County animal control Officer Robin Sellers is spending countless off-duty hours helping her German Shepherd Panzer follow his nose. Her goal is to have a pet who’s also a skilled tracking dog making a difference in the community.
Sellers and her 6-year-old canine are proving an elite team. On Feb. 2, Panzer completed a difficult rural tracking course in what may have been record time, earning the American Kennel Club’s rating of “Tracking Dog, Excellent.” Sellers said only about 10 percent of the dogs who attempt it actually earn the title.
The challenge at Hollenbeck Canyon Wildlife Preserve in Jamul required dogs to follow the scent of a person who hours earlier had walked a winding path on varied terrain that included a muddy creek bed and tall, dry weeds. To confuse the dogs, a few other humans had walked across the fading scent trail. The course was 805 yards long with five turns. Panzer collected four items including a pillowcase and a slipper that showed he followed the course.
With Sellers holding Panzer’s leash and offering encouragement along the way, the dog found the right path with undaunted purpose.
“Every time he comes to a turn you can watch him and his head will come up, and he’ll scent the air, and he’ll make a decision, depending on the wind or weather conditions,” Sellers said. “I’m just the dope on the end of the rope.”
It took Panzer just 8 minutes to finish the course.
“One of the judges said she has never judged a dog who tracked that fast and he may have set a record,” Sellers said.
In March, Panzer will try for the Kennel Club’s top rating, Champion Tracking Dog. In this difficult test at UCSD, Panzer will have to follow a single human scent across terrain that’s been polluted by hundreds or thousands of students.
But Sellers said Panzer’s ready. She’s been working with him intensively to prepare, and he’s already shown he can follow a single person’s scent on the UCSD campus, she said.
If Panzer becomes a Champion Tracking Dog, he’ll be ready to test for FEMA certification, which would qualify him to assist in emergencies nationwide.
The FEMA certification would also prove Panzer’s ready to volunteer with the County, and Sellers said the dog’s training has always been with the goal of making a difference here.
In fact, the Medical Examiner’s Office may have a tough but important volunteer position for Sellers and Panzer: helping recover the bodies of people who have died in remote locations.
“My ultimate goal, should I be lucky enough to obtain it, is to help people find closure,” Sellers said.