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Tracking with dogs: Always follow your nose

Did you know that dogs perceive their surroundings mainly with their nose? While humans have about 5 million olfactory cells, dogs are literally a nose length ahead of us: Their fine noses are home to about 200 million olfactory cells - ideal for picking up and following scents. Their super noses make tracking training a particularly species-appropriate form of activity, but it also requires a lot of practice. We explain why tracking training enriches your pet's life and how you can start tracking!

How does tracking work?

When the dog handler gives the command, your dog can start tracking: In tracking work, dogs follow the trail of a previously laid track, which was set by the so-called track layer on a terrain or meadow several hours or minutes beforehand.

But what exactly is a track? Tracks are soil lesions made by living creatures when they walk, which create a wide variety of patterns in the soil. Scent molecules also adhere to the tracks, which can be detected by our four-legged sniffer noses during this work. A track can consist of

  • swirled up or loosened soil
  • crushed plants and
  • microorganisms.

For working dogs, tracking is an integral part of their test. Tracking is somewhat reminiscent of mantrailing: this dog sport is also about nose work; however, dogs then search for people and not for tracks. This is why mantrailers are also used as people tracking dogs by the police after extensive training.

Tracking work with dogs: From what age is my dog suitable?

Whether young or old, small or large - it is in the nature of dogs to explore their surroundings with their noses while walking, so your pet can start tracking as a puppy. It is important that you do not scold your puppy if it does not work. Also, keep the tracking training short in the beginning so as not to overtax your dog's nose. Even though nose work is great fun for dogs, it is also very strenuous!

Tracking training for beginners

Would you like to try tracking with your four-legged friend? You probably already have the necessary equipment at home. All you need for tracking is

  • search harness,
  • a tracking leash of 3-4 metres and
  • treats.

Our tip: If you put a scarf or an extra harness on your pet that you only use for tracking work, you signal to him that the tracking work is about to start. This is especially important so that your dog can distinguish the tracking work from your walks.

Instructions for tracking work with dogs

First of all, you need a suitable area for tracking training. The best place is a secluded meadow that is not used as a dog run, so that your four-legged friend can concentrate well on the track.

Laying the track

In the beginning it is important to lay small tracks of about 15 paces so that your pet stays motivated and can follow the track cleanly. This is the best way to proceed as a tracker:

  1. Tie your pet up with the tracking line somewhere in the meadow and choose a suitable area for the track - your dog can watch you do it. Do not mark the track with stones, sticks or personal objects, as your clever companion will quickly see through this! Instead, try to memorise the surroundings: It's better to orientate yourself by large trees or bushes.
  2. Now swirl up a small area (about 50 x 50 metres) with your feet, flatten the ground and place lots of food, e.g. some treats, in the middle. This will be the target of the tracking.
  3. Now walk in a straight line towards your starting point, shuffling as you go - this is how you trample grasses and stalks that create your individual track. Every few steps you can drop a treat.
  4. Now wait for 10 minutes until your track has settled and an interesting trail has emerged for your dog!

Lena from the We love HUNTER team:

"In the beginning, I put the treats at every step so that my Oskar really works off every footprint. Now I drop one about every 5-7 steps. At the finish line there is a special treat: dog crackers with liverwurst. I've also noticed that it helps if it's been a while since the last feeding - Oskar was even more eager then!"

Send your dog on a trail

Now it's your four-legged friend's turn!

  1. At the starting point, draw your pet's attention to the track you have just laid by looking interestedly at it, thereby signalling to him that you have discovered something great.
  2. Now give the command "Search" or "Follow" and let your dog follow the trail of the treats on the leash. If he strays from the track, correct him and praise him as soon as he is back on the right track.
  3. As soon as your four-legged detective has reached the end of the search for clues, he can eat the treats and be pampered with lots of praise.
  4. You can gradually adjust the level of difficulty: For example, leave out every second treat on the trail, build in right angles or increase the number of steps.

Our tip: When tracking, keep the leash loose - this way you avoid subconsciously guiding your four-legged friend to the target.

Tracking with the dog: These are the advantages

The positive thing about tracking work is that really all dogs can get in. These advantages are also convincing:

  • Tracking work is a dog sport that comes particularly close to a species-appropriate activity.
  • Over time, working tracking dogs develop a calm search behaviour.
  • Intensive sniffing can have a positive effect on a dog's social behaviour, as it improves the exchange of information between conspecifics.
  • Tracking develops your dog's accuracy and concentration.

Conclusion: The beauty of tracking is that you can start with your pet in a relaxed way at your favourite remote location - without pressure or stress. As a dog owner and tracker, you can be creative and experiment: Try out new treats and come up with routes or obstacles that challenge your pet's sense of smell. Feel free to share your experiences, tips and tricks with us - we're looking forward to hearing from you!

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