Saturday, November 13th, 2010: Agility @ 8
Dog Tracking Class
Misty Pines offers Tracking Workshops along with regular training events for those interested in the sport.
All dogs have the ability to track. Man has exploited this for centuries to his benefit and in some cases, for survival. In the case of sport tracking...pure enjoyment!
So what is sport tracking?
Most of us take for granted this incredible ability that Scruffy possesses because it’s something we see all the time. Think about it, when Scruffy goes for a walk, Scruffy’s nose is glued to the ground. He’s interpreting his world through scent. Sure, Scruffy is also using his vision to navigate and responding to sounds but his sense of smell provides him the primary information he needs.
An example, human vision is trichromatic; in a nutshell, our eyes are capable of interpreting the primary colors detailing our environment. Most of us see the world in intense colors and variations of details that aid in our daily survival. Our other senses such as olfactory and auditory accessorize our sight. Dogs on the other hand maintain a sense of smell that is as rich, if not more acute than human eyesight. In other words, dogs can smell what we see……...and then some. But we cannot see what they smell.
That’s putting it rather simplistically but it is a reasonable analogy that demonstrates how refined a dog sense of smell truly is.
Although domesticated, Scruffy is a predator that naturally “tracks”. Therefore, we really don't have to teach a dog to track, we exploit their natural ability to find what it is we want them to.
“What breeds make the best trackers?”
As previously mentioned, herding, working and sporting breeds tend to thrive in the sport but any breed of dog can have the potential. Dogs are individuals and some dogs may have a stronger drive to track than others. Sport tracking requires stamina by both dog and handler along with tolerance for weather elements.
Some believe “brach cephalic” dogs such as bull dogs, pugs, boxers, and other short muzzle breeds do not have as many scent receptors lining the nasal passages as dogs with longer muzzles…but they can still track. Unless a dog has a chronic upper respiratory or other health issues, or a lack of drive for tracking, there shouldn’t be any reason any dog couldn’t participate. Same rules apply for tracking as for any other training: level of effort will define level of success.
"How do I train for tracking?"
Like all disciplines there are many ways to train the dog to track. You are not actually teaching the dog to track. Dogs are able to do that from birth. What you are doing is training the dog to follow a designated scent. The most common way to start in tracking is to attend a seminar or course and then hook-up with a group with other tracking enthusiasts to do regular training. Unlike like obedience or conformation you cannot easily take group training, as the ground and space necessary is quite large and the time taken for each dog is too great to make it viable to train more than a few dogs at a time. Hence most people find it more practical either to do most of their training on their own or in small groups. Whichever way you train, you will be constantly surprised at the ability of the dog to track and to differentiate various scents, primarily breakage of vegetation. When starting foundation work, it is helpful to work individually. It is absolutely necessary for a handler to make their own tracks. When starting a dog, the handler must know where the track is at all times. Once a level of proficiency is developed and the dog understands what you’re asking him to do, then it’s time to have others lay the tracks for your dog.
“How frequently should we train”?
Generally in the beginning, a dog is worked on foundation training at least 4-5 days per week requiring ~˝ hour per session. As the dog progresses and tracks become aged, then 2-3 times weekly is ideal. This of course depends on how quickly the dog is advancing. Once the dog has clearly developed a command for tracking (able to consistently complete a AKC TD length track) then weekly is sufficient depending on your goals.
“How old does a dog need to be to start sport tracking?”
With puppies, it’s a good idea to wait a couple of weeks after the last series of vaccines but no younger than 12 weeks. Otherwise, as long as the dog is physically able and demonstrates a drive...it’s never too late!
"What equipment is required?"
“I’m very interested in getting involved with search and rescue (SAR) with my dog, will sport tracking benefit my goal?”
Although some of the concepts used to train dogs in sport tracking are similar to methods used for training a dog in search or recovery, sport tracking is exactly what the title denotes, a sport. The training required to become a “Search dog team” is a total lifestyle commitment requiring hundreds of hours of dedication to training both handler and dog; sport tracking is basically a leisure activity to do with one’s dog.
"What prerequisites are there for entering a tracking trial?"
For an AKC sanctioned event, dogs must be registered with the American Kennel Club and pass a Tracking Qualification Test. Although no obedience qualifications are required, basic obedience is recommended.
"What tracking titles are available?"
AKC titles are: Tracking Dog (T.D.) Tracking Dog Excellent (T.D.X.) Variable Surface Tracker (VST) Champion Tracker (CT). Other organizations such as the CKC, Schutzhund USA, have their own titles that can be earned.
"What’s a typical tracking test entail?"
For TD track at least 440- 500 yards in total length with a minimum of 3-5 90 degree turns. There will be two articles placed on the track. The dog must give clear indication that the article left by the tracklayer at the end of the track has been found. For more details, review the AKC tracking section on their website. www.akc.org