Starting Your Dog in the Fun Sport of Tracking.

One of the great things about having a dog is that they are so good at everything!

Tracking is one thing that almost any dog can do, and do very well.

Plus, tracking is something that is not only fun, but useful. Wouldn’t it be great to have dog who could find all the things that we lose? Another great thing about tracking is that you can do it alone or with friends and spend as much or little time as you want and still be successful.

There are many different ways to track. Some differences are due to the application (sport vs. Search and Rescue work) and some due to the rules of the competition.

Schutzhund tracking is very accurate and the scores given will reflect this accuracy.

AKC tracking is not as accurate and is scored on a pass or fail system.

Many police certifications exist that have their own set of standards but are usually scored with a pass or fail.

Most tracking tests have at least one article that must be identified by the dog. As the difficulty of the tests advances so do the number of articles. These articles usually include a glove. Have fun and use lots of different items right from the start.

Some tracking tests are on only grass, some can be on surfaces without vegetation and many have obstacles that must be met such as crossing water or roads. You might have to track through fields or woods.

Ultimately the track will have to be followed that is unknown and you will have no treats or toys with you.

The way that I have found it to be most effective in training tracking is to challenge your dog and to have fun.

Start by letting your dog see what you are doing. For competition tracking articles are very important. You could run a perfect track, miss the article and fail the test.

So before you start tracking at all, start by training your dog to find articles. This can be a lot of fun. If you use a clicker as part of your training, it is even easier. The system of back chaining or training the finish before the start has become quite popular in a variety of learning situations for people and dogs.

Start by having your dog wait in a place where he can see you. Leave your dog in the car, a porch or somewhere that he will stay on his own. Let him see that you have treats. Put a treat into an article and toss it. Wait a couple seconds and then tell your dog to get it. As he was watching you, this should be very easy. Work variations of this with and without treats inside the article. When he finds an article with no treat, you praise and reward him. Add articles, so that each time out he might have to find two or three articles.

Now pick an indication that your dog will easily do. I like a down . But the important thing to remember is that it should be something that your dog likes to do!

Many times I have worked with students whose dog will not indicate and then I see why. The dog tracks nicely, finds and article and the handler will yel DOWN . This is terribly upsetting to the dog and no fun at all! These dogs will sometimes start to avoid the article altogether.

Indication work should be done separately. Just take an article and teach your dog to down (or whatever you choose) and reward that behavior. Do this a bunch of times. Then when you go back out to finding the articles, wait for your dog to offer this behavior by himself.

As we all know, the dogs are so smart that they might just do it. If not, you can coach or prompt with a soft down command, mark that behavior and do it again on another article.

I like treats for rewarding the indication as it is calmer than a toy, but I do play with a tug toy at the end for the big prize.

The next step is to actually learn to track. You will find it much easier as he will simply be using the tracking as a way to get to the articles that he already knows are a great source of treats!

For this I recommend a harness. I like the black nylon 1 with a 25 matching leash. Everyone likes something different; get what feels right to you. You want something that is easy to keep clean and does not weigh too much when it gets wet.

Let your dog see you take the articles. Put one at the beginning of the track and you can mark this with a flag if you want. Walk a few paces and drop another article. Do this until you have placed 5-6 articles.

Go back and get your dog. Put the harness on and give him the command to track or find the articles, or whatever you have chosen to say. Verbally praise your dog as he finds each article, but he only gets the treat when he indicates it. At the last article have a big play session and really let him know how good a job he did.

Some common questions and dos and don’ts:

Do pick an area free from distractions, but as he gets better, change your areas frequently. Scent will stay there for longer than we think.

Use only praise. Do not reprimand a dog while doing scent work. We do not know where the scent is; only he does. Praise accuracy, ignore the mistakes, stand firm (grow roots), do not follow him the wrong way.

Only train on tracks that you know 100%. Either you lay them or watch another person lay them or mark them with flagging tape or chalk. Never train on blind tracks.

Never put food on the ground and never rub liverwurst or any other food on your shoes. Besides being gross, I do not want my dog to eat food off the ground. I want him to track human scent not liver.

Use many more articles than you need to. By having lots of articles, the dog gets all the rewards of a track with food on it without having to put the food there plus you are teaching him to find the articles. It works so much better.

Keep your tracking line taut; put a couple knots in it to hold on to. Never run. Breathe, and hold the line like two baby birds are in your hands. You do not want to crush them, nor can you let them fly away.

Have fun! Trust your dog.

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