Tracking Overview

This is an overview of some of the ways that I have modified my methods of training dogs in competion Tracking from the methods described in Glen Johnson's "Tracking Dog" and Wentworth Brown's "Bring Your Nose Over Here." These ideas are just alternative ways of doing things that I think have some advantages. They certainly are not the only way to do it. The discussion relates to Tracking for competion , either AKC / CKC or Schutzhund, as distinguished from such real world situations as occur in Search and Rescue or in Police work.

Tracking Overview

by Pam Green, © 2003

In case you are wondering why there could be value in any of my tracking advice, my first tracking dog, Chelsea, earned her TD (and a repeat one) , Canadian TD, TDX, and her FH (and a repeat one) and my second, Bones, earned his TD (and repeat), TDX (on first attempt) and FH (and repeat). Both tracked in exemplary manner, either with conventional harness and line or in total freedom. Both tracked with diligence and zest. I've had a few students along the way, and those who have stuck with the training have earned titles. I have also started a number of my other dogs in tracking, taking some to about TD level, and have started some of my Rescue foster dogs. Some of these have been less talented dogs, and of course it is the less talented ones who test the soundness of your methods. The talented dogs will learn to track despite mediocre methods, but the less talented ones need methods that make it clear and easy to learn what you want.
I probably should add that a lot of Schutzhund competitors use a very different approach, one involving a lot of compulsion and correction, but I don't like either the approach or the results as well as those from an inducive (reward based) methodology such as that of Johnson, or Brown, or any similar methodology such as the one I have evolved for myself. Whenever my dogs have competed in Schutzhund , they have earned very high Tracking scores and have worked confidently.
But if you are not sure about using my suggestions, just get hold of Glen Johnson's book "Tracking Dog" and follow it exactly and you will earn your TD and probably learn enough about reading your dog that for the next dog you will be prepared to consider a syllabus more tailored to that individual.
If your interest is geared towards Police tracking and evidence search or towards Search and Rescue work, you should be reading books and articles oriented towards those jobs, which have different empahsis and needs from those of competition. I would especially reccomend "Search Dog Training" by Sandy Bryson, which covers both SAR and Police aspects; unfortunately this book is now out of print, so you will have to find it at a specialty dog book source or perhaps on Amazon.

Throughout this article you will find links to illustrations and accompanying greater detail about the topic. I suggest that you open such links in a new window, so you can easily switch back and forth between this article and the other window containing the illustration. I did not want to insert the illustrations into this article because that would have made this file much too big and too slow to download over a dial-up connection.

BASIC BOOKS and where I modify the methods therein

"The Bible" for Tracking is Glen Johnson's book, "Tracking Dog, theory and methods". Almost anyone who follows his method can get a TD. It's written as a very methodical one tiny step at a time type of program that should work for even a very inept handler and a dog with minimal talent, enabling them to earn a TD. (Now for TDX you need a good handler and a dog with very good talent; that "X" really does stand for "excellent" !) Almost everyone who trains their first dog strictly by the book will then start to modify the method for second and later dogs because now they are able to "read" the dog and proceed at the dog's own learning pace, which is usually faster (and more interesting) than doing every single step of Johnson. So while I still utilize the overall scheme of very systematic lesson sequences, usually varying one aspect of difficulty at a time , and incorporating variable schedule positive reinforcement in the form of food drops at intervals that to the dog seem unpredictable, I have modified his methods quite a bit.

Note: although Johnson offers motivation based on the joy of retrieving as an alternative to motivation based on the joy of eating tasty food, I strongly encourage you to use food as your primary reward. Now if you happen to have a dog who is virtually anorexic but who is an obsessive retriever who could wear out a big league pitcher, then of course use the retrieve. For Bouvier, who are rarely obsessive retrievers but are anywhere from eager eaters to obsessive gluttons, I think that food is absolutely the way to go. Notice that a drink of water is also a powerful reward for finding an article, and is one that can legally be given during a TDX test. I usually let the reward for the last article of the day be the dog's normal meal , thus for an adult dog this would be half or all of his day's ration and for a puppy it would be one of his meals. The other articles are rewarded by praise and most of the time by some tasty bit of food or by a drink of water. I may also play tug for a few momments if the dog likes to do this. I would use any reward that the dog really appreciates that I am able to easily provide. For Police tracking , some trainers give the dog a bite on the tracklayer hidden at the end of the track as the ultimate reward. For SAR, the tracklayer is usually hidden at the end of the track and will play with the dog.

