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Getting Started in Tracking

By Dennis Helm

While my Doberman, Panda, was competing for her CDX title at a local obedience trial, I noticed one of the dogs listed in the show catalog had a TD after its name. Being curious, I looked up the owner of the dog and asked what TD meant, and how to earn the title. The owner explained about "AKC" tracking and gave me the name of Pam German, who was a member of the local tracking club in my area. Much to my surprise I found that tracking was an organized "AKC" activity and the Pecatonica Tracking Club was holding meetings and tracking tests less than ten minutes from my house. I contacted Pam German and promptly joined the club.

My background in tracking came from the German Police Sport of Schutzhund that demands a surgically precise track. Tracking was a more or less solitary activity, which I had not taken seriously. There were so many other training skills to master that tracking seemed trivial at first.

To my great benefit, I found TOPS Kennel, now located in Grayslake, Illinois, where I was able to receive some serious help with obedience training and tracking. Several years later I attended a week long tracking and Schutzhund seminar during the first week of January 1991. The seminar was held at the Advance Canine Academy located in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The trainer, Gene England, has been world champion in Schutzhund and many times national champion in Schutzhund tracking. The Advance Canine Academy specializes in the training of police dogs and drug detection dogs. The police course is six weeks long. In-between police classes, Gene holds Schutzhund and tracking seminars. I have been attending these seminars since 1991, and with the knowledge passed on to me, I have been able to title my dogs through AKC TDX, Schutzhund 3, and Schutzhund FH 2 tracking titles.

On October 22, 1995, my ten-month-old Doberman puppy, Cue Von Dynasty TD, earned her AKC Tracking Dog title with a perfect track. Her track for the test was only the second time she had tracked anyone other than myself. The first time was when Pam German, an AKC Tracking Judge, laid her certification track. Cue's training experience was totally different from the methodology used on my other Dobermans.

Pulling together the training experiences I have had in Bowling Green and Grayslake, I found a method for training my young puppy. For some time, I had been laying one long track and tracking my adult dogs over the track in order of their ability. (I had been laying one track for all four of my dogs because I have arthritis in my knees, feet and lower back. This saved a lot of walking and pain.) The strongest tracker tracked first. The weaker dogs would benefit from the reinforced scent trail. This was done with tracks having been aged to 48 hours.

Panda Von Dynasty BH, SchH 3, FH 2, AD, TDX, CDX, VC, was my strongest dog with Schutzhund potential because of her extreme stability. Panda would track first. Next would come my other adult female Doberman (Terrie) Orchid Von Dynasty CD, TDX. She would work the same track with enthusiasm. To my delight, Terrie, who had been a very erratic tracker, started to show strong drive, intensity, and obedience to the track. Sometimes Terrie was better than Panda. Unfortunately, Terrie did not have the control necessary to be a Schutzhund competitor.

Panda and Terrie completed their TD and TDX titles with ease. Panda earned Schutzhund 3 and many FH tracking titles. Then came Cue Von Dynasty, who was a puppy from Panda's first litter. How was I to train Cue? When Cue was four months old, I started guiding her down the track Panda, Terrie and sometimes her father Odin Von Dynasty CD, TD, just completed. We were not tracking but trailing, following a very familiar scent trail.

When I track my dogs, I use the dead ring on the choke collar and 30 to 40 foot tracking lines. The only time I use the tracking harness, required for AKC tracking tests, is on the day of the AKC test. The dead ring on the choke collar gives better control of the head and neck of the tracking dog, thus enabling the handler to encourage the dog to track with a deep nose. In other words, the dog learns to keep its nose close to the ground where the scent originates.

Cue started her tracking/trailing experience with the dead ring of the collar and my holding the leash at about fifteen feet from her. When Cue went down the track for the first time, I asked her to find Panda (her mother). Cue would follow the scent trail for a short distance then her mind would wander and she needed to be guided back on the track. After a few weeks of trailing training, Cue was getting the idea of what I was asking of her. When the tracking line was attached to her collar, she was off looking for a scent trail to follow.

Before long, Cue was working from the end of the tracking line and making perfect corners most of the time. At eight months, Cue was working tracks laid on short grass and through deep undergrowth and a 1,000 yards in length. At the time of the Pecatonica Tracking Club Test on October 22, 1995, Cue was negotiating tracks through heavy undergrowth. The Pecatonica Test tracks were laid in ideal conditions for Cue. The undergrowth was three feet or more in height.

What I had not trained Cue for was the proper indication of articles. The whole object of the TD track is to find the article at the end of the trail. In the case of the TD track the article is a glove. For a quick fix to get us through the coming test, I placed gloves on the track. Each glove had a large piece of liver sausage in the palm. Scenting the sausage, Cue would lay down and open up the glove.

In the test Cue came to the glove and stood over it. There was no sausage scent present so Cue did not lie down with the glove between her feet. This was enough to pass a TD test. There is only so much that can be done with a young puppy in so short a period of time. The proper indication of articles will be covered in the next section.

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