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page last updated March 19, 2015  

 
Tracking is offered by the American Kennel Club and the Canadian Kennel club, as well as other dog organizations around the world.  From the AKC Website: "AKC Tracking is a canine sport that demonstrates a dog’s natural ability to recognize and follow a scent and is the foundation of canine search and rescue work. Unlike obedience and agility trials, where dogs respond to the owner’s commands, in tracking a dog is completely in charge, for only he knows how to use his nose to find and follow the track."

There are 3 levels of tracking offered by the AKC: Tracking Dog (TD), Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX) and Variable Surface Tracking (VST).  If all three levels are achieved, your dog earns the title of Champion Tracker.  The entry level TD involves a track that is 440-500 yards long and must contain several turns.  The track must be 30-120 minutes old.  TDX and VST are more complex tracks that have been aged a great deal longer. 

Tracking is one of the most natural things a Beagle can do.  The very powerful and keen noses of our little hounds makes them a delight to train and to watch in the field.  Most Beagles love to track and can excel at it.  It is a sport for almost any age of both handler and Beagle.  Puppies can be started as young as 8 weeks and it can be a fun activity for an older hound.

Tracking is a relatively inexpensive sport, once you have your initial outlay, you don't have to spend a lot of money.  You need a non-restrictive harness, a 30-40 foot line, some articles (for the dog to find), some surveyor's flags (to mark your track during training), and some tasty treats.  You should also invest in a good set of boots and rain gear (as well as cold weather gear if applicable.)  While it's nice when you first get started to have a class, it's not completely necessary.  With a copy of the rules (AKC's are available on the AKC website) and any one of a number of good books, you can train your dog completely by yourself.  Yes, even to competition level! Plenty of people have trained entirely by themselves, laying all of their own tracks. If you are interested in classes, look on the AKC website to see if there is a tracking club near you.

There are two things that tracking requires. The first is time.  In the beginning, sessions go pretty quickly, but as your dog becomes more skilled, you age the tracks longer and longer. By the time your dog is ready for the first level of competition, she must be able to follow a track that is at least 2 hours old. However, it is quality time spent with you and your hound!  You are outside, away from the tv and the computer and the two of you can simply enjoy being outdoors together.  The second requirement is land.  Finding land to use becomes harder and harder.  Once you become a tracking addict, you spot parcels of land whenever you are driving around and mark them for later inquiry and possible use.  Many of us use city or state parks, college campuses (on weekends), industrial parks, and fallow fields (always with permission from the landowner!)

Try it, you might just become an addict and love nothing better than following a Beagle who is hot on the trail!

 Photos and Text contributed by Ellen Parr.

Beagles - Tracking Fools
by  Denise Nord of Chaos Beagles has put 7 TDs and 3 TDXs on her Beagles and is hoping to  increase those numbers this year.  She'd like to dedicate this article in  memory of U-CD Gabriels Chelsea Morning, CDX, TDX, Can CD, Ch U-CDX U-AgII Teloca Miami Sound Machine, VCD2, TDX, RAE and Ch U-CD U-ACH ARCH Teloca Fire and Rain, VCD1, RAE, OA, OAJ, OAP, AJP.

 "Teaching" a Beagle to track is a very easy and rewarding activity.  When I  was frustrated with obedience work and my first Beagle, tracking and earning  our TD gave me the impetus to continue in obedience.  Beagles are natural  trackers - much like Border Collies herd, our dogs use their noses.  They  have excellent noses - they already know how to track, our job is to teach  them what to track.  The handler is at a definite disadvantage in the sport  of tracking and is almost always the cause of problems.  Participants in  tracking learn the mantra very early:  Trust your dog!

 Dogs can learn to track at any age - very young puppies to in-shape seniors.

 You can start your dog on a six foot leash and buckle collar or  non-restrictive tracking harness.  Eventually you will need the harness and  a 40 foot line.  Round, polypropylene or nylon is best - easy to handle,  lightweight, slips through cover and doesn't get heavy when wet.  You will  also need:  small, soft, "smelly" treats,  flags to mark your start,  surveyors tape and clothespins for corner markers, an article (brown work  gloves are commonly used in TD tests), drinking water for your dog, pockets  or an apron to hold everything - and the dog - don't forget your Beagle! 