I also found some useful material and ideas in Wentworth Brown's "Bring Your Nose Over Here", a small booklet that might be hard to find these days. (I think it was essentially self-published and has probably been out of print for some years). It is fairly short and so is not hard to photocopy -- and I see nothing ethically wrong with photocopying out of print material as you are not depriving the author of his royalty on the sale since there cannot be a sale of something no longer offered for sale.

What I have used from Brown is primarily the method of introducing the turns with first very very shallow ones then less shallow and so on. For the first lesson, Brown also starts tracks with the wind at your back which is more likely to bring the dog's nose down to the ground instead of up in the air, ie to focus on the ground scent not the air-borne scent. To increase the scent strength in early lessons, rather than double laying the early tracks by returning in the opposite direction as Johnson does, Brown circles back to the start and does the second lay on top of the first going in the same direction. I've used this for short tracks, up to a 2 turn U shaped track, and it does work OK. The significant advantage is that the dog is going in an unambiguous foreward direction right from day one. Thus there is no confusion about the need to go foreward -- which becomes a real issue when you try to go on into TDX single flag starts



Johnson's discussion of appropriate harness is quite adequate. For the sake of the dog's total comfort , I prefer a harness that does not have buckles on the front straps, ie does not have buckles that might rub or press uncomfortably on the dog's shoulder blades. So I make my own harness with the front straps fitted to the dog, and the rear straps adjustable. But you would be just fine with a store bought one, and if nescessary you could add some padding on the front straps.

The most important thing about your line is that it is strong enough and can go through your hand in a nice way. If your dog is at all big, or strong, or fast, you will probably need to wear gloves so you don't get a rope burn if the dog takes the line out fast and hard after a turn or a re-find or on a re-start after an article. I like a polyester sheathed line better than a nylon sheathed one because it is easier on my hands. Cotton clothes line is easy on the hands but picks up any moisture and has to be dried out again before being stored ; cotton is really nice for dry weather tracking. Your line length should be 40 to 45 feet for AKC and 10 meters (33 feet) or a few feet longer for Schutzhund ; in Schutzhund you must always be at the far end of the line and the minimum is 10 meters, but in AKC you can be anywhere from 20 feet to 40 feet back from the dog. For AKC you are supposed to have a mark at the 20 foot point that can be seen by the judges; I like to take a section of tubular nylon and slide it over the line and then stitch it down to the line; but any arker you like will work. I definately have several knots near the end of my AKC line and one big knot at the end of my Schutzhund line. You may prefer a thicker or thinner line; a thicker one is probably easier on your hands if you have a strong hard pulling dog. I like bicycle gloves as they are padded on the palms and so can take more punishment from the line, but the bare fingertips are more agile for getting stuff into and out of my pouch.

I like a waist pouch (fanny pack turned to the front) to carry my water bottle, the dog's drinking cup, extra food rewards, and the final meal. It's also the repository for each article the dog finds. Another possibility would be a multi-pocketed hunter's vest or photographer's vest.

For flags to mark turns or articles (in early stages of training) , I like the ones I find at the farm store that the farmers use to mark their crops : about two feet high wire with a small colored plastic flag. For the start flag , I like something more prominent, especially if I will be working in a field that others are using. A three foot wooden dowel with one end sharpened in a pencil sharpener and a 6" x 6" square of cloth on the top works well. Or you can use a dowel with a couple strands of surveyor's ribbon tied to the top.

Your shoes should be sturdy and water proof, ie some kind of work boot or hiking boot. For the early lessons, it is often advised to use boots with "waffle-stomp" soles so as to disturb the earth and vegetation more when tracklaying; also these give you much more security in staying on your feet as you handle the dog working the track . Various sports shoes with cleats on the bottoms would go even further in that direction. Later on , make sure to include rubber boots in your dog's tracklaying experience, because a lot of competition tracklayers will be wearing irrigators' boots or wellingtons, ie rubber boots.

