It is hot. It is very hot. It is FREAKING BLAZING HOT AND I AM DONE WITH SUMMER! Whew! That felt good to type out :) I usually like having 4 distinct seasons...unless one of those seasons abuses its power and tries to kill my dogs when working trails (or any other time). I tend to work better in the cooler weather, and so do my fur partners. Most of my family headed to CA for a family reunion, and I got left manning watering a huge grass front yard, taking care of horses, cats, dogs, including my brothers dog who was left to 'visit with his cousins.' I have hidden source, getting more and more innovative, and article/evidence items which got smaller and smaller - to a single bullet. Dogs kick butt and find everything. Good. But it is too d@$% HOT, and all my track layers or in CA..... or are they?
Having a good friend and student (horses) take me up on a (not so) subtle suggestion posed as a question, to lay a trail for my dogs, and BAM! She made it happen!!!! Super super cool of her (cool used in the descriptive manner, not actual...unfortunately), however, having someone with no odor theory understanding lay a trail without any parameters or information....well, it means it will be an intersting trail...very realistic 😲🤨🙂😉❤
I get an early morning text letting me know she has layed a three mile trail for me...not more than 30 seconds later I get a text a mission in the neighboring state is needing us... Hmmm. I inform IC my time parameters of arrival, shoot a text back to my friend letting her know of my appreciation, but the mission. Begin chaotic deconstruction of normal morning rituals - but dogs know why and are bouncing off the walls. Forty five minutes later, the wonderful stand down text comes through and I ring up my friend; we can do the trail!!
Now, I have never been in the area the trail is laid and I am informed the terrain is rugged...and 3 miles...and did I mention it is hot? IT'S HOT! Even the cool morning is showing the abuse the sun is inflicting early on. I know that she is a very busy woman, one who has kindly laid a trail for me; work is tomorrow...the heat is unending.. I ask if there is a way to split the trail in the middle without causing trouble (cue long and detailed explanation of how new fresher odor can be 'relayed' over original trail creating an interesting nightmare... and how to best not do so) and to my utter delight, there is a way. Hurray! I decide I will work my boy first; he moves slower than my girl, it is getting hotter, and since the trail will only be about 3hrs old for him, I figure it should be a 'breeze,' a breeze straight off the fire pit of hell, but a breeze. My girl is pacing like a rabid caged monkey, but I try to let her down easy.. "Honey, your trail is later this evening...when the furnace doors are closed and it isn't so hot." I smile at her, hoping she feels reassured. She doesn't. Oh well, I know better than to bring her along and leave her in the car; she would be a puddle of melted dog, no thanks.
My boy bolts through the door, almost mushing his nose on it in the effort. While I understand his feelins of urgency, I am not impressed with the rudeness, but I have to focus my attention on my girl and my brothers dog who figure if they rush the door together, they might make it. "Ah- ah!" My stern voice shuts down both dogs instantly, but my girl is quick in throwing a couple of the most pitiful looks my way making me feel like a heel for leaving her. I know she will forgive me when it is her turn, but the looks still sting. My boy on the other hand is dancing by the back door of the car, eager to secure his spot and assured trail. I open the door and he leaps in, almost being knocked back by the wall of heat the enclosed car had been saving. I slide in on the driver side and quickly lower all four windows, I know the breeze will scrub the heat out qucikly.
The ten minute drive to my friends barn is well known to my boy, and his excited chirping has already begun. When we arrive, my friend loads up into her car and we drive to the PLS and where I will get a little information that is crucial to this trail. You see, my friend walked a wonderfully rugged and long trail, but ultimately, the PLS becomes the end spot... uh oh. Thanmkfully, I've worked solo for so long, I've figured ways around this problem, and the solution is quite simple... begin further up the trail. What I don't know will happen, is that while my boy will be only running 1.5miles of the 3 mile trail, terrain features, wind shifts, the trail itself (especially the latter half of the trail meant for my girl) and other factors will make this trail more complicated. And then of course there is the unrelenting sun and dry air. My friend heads back to her car to drive to the end spot , or the half way point of the long version of the trail. I, load up water, water, and more water; and my little 380..ya never know.
