PENNY, A 4-year-old black standard poodle, has degrees in obedience and in tracking. This weekend, she may become one of a kind.
Her owner, Joyce Lindloff, explains that on Sunday, when the Oriole Dog Training Club holds its tracking trials at Three Ring Farm in Upperco, Penny will be working for her TDX, Tracking Dog Excellent, the highest degree in tracking.
''If she gets it, she may be the only standard poodle in the country with that title. We do not know of another of this breed that has the degree. I even called the American Kennel Club about it and was told that the AKC doesn't keep records by the breeds, but they do not know of another standard poodle with a TDX,'' says Lindloff. Poodles excel in obedience training, she says, but owners seldom take them on to tracking although it is something any dog can do.
Penny is also in training for her UD (Utility Dog) in obedience, but her owner believes ''a dog gets much more pleasure in training for tracking.
''For one thing, dogs seem born to track and have real fun doing it. They are on a lead that is longer and less restrictive, but most of all they are outdoors working and, in essence, playing with their owners.''
Lindloff explains how to go about training in tracking. ''You put your dog on a lead that is at least 40 to 50 feet. Someone handles your dog while you go out about 50 yards and wave the scent object, generally a glove, in the air calling 'Hey Penny see what I have here' and you drop it. Penny would get so hyped up she couldn't wait to come and see what I had dropped.
''Each time she was allowed to run out to me she was told to 'track,' and in this way as I went farther and farther out, Penny became more and more aware of the word 'track.'
''Eventually I went beyond Penny's view and she would hear me call but couldn't see me or what I had. Now she must find the article strictly by scent, and that was even more fascinating to watch. She would hear me and begin to search by looking for me with her head in the air, then you'd see her nose go straight to the ground as she began to pick up my scent. Of course you offer tons of praise when she finds the article,'' says Lindloff.
Eventually you lay a track with flags designating turns, she says. ''Every step you take and every flag you put in the ground has your scent. And, the longer you stand at any one spot, the stronger your scent will be at that spot,'' she says.
Although a scent can last for a long time, it does float away just like smoke from a fire, she says. As it floats away it can cling to other things, and also a rabbit may run across the track or the wind may be extra strong.
''A dog must keep with the original scent and must keep working at all times, so you just keep telling him to track and that keeps him from getting any ideas about chasing rabbits,'' she says.
On Sunday, a judge will lay the scent, which must be about three hours old but not more than five. Along a track of a minimum of 800 yards but not more than 1,000, there will be a minimum of five turns but not more than eight. Also several objects will be placed along the way with a glove at the end. Penny must work the entire track, pick up each object, including the glove, and not deviate once.
''If she does go the wrong way, the judge blows a whistle and we're out,'' says Lindloff, who has heard only one whistle. ''I was several months pregnant and training Percy, who went the wrong way at a flag, and that whistle was horrible. I still hear it,'' she says.
On Sunday, the trials for dogs working on TDs or TDXs will be held from 8 a.m. to late afternoon. They are free. For trial information, call Janet L. Gauntt, 252-4842.
Directions to Three Ring Farm are to go north on Falls Road road to Rt. 88, which is about 4.2-miles past the intersection of Falls and Shawan roads. At Rt. 88 go left for 2.3 miles and turn left onto Millender Mill Road. The farm is about one-half mile and is identified by a sign.
Don't complicate search and rescue
Joyce Lindloff has this advice for would-be helpers or spectators during emergency tracking procedures. ''When a dog has become a tracker he can also become a search-and-rescue dog, and the scents he must track in rescue are often very, very faint. Those who want to help in an emergency search should stay away and not mess up the area with their scents.''