New Online Course Teaches you to Crack the Code on Urban Tracking

Do you like puzzles? Are you someone who enjoys problem solving and trying to find innovative solutions to things? If you are a tracker and want to stretch your mind and challenge yourself in a practical way, you will love this new course on plotting and map making! It will make you a stronger tracking team to develop awareness of scent, flow and designing a great track.

My goal as a coach and instructor is to help you to improve your performance and inspire you to train for excellence, enjoyment and success! Please note that all unique ideas and training suggestions, content and photos are (c) Spiritdance Coaching & Tracking, Donna Brinkworth. 

The newest online tracking course at Spiritdance Tracking will guide you through urban tracking mysteries. The goal is to increase awareness and the ability to plot GOOD tracks and train well, to be ready for anything.

What can you look forward to? Work with me, a Professional Coach and CKC Tracking Judge, and most importantly a self-professed Geek about all things tracking!

  • Beginners – develop new skills and better habits by training in urban areas, read the environment and learn to handle and read your dog
  • Intermediate trackers – begin to design and run more challenging tracks, increasing your dog’s independence and problem solving, and gaining your own mental skills to cope with more difficult tracks
  • Experienced trackers – move into the area of ‘unconscious competence’ where your handling and body movements are like a well-rehearsed dance, freeing you up to experience heightened awareness of your dog’s sometimes vague cues on long, aged tracks. Train using secrets of Olympic athletes to have more focus, get into the zone and  have a sense of place, all while keeping track of direction and environmental challenges and opportunities.

The key to all of this is understanding how to train in urban environments – and at the core of this is scent understanding, and good plotting.

Urban plotting is like the Rubik’s Cube of tracking. I call coming up with a good urban track ‘cracking the code.

UTDX track LU
This is the final version of a UTDX track that was run successfully by a *new* Master Tracking Champion (Dawn Sanderson and her GSD “Adam” in Thunder Bay). I drafted at least three maps before arriving in town to plot, then walked the site with test organizer Karen Boyes to come up with a final track that I felt had the right mix of challenges and flow. What a thrill to see this team run it successfully to become the second MTCH team in Canada!

Plotting urban tracks is like a mystery game of staring at maps or driving in circles around a potential tracking site until a solution appears. Other great words offered by a thesaurus for ‘decoding’ are:

  • Figure out
  • Interpret
  • Untangle
  • Decypt
  • Make clear
  • Work out

This is exactly what we are doing when we plot urban tracks. Working in urban areas is complex, yet can be a better training experience for teams at all levels than working in an open field. Cracking the code means finding the flow; figuring out what scent is doing in urban settings – around buildings, landscaping, sidewalks and over streets and parking lots, and yes, along curbs!



In my seminars and online lessons, beginners work scent flow around buildings and through useful outdoor features such as fencing, boulders, concrete parking barriers or corridors.

These encourage dogs to move forward or turn as they work what I call ‘active scent.’ Understanding these basics is the beginning of your training to ‘see scent.’

From there we begin to string things together in sequences to achieve a number of training goals in urban areas. We also begin to arrange pieces together in various orders by degree of difficulty or by desired goals. When we do this, we are taking our first steps to design a track. Examples may include:

  • easy / hard / easy OR easy / easy / hard
  • start / problem / easy / end
  • sheltered start / turn around a building / pass the end of the building and go straight
  • start into the wind / turn on veg before a road / head into next parking lot for article
  • long straight leg covering multiple surfaces with multiple articles – start on veg, end on non veg

Aging is random according to conditions and goals. In the beginning we age tracks just enough to let residual scent blow away; UNLESS our goal is to use fresh scent to pull our dogs along edges and through scent pools to give them clarity and confidence.

Eventually we design long tracks and build endurance and problem-solving skills in our dogs. We build this in our own minds too, as so much of this kind of tracking requires spatial awareness and environmental and dog-reading observation skills.

These can only come when we are operating at a level of kinetic excellence with respect to handling and moving with our dogs. This of course means repetition and exposure for great habits to develop. Like any athlete we work on muscle memory and form, as well as on visualization and the ability to make snap-decisions based on instant information-gathering.

