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Just what is Tracking?

From the AKC website:

We’ve all seen movies with dogs following the trail of an escapee through swamps. AKC’s Tracking Tests allow dogs to demonstrate their natural ability to recognize and follow human scent. This vigorous outdoor activity is great for canine athletes. Unlike Agility and Obedience events that require a dog to qualify three times, a dog only needs to complete one track successfully to earn each title.

Owners who do tracking with their dogs find joy in seeing the dogs at work using their innate scenting skills. If you and your dog like the outdoors, try tracking!

This is a whole new world if you’ve only trained in obedience, rally, agility or similar performance venues.  Here the dog is the team leader because he/she’s the only one with the nose that works so well.  The handler follows along behind, learns to “read” the dog to know when the track turns, an article is discovered or maybe the dog has decided to take a break to check out a squirrel hole.  Yup, even the well trained ones occasionally “go off track” but they also know that “where’s your track” means get back to work so we can find the glove!

What’s needed to get started?

It starts very simply with you, your dog, a buckle collar and a 6’ leash.  If you decide that you want to pursue this more actively then a non-restrictive harness and a 40’ tracking line are needed for the dog.  For the human, well, you’ll quickly accumulate a couple of pairs of hiking boots, lots of thick socks, rain gear, water bottles for you and the dog and a fanny pack or hunting style vest to carry all the articles you’ll be using on training tracks.

Here in California the tracking season is from the first drenching rain until the dry season starts.  More specifically, that first rain must soften foxtails enough that they are no longer a threat to the dogs.  And in the spring, once those foxtails start to dry out, the season is over.  But you can train year round by working in parks, school grounds or other open vegetated areas, just be aware of any fertilizer or other chemical applications that can be hazardous to your dog.

If you’re interested in exploring tracking as a new activity with your dog, contact one of the people you’ve seen that have titled their dogs.  It’s a great idea to partner up with another tracker.  It helps keep you motivated, you can lay track for each other and an extra set of eyes on the dogs is always useful to pick up signals that you might overlook.  There are a number of good books on tracking.  A couple of excellent books that discuss both the theory and teaching of tracking are Glen Johnson’s Tracking Dog – Theory and Methods and William “Sil” Sanders Enthusiastic Tracking-A Step by Step Training Handbook.  Both are available from www.dogwise.com as well as other dog book retailers.

What are the levels my dog can achieve?

A dog earns a TD by following a track 440 to 500 yards long with three to five changes of direction. The track is laid by a human tracklayer and is “aged” 30 minutes to two hours before the dog begins scenting. The goal is to use the scented track to locate an article placed at the end of the trail by the tracklayer. The owner follows the dog on a long leash and can encourage the dog during the tracking test.
The TDX is earned by following an “older” track (three to five hours) that is also longer (800 to 1,000 yards) and has five to seven directional changes with the additional challenge of human cross tracks.
In the real world, dogs track through urban settings, as well as through wilderness. A VST dog has demonstrated this ability by following a three- to five-hour-old track that may take him down a street, through a building and other areas devoid of vegetation.
A dog that has successfully completed all three tracking titles (TD, TDX and VST) earns the prestigious title of Champion Tracker.