Donna started tracking in 1989 with her German Shepherd Hawk. Since then, she has put 24 CKC tracking titles on her own dogs – GSDs, Border Collies and Rough Collies. She has also worked closely with over 200 other tracking teams in person and with many others online to teach them everything from foundations to advanced skills and help them realize their tracking goals.
Since 2008 Donna has become an “all-levels” (Field and Urban) CKC judge and has had the pleasure of judging tracking tests from the east to west coast of Canada. In 2014 Donna graduated as a Professional Coach, adding this skill to helping teams succeed. Most recently, Donna’s passion has moved beyond CKC tracking, to working with teams who want ‘good tracking skills.’ This includes assisting SAR and sport teams.
Donna’s titles include 9 TDs, 7 TDXs, 5 UTDs and 3 UTDX dogs who are her three Tracking Champions (achieved all four titles – two field and two urban). These are TCH Alta-Pete Jet, Border Collie; TCH Caden von der KleinenWiese, GSD, and TCH Spiritdance Blackthorn Ben, Jet’s son. Jet and Ben are the only Border Collies in Canada to achieve this title (so far!). Visit this page to read more about Donna’s dogs.
“Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” – Mentors
Donna is fortunate to have met and learned from many amazing trackers over the years, some who have been mentors and helped her to learn new skills. It is important to always credit the people who have been part of your tracking journey, says Donna. Their are so many ideas, theories and methods out there – finding people who help you grow and who share generously is important and they are to be treasured. Sometimes the best mentors are actually ‘TOR-mentors!’ They push you to grow and to aim higher.
Her first tracking seminar was with Glen Johnson, author of Tracking Dog, in Thunder Bay. This seminar was organized by his student, Thunder Bay tracking judge Dawn Sanderson, who introduced Donna to tracking in 1989.
Since then Donna’s mentors have also included Dan Waters, a successful IPO competitor, winner of the IPO Nationals and a Canadian representative to the Worlds many times with dogs of his own breeding. Donna met Dan when she moved to Alberta and took part in IPO for several years in Calgary with her dog Caden.
Dan introduced Donna to retired national head of training for the RCMP, Jean Blondin, who had also been the RCMP’s breeding specialist for many years. Donna had the extreme good fortune to learn from Jean for almost three years – mostly because her dog Caden was such a great dog who deserved that privilege.
Donna has always had SAR mentors who have greatly influenced her training and methods. Before attending the seminar with Glen Johnson, Donna met Ontario Conservation Officer Dave Kenney through her work with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry from 1986-2007 in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Dave’s Bloodhound Nero was a renowned SAR dog used by both NE Ontario and Thunder Bay police. Dave talked Donna into being a “victim” for Nero and she was able to see them train and work first hand year ’round.
This strongly influenced Donna’s love of natural tracking and belief that dogs can work in all environments and all seasons. As a result, Donna has been an advocate of winter training since then, developing a unique winter tracking webinar that she has offered at seminars and through online training.
Most recently since moving to Alberta, Donna has worked and learned alongside Canadian Search Dog Association trainers Nancy MacKenzie (Edmonton) and Dan Vas (Medicine Hat). Meeting up with Dan Vas in 2016 renewed Donna’s interest in SAR and provided new opportunities to help SAR teams achieve the tracking skills they now require for RCMP validation.
Donna is currently thrilled to be learning new ideas through Dick Staal’s excellent training community. Dick Staal, a World class, highly regarded working dog trainer (known well to police around the World) generously shares his tracking and other training ideas. His concepts of natural tracking, starting puppies early, positive shaping and having regard for the dog’s comfort, context for learning, and maintaining it’s enthusiasm and confidence resonate with Donna and how she aspires to train. Always happy to learn and grow, Donna has been following Dick Staal’s ideas for two years now. Her 6 month old Border Collie pup Quill is being trained exclusively using his methods.
“Since moving to Alberta, it has been very meaningful to see Erich Kunzel and his wife Norma regularly. What a wonderful mentor and font of knowledge! Erich is a life member of the GSD Schutzhund Club of Calgary and was a beloved CKC tracking judge for decades, and one of the original people who crafted the rules for CKC tracking. Erich’s generous sharing of his knowledge, training ideas and experiences is an absolute treasure. Thank you Erich for your friendship,” Donna notes.
Of course there are many other IGP, SAR, CKC and AKC people who have had a great impact on Donna’s training and philosophy over many years. And it would be remiss to not mention the incredible benefits of being an instructor and judge, and learning from students, friends and test participants.
Finally of course, Donna says her best teachers have always been her dogs! Dogs can teach us more about scent than any book or human expert, if we open our eyes and hearts to see what they are saying and to observe what they tell us on the track. Mentor Jean Blondin wisely advised Donna years ago to ‘let your dogs speak for you.’
An outcome of all these experience means Spiritdance Tracking now focuses on working with dedicated teams wishing to achieve excellence. Donna believes tracking is a discipline like any athletic endeavor that requires both physical and mental skills, routine, growth and mastery. Donna focuses on both ends of the tracking line using her methods and experience and her Professional Coach training to provide tailored training to her students.
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All content copyright, Donna Brinkworth, Four Winds Outdoor Leadership – Spiritdance Coaching & Tracking 2021