Most of this week has been practice, review, doing the same things over and over. We do an outdoor tracking session every day, followed by time at 4 Paws for lecture, practice, and questions. Afternoons are either at the mall for practice, questions, and indoor tracking, or else more lecture and review at 4 Paws. It doesn’t feel quite so much like our heads are getting stuffed with information. Tracking is becoming more natural as we learn to read A’Kos, and A’Kos and Kender continue to bond. It’s really amazing now to watch A’Kos whimper as Kender takes off to hide, and then pull and pull at the leash as he tracks down his boy. We get comments from strangers almost every day about how adorable Kender and A’Kos are together.
The park we have been using for most of our outdoor tracks is big and open, full of every kind of ballfield. Which explains the signs, I suppose.
The other day, Kender was very upset about waiting. We usually end up being near the last of our group, which means we sit around in the parking lot for an hour or more, chatting and watching the other dogs head off. That day we let Kender “hide” on the swingset, which made him very happy when it was time to hide…and very unhappy when it was time to leave!
The past few days of outdoor tracking have been eye-opening, as both Brian and I have learned to read A’Kos and recognize when he has the scent and when he doesn’t. A lot of variables affect how A’Kos finds Kender. If the wind is blowing, A’Kos will follow a scent path downwind of the actual path Kender took. A’Kos may follow scent on the ground most of the way and then switch to following scent in the air as he gets close. Different ground surfaces hold scent differently, but he follows it all.
Yesterday afternoon, we had our second session of tracking at the mall. Kender ran off down a couple of hallways, again a pretty realistic track for that situation. Unfortunately we had to wait for an hour again for our turn, but Kender took it much better, crashing on A’Kos for most of the wait. Tracking in the mall is very different from tracking outside. There isn’t as much airflow to blow the scent around, and there are lots of possible false trails. We really have to led the dogs lead the way, allowing them to investigate all the possibilities without inadvertently encouraging them to take the wrong path. We also found out that the scent A’Kos follows doesn’t have to match the path Kender took, especially in a relatively open area. A’Kos will smell Kender around either end of a divider much as I can follow my nose around either end to a brewing coffee machine.
One of our afternoon lecture sessions covered again the details and intricacies of tracking. We will have to continue to practice daily for some time, taking the dogs through every possible area we can think of that Kender might take off through. The more familiar A’Kos is with the area, the less he will be distracted by cows, machinery, other dogs and people, things like that which can throw him off his track. We studied diagrams of various tracking scenarios, and discussed blind tracks, where we have no idea where Kender may be. In that case, we would need to start from the last place Kender was seen and allow A’Kos to cast about for the freshest scent trail to follow.
Tuesday afternoon I got my shipment from Shari’s Berries. I won a gift certificate from Free Talk Live before Mother’s Day, and I thought having them delivered to the hotel would be a nice treat. And was it ever! They showed up just in time to share with another mom in our class who was having a birthday, and I’ve enjoyed some every day. I didn’t fully realize how much two dozen strawberries from Shari’s Berries would be!
Last night we had some serious weather roll through the area. Originally it looked like all the storms would just miss us, but as we stopped by Kroger for some last minute things, I saw some amazing clouds forming up. I ended up getting several videos as a wall cloud started to form up and then dissipated almost right above us.
No tornadoes actually touched down in our area, despite the rotation in the clouds and the sirens that kept going off at the nearby air base. It rained and rained and rained, though, enough to drench us as we ran into our hotel. It rained so hard that houses were already getting flooded yesterday evening, and by this afternoon more rainwater had come into the area and caused that park we’ve been tracking in to flood. The sun always come out after the storm, though, and last night was no exception.
This afternoon’s lecture was all about going home. We learned about how the dogs’ microchips work and where they are located. We selected collars to hang all of A’Kos’ tags from, and found out that we do not in fact have to pay for a license for him in Michigan. We learned how much detail is in the medical records we will receive tomorrow, and about how heartworm medicine works and what vaccine boosters would be needed when. (The dogs are from various litters and so are not all the same age or on the same vaccination schedule.) We saw a copy of the test form that the trainers will use for our public access test tomorrow, which proves that A’Kos is well-behaved in public and fully under our control. We learned that the medicine the dogs have been taking this week is to treat any possible Giardia infections so that the organism doesn’t go home with us. We went over in detail how to travel with the dogs, especially for those families who will be flying home. (We live closer than anybody with only a 4-hour drive.) Finally, we learned techniques for introducing our dogs to our other pets, our friends’ pets, our kids’ schools, all of those little details that probably many of us hadn’t thought much about. Just when we thought the learning was over!
But now it is over. Tomorrow we are scheduled for our public access test starting at noon in the mall. After that, we will head back to 4 Paws to finish filling out and receiving paperwork, including our official identification cards, rabies tags, all of that. At 3pm we have a graduation ceremony, and then we will be on the road home! I can’t believe the day of bringing A’Kos home is finally here!