Ben manhol

A tracker operating at this level is in the zone. Being ‘visual’ we are more able to develop our skills in urban environments where we have more cues feeding our senses. And we all know that the toughest skills we require for tracking excellence are to read the environment and read our dogs. Urban tracking gives us these skills in spades.

Dogs may excel on lovely wet veg, but in an open field we lack the cues we need for our minds to be challenged and to grow. People say ‘my dog just pulls me along!” when they work on nice veg. Don’t get me wrong – I believe we build our foundations on veg – and what nicer veg can you find than irrigated green grass in urban areas? The difference between an open field and an urban space is that we can ‘see’ more of the results of what we plot, and our dogs show us more of the impacts of good and bad plotting.

Micah car
My young GSD Micah indicating that there is an article UNDER this car! I deliberately did this to teach her it can happen. I placed it under the front bumper, but the short car parked there left, and a bigger car moved in. You can’t predict urban environments!

BAD plotting is my biggest pet peeve. Plotting is NOT just a matter of walking here and there, thinking that it doesn’t matter because your dog will simply follow where you walked. That is ignorant, bad plotting, particularly in the training phase.

From early training through to your Masters Tracking title, you should focus on plotting, laying and running your own GOOD tracks. This is how you learn to read your dog, and read the environment. When you plot, you analyze and predict what will happen. You make the best use of the landscape to set your dog up for success – to nail turns, to solve problems and to move confidently forward in flow.

Last month I deliberately laid what I considered a very difficult track for my Tracking Champion and partner, 7-year-old Ben, a Border Collie. I tried to go against all of my ideas for good plotting, and aged it for 4.5 hours. Ben showed that he is up to the task of sticking with the primary track, problem solving and even ignoring some of the blatant scent traps I felt I set for him.

Even though I teach this and have tracked since 1989, I am always amazed by how our dogs can analyze and follow scent. But do they track like Ben, above, naturally? No! In this sport, we teach them, shape their behaviour, and work at clarity to communicate with them and seek their partnership to achieve OUR goals. Ben started out like any other pup, keen to use his nose, and happy for the time together. The ability he shows here developed over years of ongoing work together – keeping our skills sharp.

Understanding scent comes much easier in urban environments. As dogs are exposed to good tracks, they build skill and independence. Gradually encouraging them to solve problems – problems that YOU set up attempting to use your scent knowledge – gives them valuable experience. Laying these tracks yourself, you learn to read and observe your dog, plus you can step in and help when required, because struggling is not a way for any of us to learn – dogs included. Identifying problems is important as we can then address the gaps in our training to build up our partnership.

Experienced tracking dogs have acquired the skills to follow scent and solve problems. Experienced handlers have acquired the skills to read when their dog is on, or when it is working out a puzzle – even on a blind track or a test track.

So – tests. In CKC (or AKC) we design tests to challenge the skills of the dog – handler team. We also design tracks that provide the right amount of flow and an appropriate degree of difficulty to allow the team to demonstrate it’s ability to reach the end successfully. There are rules that involve location, math, ratios of veg to non-veg, aging, article placement, turns, angles and distances.

Ben UTDX last turn

People entering tests must understand these rules of the game. While we don’t always train to the rules – rather we train for good tracking – plotting test-style tracks also gives us the ability through repetition to get a feel for timing, spatial awareness, distance covered and the ‘feeling’ of a test track.

Believe me, dogs understand this too! We’ve all had dogs that know when the last, ‘precious’ leather article is coming up and build up speed and excitement. Or dogs that understand when they are lost along the way and go into their well-trained and determined search techniques to save our bacon.

While dogs should follow anywhere we have walked (because hey, a lost person doesn’t make nice 90-degree turns, and may parallel their own track or walk randomly down roads, right?) a good test track is designed and plotted so that it is passable and judgeable.

A judge uses their knowledge and scent expertise to plot tracks appropriate to the test level and attempts to avoid breaking rules, AND setting dogs up for a failure due to poor plotting design or setting a team off into an area where recovery is almost impossible.

