As seen in the Oklahoma Newspaper ~ August 27, 2007

Article from the Southwestern Division Regional Pacesetter Newsletter ~ October 2007 Vol. 2, No. 11

The dog days of summer ...
Fort Worth teammate makes progress with tracking dogs

Melanie Ellis
Pacesetter Staff


As the dog days of summer come to an end, Deb Davis, Sam Rayburn Lake, and her "boys," Yaqui and Forest, are still tracking.

Davis, a former horse trainer, decided to try her hand at training tracking dogs after moving to East Texas from Tennessee.

"When we moved, we brought my favorite show gelding with us," she said. "However, the heat and humidity were more than
a mountain-bred horse like that can stand so we returned him to Tennessee. I decided to try another training venue - dogs."
The American Kennel Club tracking tests allow a dog to demonstrate its natural ability to recognize and follow human scent, a
skill that is useful in the service of mankind. Tracking, by nature, is a vigorous, noncompetitive outdoor sport.

"Before a dog can enter a tracking test, I must obtain a certifi cation which can only be given by a tracking judge," Davis said. "In essence, the dog earns his Tracking Dog title twice because the certifi cation must be administered in the exact same conditions as the test."

While most dogs and their owners wait until the dog is two to three years of age before they start tracking, Davis and her dog Yaqui began tracking when he was just eight weeks old. "Yaqui came home and we started tracking, running huge fi ve-yard tracks," she said. "For an eight-week-old puppy, a fi ve-yard track is huge and requires a lot of concentration and work on its part." One thing led to another and soon Yaqui was tracking 500 yards with ease. A little less than a year later, Forest joined the family and began tracking too.

In the tracking world, dogs earn four titles, Tracking Dog, Tracking Dog Excellence, Variable Surface Tracking and Champion Tracker. After they are certifi ed, each title becomes more diffi cult to obtain. Earning the title of Tracking Dog means that a dog has followed a scent for 440 to 500 yards with three to fi ve changes in direction. The track is laid by an individual who wears street clothes and shoes and who walks in a normal fashion - no dragging or scuffi ng of feet to provide a heavier scent. Then, the track sets without interruption, a process called aging, from 30 minutes to two hours. There is an article left at the end of the trail for the dog to retrieve if it has successfully completed the track.

"Yaqui successfully passed his Tracking Dog test at the Terv Nationals at nine months old," said Davis. "I look for Forest to pass when he is about the same age." The next test that Yaqui and Davis are preparing for is the Tracking Dog Excellence test. The track will age longer, will include more turns and more articles for the dog to retrieve.

"This one is more difficult because it also has the challenge of additional human cross tracks," said Davis.


Forest in his harness waiting for the track plotting to be fi nished so he can start his job.


Yaqui's official photo taken on April 30, 2007, after he earned
the Tracking Dog title.

"That means that people other than the track layer will walk in and around the track to create fresh scents to try to throw the dog off the trail. If the dog leaves the original track and follows a cross track, it is disqualified."

"This one is more difficult because it also has the challenge of additional human cross tracks," said Davis. "That means that people other than the track layer will walk in and around the track to create fresh scents to try to throw the dog off the trail. If the dog leaves the original track and follows a cross track, it is disqualified."

"The Variable Surface Tracking test is a real world test," said Davis. "In the real world, dogs track through urban settings, as well as through wilderness. The dog has to demonstrate its ability to follow a three- to five-hour-old track that may lead down a street, through a building or other areas devoid of vegetation." After earning the Tracking Dog title, the Tracking Dog Excellence title, and the Variable Surface title, dogs may compete for the Champion Tracker title. "This is my ultimate goal," said Davis. "I
want to train my dogs to this level so we can be part of the National Invitation Championship."

Many tracking dogs are used to fi nd people who are lost, or locate bombs, drugs and many other things that humans cannot smell. The realization that Davis was training her dogs to perform this skill became an immediate reality when a neighbor frantically ran to her front door asking for help. "We were told that one of our neighbors had a three-year-old grandson who had wandered off into the Angelina National Forest," said Davis. "They wanted to use our tracking dog to help fi nd him."

The Angelina National Forest surrounds the Small Black Forest community where Davis and her neighbors live. The little boy was playing next to his grandfather while he chopped wood, then wandered away. So Davis, her husband, and Yaqui raced to the site where the boy was last seen. "All I could think about was that having this dog trained to track could actually save this boy's life," she said. "I knew that this tracking would mean far more than any title issued by an organization. I was so grateful that my dog was trained and I knew he could find this child."

Thankfully, the child wandered back out of the forest into a neighbor's yard and they phoned it into to the sheriff's offi ce. "It's a life-changing thought to know that Yaqui could have found this little boy," she said. "If the need arises again, I know our neighbors will knock on our door and we'll be ready to respond."