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How to Train a Dog to Track in 6 Simple Steps

Brooke Billingsley

By Brooke Billingsley

Sniffing Beagle

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Paola Cuevas

MVZ (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Tracking is a skill that can be of extreme benefit to many dogs. It’s an enriching activity that provides entertainment, exercise, and a sense of accomplishment for your dog, increasing your dog’s confidence and building your dog’s trust in you. Some dogs naturally know how to track, but many do not and need to be trained to perform this task properly. Since tracking is not an overly common activity for people to participate in with their dogs, it can be difficult to know how to train your dog to perform this type of task. Here’s how to train your dog to track.

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Before You Start

Collect all of the supplies that are needed to teach your dog to track. You won’t be able to just have your dog sniff a t-shirt and send them on its way. There are kits you can purchase to train your dog to track. These kits usually contain strong-smelling and dog-safe essential oils that are interesting for your dog and easy for them to follow. You should also identify what treats are of high value to your dog. High-value rewards will keep your dog interested in tracing a treat trail that you set up for them. A harness and longline leash are recommended for tracking.

german shepherd on a leash sniffing the ground
Image Credit: Vilve Roosioks, Pixabay

The 6 Simple Steps to Teach Your Dog to Track

1. Set a Command

Your dog will need a command specific to tracking. Many people use “find it,” but you could also use “go get it,” “look for it,” and “search.” Whatever command you choose, try to stick with it once training has begun. It can become confusing for your dog to attempt to track with multiple commands.

2. Practice the Command

Get your dog used to the command you’ve selected by doing some basic practice. The best way to do this is to hide a piece of treat or food in one of your hands and give your dog the command. When they “locate” the treat, give it to them and repeat this task. Once they’re getting the hang of it, try hiding the treat close by, maybe even with your dog seeing where you’ve hidden it the first few times. This is easiest to do if your dog has a strong “leave it” so that they don’t attempt to snatch the treat the second you set it down.

dog owner making a treat trail for dog's training
Image By: Miriam Doerr Martin Frommherz, Shutterstock

3. Start Early in the Day

Once your dog has an understanding of the command and what it means, you’re ready to try tracking outdoors. It’s best to do outdoor tracking early in the day when scents from people and other pets are minimal. As the day goes on, other scents will be introduced to the environment, creating confusion for your dog and making tracking more difficult.

4. Create the Treat Trail

Using high-value rewards, create a short trail of treats, leaving a treat every couple of feet. Once you’ve created a trail approximately 10–20 feet long, give your dog the command and watch them find the treats. The first few times you do this, it’s best not to hide the treats but just to drop them on the surface of the grass.

Sniffing small dog

5. Recreate a Longer Treat Trail

Once your dog gets the hang of this simple tracking task, start lengthening the treat trail by 10–20 feet at a time. You can also start making the treats slightly more difficult to find, either by putting them under a thin layer of grass and leaves or by putting them up on surfaces, like a bench.

6. Try More Complex Tracking

Now that your dog has mastered tracking a treat trail, you can move on to more complex tracking tasks. Try getting an interesting scent on the bottom of your shoe, either by applying tracking scents or stepping on a treat or hot dog. Once the scent is rubbed onto the sole of your shoe, walk out a trail. This type of tracking is easiest with two people so one can create the trail and the other can hold the dog. Otherwise, if you walk out and back to your dog, the trail may be confusing for them.

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In Conclusion

It’s not overly complicated to teach tracking to your dog, but it does require patience and sticking with the training over a period of time. Some dogs will pick up on this training much more quickly than others. High-value treats and positive reinforcement are great tools to encourage your dog to participate in this training and improve their tracking skills. You can use these techniques to teach your dog to track for treats in your backyard, but these are also the beginning steps of teaching your dog far more complex tracking skills, like tracking people and animals.

Featured Image Credit: olginaa84, Pixabay

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