You will also want to have some waterproof pants or chaps, because when working in wet grass you will otherwise wind up wet to knees or higher. A rainjacket is also needed for those many rainy days that are so much a part of tracking. I'd advise Gore-tex or other high quality material that is breathable as well as waterproof ; unfortunately these garments are expensive new, but sometimes you can find used ones, eg at thrift shops or used camping goods stores.


Ideally you will have a human tracking buddy who is either your teacher , your student, or another novice, and each of you will lay tracks for the other to run. The main benefit of having someone else lay the tracks is that when you get beyond beginning stages , you will gain a lot of confidence from running "blind tracks" , ie tracks whose location is completely unknown to you the handler. Running blind tracks forces you to rely on your dog.

However in the real world, you may often have trouble finding a tracklayer, especially an experienced one who is able to find any part the track without error should the need arise to put you and your dog back onto the track after you have gotten lost. However I have found that you really can do most of your own tracklaying, including your TDX cross-track laying. When you get to the need for running blind tracks, I have worked out a number of substitutes for having someone else lay the track for you. The best of these is what I call a "deadweight track" in which you tie a weight (about 10% of your dog's body weight) to the handler's end of the line and drop it to the ground and walk beside it. I also like to have my dogs occasionally run tracks off leash; this is allowed in Schutzhund, though no one does it, but not allowed in AKC. I've also worked out ways to use any helpful friend as your cross-track layer even if they don't know a dog from a cat. I will write a separate article on what to do when you do not have a tracklayer.

Johnson's explanation of how to "line up" two distant objects to guide you to walk a straight line is excellent. Read it. Likewise, learn how to make yourself a useable tracking map that could let you locate every foot of track if nescessary. In early lessons, it is sometimes possible to lay tracks where dew or crushed vegetation will render the track visible for a time period beyond that in which you would be working the track with your dog. Visible tracks can be an oppertunity to lay curved or naturally wandering sections of track.


As so well discused by Johnson, "restrictive line handling" is an essential technique to keep the dog close to the actual footprints , especially so in any cross-wind. For a Bouvier, restrictive line handling means that the dog in taking up a new direction or in resuming a direction after showing an uncertainty should pull you so hard that you feel you could hardly remain in place or that your shoulder is about to be dislocated. For a medium sized dog, the dog should be pulling hard enough that your shoulder feels a lot of strain. For a little dog, the dog should be pulling hard enough that if the line were bearing down on one single finger, that finger would be under strain and in pain.

When the dog is on track and pulling steadily, I like to keep a bit of bend in my elbow of my main line hand and to rest the fingers of the other hand on the line just in front of the main hand. That seems to let me feel any changes in tension more easily. When the dog is really hauling like a freight train, you may need to hold the line in both hands and lean back as if you were being pulled on water skis. At the turns or loss of track, while Johnson's advice to hold the line up as high as possible to avoid the dog tangling it in his legs is a good method, if you find that uncomfortable then hold it at a more comfortable level. If your dog steps a leg or two over the line, in another momment he will likely step back over it and free himself. Most dogs get pretty adept at untangling themselves or are quite willing to work with the line running under one or more legs.

The purpose of the harness and the line is to make it easy for the dog to guide and control the handler. The handler is really just "along for the ride" and as a servant to carry all found articles and to carry water and food for the dog. In real police tracking the handler might have additional duties; likewise in Search and Rescue.

Now in the very first lessons, you will keep only the lightest tension on the line. You certainly do not want to inhibit the dog from moving foreward onto the scent. There is a real art to gradually increasing the tension without discouraging the dog. The dog's individual temperament , especially his level of determination (stubbornness), makes quite a difference. But you must cultivate in the dog an attitude that he will not allow you to fail to believe and follow him when he knows that his nose knows where the track is !!!


The goal of the first lesson is for "the light bulb to go on" so that the dog "gets it" that this scent of disturbed vegetation and disturbed earth leads to something he wants to find, ie to the food drops or the retrieve toy. To focus the dog's attention to the ground and the scent on it , one usually points to the ground with ones finger just above ground level to encourage the dog to take a sniff. That's usually all it takes. In my experience, most dogs do "get it" by the third of the mini-tracks of the first lesson. Many dogs have gotten it by the second mini-track. I would only do one or two very short mini-tracks after the first one on which you see the light go on. Quit while the dog is still highly enthused. Always remember that tracking the scent of a recent pathway prey animal or tracking the blood drops of a wounded prey is an essential skill for the wild dog's and wolf's survival. Every dog has this ability and desire. Almost every dog finds tracking to be enjoyable. What we have to teach in Tracking is that the path created by a human is the one to follow, even though our dogs do not consider humans as a potential prey; and we have to teach them to "and dance with the one you came with" ie to stick to the original track without switching to crosstracks of more recent human passage or of whatever exciting prey animals (rabbits, deer) might have crossed by.


