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Put Your Dog’s Nose to Work in the Fun Sport of Tracking

This issue’s training tip is brought to us by Sue Kotlarek of Romulus, Michigan. Sue has had great success in a variety of dog sports with her two rescue mixed-breeds, including the sport of AKC Tracking. Her All-American, Rodger Rowbinawitz UD GO VER PUTD RAE OAP AJP NF OFP CA FDCh TDX VCD3, became the first All-American Dog to earn the Versatile Companion Dog 3 (VCD3) title, which required finishing the Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX) title. Sue shares tips on how to get your dog started in this fun sport.

 Tracking is a very amazing sport. Most dogs really enjoy it once they are taught the “rules” of the game and understand it.

Tracking is open to old dogs, young dogs, big dogs, little dogs, purebreds and mixed-breeds. With the recent change to AKC rules, deaf and physically challenged dogs can enter tracking tests.

At a tracking test, dogs are required to wear a non-restrictive harness. They may wear jackets to keep them warm or jackets to repel the sun and may have tags on their collars. You are not allowed to have food or toys, but you are allowed, and it is a good idea, to bring water for you and your dog. Also, at a tracking test, the dog is not penalized for “fouling in the ring!”

I am certainly a relative newbie to the sport of AKC tracking (I have only been tracking for about seven years, and it’s only been since 2014 that AKC allowed All-Americans to enter tracking tests). But I would like to share information that you may find helpful.

Tracking is a sport that can’t easily be learned by reading a book; it is best learned by DOING. But, of course, there are some tried and true exercises that will help you and your dog learn to track. When we started on our tracking journey, we began with baby steps. We had one person hold the dog while he watched me put a toy (or food if that is your dog’s preference) approximately 15 feet away. I would come back and take my dog, on lead, and tell him “Go find your track.” Of course, it was not an issue to find his toy.  Every day, as we would put the toy further and further away, the dog quickly learned how to get to his toy!

Another popular beginning technique is to put pieces of hot dog in every other footstep. As the dogs learn how to get to the next morsel, you spread out the number of treats to maybe every 10th foot step. Once the dog learns the game, you can place rewards much further apart.

If you can find a mentor or a tracking group, that is a very valuable asset to have.  Everyone in the tracking community is always happy to share their knowledge and information. Not only is it important to run tracks with your dog, it is very important to learn how to lay a track. With a tracking group, you will be provided with many opportunities to lay tracks.

Tracking is a sport where the dog is in charge. Your job, as the handler, is to watch your dog and learn what your dog is telling you. Every dog will have a different style of tracking. Some dogs can race through a 500-yard track in less than three minutes.  Others will be very methodical and sniff every footstep. Either way is OK as there is not a time limit in tracking.

But, again, it is very important to watch and learn your dog and determine what his body language is telling you. In the below pictures, you can see Rodger’s different body posture when he is on the track and his body posture when he has lost the scent.  The tension on the line is another indication of how well the dog is following the scent.

Different levels of tracking will have different number of articles for the dog to find.  In the first Tracking Dog (TD) level, there will only be a start article and an end article. In Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX) and Variable Surface Tracking (VST) levels, there will be additional articles along the track that the dog must find. So, even if you have a great tracking dog, it is very important that they find all the articles.

Dogs will have different ways that they indicate that they found the article. There is not a rule as to how the dog indicates. Many people will train their dog to “down” on or at an article. Some dogs find that demotivating, and others may appreciate it as a much-needed rest stop. Many people will train article indication separate from the actual tracking. As you can see from the below picture, Rodger will put his nose to the article and then stand over it until I pick it up.

Many dogs find that tracking is a fun and rewarding sport. It is also good for the human as it provides exercise and fresh air. The thing I think that dogs like the best is when they find the last article. They learn the track is over, and they have earned their jackpot reward.

See more information on AKC Tracking.


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