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Ready, Set, Let’s Go! - Track or Treat

Posted by Christina Potter on

Have you ever watched search-and-rescue dogs and wished your dog could do that? Well, with the sport of Tracking, he can. It is estimated that dogs’ sense of smell is 100,000 stronger than humans’. Thus, tracking comes naturally to them. Tracking is the competitive sport that demonstrates the dog’s natural ability to recognize a scent and follow it. In this sport, dogs are trained to follow a scent trail with accuracy and then find a specific object or objects at the start, along the way or end of the trail. In tracking, the dog is in charge and the handler just follows, he does not give instructions. The dog wears a harness with a twenty to forty foot leash and guides the handler through the outdoor trail.

There are three main organizations that sanction tracking competitions or tests, one of them is the American Kennel Club (AKC). In the AKC, your dog can earn four different tracking titles; Tracking Dog (TD), Tracking Dog Urban (TDU), Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX) and Variable Surface Tracker (VST). If your dog passes all the levels, an extremely difficult feat, he will receive the title of Champion Tracker (CT). In the TD level, the dog follows a 440 to 500 yard long track in an open field. This beginning level has three to five turns and has been “aged” (the time at which the scent was laid down to the time your dog starts tracking) thirty minutes to two hours. He will follow the track until he finds and indicates the scented article, usually a glove, to the handler. This level has a passing rate of up to 60%. The TDU level has a 400 to 500 yard track with three to five 90 degree turns. The scent has also been aged thirty minutes to two hours. The track setting is an urban environment with a non-vegetative surface; such as, a parking lot, a sidewalk, a baseball diamond, etc. The track will cover at least two different surfaces. There will be three different articles to recover; one at the start, one halfway and one at the end. The TDX track is 800 to 1,000 yards in length and, will have between five and seven turns. This track will be aged from three to five hours. It will have four different articles (one each; cloth, leather, metal and plastic) one at the start and three more along the track. It will include two divisions and the dog must determine the direction of the first leg. The passing rate for this level is 20%. The VST track is 600 to 800 with four to eight turns. It will be aged between three to five hours. It will contain three different surfaces and will have one turn on a non-vegetative surface. With only a 5% passing rate, this level truly demonstrates the dog’s ability to track in an urban environment.

Tracking trials or tests are normally held on Sundays in any weather. When you arrive at the test sight, you will gather with the other exhibitors for a “drawing” which will determine the order in which you will participate. When it’s your turn, you will attach the twenty to forty foot leash on your dog and you will begin. The dog must remain on lead at all times and must follow the correct track. He must find the article along the way. Two judges will follow the dog and handler to make sure the dog stays on track. If he goes off the track and the judge doesn’t think the dog will be able to pick up the scent again, he will blow the whistle signaling that the team has failed. The dog can take as long as he wants, provided he’s still working the track. If the dog finds the article or articles, he will earn the tracking title for that level.

Though AKC tracking is open to all breeds, some will be better than others. Use your common sense to determine if Fifi would enjoy this sport. If she is a five pound Chihuahua, tracking may not be for her.However, if Fifi is a Basset Hound, you may both soon become addicted to this sport.


If you enjoy Christina's writing, check her books out! She is the author of “Chester Gigolo: Diary of a Dog Star” and "Insider Training: Chester Gigolo’s Dog Training Secrets Revealed” for which she won the 2016 DWAA Captain Haggerty award for Best Training Book and the 11th Annual National Indie Excellence Award (Animals & Pets). She is also a contributing author to “Animal Stars: Behind the Scenes with Your Favorite Animal Actors”. She has written multiple articles which have appeared in various international publications.