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Photo Kathy Madden
"Malibu" earned her AKC Champion Tracker (CT) title on Sunday, June 20, by passing the Lenape VST Variable Surface Tracking Test. Her test took place on a college campus and took one hour to complete. She drew track #4, and by the time she started the temperature was already in the upper 80's in full sun, and climbing. Not ideal conditions for a 10 1/2 year old, black, long-haired Belgian!  Read judge Ed Presnell's account of Malibu's track.

Since the VST program started in 1995, only 220 dogs of any breed have achieved Champion Tracker titles. Of those 220, 15 Belgians have earned this honor with Malibu being #15. The CT title is incredibly difficult to achieve. The dog must pass all three of the AKC tracking tests, each testing different areas and levels of scentwork skills, following the trail of the track layer, who represents a lost person, and finding personal articles that were dropped.

First comes a certification test, and then the Tracking Dog (TD) test, typically held in grassy fields with the direction of the first part of the track shown. The track is 440-500 yards long, has 3-5 turns, and is aged from 30 minutes to 2 hours, with a glove at the starting flag to give the scent and a glove or wallet at the end of the track that the dog must find. After earning the TD title, the dog may then go on to test for Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX) or for Variable Surface Tracking (VST) or both. TDX tests include changing terrain and are held in fields and woods. Obstacles such as ditches, roads, streams, logs and fences are included to test the dog’s ability to adapt to changing scent conditions and continue scenting while overcoming physical challenges. This can be quite a challenge for the handler, as well. The direction of the track is not shown at the start and many dogs fail before they ever get started. There are four different articles to find, with one at the start to provide the scent the dog should follow, and the rest along the track. Click here to see the map of Malibu's TDX Track.

The VST test is considered the crowning achievement for a tracking dog. It is meant to demonstrate the ability of the dog to track in an urban environment. It can take years of training to prepare for this test. Virtually everything in VST is difficult! Up to 2/3 of the track is on non-vegatated surfaces. The dog must deal with transitions from concrete sidewalks to pavement to short grass and go up and down ramps and steps and bridges. The track is 600-800 yards long with 6-8 turns, including the MOT (Moment of Truth) which is usually in the middle of a parking lot. Meanwhile, crowds of people and vehicles cross back and forth over the aging track that was laid 3-5 hours before the start of the test. The scent trail can easily move from where it was laid because non-vegatative surfaces do not hold the scent the way long grass does. VST articles are also small and hard to find, made of leather, cloth, plastic and metal.

Maura's Memories:   I've been trying to write the perfect email about Malibu but keep stopping with each wonderful memory and going over to to hug her and say, remember your certification track in the sand pit? Remember the woods you handled like pavement (and I was too inexperienced to understand) at the 2006 Specialty TDX test? Remember the girls who came out of the dark to mob you while you were working a night track at the college and you just waited while all three hugged you at once and when they were done, said goodbye and went right back down the track as though nothing had happened?  Remember... remember... remember...


Maura and new CT Malibu
                Photo J. Bunderla & N. Grove

Kathy's Memories:   Remember how when the "Black Tervs" were born, I kept rubbing them with a towel thinking they were just very wet? And then at 5 weeks old I almost lost the whole litter to west nile virus and bacterial encephalitus. But they were strong and determined. There was this one black female who was always so serious looking, sitting and observing everything with such intentness. I always wondered what she was thinking about - crime scene analysis on her brothers' activities? Surely something involving brain power and special abilities. If someone had said then, that puppy will grow up to be a Champion Tracker, I would have said - Oh yes, I do believe she could do that - super scentwork and problem solving abilities! Oh yes!!!


Baby Boo, future Champion Tracker
        Photo Kathy Madden

Click here for Malibu's Pedigree

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Kathy Madden
Montage Tervuren
New York, NY USA