Anyway....I digress. Tracking has been a source of confusion and frustration for me this time around, and it's shaken my confidence a bit.... a lot. For starters, Twinkie tracks much differently than Aubrey ever did, so I've been thrown off each time I've tracked since I've expected Aubrey and was actually following Twinkie. Since Aubrey was party Hound, she was very intense and her body language and signals were crystal clear. Hounds find things; it's just what they do. I never questioned where Aubrey was taking me because I knew it was going to be wherever Zachary was. Period. No questions. As Jeremy put it, "A blind person could've tracked with Aubrey." She really WAS that good which was certainly helpful on our end. :) Hounds were bred for trail scenting, so when Aubrey picked up just a little bit of Zachary's scent she knew it and so did I. I was pretty much along for the ride. :) Even with changing variables such as wind direction and speed, humidity and temperature, Aubrey always looked 100% confident.
Don't get me wrong, Twinkie is very confident, too. She knows what she's doing, but her body language isn't nearly as intense, so my confidence isn't quite where hers is at this point. I have to think a lot harder about what we're both doing. She's also gotten confused on a couple of tracks with me. Since we're all in the same location, and she's more familiar with the trainer's scents than Zachary's, there were a couple of times that this interrupted Zachary's scent trail, and I got a little jammed up. Jammed up as in I probably would not have found Zachary if I were on my own. This is all part of the reason you start learning this skill almost immediately and have one on one instruction as you're running the track. Jeremy or Jessa run with you, coach you along the way and touch base with you about what they saw or what questions you have just after the track. To me, the biggest mistake you could make as you learn this skill is not asking questions. Since I'm not nearly as confident as I was the first time around, I am asking a lot of questions...bless these poor people. LOL They'd much rather you ask questions than not put the amount of work into it that you need to. I'd much rather be "that" person than not be able to find Zachary. There's two sides to ever coin. Tracking is a tough thing to be dropped into. I'd imagine that most families coming to 4 Paws don't have experience in K-9 Search and Rescue. It's still pretty amazing to think all of sudden you're given this dog on Day Two and they can find your kid by Day Nine.
Since dogs will happily run with you endlessly from the get go, the start of the track is the most difficult and, obviously, the most crucial component of tracking. It's very easy to take off with your dog since they're so excited to run. The thing is, though, that you cannot do this until you KNOW they've picked up your child's scent. You need to know your dog and what they're "telling" you before you start sprinting with them. It's very easy to run way too fast and completely over-run the scent cone from the start. What you hope for at this point is that your dog calms down just a bit and recognizes that the trail is cold. This makes more work for you and creates a greater distance between you and your child if this were the real deal because now you have to very methodically back track. This is a very common mistake that we've all made in some way.
You begin your track at the last point you saw your child, so it's kinda important you get it right the first time!! This starting point could be a sidewalk, baseball field, parking lot, your front door or school. It doesn't really matter because at the end of the day you must begin your track correctly or you could be running til the cows come home and never find your child. Not too much pressure, huh? Thankfully, the two tracks I ran with Zachary this morning were awesome!! I needed the boost, that's for sure!! The first was over the river and into the woods...literally. For whatever reason, I conjured up more confidence and got it! Jessa was with me the whole time, but she really took a back seat and let me try to figure it out on my own. Twinkie did briefly overshoot the scent cone because of the wind, but she very quickly recognized it AND made it really obvious to me. Once she lost interest in the area we were in, she started to arch, make head snaps and made a new commitment back up the trail and to the left and found Zachary. Yea for me!
The second track I ran independently. Jessa left with another family to run their track and told me I could wait a minute or two and go find Joe and Zachary if I were comfortable with it. The mentality of being 100% on my own and 100% reliant on Twinkie was a little unsettling since I haven't done as well starting the track myself, but I did it...and did it quite well if I do say so! I checked the wind direction by throwing grass in the air. This told me Zachary's scent cone would be over to the left regardless of where they started, and it was. This track took me through a gravel parking lot, running up along the grass/brush line, into a construction area, around gravel piles, between a dumpster and metal things, around and through a small tree line and next to a utility shed and fence to find Zachary. It happens so fast, and you are so relieved to find your child even though you know it's practice.
I very much rally under pressure. I also told myself I wasn't going to over think everything I saw Twinkie do; my therapist would be so proud! LOL (just kidding.) I just happened kind of naturally. I put trust in Twinkie and in myself. If Zachary were truly lost, there wouldn't be anybody else for me to trust. I followed Twinkie's lead once I heard her say, "YES, it's YOU!". Just like with Aubrey. It's funny how things come full circle sometimes.