I make sure my boy takes a long cool swig of water before we begin, double check my gear, shut and lock the car door, throw my backpack on, grab his harness and put it on him, then grab the line. We will walk up to the start, and then a bit further beyond that. The very first part of the trail is shades of what the whole trail will be.... uphill. UGH. Engaging billy goat DNA..now! I scent my boy, throw the article into my backpack so I don't have to hike back to the car, and attach the line to my upward bounding dog. I think the scent article was a bit redundant, as he had figured out when we met up with my friend, that this would be who he would be tracking. Once I had begun walking up the trail away from the heavily congested end/PLS point, he had already struck out on his own in obvious odor and indicative of trailing behavior. Either way, he is working the trail up the step, sandy hill. Loose deadfall corpses lay strewn everywhere, and the sticky (literally, not pokey sticky, but sticky sticky) galium aparine begin their walk up my leg. I am grateful my boys pace is slower than my girls, for I am already feeling the elevation climb, and the nice breeze that cooled the sweat, has disappeared for the time. The radiant heat off the sand based dirt is already making my boy pant more than he should be, and I am ever grateful that the upward climb pulls him to a bit more shady area.
I love watching my dogs work... it is magical. How clear their body language is when they are working ground based odor, target odor that calls them to pursue it at all cost. The harmony singing from dog to harness up the line to my seasoned hand, is a song that holds my heart, fully. My canine partner and I are one, communication humming up the leather and back down; it is clear and precise, my boy is in odor, healthy, strong, and on the hunt. I am already very glad I opted to use my boy first, as my girl is much faster and this uphill march is already kicking my booty. It isn't long before my boy works through the maze of scrub brush and parched saplings and onto a logging road. This makes the going easier and I thankfully suck in some warm oxygen. I don't like the fact my boys tongue has already begun to expand so early on.
An old logging trail appears to our right, the overgrowth tells a story of abandonment and neglect - but not for long. My boy's nose has swung this way and his body follows. The upward climb has abated a bit, and my eyes scan for any shade. My boy pauses for a moment, casts himself a circle and decides to turn to the left and onto a deer trail. A deer trail that is on a mountain... a steep mountain... a large, long, steep mountain. I begin to follow him, and when he suddenly doubles back I struggle to keep myself from uttering a "Good boy." Encouraging a dog is a good thing, but not when you have absolutely zero knowledge if what they are is doing correct. I have no idea where our subject is or how she got there, other than what my boy is telling me. I manage to pinch off the verbal praise just as he swings back onto the upward climb....bugger! I quelch my inner grumbling, my boy is doing a fine job and I have a double blind trail before me. Awesome!
The deer path we are following is not very well defined. There are many forks and splintering to trails laying below us; my boy chooses none of them, he is on an upward climb. The trees that offer us shade from their massive limbs is greatly appreciated, it drops the temperature and shelters my boy from the radiant heat the sand was producing. I watch him to see if their is any change in his body to alert me to a missed turn or loss of odor. There is none, and I am able to drop my eyes down to make sure I am not tripped by the deadfall, and knobby heads of buried rocks. I estimate we have gone about half a mile (all uphill I might add), and while my mind ticks away the calculations, my ears hear the sounds of a hot dog. Time to give my boy some refreshments! I call him to me as I swing my backpack off my shoulders. The white lines of drying saliva on his tongue is disturbing, and I am reminded why I like to do summer trainings by rivers or creeks. The water bottle is offered towards my boy who slurps the cool liquid with abandon. He drinks his fill and squishes his face into a smile for me, the muscles around his eyes crinkling as his jaw clamps shut but his lips are drawn upwards into a smile. It is truly a remarkable feat, for I doubt many other dogs have the minute muscle control needed to perform such an act...my boy has many talents, lol.
