AUGUSTA — Otterbrook’s Bryce sniffed his way through bright green grass on a hillside of the Viles Arboretum just off Piggery Road Sunday morning, tracking a scent that had been laid out earlier in the morning.

The 20-month-old golden retriever was going for a title as a tracking dog in an event offered by the Dog Tracking Club of Maine.

Otterbrook’s Bryce, a golden retriever, searches Sunday for a scent while circling handler Judith Herman, of Gardiner, on a track at Vile’s Arboretum in Augusta. Members of the Tracking Club of Maine held a trial, sanctioned by the American Kennel Club, to test their canines in following human scent at the arboretum. Staff photo by Andy Molloy

He started off well, but got side-tracked in between two hills where the water that had accumulated from the rain earlier in the week seemed to throw him off the scent. The judges trailing him indicated he failed.

“This was a great attempt,” said Bryce’s owner Judith Herman, of Gardiner, who is also vice president of the club as well as the veterinarian/owner of Animal Wellness Center in Augusta. “He was just certified two weeks ago.”

The dogs have to be certified as capable of doing the tests in order to compete for the titles. The various tests are posted on the club’s website.

Bryce, as he’s commonly known, will have three more chances to earn his title within the year. “This was our first attempt,” Herman said. “It’s a fun sport because it’s you and your dog. You are not competing against anyone else.”

She and the dog got compliments from others watching the tests even as a second dog, Sippiwisset Rum Squall, a Pembroke Welsh Corgi, from York, went out on a different course laid out nearby and earned his tracking dog title in his first foray.

His handler, Robyn Januszewski, said that 3-year-old Rum Squall has been a champion show dog. “He knows nothing but standing in the ring and being pretty,” Januszewksi said. “His mom, Summer Squall, is a natural tracker, and he’s got the signs to be a natural tracker as well.”

On Sunday, three dogs were entered in the Tracking Test and two in the Tracking Test Urban, a shorter length track that has a variety of scenting conditions. The object in both is to find an article dropped by the person laying the track.

Judges observe Otterbrook’s Bryce, a golden retriever, following handler Judith Herman, of Gardiner, on Sunday on a track at Vile’s Arboretum in Augusta. Members of the Tracking Club of Maine held a trial, sanctioned by the American Kennel Club, to test their canines in following human scent at the arboretum. Staff photo by Andy Molloy

“The dogs are working on titles that demonstrate their ability to do the work,” said Elizabeth Annand, of Durham, secretary of the Tracking Test Committee. “It’s a sport; it wouldn’t have a lot of application in the real world,” she added, differentiating them from dogs trained to be search and rescue animals and those used in law enforcement to detect bombs or drugs. “It’s a game we play with our dogs.”

“Police do it for real; we do it for fun,” said Sara Pruyne, of Greenwood. She said most people enter only one dog. “It takes hours and hours and hours to do this (training),” she said. “Most of us focus on one dog at a time.”

Martha Campbell, of Lunenberg, Massachusetts, one of two judges, said the sport “is a lovely way for dog handlers to enjoy friendship with their dog.”

In the meeting room prior to the start of the tests, fellow judge Robert Cuzner encouraged the dog owners. “These are very good tracks, very doable,” he said, talking about the scent clinging to the wet green grass and remarking on the fortunate absence of porcupines in that area.

The titles are a reward in themselves. “If you’re a breeder, it’s a very big plus to have,” Pruyne said. Some of the dogs entered in Sunday’s test already have other titles, including champion and grand champion.

There’s also the camaraderie of the dog owners, who get together after the tests for a hospitality session.

Handlers observe a tracking dog following scent Sunday at Vile’s Arboretum in Augusta. Members of the Tracking Club of Maine held a trial, sanctioned by the American Kennel Club, to test their canines in following human scent at the arboretum. Staff photo by Andy Molloy

There both the owners and the dogs can rest after the tests finish. Carl Walker, of Scarborough, who was watching the tests, said the animals work hard. “It not so much physical, but they’re working their mind.”

According to the American Kennel Club, tracking events are good for the “ever-nosey dog.” The AKC website says, “Get him involved in an AKC Tracking event where he can sniff and smell to his heart’s content and demonstrate his natural ability to recognize and follow a scent. It’s a perfect way for you and your dog to enjoy many hours together, outside in the fresh air, honing his natural abilities.”

The events are open to any breed as long as the animal is at least 6 months old. The title of Tracking Dog title requires a dog to follow a track between 400 and 500 yards with three to five changes of direction. The dog is looking for an article left by the track layer.

The Dog Tracking Club of Maine offers three test a year, spring, summer and fall. There are other tracking clubs in central Maine and the Tracking Dog Club of Maine has members from all over the state.

On Sunday, Bryce was the youngest dog doing the test and a 12-year-old, 4 1/2-pound chihuahua named A Paws on Caper was the oldest and was entered in the Tracking Dog Urban test. “This would be her last attempt,” said owner Judy Pawson, of Milford, New Hampshire. “She tried to do the tracking dog test and couldn’t get through the grass.” It was too tall.

Sunday’s test proved too much for Caper as well.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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