Tracking...at the end of the rope by Kathy Williams
Tracking is a way to demonstrate a dog’s ability to recognize and follow human scent, according to the www.akc.org ‘s Tracking Regulations booklet. Teaching a GSP to track a human when they are more accustomed to air scenting can be a challenge, and infinitely rewarding. A few more words from the AKC:… “tracking is a skill that is useful in the service of mankind. Tracking by nature, is a vigorous, noncompetitive outdoor sport. Tracking tests demonstrate the willingness and enjoyment of the dog in its work, and should always represent the best in sportsmanship and camaraderie by the people involved”.
Like all performance events with dogs, there is specific training to become a tracking dog. Any breed can achieve tracking titles, and bird dogs, even though they are naturally air-scenters, can track with the best of them. There are three tracking titles you and your dog can attain. Two judges are used for every tracking test and a dog needs to pass one test to attain the title. Because it takes a lot of acreage to hold six to ten tracking tests in a day, a tracking judge, prior to entering a tracking test, must certify each dog. To certify the dog/handler team must successfully complete a track.
The first level is Tracking Dog (TD). For a TD the dog must follow a track laid by a person (walking normally) under a variety of conditions on moderate terrain and find an article (usually a glove or a wallet) dropped by that person at the end of the track. The basics of the TD track are: it is at least 440 yards long and no more than 500 yards; each leg of the track will be at least 50 yards long; the scent on the track shall be not less than 30 minutes nor more than 2 hours old; and, the track will have a total of 3 to 5 turns turning both right and left at 90 degrees.
For the Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX): the track is at least 800 yards long and not more than 1,000 yards in length; the scent shall be not less than 3 hours nor more than 5 hours old; a total of 5 to 7 turns shall be used, both right and left with some open and some at 90 degree angle; there will be two cross tracks and at least two obstacles to challenge the dog and there will be at least four articles dropped along the track, which the dog must indicate finding. TD and TDX tracks are laid on natural terrain, with an occasional gravel/dirt road to cross at the TDX. Level. Fort Lewis, Scatter Creek, Cherry Valley are all places tracking is done.
Variable Surface Tracking Test (VST) has a track of 600 to 800 yards, and a minimum of three different surfaces, which includes vegetation and one or more of the following: concrete, asphalt, gravel, sand, hard pan or mulch. The scent shall be not less than 3 and not more than 5 hours old, and there will be no less than 4 and no more than 8 turns on the track, which no physical challenges. There are four articles dropped Ð one metal, one plastic, one fabric and leather. College campuses are good sites for VSTs. When you get all three tracking titles you achieve your champion tracker title: C.T.
With that brief introduction, how do you get started? There is an excellent book by William (Sil) Sanders who lives in Stanwood, WA. It is Enthusiastic Tracking: The Step-by-Step Training Handbook, 1998, Rime Publications. It gives you how to start, how to train yourself and your dog, how to prepare for events, and what the dog is scenting. Bird dogs may tend to do short quarters down a track, scenting both the ground and the air. When a person walks through a field, he/she gives off different types of scent: particles of skin, hair and breath are left behind as we move; foot prints crush vegetation and bruises the grass; each step disturbs the soil beneath the vegetation and rubs off shoe/boot particles; and then there is the article at the end – which the dog may scent from quite a distance, especially if it is leather.
Basically you start with short, straight tracks into the wind, with food drops a long the way so that your dog gets its nose to the ground. It is very positive, motivation and rewarding training because “enthusiastic” is a key word – you want your dog to want to track. You slowly lengthen the tracks and reduce the amount of food used. You learn to read your dog; you do downwind and cross winds tracks. Then your introduce turns one at a time, you get out to different areas and types of terrain and vegetation; you get other people to lay tracks for you so you’re your dog learns to follow the scent of someone else and you learn to read your dog without knowing where the track is. Eventually you do a real, whole track. And it is truly an amazing feeling when you don’t know where your dog it taking you, but Yahoo! …all of the sudden there is the end of the track, the article and your dog is so very happy that she found it. It’s a process of learning to trust your dog, too, like in hunt tests, and letting them take you where the track is. A big difference between tracking and hunt test is that you are attached to your dog by a 40-foot line attached to the tracking harness – you are connected! Sometimes you are running behind your dog as they pull happily through the field.