Newfords My Lovely Man

Tracking with a dog

 

By

 

Helen Bull APDT

 

A tracking dog is a dog which follows a persons scent along a trail which the person has taken, with the aim of locating them. This could be on

grass, through woodland, over stubble, gravel, across a stream or even on tarmac in a town centre. The track could be 20 mins old or 2 weeks old. It could have rained, snowed or had a heat wave since the track was laid. There might be objects belonging to the human found on the track, which

 

your dog must indicate it has found. In the case of search and rescue dogs,

 

there could be a live human at the end of the track or a body to be found.

 

Any age and breed or crossbreed of dog can train to be a tracking dog,

 

unless they have a flat face like a Japanese Chin, as they don’t have a

 

prominent nose, it would be dangerous for them. The youngest puppy I have

 

trained started at 16 weeks, the oldest was 11 years old, but they can start

 

younger or older as long as they are healthy. Its not down to age, breed or

 

sex, its down to starting the training correctly and finding your dogs own

 

motivation to want to track. In some cases its food or their favourite toy, but

 

for others its finding the person at the end of the track and having a fuss and

 

a game with them.

 

A tracking dog wears a comfortable and well fitting harness, which

 

isn’t an anti-pull type and won’t impede the free movement of the dog as it

 

is tracking. Attached to the harness is a long-line, held by the handler. The

 

long-line should be a minimum of 10 metres in length, to allow the dog

 

plenty of room to cast for the scent. It shouldn’t be made of absorbent

 

material as it will get very heavy and difficult to handle when wet. I

 

recommend the handler wears gloves with extra grip. Although the harness

 

and long-line are the basic equipment, there are more items you may want.

 

Some ground might hurt your dogs paws, so dog boots are an option. For

 

the handler, all weather gear will be needed. A torch for night tracking.

 

Canine and human first aid kits & a GPS incase you get lost. Objects from

 

the person who is laying the track, like a sock, glove or piece of a t-shirt and

 

not forgetting rewards for your dog.

 

The dogs learn to track very short tracks to start with, in a straight line

 

and into the wind. The length is increased and bends are introduced as the

 

dogs improve. Articles are placed along the track for the dogs to indicate to

 

their handlers. An indication can be a bark, sit, down or recall to handler, its

 

upto the handler to decide which they want the dog to do. The bends

 

become sharper corners and as the dog progresses, the track might even

 

cross over it self, but this all takes time and patience. Its better to do lots of

 

smaller tracks (a few metres), with good results, than to rush ahead, miss out

 

steps and ultimately lose the scent. Having said this, if you start tracking

 

with your dog, I’m sure you will be amazed at how quickly your dog picks

 

up the idea, then you will understand why the handler should wear gloves.

 

This leads me on to my next point. Some dogs are very energetic, keen,

 

large and fast. If the handler moves through the training steps too quickly,

 

their dog will respond and soon the handler will find they are unable to

 

steady their dog and the pace will get out of hand. A good tracking dog is

 

steady and the handler mustn’t try to keep up with them, the dog needs to be

 

kept at a workable pace for the handler. In the case of a SAR dog, the pace

 

will have to be quite fast.

 

If tracking is something you would like to try, but you aren’t sure if

 

your dog is suitable, then play some scent games. Hide your dogs favourite

 

toy and see if they can find it. Put 3 plant pots on the floor and hide treats

 

under one of them, see if your dog can sniff them out. Play hide and seek

 

games with family or friends, does your dog hunt them out? If your dog

 

does any of these, then he or she might make a good tracking dog. There are

 

only a few trainers in the UK who teach tracking, so it may not be easy to

 

find one in your area. The UK Tracking Dog Association has their own

 

format for assessing dogs through a system of levels. They are

 

endeavouring to make it a standalone sport and might be able to advise you

 

of a trainer in your area.

 

Progression - once you are caught up in the thrill of following and

 

trusting your dogs instincts, you might want to take it further. Search and

 

Rescue is a an option, Working Trials incorporates scent work as does

 

Schutzhund (IPO), Sniffer dogs are used to detect drugs, guns and

 

explosives, in the USA they are using dogs to find leaks in underground

 

pipes, some dogs are being used as medical alert dogs, infact progression is

 

endless, where there might be an odour your dog could be trained to detect

 

it.

 

Tracking is a dog sport where the handler encourages but is lead by

 

their dog. The only command is the one used at the start and during the

 

track, to encourage the dog to continue. The handler has to learn to read

 

their dogs body language and understand when their dog is and isn’t on the

 

scent. At the end of the track, the handler rewards the dog with food, a toy

 

or a game. Ultimately the handler has to trust their dogs instinct, which is a

 

unique experience.

Click to enlarge pedigree

Pictures courtsey of  Sam Jones (Korify Dobermanns)

Boston Puppy Group 

© 2009-2019 Newford Dobermanns/Georgie Kuhl - No images may be reproduced without consent. 

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