We aren’t all aiming to be judges – but to excel in the sport – we should think about our knowledge and awareness of all of these things, to be as prepared as possible for every test level.

All of the above principles are at the core of my coaching programs for trackers at all levels, and will be more explained in my book! In the meantime I have decided that this is the course everyone requires for positive progress. No more random plotting without goals. No more wondering what your dog is doing and why! Look forward to growth and to mastering the puzzle – and cracking the code!

The new online course will focus on understanding scent, flow and how to use urban features constructively to train your dog, and yourself.


Course details:

Since December is a wonderful time to track, with snowman snow and time to spend with your dogs during the day, I will be starting this course in early December, then taking a pause over the holidays, resuming in January to catch up and keep going!

Participants will share areas they work in, and using Google Earth and Google Maps, we will analyze opportunities and identify scent traps and problem areas. Everyone will plot, analyze as a group, then run tracks – and share video to show the results.

2 hour online sessions will be held once a week on Tuesday evenings in December to get going, then every second week in the new year to give everyone time to get out. Winter tracking instruction will also be provided!

  • December 4, 11, 18
  • January 8, 22
  • February 5

Fee: $225 (less than $40 per session)

Maximum participants: 7 – classes are small for optimum attention and participation.
If enough people register, two sessions will be offered (a second one on Thursdays).

Deadline to register: Sunday, November 25

Registration link: 


I look forward to being your coach!





New Urban Scent Workshops are FULL!

If your group or club want a Spiritdance tracking seminar this is the one! We all start in urban environments now. Let’s do it with greater knowledge! If you are a keen urban competitor this workshop will give you ideas and insights into urban moving scent.

And if you are a new or aspiring Tracking Judge at the urban level you would find this workshop very helpful for plotting and for understanding what’s happening on the track!

These workshops are an idea I’ve developed over time focused on how to help people understand and train in he urban environment successfully – beginners and advanced.

The exercises I’ve designed will be enlightening and practical and will be all about predicting scent flow, plotting for success and article placement using urban concepts. Dogs will demonstrate our predictions to test our knowledge, in a series of short exercises in a variety of scenarios, locations, times and track ages.

The exercises are sure to bring out our inner geeks!

Everyone will also prepare their own scent maps! I’ve been studying Urban Scent for 12 years now and use my ideas to train and also to plot for tests when I judge. I love to watch dogs on test tracks handling challenges and shining when they are in flow.

Thank you to all of the wonderful trackers – students and friends – who have filled and practically over filled both June Urban Scent Tracking Workshops in Olds and Medicine Hat!!

I’m so honoured to have people attending from Edmonton, Red Deer, Calgary, and Medicine Hat. This is the first time I’ve filled a seminar in the Hat too. I love to work with such passionate people and am looking forward to these seminars. They will be fun!

Once I nail down the format I hope to offer more. I think it will be a workshop I can give anywhere in the future and a real “Spiritdance” brand! (Like my own Stinky Feet Workshop!)

Thanks guinea pigs, I mean trackers! It will be awesome!


NEW! Learn more about the exciting world of urban tracking and how scent works in settings like colleges, industrial parks, city streets and back alleys! Unravel the mystery of scent in urban areas to increase your success in training and tests!

TWO dates and two locations. Suitable for everyone wanting to understand scent theory and learn about tracking.

Medicine Hat AB: June 16-17

Please also visit my new website!

These workshops will offer in-class learning and outdoor theory in practice.

Experienced tracking teams will demonstrate scent flow and scent properties in these highly contaminated and ever-changing environments. These workshops are suitable for beginners to participate in as observers, to learn in-class and observe the teams at work.
BC Seminar
Working teams must already know how to track. Full tracks will not be provided – but working teams will be challenged to work in a variety of scenarios with many interesting challenges on both blind and known tracks. Some beginner (TD ready) teams may be able to take part depending on how working positions fill.

An experienced team is defined as ‘TD-ready’ or already working at the TDX or urban levels. Experienced SAR teams are also welcome. 

