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Tracking Dog Sport

Dog participating in Tracking dog sport.
Submitted by: Sharon McDonald

About Tracking as a Dog Sport

Tracking is a dog sport that showcases and evaluates a dog’s natural ability to follow a scent trail left by a person walking through various terrain. Tracking is not about speed but rather the accuracy and persistence of a dog in scent detection and following a track. It makes for a fascinating display of canine instinct and performance.

In Tracking, a dog is presented with a start point where a scent trail has been left. The trail may include various turns, terrain changes, and may have been aged for a certain period. The dog’s task is to follow this trail, indicating the direction of the track and locating any articles that have been dropped by the track layer.

Key skills in Tracking include the dog’s ability to discriminate and follow a specific human scent while ignoring distractions. Training for Tracking focuses on enhancing the dog’s natural scenting abilities by teaching them to follow a trail over long distances and different types of terrain. It also involves training the dog to indicate found articles, which are objects dropped by the track layer along the trail.

While many breeds can be trained in Tracking, some are more naturally predisposed to the activity. Breeds known for their tracking abilities include the Bloodhound, German Shepherd Dog, Labrador Retriever, and Belgian Malinois, among others. However, Tracking is a sport that’s open to all breeds, as scent tracking is a natural canine ability.

Types of Tracking Trials

Tracking Trials come in various formats, ranging from basic tracks that are suitable for beginners to more complex tracks for advanced dogs. These tracks vary in length, age, and complexity. Some trials include obstacles, changes in cover, and more challenging environmental conditions.

In Tracking Trials, judges evaluate the dog’s ability to follow the track accurately and find articles. Scoring is based on factors such as the dog’s precision, its ability to stay on the trail, and the indication of articles. The teamwork between dog and handler is also a critical aspect of the evaluation.

Tracking dog sport.
Owned by: Calyn Pearson

History & Evolution of the Dog Sport of Tracking

Dogs, as descendants of wolves, have an innate ability to follow scents. This was originally used by early domesticated canines for hunting and tracking prey. This ability has been recognized and utilized by humans who have trained dogs to track game, find missing persons, and even locate criminals on the run. Over the centuries, various breeds have been developed specifically for their tracking abilities, with a focus on scent work in various conditions.

The formalization of Tracking as a sport began when dog enthusiasts and trainers recognized the potential for turning this natural canine ability into a competitive activity. This led to the organization of the first Tracking competitions, which were designed to test a dog’s ability to follow a human scent under controlled conditions. These early competitions laid the groundwork for modern Tracking Trials.

Expansion & Recognition

Tracking eventually gained popularity as a dog sport, with kennel clubs and canine organizations around the world establishing rules and standards for the establishment of Tracking Trials. This formal recognition helped to standardize the sport, making it more accessible and understandable for participants and spectators. In the United States, organizations such as the American Kennel Club (AKC) have played a significant role in popularizing and regulating Tracking Trials.

As the sport evolved, these trials became more sophisticated, incorporating different levels of difficulty to accommodate both novice and experienced dogs and handlers. Trials were designed to mimic a variety of real-life conditions, challenging the dogs’ tracking abilities in diverse environments. Modern Tracking Trials may include urban tracking, where dogs follow scents through streets and buildings, and wilderness tracking, which takes place in more natural settings.

Today, Tracking is not only a competitive sport but also a valuable training activity that reinforces the natural bond between dogs and their handlers. It provides mental stimulation for the dogs and teaches them to use their scenting abilities in a focused and controlled manner. For many dog owners, Tracking is a rewarding way to engage with their canine companions, enhancing mutual trust and understanding.


Tracking Dog Sport


Showsight Magazine | March 2024

March 2024 Vol. 32 No. 3

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