The brief break is soon over and I ask my boy to resume his work. He quickly doubles back over himself and into odor. We climb for another five minutes, my boy occassionally pausing, a head pop further uphill, and then straight ahead, and then downhill. I wonder if he is getting air scent from the subject, or if the scent trail is rolling down hill due to the incline and the convection currents that carry odor above the ground and into the air. When he decides to descend I follow, I recognize that his behavior has changed somewhat, and I believe he is fringing. I really begin to wonder when he drops about 75ft down then heads the opposite direction. My experience tells me that the body language he is telgraphing through the line, coupled with the heat and steep terrain means that he could be following the rolled odor and a scent pool collected by the vegetation. He is panting hard due to exertion and heat and I don't want to run out of dog, or hurt him, before we find our person. Heat exhaustion/stroke is a real and viable potential problem, one that I don't want my boy to suffer. So, I dial up my friend and ask if she dropped down on the mountain and doubled back. I tell her I believe he is working over the trail he already worked, just in a scent pool. My suspicions are confirmed; she did not work down the hillside. I call my boy to me and water him again. I examine him for signs that he is too hot or taxed. His eyes are clear, his panting eases, and he barks in my face when I put some cool water on his pitts under his front legs. "You want to find her still?" The question is met with another loud bark immediately followed by him heading up the hill...good.
Thankfully, I confirmed my suspicion before we had gone to much further down. I know when my boy has grabbed the trail again, and further up we climb. We have almost reached the top and I can see that an old atv trail lays before us. Relief from the non stop incline is a welcomed change. Unfortunately, my boy decides to run parallel to the summit, and then works back down the mountain; he is giving a proximity alert and pulling hard. I check my GPS and see we have gone a little under a mile. This means there is still a half mile available to be had should my boy be working close to the track, which up to this point, his body language says he has been. Not knowing the terrain, but seeing a fire road below us, I quickly rationalize that it is a viable solution; my subject had to drive to get into place, so a fire road makes sense.
Down the hillside we go, my boy acting like he is in full odor. When we hit the fire road, I look for any footprints to confirm my boys behavior. He crosses the road and begins to head down another hill, but stops himself and head pops to his right, and up the (stupid) mountain we had just climbed. I watch my boy hoping for a clearer picture of where his subject is... He casts himself back over the path that heads down, hesitates for a moment, and then works back onto the road, a small head pop uphill following every few strides. Since this is a partnership, my job is to interpret what he smells and help him when I can. This is the information I am processing: 1.) Odor tends to roll downhill so his head pops could be due to subject being above us 2.) It is hot and dry, both being unkind to scent trails. It also creates a convection current lifting the odor potentially above the dogs head. 3.) The winds have shifted a couple of times, and while they aren't super strong, they can carry odor a good distance when coupled with the altitude our subject might be at, and the heat which lifts it into the air. 4.) It is possible we have jumped to another part of the trail which worrries me a bit because we have the potential of missing our subject all together if he 'jumped' trail to what will be my girls trail later this evening. 5.) It is HOT and I know I am running out of dog faster than I like.... All this information is analyzed and pieced into the puzzle. My boy will have the final say...
When my boy decisively decides to stay on the logging road, I figure it is a good middle ground. If our subject is below us and we are running parallel to the trail, it is likely he will pick up on the air scent when we get closer. If she is above us, the same will occur. The one variable I am suspicious on is that he could be following the fresh car trail. Now, there is alot of skepticism about the ability for a dog to work an odor trail from a car. But, we are not in the city, and hers would be the only car in the area. I don't know if her windows were up or down, but air conditioner would be going if they weren't. My boys body language and the way he is working the odor tells me we are not on the track but in definite odor. If he is running the car trail, then we will find her one way or the other. If he is working the fringe odor, then he will air scent to her when we get close enoug or the wind works to our favor. Either way, it is time to water my dog again....
