Dog Tracking for Beginners

Dog Learning Tracking

The sport of dog tracking is an excellent sport that increases your dog’s confidence. It also increases your bond with your dog and allows you to work together with your dog as a team. This article focuses mostly on dog tracking for beginners. However, we do discuss the various competitive titles available to compete for in this sport.

Getting Started with Training Your Dog for Tracking

Put some treats into a container such as a pill bottle. Make a hole in the top of the container so the dog can smell the treats to increase her interest.

Youn Dachshund Learning Tracking - Dog Tracking for Beginners

Show your dog the bottle with treats in it.  Shake it around to gain her interest and give her some treats out of the bottle. The bottle of treats is what she will ultimately be tracking for.

When you are first starting to train your dog for tracking, don’t invest any money on equipment.  Wait until you know you are going to continue with this sport before purchasing anything.

You can start your dog off wearing a harness if she has one, otherwise, she can wear her collar. Use whatever leash you have on hand to get her started in tracking.

 You will need something like a stick with a sharp end you can poke into the ground. Ideally, this is a landscaping flag needed for marking where the treats are.

Laying out Your First Tracking Trail

To start off you need to lay a series of treats about 1 foot apart. Do this while stepping on the grass and making footprints as you lay out the treats. Do this to start off for a length of about 6 feet.  Then place the stick into the ground with a treat next to it. Lay the bottle of treats next to the stick for her to find.

While you lay the track, someone should hold the puppy, or she should be in her crate. Make sure she can see what you are doing, but she is not allowed to reach the treats yet. Next, take the dog’s leash and point to the first treat you have set down, and say ‘track’.  After pointing to the treat allow her to walk forward ahead of you to get to the treat.

After she has successfully gotten to the first treat, give her a few seconds to walk forward on her own. However, if she doesn’t seem to know what to dog next, point to the next treat while saying ‘track’. She will then walk forward to get the next treat. As she finds and eats the treat, be sure to praise her.

If she still requires it, point out the next treat, allow her to get the treat, and praise her. Keep pointing to the next treat, as long as she requires your help to find it. When she reaches the pole, allow her to have the final treat. Also, show her the pill bottle again, and give her another treat from the bottle. Also, praise her for every treat she finds.

Have the Wind Blowing into the Dog’s Face

Ideally, you would like to have wind blowing into the dog’s face to help her to smell the scent of the treats. If there is no wind it makes it more difficult for the dog to get the scent.

Young woman teaching her dog tracking - Dog Tracking for Beginners

Once your dog has reached the pole once and been treated and praised. You will need to repeat the same steps as above, however you will not want to use the same track that you laid before as it is now called ‘fouled’ as it has already been used. So, move ahead to a fresh section of grass and, while someone is holding back the dog, lay out a new set of treats just as you did before for a total distance of about 6 feet. Try to put different treats into the bottle than the ones you lay out on the track for her. This way there will be another smell to interest her.

Again, once you have lain out the new track, place the stick in the ground, put a treat out next to the base of the stick and put the bottle of treats there also. Take your dog’s leash and repeat the same steps as above, pointing to the first treat on the track and saying ‘track’. Be sure to praise her when she finds the treat and eats it.  Hopefully, she will remember that there were other treats ahead or be able to smell them and go forward on her own. However, if she still needs help knowing where to go then again point to the next treat and say ‘track’.

When she reaches the end of the track, praise her, and give her another treat from the bottle of treats. We want the dog to ultimately associate the stick with where the treats are. 

Limit Training Time for a Puppy

When training a young puppy, you don’t want to go on too long as she may tire of doing this. You want to end it at a point where she is still ready to do more. So only go for at most about 3 tracks per session.  You can possibly do this again later in the day if she seems up for it, if not wait until the next day and do some more.

Gradually you want to increase the distance between the treats and make the track longer, so she is getting used to tracking in between the treats and using the scent to guide her. In tracking, the dog is supposed to lead so your aim is to allow her to lead. However, when she is first learning she will probably need a little bit if your guidance for help.

German Shepherd Learning Tracking

During her training when she is first learning, train her for about 3 days in a row in tracking, then give her a couple of days off before starting again. This will help her to consolidate her training. It may appear as though she is backsliding, however, don’t lose patience with her, as she will catch on and learn what she is supposed to be doing.

If your dog does get stuck on something go back to the beginning and start over and repeat the beginning of the training. She will get it, just give her time. Be sure to keep it fun for her as you don’t want her to quit wanting to do tracking completely.

Gradually Increase the Length of the Trail

Eventually the tracks will go on well beyond the stick with added turns to the left or right for further distances. Also, at some point you will be laying the track without your dogs able to see what you are doing when laying down the track.

Eventually, if you decide to compete in track, someone else will be laying the track so you will not know which way to go beyond the first flag. You will need to rely on your dog to take the lead so you both need to get used to that.

AKC Sanctioned Tracking

The American Kennel Club (AKC) is the most well-known organization that sanctions tracking tests. the Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA), and Deutscher Verband der Gebrauchshundsportvereine America (DVG America) also sanction tracking tests. The AKC only allows purebred dogs, while the ASCA and DVG America allow mixed-breed dogs. All 3 of these organizations have their own rules, but I will just discuss the AKC rules here.

However, if you are looking for training in tracking make sure you get the training that follows the rules of the organization which you are planning to take the tests from.

Unlike many other dog sports, tracking has a minimal amount of equipment that will be required. Eventually, your dog will need a tracking harness and a long leash, from 20 to 40 feet.

What Tests are Offered by the AKC?

The AKC offers 3 different tracking tests for different levels of tracking.  The first level of testing which is the starter level is for the Tracking Dog (TD) title. This test expects the dog to follow a 440- to 500-yard-long track with from 3 to 5 turns in it.  The track will have been aged from 30 minutes to 2 hours before the dog begins tracking. At the end of the track, the dog must indicate a scent item to the handler. The item is likely a glove or a wallet.

Dog tracking in a field - Dog Tracking for Beginners

The next level of testing for tracking is the Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX) title. This level requires the dog to follow a track that has been aged longer (three to five hours) that is from 800 to 1,000 yards long. The track also has from five to seven turns in it along with the added challenge of human cross tracks.

This highest-level test is the Variable Surface Tracking (VST) test. This test has a track that is from 600 to 800 yards long and has from 4 to 8 turns in it. It is aged from 3 to 5 hours and includes 3 different ground surfaces which may include a street, a building and other areas that are more likely to be found in an urban setting.

A dog that achieves all 3 levels of testing, is awarded the title of Champion Tracker (CT).

There is an optional title that can also be earned called the Tracking Dog Urban (TDU). This title tests a dog’s ability to follow a track that is completely in an urban environment. The track is laid by a person who also leaves various items as he is laying the track. This event is optional and not required by any clubs to offer the event.

Final Thoughts

Dog tracking is a great sport for you and your dog to get involved in. It doesn’t require a high level of energy or fitness as your dog is walking as she tracks the scent. Also, your dog only needs to be at least 6 months old to compete. There is no age limit on the other end so older dogs can also compete in this sport.

This is the only sport in which your dog is the leader. Once she is able to accomplish this it will increase her confidence a lot. This sport will also provide your dog with plenty of mental stimulation.

Please feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions about tracking or have prior experience with tracking.

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