An Introduction To Tracking PDF Print E-mail
Written by Lois Ballard   

What is Tracking?

Tracking is a non-competitive outdoor sport where the dog and handler team follow the scent trail made by someone walking earlier in the day. The dog detects a unique combination of smells - the person's body scent, traces of soap or other toiletries, the scent of their clothes, and the smell of the vegetation crushed underfoot. Dogs have a natural ability to follow scent trails. Refining this instinct for Tracking takes time, training and patience, but is a very rewarding experience, where dog and handler work as a close team.  Tracking is a wonderful activity for dogs of all ages, it helps build confidence in the dog, and is excellent preparation for field trials.  If you enjoy spending time outdoors with your dog, I’m sure you will both love tracking.

Tracking Titles

The AKC offers 3 separate tracking tests in which the following suffix titles can be earned:  Tracking Dog (TD), Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX), and Variable Surface Tracker (VST).  A dog that earns all 3 AKC titles is awarded the prefix title of Champion Tracker (CT).  A Certification is required to enter AKC TD tests.  I strongly suggest that you read the AKC Tracking Test Rules and Regulations well in advance of entering a test, and preferably before beginning training.

What you need to start

I have begun tracking with puppies as young as 7 weeks old, or adults at just about any age.  To begin tracking, you will need a non-restrictive tracking harness, a 4-6’ lead, food treats or a toy that your dog LOVES, a few articles (leather gloves, scrap leather from an old purse, old wallet, scarf, hat, socks, etc.), some survey flags, and a place to track.  A field of 6-12 inch high grass is ideal to start, but mowed lawn will work just fine. During the summer, you might consider tracking in the cool evening in lighted areas such as industrial parks or college campuses.  Eventually, you will need a 40’ lead, rain gear, and a fanny pack or something similar to carry water, food treats and articles so your hands will be free to work the line. I don’t recommend the use of a flexi-lead for tracking, as any jerk will be considered a correction to the dog. Attending classes with a successful knowledgeable instructor is ideal but not always practical or possible.  You and your dog can learn to track on your own, at your own pace and at your convenience.

First Track

The first time you lay a track for your dog, it should be a short successful track.  Leaving your dog in the car or crate, walk out to the field with your survey flags and articles.  Stop and place a flag in the ground at your feet and an article.  Taking small steps, place an article directly in front of you every few steps, and continue this for about 20-30 steps, always trying to walk in a straight line.  Stop, place another flag in the ground to mark this as the end of the track and the final article in front of your feet.  Continue to walk in the same straight line for another 20-30 normal steps, and then circle back to get your dog, taking care not to walk near the track you just laid.  Take your dog to the start flag, put the tracking harness on and attach the lead. If your dog will allow you to put the start article in it’s mouth, do so, otherwise hold the article on your dog’s nose for a few seconds so the dog can get a good smell of the article.  Give the dog a command in an upbeat, happy voice, something like “find the glove!”  At this early stage, you will be right behind, or beside your dog and may have to point to the track and give encouragement for him to go forward.  When the dog reaches an article, say “what did you find?”, “good boy!”, or something similar and reward him with a food treat on the article.  When the dog reaches the last article, have a party with lots of food, praise and maybe his favorite toy.  Take the harness off at the end of the track.

Food rewards

In a tracking test, the track and the articles do not smell like food. If you use food on the track and on or in the articles when training, you are training your dog to track food, not human scent. It is perfectly fine to reward the dog in training with food for doing what you want, but do it in a way that the food comes from you and is not simply found by the dog on the track. There will come a time when you may want to teach your dog not to go to food that may be on or near the track.  If your dog or puppy doesn’t want to go forward on its first few tracks, you may need to use food on the articles for the very first tracking experiences.  Once the dog is going forwards towards the next article in anticipation of food being there, stop putting food on the articles.  Let the dog reach the article and then walk up to the dog and reward him with a food treat at the article.  Ideally, you want your dog to stop at the article and wait there for you to reward him and give a command to continue on.