Workshops will include:
  • scent theory
  • line communication
  • reading your dog
  • understanding the urban environment
  • tools to train for success
  • opportunities to participate in urban scent challenges for working teams
  • a chance to observe experienced dogs at work for beginners
  • maps and handouts
  • other goodies!
Beginners to tracking are encouraged to work in urban areas. This is a great way to learn!
Please use the contact form to express your interest in other training opportunities (lessons, seminars for your club or group, mock tests and training camps)

I look forward to being your coach! 

Spring 2018 Beginners and Urban Tracking Online Classes!

Spring marks the beginning of tracking season! Just in time, I am excited to offer two MORNING CLASSES for Beginners and for Urban Tracking! These are not just webinars – they are mornings of personal, live instruction with small classes and interactive participation. As a professional coach, I am always geared to meeting your needs and goals and committed to your progress and success.

Each class is 4 hours of instruction (with coffee breaks of course!) When you take part online, you can chat live or use a typed chat feature to ask questions or make comments. Whiteboards are used – to draw maps and other diagrams that help explain things more clearly. There is a presentation, we will have a quick look at video, and handouts are provided. Everyone leaves with practical lesson plans and ideas to get out and get training!

Class content is based on proven successful methods that I have developed over the past 27 years as a teacher, clinician and active participant! You can see more about my dogs, read testimonials and learn more about my involvement in tracking here on this site under Learn More, or on my business website.  

This information is soon to be published so be sure to check it out now! *A Spiritdance Tracking Book is in the works! 

Beginners Tracking Online Class Poster

The Beginners Tracking Online Class is aimed at people who don’t have a TD or who are looking for new ideas for foundations and training. If you have never tracked, this is the class for you. If you are new to tracking or feel like you need to go back to square one with some fresh ideas – please consider this class. I will share my methods and ideas to get you going.

Urban Tracking Online Morning Class Poster

The Urban Tracking Online Class is for both beginners to tracking and experienced trackers. Beginners to tracking and beginners to urban tracking will find some unique and fresh ideas to get started in the fun and way cool sport of Urban Tracking! Be careful though – it is addictive!

  • If you are new to tracking, you will learn how you can begin to train for urban tracking once your foundations are in place and how urban tracking can improve your handling and test readiness. Plus, once you have that TD, you are ready to move on!
  • If you are an experienced tracker, you might be looking for some new ideas, new ways to train or ideas to improve your performance in urban tracking.

To register, click on the Training tab on this website or check out my new Spiritdance Tracking ‘business’ site for links to registration forms.

As always, I am excited and happy to share information about this sport with people who are passionate to learn.

Your Coach,

Donna Brinkworth

Looking forward to 2018!

We are growing again! Thank you to all of the participants both in-person and online who help me to constantly expand and focus on coaching and training! My goals are to help and share the wonderful sport of tracking with interested people across Canada.

2018 is a banner year for Spiritdance Tracking. A long time ago I made a promise to myself that this year would be special. I will be the same age as my mother was when she died very young from cancer. In that year, 1995, I started Spiritdance Tracking as a way of keeping joy in my life amidst the sorrow of loss.

Little did I know it would become a lifetime of passion and purpose. And through coaching and training, I hope to work with others who want the same kind of passion and purpose in their lives and training! I’ve always told myself that 2018 would be special and I am taking steps to make that happen.

This website (Spiritdance Community Online) has become a great place to share ideas and describe events and courses in detail. The new domain ‘’ will help people find Spiritdance Tracking even faster and give a quick snapshot of what it’s all about.

In 2018 you can watch for

  • An increased focus on coaching
  • More weekend seminars hosted by other clubs in new locations
  • A Spiritdance Method tracking book
  • A series of small training booklets
  • A Spiritdance Holistic Retreat!
  • As time permits, Spiritdance weekend seminars, with first preference to existing clients as always

Oh yes, and my personal training goals of course are to get puppy Micah into tests, and TCH Ben into advanced tests to try out for our Master Tracking Title!

I wish everyone a wonderful year and look forward to working with you and to meeting new people too. Tracking is a great sport and attracts amazing people. Let’s commit to being good stewards of the sport and support each other and have fun!


