I would like to share how I’ve come to like this latest tracking method.  I’ve been tracking and teaching it for over 30 years.  With the help of Camp Gone to the Dogs, I’ve started over 8000 pups/dogs of ALL AKC breeds and designer dogs.  I will admit to being easily bored so have changed my training methods over 8 times in those years.  I KNOW the dogs can do it; I just have to figure out how to get the human to catch up with the dog! 

I am also an AKC Tracking Judge for all 4 titles.  What I have learned over the years is this – it doesn’t matter how well the dog adheres to the track.  If the dog is within inches of the track but doesn’t find the articles, the dog fails. So, for me, finding the articles is what it is ALL about! Granted, I would like my dog to be really close to the actual track, less chance of missing an article or a turn.

So, how do I start my pup/dog?  That depends on whether I am teaching a group or just my pup.  Why the 2 different ways?  I know what I am looking for with my dog.  I don’t know what each person wants from their dog.  If they haven’t done tracking before, they don’t know what they what from their dog.

 If you have read a book on tracking or gone to a clinic, the author or instructor will try to tell you “how to read your dog”, right?  Look at his head, watch his ears, watch his tail, is he really pulling in the harness, etc.    Let me tell you exactly how simple it is – DATA!  DATA stands for:

D- Distraction

A – Article

T – Turn

A – Anything else (potty, crittering, etc.)

You follow your dog off the start flag because you believe the dog’s body language says “I’m on the scent”.  When that body language changes, it is only for DATA .

Also, let me say this, if your dog just slightly turns his head to say “there’s the article” and you accept that, in a test, your dog will give you at least 70% LESS of an indication!  So, if you accept a slight head turn, you may get a blink. If you want a down at an article, you may get a sit or a stand.  Both better to recognize that your dog has found something than just a blink!  I train for the down OFF the tracking field!  I don’t want to mix obedience with tracking.

So, with my pup, before ever going out to do tracking, I play with a leather glove, appropriate for his size.  I play tug, toss it, encourage him to retrieve it, etc.  I say repeatedly, “Where’s the glove, get the glove”.  After a few days of the pup driving to find the glove in the house, in the yard, under leaves, branches, etc., the pup is ready for a track.

Ok, I’m ready to put out tracks for my pup/dog.  I’m going to put out 2 tracks at least 30 yards long for an 8-16 week old pup, 50 yards at least for an older pup/dog.  I will put something at the start (surveyor’s flag works well, Home Depot – 100 for $20.), pick an aim point to walk towards so I can try to keep a straight line, which helps the dog stay on track better than a crooked line.

I’ll put an article out every 8 steps for a pup, 10 for an older pup/dog.  After 5 articles, I’ll start putting the articles another 2-5 feet further apart.  I don’t want the pup/dog to think that the articles will ALWAYS be that far apart.  I’ll put at least 8 articles out, usually not more than 10 per track. On the return track, I’ll start with the articles about 12 steps apart for the first few and then each article is several feet further from that each time you put an article down.

Now, I wait for at least 2 hours before having the pup/dog run the track.  Why?  I want all of the air scent gone as much as possible so the pup/dog learns to use ground scent to follow the track, find articles, turns, etc.  A dog who learns to air scent rarely learns to ground scent.  Remember the Peanuts comic strip?  We are ALL Pigpen!  Except we have our scent cloud be around us instead of following us.  It is as high as we are tall and at least 3 feet wide.  The longer we wait to have the dog work the track, the more the scent falls to the ground.  A good dog can follow the scent for at least 3 days!!  Special photography has shown that the scent is an inch underground in 24 hours.  A good dog can smell a dead body under 5 feet of cement and under more than 60 feet of water!

Ground scent is what gets you AKC tracking tiles.  A dog who learns to ground scent will learn to air scent when needed. 

Have LOTS of GREAT treats!  The pup/dog gets several ON each article!! I walk the pup/dog on a very short leash, maybe 2 feet at the most.  I want the pup to learn from track one to stay as close to the actual track.  Food is put ON the article, not given to the pup from your hand!  The article is what caused him to get a treat!  You HAVE to be just an enthusiastic for EACH article as when your dog comes when called!  Otherwise, why do it, is what the pup/dog thinks.

When the track is done, I stop praising!  The pup/dog gets all the talk/praise while on the track. You will need to be very careful of HOW you talk to your dog while he is tracking.  Too excited/high pitched, the head pops up and the dog isn’t tracking, just looking at you.  Keep it low key and calm!

At first, I don’t bother with a tracking command.  Each time the pup gets to an article, I praise like crazy! When the pup is done eating, I relax my shoulders, take a deep breath and say “There’s more”. That’s the pup’s cue that he needs to move forward to find another article.

Training Resources

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Mary Thompson - Tracking (See below article) - In Memorium