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CANINE CONNECTION: On track for healthy dogs

Dog and owner can function as a tracking team

As a great canine leader you have been trying to find fun things to do with your dog to keep him mentally and physically fit.

But after purchasing just about every ball or retrieving toy imaginable, Fido won’t chase after anything but her tail.

So what do you do? Do you give up on your dreams of building a strong bond through play and interactive activities and stick to dodgy and dirty dog parks or do you think outside of the box and consider trying something like agility?

Agility intrigues you but you just don’t have the energy to race around after your dog nor does your schedule allow you to set aside the time to get to the indoor course every week. So, besides agility classes what else is there for dogs to do with their owner that is fun, mentally and physically stimulating, and can be done just about anywhere and on your own time?

The answer is tracking!

What exactly is tracking?

Tracking is an outdoor activity where a dog is taught to use its highly refined sniffer to find and follow a scent, from a start point to an end point. And the scent they are trained to follow is human.

Now you are probably wondering how human scent is used when teaching a dog to track. Does someone walk around dragging a bag of dirty laundry? Do they walk naked through the fields? Do they leave drops of body fluid on the ground?

The answer is no, no and definitely no. 

A dog is taught, using food rewards, to place its nose to the ground, locate a particular odour that has been placed on the ground, by having a person simply walk in a particular direction, and follow that particular odour to the end.

Through repetition and reward a dog learns to focus on one scent, which starts off as its owner’s scent and as a dog’s confidence and skill grows the dog is then transitioned to following any human scent it is asked to follow.

It sounds far more complicated than it is, and to a human it is kind of complicated because we simply cannot comprehend the idea of being able to smell one particular odour above all others through a barrage of changing environmental factors and focus on that one scent, ignoring all the other scents, through to the end. But to a dog it is as easy as blinking. Yes, it is that easy to a dog, all dogs in fact.

Your dog does not have to be of a particular breed known for their scenting abilities such as a bloodhound, but can be any breed or mix of breed. German shepherds excel at tracking as do retrievers, pointers, herding dogs, poodles, miniature dogs, mixed breed dogs . . . all dogs. There is not a one dog that does not enjoy tracking. Humans on the other hand are a different story. Because this activity is done outdoors, you have to be someone who enjoys spending time in the outdoors. Not the sitting on an outdoor patio sipping a latte kind of outdoor person, but someone who enjoys putting on hiking boots, all weather clothing and spending a few hours holding hands with mother nature and their dog.

Tracking is a highly interactive activity. Your dog and you work as a team. As your dog becomes a more proficient sniffer, you are taught how to read your dog’s body language and decipher when it is on scent and when it is not. Your dog is also on leash, a 20+ foot leash which is used as a tool of communication rather than a tool of restriction and control.

It is advised to take a tracking course to learn the basics from a professional and set a solid foundation. Then once you and your dog are competent enough, you can take your tracking activity anywhere.

Tracks can be set in the forest, on grass fields even through neighbourhoods, they are limited only by the owner’s imagination.

There are even sanctioned competitions where awards and titles are given by the Canadian Kennel Club or the American Kennel Club if you choose to take your sport across the border.

And the sport is not exclusive to purebreds, it is now open to all dogs.

If you are looking for something fun to do with your dog that will boost its confidence, improve your bond and provide mental and physical stimulation for your dog, consider the sport of tracking.


Joan Klucha has been working with dogs for more than 15 years in obedience, tracking and behavioural rehabilitation.