Mastery and Maturity in the Sport of Tracking

The Tracking Championship title has been in effect for ten years now, and there are roughly 60 Tracking Champions. There are more per year recently as training methods catch up and as experienced people repeat their performance with new dogs. Still, at roughly 6 TCHs per year a discussion of Mastery and Maturity in tracking, after ten years of urban tracking seems practical. Read more… Mastery and Maturity in the Sport of Tracking

Uniquely Spiritdance!

How my tracking methods have developed and an overview of what to expect in the book!

Spiritdance Tracking started in 1995, a few months before my mother died of cancer at age 58. I have always experienced tracking as something meditative – and as an activity where I find myself surrounded by wonderful people.

23 years later, I have grown this business and passion into something ‘uniquely Spiritdance’ thanks to the many people who have trusted me to be a part of their tracking journey. While one of my goals is to inspire others, working with trackers has inspired me over many years to keep growing and to hone my ideas and methods, resulting in a Spiritdance Tracking method.

Below I briefly decribe my methods   This is followed by my personal tracking journey.

Tracking is always a work in progress! We never know everything. It is one of the things I love about this sport. And every dog brings something new to the table. However, a solid method should be able to help every team succeed in this sport and perform consistently despite handler and dog differences! The Spiritdance Tracking Method is proven to work for traditional and non-traditional breeds in this fun sport, including mixed breeds.

About the Method

In 2013 I added coaching skills to my instruction and training, and graduated from Erickson College’s International Coach Federation cirriculum based coaching program. Coaching shines the focus on the two-legged half of the tracking team. As a Professional Coach I bring a unique view to teaching tracking, by encouraging and motivating people to grow and develop in the sport.

Coaching has changed how I organize lessons and seminars – and as a result of coach training, I have started online training, to become the first tracking instructor in Canada to offer online lessons, coaching and webinars! Bringing people from across Canada together online is exciting and allows trackers to hear from people with different ideas and backgrounds in tracking. When I have travelled as a clinician and judge, I’ve seen this in person. It is exciting to bring this to everyone through coaching and instruction online.

Now I am finalizing my first book, after many years of giving presentations and developing handouts and unique course materials (all copyrighted!). I am looking forward to sharing my ideas and methods even more once the book is a reality.

What uniquely Spiritdance methods and ideas will you see in the book? They are all related to tracking of course so focus on all of the skills we need for success in the sport. It is the way they are presented, and the combination of ideas and training I’ve been fortunate to learn – CKC, AKC, IPO, police work, and other sports – that makes it different. It is the fact that my methods work, not just for my dogs, but for others teams too.

The Spiritdance Tracking Method has long incorporated the coaching and training science that is proven to work for elite athletes around the world! Holistic mind and body training that applies to tracking handlers – and even to our dogs! I’ve been a long admirer of elite runners and have developed tracking methods using the great ideas of marathon, triathlon and Ironman athletes. It works.

What is the Spiritdance Tracking Method?

  • In Spiritdance lessons, seminars and webinars the focus is on skill development, mental training, muscle memory, kinetics and training the athletic brain.
  • It is about a focus on the two-legged half of the team – taking handlers through stages of skill acquisition that create confidence and ability
  • The Spiritdance Tracking Method is focused on teaching and giving our dogs tools even though we know they are natural trackers, and on creating confident dogs that have a belief in themselves and track consistently.
  • It is about developing teams from foundations to advanced tracking, giving handlers tools and habits of excellence.
  • It is about seeing training as a purposeful practice and a discipline.
  • It is about exercises with purpose, and training deliberately, with a plan.
  • And it is about eliminating the struggle – as struggling is the worst way to learn! It eliminates what appear to be elements of randomness from our training and testing.

