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Dog Sports 101: Tracking

shutterstock_32071456Dogs are especially good at using their noses for all sorts of things. You can teach them to locate certain items, such as drugs or explosives, or even people that have been lost. Dogs have the ability to find a murder victim that’s been dumped in a lake, or someone buried alive under an avalanche. Dogs can do many amazing things with their noses, and it’s no wonder that we’ve developed sports that emphasize their greatness. One of the most important parts of Search and Rescue training is tracking. Tracking is when a dog follows a trail of scent to find items or people at the end.

There are a number of ways you can compete in tracking sports with dogs, with the most common venues being AKC and IPO. Most of these sports focus on a certain type of tracking, called footstep tracking. Footstep tracking is essentially just as it sounds. A person lays a track, and the dog follows the trail, sniffing each footstep, until he reaches the end. In IPO tracking, there are articles that are placed along the track that the dog must indicate. When he finds him, his handler will show them to the judge. Depending on the length of the track, there are anywhere from 2-7 articles. In AKC tracking, the dog follows the track and only indicates one article at the very end. Each indication is different, and the judging for each track is slightly different because they are different venues. But the training is mostly the same. The dogs must follow a trail laid either by their handler or a stranger, and indicate articles left on the track.

Since we’re most focused on IPO and AKC tracking, we will cover the titles offered by those venues. IPO is a sport, rather than an organization. IPO is a protection dog sport that contains tracking, obedience, and protection. After passing the initial temperament test, dogs can go on only to compete in tracking. They have three levels of tracking in IPO, the FPr1-3. If the dog and handler team wish to compete at higher levels of tracking, they can go on to achieve the FH and FH2 titles. These tracks cover a greater distance, include cross tracks by other track layers, and are aged up to three hours.shutterstock_93178537

AKC tracking does not require any temperament test, except that the dog must demonstrate tracking ability prior to attempting any titles. Once that’s done, dog’s can earn a TD (Tracking Dog), TDX (Tracking Dog Excellent), (VST) Variable Surface Tracking, and CT (Champion Tracker). These get more difficult as the dog moves on, with the VST covered varied terrain in a single track. In order to become a CT, dogs must earn all three of the titles offered before.

Tracking can be difficult for some handlers to train. However, it’s not a sport that needs to be over-thought. Tracking comes naturally to all dogs. It’s a sport where handlers stand back at the end of a long-line and let their dogs do all of the work. In fact, most handlers find incredible joy in watching their dogs work so naturally. After all, tracking is an innate behavior in dogs given their incredible sense of smell. So it’s a lot of fun for both dogs and handlers. There are plenty of tracking clubs around, and it’s a very calm and enjoyable way for you and your dog to get some physical and mental exercise. If you think the faster, more demanding dog sports aren’t for you but you’re interested in being active in a new way, go ahead and give tracking a try. You’ll likely be surprised at how well your dog will do.

About the Author

Katie is a professional dog trainer located in Southern California, with a background of experience as a veterinary assistant as well. She has trained and competed with multiple breeds in AKC Obedience and Rally, agility, herding, Schutzhund/IPO, French Ring and conformation. She has been involved in dogs since she was a child, and specializes in protection dogs, working dogs, and aggression issues. You can visit her website, Katie’s Dog Training, to find out more information about her training and accomplishments. When she’s not helping others and writing, she’s out on the field with her Belgian Malinois and Pembroke Welsh Corgi.

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Written by Katie Finlay
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