What is Tracking?
Dogs explore the world around them differently than we do. Their most powerful thing is their nose, which can be 100.000 times more sensitive than ours. They will sniff and track an interesting scent for hours if we allow them to. That is where tracking comes into play. The sport of tracking is basically an assessment of the dog’s scenting ability. Here’s what you should know about the sport of tracking.
Tracking can be defined as a sporting event where a dog’s ability to follow a specific scent trail and their abilities can be fairly scored. These events are usually pretty straightforward, without the deliberate “masking” of the scent trail. The objective is - the dog has to find the “tracklayer” and all possible items they might have dropped along the way.
All dogs competing in tracking have to follow a carefully mapped, laid, and marked trail judges placed before the actual event. The trail is usually laid by judges or stewards. The judges or stewards can quickly determine if a dog is actually following a scent or simply being led along a marked trail. When the marks, ribbons, or signs are removed, the judges should know exactly how many corners and items are placed.
On the day of the event, the tracklayer (usually a person) follows the marked trail and leaves a clear scent dogs can follow. Along the trail, the judges will instruct them to leave items of clothing or things they left their scent on. Dogs are being led on a 30-foot leash, but the length can vary based on the terrain.
There are different levels of difficulty, and different organizations have slightly different rules. However, the objective remains the same - the dog has to find the tracklayer. Imagine a lost person scenario. The dog must follow a complicated scent trail, and tracking is an intro to a much serious task - search and rescue.
Many dog owners think about joining tracking events, but they might not be sure if their dog can participate. The truth is, different tracking clubs have different rules. Some will allow only pureblooded dogs to participate, and some will allow mixed and designer breeds. Keep in mind that certain breeds, like the Bloodhound, were selectively bred with the purpose of perfecting their tracking ability. They have a natural advantage, and many mixed dogs simply cannot keep up.
There are different tracking clubs you can join and develop your dog’s tracking abilities. They will provide you support and can even get you the official title for tracking dogs. You should pick a club conveniently close to you, and you can actively participate in training. Plus, older, more experienced members can mentor you and your dog. If you go at it alone, you can have a hard time.
Like with other canine sports, tracking offers a few tests and titles your dog can earn. However, unlike other sports, tracking only requires your dog to finish a specific trail or test once. The dog doesn’t have to repeat the test couple of times to earn a title. Here are the three official and one optional title your dog can earn;
Your dog can earn the “Tracking Dog” (TD) title by completing a 440 - 500 yard long trail with 3 - 5 changes of direction. The tracklayer is human, and the goal is for the dog to find the article at the end of the trail. The trail can be 30 minutes to 2 hours “old.”
The “Tracking Dog Urban” (TDU) is earned when the dog follows a scent in an urban environment with different distractions. The dog has to find the items dropped by the tracklayer. This is an optional title, and tracking clubs don’t have to offer it.
The “Tracking Dog Excellent” (TDX) title is earned when a dog finishes a more difficult test. The scent trail is 800 - 1.000 yards long with 5 - 7 direction changes. Plus, there will be another human crossing the scent trail, and the dog cannot start following the wrong scent. Plus, the track can be 3 - 5 hours “old.”
The “Variable Surface Tracking” (VST) title is given to dogs that have demonstrated they can follow a trail across areas without vegetation. The dog might have to follow scents on the street, through a building, or a parking lot. The trail can be 3 - 5 hours “old.”
After the dog completes the three tests and earns three titles, they are given the prestigious title of Champion Tracker.
Tracking can be a fun activity for your dog. It will provide plenty of mental stimulation, and the dog will get to use their favorite sense. If you have a dog that seems very “nosey,” maybe it is time to get them to do some tracking.
World Dog Finder team