Overview of Spiritdance Tracking methods 

  • Methods are grounded in respect for the team, kindness, open sharing, honesty, inspiration, motivation, compassion and a belief that any team can succeed and love this wonderful sport
  • Strong foundations shaping our dog’s – and our – behaviour and habits
  • We teach our dogs – not just read our dogs and expect consistent behaviour
  • Our dogs talk to us, and we communicate through the line dance and magic steps
  • Solid starts and first turns with flag recognition, drive and focus
  • Flow and follow through on straight legs and turns
  • We string together L-tracks in a system of teaching, training and testing
  • We keep our dogs confident and motivated, and keep our own mental game strong
  • Ability to negotiate transitions and find touchpoints for confidence building
  • We work in zones with spatial awareness and make constant micro-decisions, taking in environmental cues intuitively
  • We use dead zones, wind, edges, curb serpentines and obstacles strategically
  • We use the power of the group to work together plotting and laying tracks so that dogs can go from scent pads and serpentines to nose down tracks in one seminar!
  • We do base tracks and long runs, we peak our performance, taper and prepare for tests with high level planning skills, goals and positive visualization
  • We hone our skills to achieve Tracking Mastery, fluency and literacy in the sport to become elite athletes, running our personal race and seeking to achieve our personal best and keep learning

The (future) Book

Since I am heading into hip replacement surgery in 3 weeks my goal is to take all of the materials and recordings I’ve accumulated over the years, and get my book ready to share details of my methods with everyone. I hope that the outline at the beginning of this blog post gives you a good idea of what to expect.

My Tracking Journey

And now for a little background about how this method was developed.

Early Tracking Years

My first exposure to tracking was to attend a Glen Johnson seminar in Thunder Bay, while he was home visiting his parents. This seminar was organized by Dawn Sanderson, my first tracking instructor in my hometown of Thunder Bay way back in 1989. I still have my notes and handouts from that seminar and of course, a well-worn copy of Tracking Dog.

As luck would have it, I met a Bloodhound man in the early 80s when I worked for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Dave Kenney was a Conservation Officer whose dog Nero was always at his side. Nero had been used extensively by the Ontario Provincial Police in northern Ontario. I would go out with Dave and ‘hide’ as Nero’s victim and will never forget that BIG NOSE coming at me, ears flapping as he closed in, Dave running behind. We went out in all seasons and as a result, I have always tracked year ’round.

I was hooked! My first tracking dog was a German Shepherd named Hawk who became my first TD and first TDX dog in the early 90s. Robin would come next, another German Shepherd. But it was Kate, my Rough Collie, that provided the watershed moment motivating me to begin teaching tracking. I had been using Glen Johnson’s method exclusively until the day Kate, a ‘show dog’ escaped from my car as I was loading up Robin who had just completed a track! Kate took off at a dead run, and as I watched, she ran the entire track precisely to the end, finding bait left behind and circling back to where the article had left a scent pool.

I had been convinced not to damage Kate’s coat or let her put her nose down as she was a promising conformation star, but Kate showed me that tracking was not just for German Shepherds. However, Kate was not interested in the repetitive drills that my shepherds did without question.

Spiritdance Tracking Begins

Training Kate made me take a step away from the program and think about ways to motivate her to track. This was a time of change in many venues with the advent of positive training, use of bait, and clickers that Malcolm Gladwell describes as “the tipping point” when the same ideas occur to people in waves. Long before the internet and social media, other trackers had similar ideas and came up with new ways to train. I presented my ideas in my first classes to friends who signed up with their Collies, Bull Mastiffs, Aussies, Dachshunds, Dalmatians and even Toy breeds.

I wish I had kept a list of everyone who trained with me beginning in 1995. I will be forever grateful to them all for giving Spiritdance Tracking it’s start. By the way, Spiritdance was also the kennel name I registered with the CKC when I bought Kate! She was non-traditional, an amazing tracker and a multiple specialty and group winner in the show ring (who never did put her nose down, but ran out ahead very independently on a long line thanks to tracking!) Kate passed her TD and TDX in 1993 and 1994 on her first attempts, and to this date holds the record as my fasted TDX dog at 11 minutes!

The big move to Alberta, Mentors and Growth in the sport

I’ve been fortunate since those days to seek mentors in both CKC and AKC tracking including trackers, fellow judges and fellow clinicians and other trainers. I peppered my training with ideas I gleaned from other sports – especially herding, which is my other passion. By 2005 I added Border Collies to my pack with my first ‘working stockdog’ Jet, who would become my first Tracking Champion in 2012. A working lines GSD named Caden followed (more about Caden further below).

