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
Photos and Text contributed by
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
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
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
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
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
Successful tracking dogs and their handlers have a trusting
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.
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.