The Story of Miley - What's it Like to Compete in a Tracking Test?

Post date: Apr 19, 2009 9:29:33 PM

By Rhonda Hensley


I thought about the writing assignment: "What it's like to compete in a tracking test?" and realized the test is only a small part of the picture. The real question is how did I end up in a tracking test? Why was Miley a part of my life?  What was the importance of tracking?


The story begins over 10 years ago with Cody, my heart dog, and my first introduction to tracking. I was visiting a friend and we went to a park to go tracking with Ralph Swingle.  Cody was a natural who loved to track from the moment I got him. He was always in the yard tracking various critters.  He tracked and located his pal, Fritz the cat, on numerous occasions. At the time, I was busy with agility and other AKC events but promised myself to someday find time to track.   Unfortunately, due to work, a second relocation and health issues, Cody’s career in agility ended in his prime.  Enter Jennifer Benedict, who was my second introduction to tracking.  I had the pleasure of watching Jennifer run a regulation track with Wiley, her Belgian Tervuren.  They were a very inspiring team to watch. Then Jennifer showed me the latest method of tracking laying and off I was with Cody. He had no need for cookies and eagerly followed the track to the glove.  I knew if I was going to start tracking, it had to be with Cody.  My desire to go tracking was put on hold in 2007 as things occurred beyond my control. Both Cody and I had surgery. Cody's surgery removed his spleen.  Both our surgeries were done due to abnormal growths. I joked how we were having a contest to see who could have the most body parts removed and still live. Unfortunately, Cody lost the bet in September, when he was diagnosed with hemangioscramoa.  I spent my time helping him recover from the surgery and then making life the best I could for him.  His diagnosis was 0 to 3 months.  Prayers were said asking for him to recover from surgery and have a few good days. He had a few good days and then some more. In December, I said good-bye to my best friend. Cody peacefully passed away in one of his favorite resting places at home.


I was blessed to have extra time with him and cherished every moment we spent together. Although all of my dogs are special, the bond with Cody was extremely close and we had the ability to communicate without words.  Our bond was developed by communication and respect and built over years of changes that life throws one's way.  This bond is what tracking is all about. We were all sadly affected by Cody's passing. Emmy, the youngest member of the pack, went into a deep depression and I was in shock and denial. 


 Life moved forward and in February, 2008, I went to see Miley's litter.   Chambray was their uncle and I had wanted to see the puppies as they are beginning their journeys.  I had no intention of getting one.  I had plans in the distant future of getting another male Shepherd or male puppy from Chambray. What did I know?  Sometimes life throws you a curve ball that turns into a home run.  I watched the puppies interact with each other and their mother, Poppy, and the people around them.  Their intelligence and problem solving abilities shined through. I was impressed with Poppy’s mothering abilities and how she tailored her interaction with each puppy to bring out the best in them.  I went home and downloaded photos to send to Sally Jo and Mikki.   Some of Miley’s mannerisms reminded me of Cody.  She had made me smile and her personality jumped out from the photos. I picked up the phone and called Mikki, the breeder, and made plans to add Miley to our household.


A small puppy now had huge shoes to fill and an even larger gap of the heart to heal. Miley was perfect, she had an outgoing, adventuresome personality and showed no fear. She had a fierce determination to achieve her goals.  All of these traits were needed as she came into a grieving household on March 8, 2008.


I knew immediately, I wanted to track with her just as it was the sport I had wanted to do with Cody. As a puppy, I thought her attention span would be short so I decided to take Chambray along to give her breaks. On April 13, 2008 our first lessons with Sally Nesbitt began.   From there it was early morning drives in dense fog, through fog tunnels and traffic detours.  At times it seemed like we were flying instead of driving.  We went to many different parks and these allowed for plenty of distractions and cross tracks.  Sally remained a patient teacher, mentor and coach while we began our journey of building a team.


While Miley and I learned and built a relationship, Miley had rescued Emmy from her depression. Emmy became a youngster again, actively playing tug, chase and whatever other fun games Miley decided to invent. 


When the first BTCSC tracking test started coming together, I decided to set a goal to be ready for the test to support the club.  In addition, I felt it would be a great way to pay respect to “Jeep”,  CH CT O-Tahn- Agon Cinema Duet  HT owned By Beth Walker. Jeep was the only dog to win Best in Show at an all breed show that also had a Champion tracking title.  We now had a goal and a date for


our first test. Along the way Miley lost her puppy coat and acted as if she had never seen a track before. She was on track the next time out. Due to tracking tests coming up and other events, we were cutting it close to get a change to certify. The first time we were exposed to field conditions I worked Chambray and certified him. I had no time to work Miley and set another date to get Miley certified. We met at a new location.   Miley was having a blast with her first exposure to a field and thought the birds were great.   On her certification track, a few birds flew out of the brush. I thought she was goofing off but she was telling them to leave her glove alone.  She convinced me to follow her and there was the glove in front of the very bush were she had flushed the birds. Lesson learned: trust your dog, follow your dog.


Miley tracking as a pup. 


Chambray and Miley were now certified and ready to go.  Like us, dogs are individuals.   Miley imitated a fly ball dog, barking and demanding her track as a puppy. A multitasker, she was ready to change and go on to something else if her teammate was not holding up their end of the bargain. But she always knew where her track was and was ready to continue on when I was ready.  She took power naps as a puppy and was always game for fearless adventures.   Chambray’s goal was to please and go with the flow. In class situations, he was the observer and then exhibited the desired behavior.   We were off to our first AKC tracking test.


Miley obtained her first official AKC title, Tracking Dog, on January 11, 2009 at her first AKC event.  Although she continued to fill the gap in my heart, I found that my wild child and I were building a new relationship of trust, respect and appreciation.  We were moving forward to new adventures. 


Chambray did not earn a title that day due to my failure  to uphold my part of the teamwork. However, we experienced that special moment during the test where time stands still and you are one with your dog.   I stood quietly at the end of the line appreciating Chambray outlined against the sky.  In that moment, I knew I wanted to spend more time tracking with Chambray..... to be able to share more moments like these, one on one, where time stands still and all is well.


So, what is a tracking test about?  It is about displaying your relationship with your dog to others.  It is about hope, teamwork, trust and respect for each other.  It is about all the little things that build up to the big day.  It is about playing games, having fun and appreciating the time we have with our loved companions.  Test day or trialing is just a part of our lives with our dogs. Remember to appreciate the moment. Experiencing this -being one with our dogs - is far more important than achieving any title or award.


For pictures of Rhonda & Miley at the January Tracking Test, see