Two more watershed dogs, Jet and Caden, led me into the hard core working dog world of stockdogs and IPO (known then as Schutzhund). A big move to Alberta in 2008 led to even closer ties to friends and mentors in these competitive dog sports and I realized how much there was to learn!

The Pendulum Swings back to Precision with Urban Tracking

In the years just prior to moving from Thunder Bay to Alberta I attended a Wallace Payne IPO Tracking Seminar, and organized a CKC Tracking Seminar with AKC Judge Steve Ripley. They were very complementary, as both advocated that dogs can be motivated to track precisely, whether on veg or on hard surface. Urban tracking had become a reality in CKC tracking in 2006 and the question on everyone’s minds was ‘how do we teach our dogs to do this?

In my seminars I talk about the pendulum swinging back to the center in tracking. Many of us got very excited about understanding scent, and moved away from the wonderful foundations Glen Johnson had provided in his book. Certainly scent understanding grew and some of his ideas had to be updated. But many of us became carried away with the very positive methods we’d started to use ten years earlier, and the ideas about moving scent. In urban tests, dogs were initially allowed to be 40 metres off track but it was not a pretty sight. This was another of those Malcolm Gladwell “multiple discovery” moments in time.

I began to piece together ideas to regain precision, and on all surfaces, from IPO and other working dog training. I’ve had great mentors in both CKC and ASCA herding, as well as Border Collie stockdog trials. I was very fortunate again to meet great mentors who have become friends in sport dog venues and these people have generously shared ideas with me and train together.

Attending IPO tracking seminars and working very hard with Caden, my IPO candidate, I reshaped them to suit my CKC goals. I then took my GSD River, and Border Collie Jet out of tracking tests for an entire season to retrain them in foundation work.

The results were very exciting! While River did not pass her UTDX, at age 10 and again at age 11, she came very close, running two test tracks ‘dead on’ – each with small heartbreak moments leading to non-passes. I accept the complete responsibility for both and learned from them – adding to my training toolkit. In training, I saw my brilliant Border Collie Jet bloom, to pass her UTDX on her first try, and become my first Tracking Champion – TCH Alta-Pete Jet.

Ironically, I started my tracking business just as my mother died in 1995. My first Tracking Champion passed her test just after I lost my father. Both dogs were collies, and both were strong-minded females that challenged me to update my methods. River, another female, was my first urban dog and is the dog who taught me so much, and let me experiment and grow as we enjoyed many years of training together.

I give River credit for Jet’s pass! In my heart, she is a Tracking Champion and had she started at a younger age or had a more experienced handler I have no doubt she would have passed that final, difficult test. River lived up to her name. She was meant to be a canoe dog and named River – but Lindau’s Uncharted Course UTD TDX came to Alberta and is my heart and soul dog, a beloved friend and my first urban teacher.

Tracking Judge Experience

By this time, I was now a Tracking Judge too, and with Jet’s pass, I was able to begin judging all levels of CKC tracking tests! Being a judge lets you see training and handling across Canada. This has been a great boon to developing my training ideas too and instilled a strong belief that I can help people succeed. Judges want everyone to pass of course! Tests don’t come around often enough and we only need that one pass for a title.

The pass rates in the advanced levels are very low. This frustrated me (and still does). As a new urban judge, I saw amazing handlers who passed, and others with poor starts, poor line handling, and sloppy habits lacking foundation skills. I saw dogs that had been given no skills although they were very natural and keen. I saw other dogs that seemed to have hit a wall and had lost their belief in themselves. And others with disrespectful habits, considering they were only being asked for 15 minutes of their time in a test!

Systematically Building on Training Ideas

I began to systematically work through my training with the goal of developing a system that set people off on the right path to tracking success. Of course, I always work out methods on my own dogs, and always have two dogs on the go – a beginner and an advanced dog. I continue to train both collies and shepherds and love the interplay of the two breeds and what they teach me! I expanded my training as I began to offer lessons and seminars across Alberta. I’ve also given seminars in BC, Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick (and Fargo! Long story) – and in each place I love to learn the ideas people are using, and add to their toolboxes.