 To lay your first track:  fine a small, open area with some ground cover - I  like to start dogs in cover that is 6-12" tall.  Walk up to your starting  point and put your flag in the ground.  Scuff a small 'scent box' in the  ground with your feet, then drop a treat or two.  Focus on a fixed point  ahead of you and walk toward it.  Map drawing is extremely important when  laying track.  You don't necessarily need to draw a map for your beginning  tracks, but it is good practice.  As you move forward (with normal strides),  drop a treat every step or two.  Go about 20 to 30 steps, stop, mark your  corner (attach a piece of surveyors tape to a clothespin & 'pin' it to a  nearby weed <G>, and turn 90 degrees.  Go another 20 to 30 steps, mark your  corner, make another 90 degree turn (same direction as the first) and  repeat.  You will now have a U shaped track.  At the end of the third 'leg',  drop your treat filled article (see side bar on the article game) and continue walking straight for 15 yards.  This is your 'walk off'.   Go get your dog. 

 You won't 'age' these first tracks.  Bring your dog up to the start flag,  tell her to 'find it' and make sure she sees and eats the treats!  Let her  move out to find the food.  Right now all she is doing is looking for food,  but her head is down and it won't take her long to realize that food scent  and your scent go together and that following your scent leads to reward.

 Stay close at this point.  Help your dog if she needs it by pointing to the next piece of food.   Give verbal praise and encouragement when she moves forward on her own.  If she wanders around aimlessly, restrict her with the leash and help her out.  Expect a bit of confusion on the turns.  When I first learned to track, we did straight tracks for weeks, then had to go  back and teach the dog that the track could also turn - that made it much  harder to introduce turns.  AKC tracking judge and Beagler, Joan Telfer (who  has many TDs & TDXs on her dogs) taught me to start turns right away so the  dog learns that turns exist.

 Allison Platt, who judged the first tracking test at the Beagle Nationals in 2002, uses a  'serpentine' method of starting dogs http://siriusdog.com/serptk.htm  I  used this with my two youngest and found it very helpful.  The laid track is  arced and gradually the arcs are tightened into turns. 

 Observe your dog while she is working.  Learning to read your dog is crucial to tracking success.   How does she indicate scent?  Loss of scent?  Turns?  Critters?  Watch tail movement.  When my dogs are working, their tails make  a steady beat.  When they're mousing, the tail swishes rapidly. 

 As your dog gains confidence, back off a little bit (to the end of a six  foot leash)  Keep your line taut without pulling on the dog.  The line  provides excellent, direct communication with you and the dog.  I will also use a flexi lead to add distance plus the flexi puts a small amount of pressure on the harness to help you feel when your dog is committed and following the track.  When your dog gets to the article, run up and throw a party and make sure she gets all the treats inside.  

Try it again.  This time make two left turns if you did two rights on the first track.  On your third try, do both a left and a right turn.  By now you should be drawing maps, so you don't get lost in the field!  

 Gradually add distance or age - raise one criteria at a time.  If you want the dog to run a 30 minute track, keep it short at first.  If you want to run a longer track, run it fresh.  You'll see your dog gain confidence (in both her ability to figure out what you want her to track and in YOUR ability to work with her!)  Increase the challenges.

There are often 'scent bumps' at 15 minutes and two hours which may pose problems to your dog.  Work through them, varying the criteria.  

For a TD test, your dog must track 440-550 yards, on a track aged 30 minutes to two hours.  Thiry minutes is very common, but I have had TD tracks that were 90 minutes old.  You will have a minimum of three turns, maximum of 5.

Before you can enter a test, your dog must be 'certified' by an AKC tracking judge.  This judge will lay a regulation track and observe your dogs  performance.  If your dog passes, you will get 4 copies of the certification  which are good for one year.  These must be submitted with your test entry.

If you do not get in, the test secretary will return your certification.  

If possible, work with someone who has put a TDX on a dog.  They generally have a good ability to read dogs and knowledge of scent.  They can also help you with line handling and blind tracks.  

Successful tracking dogs and their handlers have a trusting relationship.

You need to trust that your dog knows what she is doing - after all, YOUR nose can't tell you!  Your dog needs to trust that you will not pull her off the correct track.  Yes, you will both make mistakes, but learn from them.

My first Beagle, Chelsea and I, were in 6 TDX tracks before we passed.  I learned more from our failures than our success.

 

 The Article Game!

Play this game OFF the tracking field, to increase article awareness.  Our Beagles get so focused on the scent that they often miss articles in the field.  Drop articles around your house or yard and reward the dog for indications.  It could be just looking at the article to begin with, then mouthing it, picking it up, retrieving it.  Make that indication a very rewarding behavior.  (If you're familiar with clicker training, think "101 Things to do with a Tracking Article"!)  How do you want your dog to indicate articles in the field?   By retrieving it?  Sitting?  Laying down?

Pick what works best for you and your dog.

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