By Jane Bowers
Tracking is a fun activity many dogs can do and that most enjoy. Generally if a dog enjoys retrieving, has some prey drive, shows persistence in finding things and is in good health, they will do well in tracking. Success in tracking is also dependent on the skill of the trainer, the time spent teaching the dog the basics and beyond and the rewards for the dog.
Tracking and search work utilizes the incredible senses that dogs possess. In particular, their sense of smell. When trained, dogs can identify and follow the scent of a particular person or animal, indicate to their handler when they have identified a certain odour like that of illicit drugs or the presence of bedbugs for example.
The human body reportedly sheds about 30,00 to 40,000 skin cells per minute (varies due to several factors) and these cells become a part of individualized “rafts” made up of one or more cells and about 4 microbial “passengers” of bacteria unique to the person. This is what tracking dogs follow when tracking an individual.
By keeping the track simple initially, the dog’s confidence in both himself and the handler will grow. Over time and as the dog’s skills increase, the tracks can be made steadily more difficult in a variety of ways, always working at a pace where the dog’s confidence is built and maintained. There are many things that can influence the difficulty of the track, such as surface of the ground, direction of the track, weather conditions, wind speed and direction, terrain, wildlife that may have left “cross-tracks”, human traffic, buildings, fencing and the speed of the tracklayer’s movement. The key is to challenge but not overwhelm the dog so he enjoys learning and so he enjoys the search.
Dogs learn quickly when trained using “inducive” techniques, (appealing to his senses, instincts and temperament to provide the dog with a reason to behave in a specific manner), and then rewarding him for the behaviour.
Tracking is a good way to mentally tire a busy dog and dogs of any size and a variety of breeds enjoy fun tracking and search exercises.
About the Author
Jane Bowers BA CPDT-KA CABC runs Dogs of Distinction in Roberts Creek, British Columbia and has been training dogs for over two decades. She teaches people to train their dogs in group and private training courses and has a keen interest in assisting dogs with behavioral issues. She also has a monthly newspaper column on dog-related topics and was a former host of a live call-in television show on animals. She has a degree in psychology and is certified as a dog trainer through the CCPDT and as a behavior consultant through the IAABC and the AABP. She is also author of the book Perfect Puppy Parenting.