top of page

Tracking / Trailing

Handling a tracking or trailing dog is, in my opinion, the hardest K9 discipline to learn if you want to do it well. The handler must be able to read their dog in order to know when he is on track and when he is off. This takes thousands of practice hours behind the dog, learning how your dog responds under many different conditions. Tracking dogs basically follow the subject's footsteps. They are oriented to the mixture of human scent and ground disturbance where they walked. Trailing dogs are oriented to the cells that have fallen to the ground along the subject's route. This dog may work some distance from the actual trail due to wind conditions.



Both Tracking and Trailing dogs are worked in harness with a 15 foot lead. Buy a harness that has a "Y" front. Harnesses that have a strap going straight across the dog's chest tend to choke the dog. The "Y" harness allows your dog to lean into the harness and pull. Having the front "Y" padded will be more comfortable for your dog. You will also need a 15 foot line or lead, either leather or ASAT (all season, all terrain) which is a synthetic leather and easier to care for than leather. Nylon leads can burn your hands when working your dog.



There are two basic ways to train a dog to track. Foot Step Tracking (FST) and Tracking Thru Drive (TTD). While many dogs are still trained only using FST training methods, many trainers are switching over to TTD training. TTD requires the dog to run the track (mostly with his head up) and his handler running to keep up with him. I recommend a mixture of both FST and TTD when training a tracking dog. Doing runaways (TTD) at the very beginning builds drive. I then add components of FST to teach the dog to work the track with his nose down and stay focused on the track, eventually doing mostly FST training with a few TTD runaways thrown in occasionally to keep it fun for the dog.


Track Layers

The people who lay tracks for you are actually training your dog. Be sure they can follow directions and lay tracks exactly where you want them. They should be willing to hide for long periods and ready to treat or play with your dog the second he reaches them. Treats are always given by hand. They should speak in high pitched tones when praising them. They should love dogs and not mind being licked, slobbered, or jumped on. The more excited they are, the more your dog will enjoy finding people. If your track layer does not meet these needs, find another one.


Start Routine

You should follow the same routine every time you start your dog. A good routine would be to hook up your dog and walk him in a different area to allow him to potty and get used to the scents in the area. Talk quietly to your dog. About 5 feet from the scent article harness up your dog and walk him up to the scent article. Give him the command as soon as his nose touches the scent article, then BE QUIET. Let the lead out to let your dog work the start area but STAND YOUR GROUND until the dog takes off on the right track then step out after him.


Before You Start Training

1. Don't be in a rush when tracking. Give your dog time to work.

2. Don't get frustrated. Your frustration travels straight down the line to your dog. Relax and enjoy watching your dog work.

3. When you first start training with your dog, you should know exactly where the track is. Youcan mark the trail with landscape flags approximately every three feet. I have also used large metal washers with a bit of flagging tape tied on each one. The track layer throws down a washer approximately every three feet, which then can be picked up with a long handled magnet afterwards. I also encourage laying tracks in light snow. Each footprint captures scent very well and the handler can easily see if his dog is on track or not.

4. Avoid leading your dog or directing the line over to the track. Avoid cueing your dog either consciously or subconsciously. Dogs are masters at reading your body language. Your dog will learn to follow you instead of following the track with his nose.

5. As the dog moves forward on the track, move forward with him. When he stops, you stop. Only move forward when he has his nose down on the track. If he moves off the track; stop where you are. Keep the lead slightly taut. Do not move your feet until his nose is on the track and the dog moves forward. Don't say anything. He will quickly find out that he can only move if he follows scent. When he moves out on the track again with his nose down give him a quiet "good boy".

6. Watch your lead handling. Keep the line slightly taut. Let the lead slide out when the dog quickens his pace and gently pull in the line when the dog slows up. Never jerk or pull sharply on the line when tracking.This is a correction, and if the dog was doing his job and you accidentally correct him, he is going to wonder what he did wrong.

7. Let the line all the way out. Give your dog room to work. Walk straight behind your dog (not at an angle). If your dog is tracking in a ditch, get down there with him.

8. Let the line or lead drag behind you if necessary. When looping up the excess line, it can get tangled and knot up when you try to let the line out again. Trying to get a knot out when on the track may jerk the line which translates as a correction by your dog.

9. When your dog turns around a tree, do not follow him around the tree. Instead grab the line as it comes around the tree.

10. If your dog suddenly turns back on the trail, lift the line into the air with one hand and reel it with the other hand. If it drags on the ground, your dog's legs may get tangled in the line.

11. When watching an experienced handler, watch how they handle the line.

12. Even dogs have bad days. If your dog is not focused or working the way he should, stop tracking, remove his harness and walk him quietly back to the vehicle. DO NOT say anything and DO NOT punish him.They will learn the big party only comes when they work. Let him rest 30 minutes or more and then try another track. You can also have the track layer run off and take the dog back to the vehicle. The dog is left thinking his favorite track layer is still out there somewhere. We bring the dog out again later, give him the track layers scent article and the dog is off on the track like a shot. Do not always start your dog facing the direction of the track. Bring him in from the side or stand on the track and start him, he will have to turn completely around to start the track. You do not want to condition your dog to always go forward when starting a track. When you start working Blind Tracks, your dog will need to determine the Direction of Travel.


Big Party!


When your dog finds his subject, there must be a BIG party. You, the subject, and anyone else there, gives the dog lots of treats, playing with their favorite toy and praise. Get excited! The bigger the party, the better the dog learns that finding people is the best thing in the world. Find out what really excites your dog. Is it treats or a special toy? Then only use those treats or special toy just for SAR practice or work. Dogs don't track people just because they love them or just because you ask them to. They do it for the big paycheck and party at the end of every  track!


Keeping Records

In the beginning, all you may need is a notebook. Write down how long the track was, who the track layer was, date, time, weather etc. More importantly write down what your dog looks like and how he acts when he is in scent. Meticulous records are important to keep from a legal standpoint, but also necessary for you to track how your dog is doing and what needs to be improved or worked on.


This is a Paragraph. Click on "Edit Text" or double click on the text box to start editing the content and make sure to add any relevant details or information that you want to share with your visitors.


This is a Paragraph. Click on "Edit Text" or double click on the text box to start editing the content and make sure to add any relevant details or information that you want to share with your visitors.

bottom of page