My boy has slowed his pace but has not stopped working the odor. I admire his dedication, especially in this uncomfortable heat. I study him and determine he is still good to go, but I will be sure to break him in the shade every few minutes. I have watched him stop head popping toward the left and downhill, but he still has head pops to his right. He has paused a couple of times, obviously indecisive on where the odor is strongest. My suspicion is that our subject is at the top of the mountain, and that the odor has been blown and rolled down our way. The heat has lifted the odor, or destroyed parts of it, creating broken chain events... His scent picture is not clear or complete. When we come to a fork in the road, my boy is confident in selecting the right, I am not. He has not exhibited trailing behavior for some time, and while I know he is in odor, I also know that odor can travel a good distance and I my boy will suffer for it. I make the call to make the call.. Once again my friend answers the phone and I ask her if she is on the mountain or below. She is above on the mountain. I ask her if she walked alot of logging road and she says no. I try to tell her where I am, but outside of power lines behind me, there aren't really any easy features to describe. I am in mid sentence when I see a red vehicle waaaaay up on the mountain... it is her.
I hang up the line and head back with my boy all the way marvelling at what has happened. I still don't know how my friend got to where she is, that will wait until we reach her. But, what I do know is that my boy has been working the fringe odor, and what I was reading is correct. The winds have been behind my friend blowing the odor down into the valley. While my friend tried to describe what she was, she did say she had crossed the logging road which would be a part of my girls trail. This confirms my suspicions. The other question I will have for her is if this is the way she came to reposition herself... I haven't seen fresh tire tracks, but it is so dry that could be because they are not obvious. My boys head pops have been due to getting blasts of odor when the breeze floated it down the mountain. As we walk back towards the area we will ascend, I see his pace quicken, then slow, quicken then slow... Since he isn't on track, he is only getting pockets of odor, just enough to lure him, teasing as it rides the waves of heat.
Reclimbing the mountain is not fun! I stop and rest my boy several times, concerned for his well being. I know how tired and hot I am, so I can only imagine what he must be feeling. About 500ft from the summit, my boy gets a full blast of his subject and bolts up to her (I had taken his line and harness off) and is rewarded with food and water. When I finally drag my body up and stop the GPS, my friend looks worried. "Are you ok?" A lifted finger, the universal sign to wait, is all she gets while I suck air and find a spot in the shade to sit in. I am eager to find out what she did, but it can wait until the tunnel vision opens back up. My boy has found a nice shady spot and is enjoying the rest, his belly is happy from his treats and his thirst satiated.
My boy was about 50ft from the summit, which she took, before he had descended back down the hill to the fire road. My friend had paced up and down the road at the top while she waited, totally unaware that she was creating pools of odor and fresh trails each time. When my boy hit the fire road and considered crossing and going down the next, he was on top of the track that my girl will later run. His head pops back up the mountain were due to my friend pacing about a tenth of a mile at a time. Yes, he was following the car trail, when he selected the road to the right. He had been balancing the air scent odor coming from the top of the mounatin with the odor spilled from her car...which was the freshest as the track was 3 hours old and the car trail was 30 minutes old. I don't know why he got pulled off the track so close to the summit. Possibly due to the track being in the direct sunlight, or a gust of wind blowing his subjects odor down the mountain... I am not sure. But I do know what he would have found her by continuing on the logging trail which wound its way up to her. He never quit, despite how hot and dry it was, and I am happy that I was able to read him correctly. If this had been an actual misson, I would have relayed the head pops to IC. Ground teams, or an air scent dog, would have been sent up the mounatin, and one below. Considering I will find out later that evening that he was often paralleling the second half of the trail, it makes even more sense why he was so torn between which odor he was to follow. Since SAR is a team event, the subject would have been found either way.
My boy was treated with extra goodies and a run through the sprinklers (he actually just stands over them letting the jet stream pound on his chest, silly boy) when we arrive home. My girl is a bit put out being left behind, and will demand reassurance all day until her trail is run. My boy did a great job, and I am super proud of him. These type of trails remind me time and again, that odor is not straightforward. It is a puzzle that the dogs skillfully piece together, but somtimes, not all the pieces are there and available to them. This is when the partnership is truly tested and only time, experience, and the faith in your dog and their ability/training will give you success.