In the earliest lessons we want the track to be so strongly scented as to be screamingly obvious to the dog. This may actually be totally unnescessary, given that the dog has unbelievably keen powers of scent. Indeed some trainers think that overwhelming the dog with heavy scent may be less effective than beginning on fainter scented tracks. Some find that a track aged half an hour works better for their dog. I follow the common technique of using heavy laid tracks for the first few lessons, but I do it differently from either Brown or Johnson. I must add that both their methods work and so does mine; each probably has advantages in some circumstances and for some dogs and disadvantages for others. I think my method is a bit more versatile and also easier to use and a better one for teaching turns.

Johnson does heavy laid tracks by walking out to the end and returning back in the opposite direction; on turns he does a short section of triple lay (out, back , and out again) following the turn.

Brown lays a short track and then circles back to the beginning and lays a second track on top of it (using his flags for guides). For short tracks the time difference between the first and second lay is assumed to be of no significance. There is of course the possbility that the dog does notice and might be confused by this.

What I have done instead for the heavy laid tracks is to do what I call "instep to toe" walking. Bring the rear foot foreward so that its instep is fitted against the toe of the other foot (which was previously the front foot but is now the rear foot). The result is a double wide continuous track. You can do this toe to instep for the entire length of the first few lesson's tracks. In later lessons, in teaching turns, you can do it for the first stretch of track following a turn or following some other difficult section. You can make these tracks even more earth-disturbing by wearing some kind of cleated shoe and you can also twist your foot a bit as it is on the ground. However it is not usually nescessary to do so, except maybe when crossing an area that has very little vegetation. The next harder mode after instep to toe walking is "heel to toe" walking , ie the heel of the new front foot goes right ahead of the toe of the other foot. so you get a single wide nearly continuous track. The next level of difficulty is "baby steps", then a bit more normal a stride, then normal stride, and later on maybe some really long strides if that is comfortable for you. However, I dont think the extra long strides are needed and they may leave you sore muscularly ; I think dog who can do the normal stride of someone like myself who is short legged and thus shorter strided will also do just fine with a track laid by a long legged long striding person.

For an illustration of "instep to toe", "heel to toe", and "baby steps" , please click on Tracking Footsteps. Then please click on Key to Tracking Diagrams to see how I will be sketching the tracks for the rest of this article.


Wind direction matters on the early lessons. Whether the wind direction should be so that the track is going into the wind ("upwind") or so that the track is going with the wind at your back ("downwind") is a matter of debate.

Johnson likes the first few day's tracks to to into the wind, so that the wind is bringing the scent of food drops and articles, together with the scent of the crushed vegetation and disturbed earth , to be blown into the dog's face so there is no question that the dog will notice and tune in. While the dog might start out air scenting , with high head, after the first few lessons Johnson switches to wind from your back and the head comes down and focus should shift to ground scent. Brown does the initial tracks with the wind at the back, also called "with the wind", so that the dog has to bring his nose down to the ground to find the scent. This may give greater emphasis to the vegetation and earth scent, which is of course what we want the dog to focus on. I usually try the dog first with the wind at our back, but would switch to into the wind if the dog does not "get it" easily.

Now for the first several series of lessons, what you do want to avoid as to wind direction is to avoid a cross-wind. Cross-wind will blow the scent away from the track to the downwind side and will make it harder for you to get the dog focused on staying right on top of the footprints. If you do hit a cross-wind and your dog starts to drift off downwind, tighten up on the line to keep him closer to the track.

To test for wind direction, just drop from your hand either a shred of tissue paper or a piece of grass or a piece of dry leaf and see which direction it flutters. Of course the actual air currents at ground level might be somewhat different. And the wind may change direction between the time you lay the track and the time you run it. In early lessons, this time gap will be merely the few minutes it takes you to lay the track and to go get your dog.

