AKC tracking events are the competition form of canine search and rescue. These Tracking events provide training for dogs and their handlers to meet some human needs for tracking and finding lost humans or other animals, as well as, demonstrating the extremely high level of scent capability that dogs possess.
Teaching your Dog to Track
Very Beginning (even with Puppies):
Play Hide n Seek (also good for attention and stay with me)
Play Find It - hide a favorite toy in more and more difficult locations around the house
Take it to the Track:
Some handlers put morsels of goodies on the track, others only treat at each article. (Articles are objects from the track layer for the dog to "find" along the track).
Begin training in areas where there are few distractions, such as, people or other animals. The dog will always want to investigate animals or people either by the odor on the ground or visual distractions of people, cars, etc. Noise is another distraction that you want to say away from when teaching the dog his first lessons. It's hard to get a dog to follow a trail when he's more interested in the distractions.
Lay your track. You will need:
Flags like are used to mark utility lines. These can be made or purchased at a lawn and garden store.
Food morsels for rewards.
Articles with the scent of the track layer.
Remember that terrain and height of grass is important. If you train in areas of high vegetation, the scent of the Quarry will be high on the vegetation. This will cause the dog to trail with a high nose. Use lower cut grass for the initial training. Never correct your dog with the leash while tracking. If you have to, use a "leave it" command.
Place a flag and an article at the start of the track.
Step forward with take very small steps (to keep the scent close together). You want the footprints close together. After about 5 feet, drop an article in the track.
Continue for about 20 feet. Place additional articles along this straight line. At the end of the track, place a flag. and one last article.
DO NOT continue to walk in a straight line off the track. Try to turn and hop away from it. Try to not walk back over the track to return to your dog either as you likely won’t walk exactly the same line and will only confuse the scent track.
Get your dog. Start by showing your dogs the goodies and an article. An article is just a small object that will be placed on the track for the dog to find. Start with something fabric like a sock or glove initially. These hold scent well. Excite your dog like was used for the games. An excited dog works harder out of the gate.
When you advance to a harness, attach the line to his harness when you are at the track! You want the dog to understand that tracking begins when you hook to the harness, so you should only attach to it at the start line. You will also switch back to his collar at the very end of completing the track.
At the beginning flag / article, stop and show the dog the article. Place at the dog’s nose for him to scent it. Give him a moment, talk calmly and get him ready. When ready, give your signal ("find it", "track it", or your choice). If need be, you can point out the track line beginning. Stand still and allow him to move out in front of you, feeding him a short tracking line so that you maintain distance behind him. When the first article is "found" - praise, and feed on the article. It will be important that your dog learn an alert signal. This can be a sit, a down, or picking the item up. For now, just be excited and make the article very important with lots of rewards. Often a dog will exhibit an alert on their own. You can encourage this once the game is fully understood.
Do not talk too much, this is a distraction to the dog. He cannot listen to you and concentrate on following a trail. Just a "Good Boy" when he notices the article, but otherwise be quiet.
Eventually, you will want to purchase a tracking harness. These are made to fit the dog so there is not excessive pulling on the neck or the chest. A tracking harness is important because it distributes the weight and pull across the dogs' body and not his neck. You do not want to harm your dog and in tracking they can pull.
A tracking line - 30 or 40 feet. You should start with a short line (6-10 feet at the most) and gradually increase as your dog gains confidence and 'learns the game'.
Tracking work gets far more complicated than a short line track. There are turns to be added, variety of surfaces to track over and through, distractions to add in, and distance increases. The important thing to remember is that once your dog can handle a straight line track, you should begin making that track longer, adding in simple to more advanced turns, and increasing the distance between articles. Read the AKC Rules and Regulations for information on approved tracks and terrain.
A skilled dog tracking team is wonderful to watch. And so much fun for both the dog and the handler.