Tracking: more than just following your dog


by Carolyn Fuhrer

Tracking involves teaching your dog how a certain job (following the track) needs to be done. It requires the handler to have the sensitivity, knowledge and skills necessary to help the dog achieve this goal. It is not just following wherever your dog goes. If you let your dog wander around and intermittently follow the track, you are not defining the job that the dog has to do. This will not enable the dog to clearly understand the job and ultimately lead to confusion, stress and failure.

So how do you avoid this in training? First of all, do not run blind tracks until you feel you can “read” your dog and have confidence as to whether or not your dog is tracking. Be particular about who you choose to help you; just because someone has a tracking title – even an advanced title – does not mean they have the ability to help you and your dog to succeed.

Training sessions need to build upon success, expose problem areas and ultimately create training scenarios to solve those problems. Just going out and laying a long track with lots of “problems” and letting the dog wander all around until they seem to “solve” them, is not training with any purpose and will not help the dog learn.

Tracking involves solving problems step by step and recognizing when a problem is starting to occur and being able to recover to where you know tracking was correct, and then being able to refocus your dog.

Recovery occurs in gradual stages. It is more than just backing up. In recovery, the handler actually becomes the leader and backs up slowly as the dog works back towards them. You cannot turn around or pull your dog towards you. You must have a style of handling that allows you to recover ground as your dog moves towards you while searching. It is more than just going in reverse a certain number of steps.

A good handler is constantly in tune with the dog while recovering and observing carefully for track indication which could occur at any moment. At that point, the dog becomes the leader of the team again.

Following behavior that is not tracking will take you further and further off the actual track, confuse your dog, and will cause you to fail in a test. You must be able to determine when your dog is looking or searching for scent and actually tracking the scent. Searching can develop into tracking and tracking can move into searching; being able to determine when this is happening is where the expertise of teaching truly becomes evident. Well planned tracks will teach both dog and handler.

Don’t wander – have a purpose.

Happy tracking.

Carolyn Fuhrer has earned over 90 AKC titles with her Golden Retrievers, including 2 Champion Tracker titles. Carolyn is the owner of North Star Dog Training School in Somerville, Maine. She has been teaching people to understand their dogs for over 25 years. You can contact her with questions, suggestions and ideas for her column by e-mailing


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