This is our first year tracking in a serious way.
Sparta is concentrating on her craft. I am concentrating on how to read her but also how to manage the other sapiens in the field so that she can better do her job.
Two weekends ago I let a situation spiral out of control. She worked, but was delayed.
The hunter had called us at the right time, as the blood trail pooped out, he pulled back and called for a dog.
When I showed up, I was a little overwhelmed as five guys gathered around to walk out to where he shot the deer. It is nice to have other people to keep an eye out for blood as we walk, but I had a hard time remembering which one was the hunter.
All the camo coats looked the same to me.
We found the blood trail and I started Sparta on it. Taking some time to slow her down and keep her on the track we moved slow. Approaching last blood I didn't notice the large search party gathering around.
They were curious. They wanted to see the dog work. I had mixed emotions. I have nothing to hide. I want to show off the dog. I'd like it if their were fewer people. A crowd is off-putting.
Sparta appeared to go off track, I restarted her. She didn't want to restart. I was feeling crowded. I almost said something about giving the dog some room. I didn't. It would turn out that this was a rather significant error of omission.
She took us in the direction of some tall marsh grass and she started to work the edge away from the search party. As she came weaved in and out of small trees on the edge I dropped the leash, gave the command for her to "go slow" and began to walk around the thicket she was working.
The second the leash hit the ground she jumped into a sprint.
She didn't not respond to my recall. She did not respond to my whistle.
There are things that Sparta is not yet rock solid on. This is not one of them. It is a special whistle we use in the field and she's not failed to return to it for over a year.
One member of the search party volunteered to join me to search for my dog. He'd come from downstate. My home is his "up north" and he'd lost a dog while "up north" in the past. He was more worried than I was. We live here. She could take care of herself.
Half an hour later, Sparta back in hand, and myself feeling a little more humble, the search party itself had shrunk with the dog and handler appearing rather unremarkable.
They had found blood in that same marsh grass in our absence. I restarted Sparta and she worked steadily and slowly taking us through the grass. Broaching the other side of the marsh I became a little less sure of her track but she took us deeper into the woods and toward a property line we did not have permission to cross.
The hunter was confident permission would not be given. The buck was big, but they didn't even think it was worth the effort to try to gain permission.
Unable to follow her further, we returned to the grass which extended for a distance at a 90 degree-angle to the presumed track. We worked through an area where she'd shown some interest but to no effect.
We continued to fish around for scent for a while without result and the hunter decided to call the search. We had a good conversation about Sparta, her therapy dog work, the powers and limits of working dogs, their positive interactions with Brian Schlomann who tracks with Chesapeake Bay Retrievers out of New Berlin, WI.
I was glad I got to meet those guys. I learned that reading and trusting my dog applies to more than just following the track. It also relates to being more assertive with the other sapiens we encounter in the future.