but they would hit big areas where they really had to work hard to find scent.

After a short lunch break, it was finally our turn. With the difficult conditions I thought Eibe might have a little trouble getting started. Sometimes I have to re-start her at the beginning a time or two to get her going when the scenting is tough. In DSI competitions, the gallery often follows pretty close. As a handler you can't control how close the judges follow but there is nothing wrong with telling the gallery what to do and that is what I did. I asked them to stay at the start until I was out 50 yards before following just in case I needed to re-start. I didn't want the gallery standing all over the line if I needed to go back to the hit site and start over. As it turned out, none of that was necessary. I went through my normal starting routine and Eibe zipped right down the line perfectly for the first 100 yards like there was nothing to it. It was looking real good.

Then just as the line got to an intersection of some rock walls, Eibe hit a dead spot like I was seeing all the dogs earlier in the day encounter. She worked that check for several minutes very intensely never going more than 10 meters from the line until she found the line again and off she went down the line only 60 meters and we hit another dead spot. This check lasted about the same amount of time as the first one but she worked this check even closer. After that 2nd check things smoothed out and for the next 500 meters Eibe pretty much just cruised along, except for a cross trail that she briefly got sucked down for about 20 meters but came right back. Eibe walked right through the first wound bed and indicated it to me with a brief stop and sniff. We missed the 2nd wound bed. The judges latter told me we were a few feet to the left of it but I just didn't see it and Eibe did not indicate it to me. A small mistake I made in our prep work was to put both hair and blood on my wound beds and the Deer Search Competition wound beds only had blood on them, so they were not as interesting to Eibe as the ones in training were. That's probably why she missed the 2nd bed. There were 3 turns in that 500 meter stretch and Eibe drilled them all with only a small circle at the 2nd turn.

We were cruising along nicely with what I figured was maybe 150 meters to go and I was thinking that we really had this one almost in the bag. Since I didn't know exactly where the line was I couldn't be positive how accurate Eibe had been but it sure felt good. I couldn't help but see some of the line markers along the way as we walked right past them. I figured we had a score of at least 92 in the making, maybe even more. Then as we were coming up a small hill and just as we came up on a flat under some pines we hit a big dead spot again. I can't say for sure how long it took to work that 50 meter section of the line out but it seemed like an eternity but was probably about 10 minutes. Our training preparations really paid off at this 3rd check. Eibe's checking pattern was wonderfully efficient. I chuckled a little to myself when I overheard one of the judges comment to another judge that " you can't teach that" referring to Eibe's beautifully efficient check work knowing that I certainly contributed to it with our training. At one point at this 3rd check I decided to pick Eibe up and use the directed search command I taught her to bring her into the known part of the line in hopes of blasting through the dead spot with some momentum. Finally Eibe found her way out of that mess and buzzed down the last 100 meter of the line to the skin. Actually, she winded the skin with about 60 meters to go and just ran to it. It was a nice fresh skin with quite a bit of meat on it so I got out my knife and cut her off a well deserved reward. After the congratulations and pictures I heard the judges announce that our score was a perfect 100 and I knew our mission was a total success. It was a long road the last 2 ½ years since I first brought Eibe home as a pup. An even longer road since 9 yrs ago when I bought my 1st blood tracking dog. I finally had the dog I had been seeking for so many years.

Gary Neal (Judge), me holding Eibe, and John Jeanneney (Judge) holding our trophy after winning the Deer Search Competition.


Teddy said...

A fine series of three articles by a good writer and trainer. Well done, Andy.

Stan said...

Great training, great result and great story!