by Carolyn Fuhrer
One of the greatest games you can play with your dog is teaching them to use their sense of smell
to find a great reward. Dogs like to use their nose; it is the first way they identify things – and what dog doesn’t like to find something which results in a reward for him, be it food, a toy or a game of tug or chase?
The sport of tracking uses the dog’s natural scenting ability to follow where a person has walked (the track) and find items that the person has dropped (articles). Our job is to teach the dog to use his nose to follow the “track” and find the “articles” at which point the dog in training will be rewarded. The only way he can find the “articles” which pay the reward is to use his nose to follow the track. Sounds like a relatively simple formula – then why do so many people have so much trouble when they start working?
The answers are the same as for any other type of training. To name a few:
• Lack of clarity on the part of the trainer
• Dog does not understand the reward system, Increased difficulty too soon
• Making it a job instead of an enjoyable, rewarding task
• Poor understanding of the dog’s physical/mental stamina • Poorly planned tracks
Starting out right with a qualified trainer who is also a good teacher and understands various breeds
of dogs can help avoid so many problems.
There are many good books on tracking, but if you don’t have a really solid foundation in training, they are not that helpful. Videos are fine, but usually show the finished product and not how to deal with problems or may not deal with the problems you are having.
Going to a beginner’s clinic is a very good start, but it can only take you so far and depending on the skill and expertise of the instructors, you may or may not come away with a plan.
Continuity, consistency, and motivation are the keys to developing a good tracking dog. If you are frustrated, it usually affects the dog. This is why follow up sessions that allow for individual needs are very important especially for new trackers. As in any dog sport, there is a lot for the handler to learn, and if the handler cannot obtain the help he needs, progress will be slow at best. To make progress, you need someone who cannot only identify the problems you may be having but who can also design training sessions to help you solve those problems and build the dog’s confidence and yours!We have a wonderful program at north Star in Somerville. It starts in May with our Tracking
Kick Off Weekend (May 16 and 17) specifically for beginners on Saturday with Sunday for more experienced trackers. We will have follow-up sessions throughout the year and a special two-day workshop in June for students who are working towards the higher levels of tracking. See www.dogsatnorthstar.com for a full schedule with dates and information and to make sure the May event has not been postponed due to COVID-19. If you are looking to learn to track in 2020, this is the place to start. We hope to see you and your dog out in the field with us!