Teaching Tracking

When a dog follows a trail of scent left by someone, she is said to be “Tracking.” Some dogs have a natural ability to track, while others are trained to do it. Being able to track is a very useful skill and just one of the many ways in which dogs can help humans. Hound track game, rescue dogs track lost children, police dog track suspects and well trained pets can find lost items for their owners. Having your dog sniff out and retrieve an item that has a person’s scent on it can be a fun and rewarding hobby. It’s also a great way to spend quality time with your dog outdoors.

Teaching your Dog to Track:
To be able to track, your dog needs to be in good physical condition. She need to be able to obey the commands for sit, stay, lie down, heel and come, as well as know how to retrieve an object. You will need to buy a special tracking harness for your dog to wear and a long leash (between 20 and 40 feet) to attach to it. To stake out an area in some grassy, open fields, you’ll need some wind flags or colored clothes pegs. You’ll also need a couple of freshly washed socks with no odor, which can be “scented” and used as markers along the trails.

The idea is that your dog follows the exact path that someone has walked over a grassy area. Ask the person whose scent your dog is going to follow to place one of the socks inside his shirt for a few minutes. Take the scented sock and put it in your dog’s mouth for a few seconds so she gets used to the tracklayer’s scent. After she drops the sock, praise her and reward her with some food. Repeat this exercise a few times.

When you are confident your dog is familiar with the tracklayer’s scent, give your dog the sit and stay command and place the same sock in the grass about 6 feet in front of her. Then give her the command to retrieve it. When she does, praise her. Repeat this a few more times, then place the sock about 30 feet away from her. Attach her harness and leash and command her to fetch it, following her on the leash. When she succeeds in this exercise, ask another person to stand in front of the sock to distract your dog from the tracklayer’s scent. This will make the exercise more challenging.

Soon you will be able to progress to more advanced tracking. Ask the tracklayer to scent a second sock and place it farther along the trail, making sure there is a right angle turn in the trail so your dog is in different wind directions. Place food containers or other objects which have distracting smells along the track to further challenge your dog. Gradually get the tracklayer to cover a larger area in more complex terrain.

Tracking Competitions:
If you think your dog has a keen sense of smell, enter her in tracking competitions. If she successfully completes a tracking test sponsored by the American Kennel Club, she will be awarded the TD, or Tracking Dog, title and this will be permanently recorded on her pedigree papers.

To earn the TD title, your dog must be able to find a dark colored glove or leads the track. She either picks up the glove or leads you to it. The track must be 440 to 550 yards long, and the scent on the track should be between half and hours and two hours old. It’s a pass or fail event and there’s no time limit, as long as your dog is clearly following the scent.

If your dog receives a TD award, she can compete for the TDX or Tracking Dog Excellent, award. The track for this award is a lot harder. It is between 800 and 1000 yards long and the scent must be three and four hours old. The track also crosses over at two points and your dog has to find four objects instead of one.