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.