Lead Handling

If you are right handed, hold the lead in your right hand directly in front of you at about waist height.  Using your left hand as a guide, the remainder of the line should drag on the ground on your left side and behind you.  Don’t wind the lead up in a ball when you gather it in, just let it fall to the ground beside you.  The tracking lead is your main communication with the dog. Keep a slight tension on the line when moving forward behind your dog.  You should be walking at a comfortable pace for you—do not let the dog move fast enough to make you run.  When your dog circles at a turn, stand still and gather in the line as he works closer to you, letting the line fall to the ground.  If your dog has not convinced you that he is going in the right direction, put a little tension on the line and at the same time ask your dog “are you sure, is that your track?”  You won’t get a spoken answer, but you are hoping the dog will pull just a bit harder as if he were saying “yes, I’m sure this is right, let’s go!”

Progress and what’s next

You may be doing the same exercise a few times before the dog is ready to move on to more difficult and longer tracks.  As your dog progresses, you will gradually lengthen the tracks, lengthen your stride to normal when laying the track, and increase the distance between articles.  You will then begin to age the track a few minutes before running it, stay a little further behind your dog, apply a little tension to the line, and begin to add turns. Take small steps before and after the turn to concentrate the scent, don’t “double lay” tracks.  Place a flag in the ground at the turn so you know exactly where it is, and leave an article a few steps after the turn as a reward for the dog making the turn.  Each leg of the track should be a minimum of 50 yards between turns.  Once the track is longer than 50 yards or has turns in it, you should use a second flag 30 yards out from the start flag to help you with beginning direction.

Consistent or Random

Be consistent with your commands and questions to the dog so your dog will learn what to expect.  Develop a start routine and start the same way every time you take the dog to the start.  Remove the harness at the end of the track so the dog knows that tracking is over.  Gradually you will be increasing the age of the track, length, number of turns, and the distance between you and your dog.  You will also want to develop a consistent article indication with your dog… you may want to teach your dog to sit or down at the articles. Don’t overdue it, tracking twice a week to start is great. Keep tracking random—age of the track, distance, location, time of day and weather… always keep the dog guessing and that will help keep him motivated.  Bring your tracking stuff with you.--you could be at another dog event and see a perfect tracking field, only to have no equipment with you. Improvise if you forget to bring an article when laying the track—take off a sock!  and most importantly, always keep it fun for the dog.


More info and supplies

The Tracking Club of Wisconsin has a website ( with a wealth of information on tracking.  The booklet Novice Nosework, a Primer for Beginning Trackers by Ed Presnall and Lois Ballard is also available on the TCoW website.  Craig Green has authored several very informative articles on tracking with Basset Hounds (  There are several yahoo email groups for tracking:  (, which is for CKC/AKC tracking, (, which is a CKC tracking list and (, which is for tracking with small breeds.  An excellent source for Tracking books is (  Premier Sure-Fit Harnesses and Poly Tracking leads are available from (

About the Author

Lois has been involved with dogs for over 35 years. Raised in a dog show family, she had several different breeds before realizing that the Dachshund was the breed for her. Dachshunds are a versatile breed and Lois works her pack of Miniature Wirehaired Dachshunds in many venues, with two of them earning titles in all AKC events Dachshunds are eligible for--Conformation, Tracking, Obedience, Rally, Agility, Field Trials and Earthdog.  Lois has trained and handled her own Dachshunds to 6 TD titles, 4 TDX titles, 3 VST titles, and 3 CT titles. Three of her dogs are Triple Champions, having earned their Bench, Field, and Tracking Championships.  Her dogs have won multiple Group Placements, been in the Top Ten for Conformation, won Best in Specialty Show, High In Trial Obedience, and multiple Dachshund Club of America National Triathlon competitions.  Lois likes to train with an open mind, feeling that every training session is a learning experience for both the dog and handler. She teaches weekly tracking classes for all levels, and conducts Tracking Workshops for local clubs. She is an AKC Earthdog, Dachshund Field Trial, and TD level Tracking Judge, giving her the “best seat in the house” to watch dogs and their handlers working together.  Lois was one of a few successful trainers interviewed for the April 2003 AKC Gazette article The Versatitles.  Feel free to browse Lois’ website for current information on her and her Pocketpack Miniature Dachshunds:


Last Updated on Friday, 23 April 2010 10:26