Finally, adding to my methods, I was very very fortunate to meet a retired RCMP dog handler who helped me with Caden for two years. I met him through my IPO friend and have never been so grateful for tracking help as I was when I worked with him. Caden did not take to IPO (largely because I didn’t). Caden was fast, powerful and gifted. While in IPO and while working with the RCMP trainer I endured hearing repeatedly that he was being wasted in my hands. He “could win the Worlds” I heard. He “should have been a police dog” I heard.

Well – he was mine to love and enjoy. My first MALE watershed dog, and a shepherd! Through Caden, I learned and practiced tracking as a discipline in ways I’d never experienced before. Caden passed his TD, UTD and UTDX on his first tries. He passed his TDX and UTDX on the same day in 2015 back to back. I had logged almost 1,000 hours of training with this magnificent dog and I knew we were ready. It was a day I will never forget and I doubt I’ll ever see anything like it again. Caden was my second Tracking Champion.

Thank God he passed. He died of cancer in his spine a year later after being ill throughout the entire summer. Sometimes those great dogs, the ones that shine, come into our lives for a short time, brightening everything in their path, then leave in a flash of light. I am so glad he stayed with me, ‘wasting his life’ by being truly loved and honouring this humble CKC tracker with lesson after lesson – and my methods GREW.

As he was an extremely gifted and powerful dog, I had to think about how I could take what I learned and share it with my CKC students. When my Border Collie Ben was born, I began to train Ben using my ideas of combining what I’d learned with Caden and all that I knew about tracking after 22 years in the sport. Thank you TCH Caden von der KleinenWiese.

TCH Spiritdance Blackthorn Ben, my first Spiritdance-trained Tracker

Ben has been my most successful tracking dog to date. Ben passed his TD, UTD, and TDX in a row, on his first attempts. He failed his first try at UTDX – breaking my streak of passing two in a row on my first tries with Jet and Caden! I figured out the ‘holes in my bucket’ (a herding phrase) and Ben passed on his second try. He is a quirky guy and is not the strong-minded tracker his mother Jet was. But I knew that my methods are solid when I saw Ben pull it together to pass and to track so consistently.

I give credit for Ben’s UTDX pass to my friend Dan Vas, a SAR volunteer with the Canadian Search Dog Association, who I met soon after my move to Medicine Hat. I’d never had opportunities to work closely with SAR trainers – not since my introduction to tracking with Nero the Bloodhound! I am currently enjoying training with Dan and his SAR recruits and adding little pieces to my training (as always!) The piece that helped Ben pass had to do with his article indications.

Micah, the New GSD Puppy

In keeping with my routine, I always have one GSD and one Border Collie in training. After losing Caden, I was fortunate to find Micah from a good Canadian breeder. Micah is also known as Gem von Wendelin. I started a training blog for Micah to chronicle her training over time.

Using my methods exclusively, Micah at age 9 months, is a confident tracker and ready for TD and UTD! If only we had tests in the winter! You can read her blog Training Micah for more about my puppy.


I look forward to this new journey and to continued friendships and sharing in years to come! 


I appreciate all of the students who’ve been involved with my training from the beginning and the respect that they have shown in the treatment of my unique ideas, methods and materials developed over the years to help each of them grow and succeed.

Notice of Copyright

Please be advised that all materials, unique methods and ideas expressed on this website, other websites, blogs and social media owned and managed by Donna Brinkworth and all materials, recordings, handouts and presentation material related to Spiritdance Coaching and to Spiritdance online and in-person tracking is protected by copyright. Material cannot be reprinted, distributed or used for training and professional purposes without consent and permission of the author, Donna Brinkworth. If material is cited publicly on websites, in presentations, to students and clients or online (videos and social media) credit must be given to Donna Brinkworth, Spiritdance Tracking and Coaching and unique methods protected by copyright must not be portrayed as any other individual’s ideas or methods. All clients are asked to respect and honour this and the waiver signed as a condition of participation. This is in effect January 1, 2018 for all published and shared material and methods this year, and protects all original methods and materials shared with clients in past training and coaching.