THE FIRST LESSON SERIES : instep to toe straight tracks.

For my first lesson series , the goal is to have the dog start using his nose to follow an extremely strong simple track. In each day's lesson I do four short tracks, all laid instep to toe, each track laid as a single straight line leading to an article that has food inside it. Each track has several tiny food shreds in the starting scent pad, and has liberal food drops along the lenght of the track. Each track is run immediately after it is run. Ideally the dog has watched the track being laid; this can be done by having someone else hold the dog or by tying him up where he can watch. On the very first lesson, the first track is very short, anywhere from 10 to 20 feet. The second track is about twice the length of the first, and the third is about twice the length of the second one. The fourth track is about the same as the first one and has the dog's entire meal either inside the article or in a container underneath the article. The next day I will probably do a similar series but now the first track is twice the length of the previous day and the second is twice as long as the first, and so on. It is a judgement call whether to do a third day of this series, in which case again all distances are doubled, or to go on to the second lesson series.

THE SECOND LESSON SERIES : heel to toe straight tracks

For the second lesson series, the goal is to make the transition to heel to toe laid short straight tracks. On the first lesson of the second series, the first track is a very short instep to toe laid track with plenty of food drops and a food filled article at the end. The second track begins with a few yards of instep to toe and then continues heel to toe , with a greater density of food drops on the heel to toe portion, with total length about twice that of the first track. The third track begins with a few yards of instep to toe and continues onwards heel to toe, with total length about twice that of the third track. the fourth track is laid entirely heel to toe, and has a full meal at the end. The next day, the first track would be a short one, with the first few yards laid instep to toe and the rest heel to toe. The second track is the same , but with the heel to toe portion about twice as long. The third track is about the same lenght but entirely heel to toe. The fourth track is only half as long as the third but is entirely heel to toe, with less frequent food drops on the track but with a full meal at the end of the track. Whether or not to do a third day of this series is a judgement call. When the dog seems to be totally confident on heel to toe tracks, it is time to move on to the third series.

THE THIRD LESSON SERIES : baby step tracks and normal stride tracks

For the third lesson series, the goal is to make the transition to baby step tracks and then to normal stride tracks. For the first day of this series, the first track begins with a few feet of instep to toe and then continues with heel to toe. At the start scent pad, a pice of food is laid down and rubbed on the ground in several spots and then picked up ; all the food drops are on the heel to toe portion. The second track begins heel to toe for about half its length and then continues in baby steps, for a total length of about twice that of the first track; there are more food drops on the second half than on the first half. The third track begins with a few yards of heel to toe and then continues in baby steps, for a total length of about twice that of the second track. The fourth track is short again, about the length of the first track, but is laid entirely in baby steps. The next day, the first track is similar to the second one of the previous day. The second one is similar to the third one of the previous day. The third one is about twice the length of the second one but is laid entirely in baby steps, with the last few yards laid in a slightly longer stride. The fourth one is very short but is laid in a slightly longer stride. The third day is similar but the baby steps gradually lengthen into a normal stride.


From fairly early in training I use a wide variety of articles. I do not want the dog to think that only leather is worth indicating. In the very early lessons, for a really well scented article that can hold quite a bit of food, the socks I wore the day before make a good article. I also use leather and cloth wallets , gloves , and pouches in this stage, as they take scent well if carried in one's pants' waistband or pocket and they can be filled with quite a bit of food. Later on I use just about any item that a person might conceivably lose : for example, plastic comb, baby shoe, scarf, coin purse, shotgun shell casing, metal spoon, large metal nut or bolt. When working for TDX or FH , I take care to include some very small items, such as a golf tee or a coin or 1" sqare of leather, and also an occasional large or heavy one, such as a large purse, or a bulky draggy item , such as a jacket, or any other item that might be difficult for the dog to retrieve. I want to be sure I know what the dog who normally retrieves will do if he is having difficulty picking up an item. I get most of my articles from cast off household items or odds and ends purchased at the Thrift Shop.

I also start multiple articles very early and give enthusiastic praise for every article and usually give either a food treat or a drink of water as a further reward for the article. Initially, there is food inside each article and as I help the dog to do an article indication, I come foreward and help the dog to shake the food out of the article so it can be eaten. Later on, some of the articles will have some food scent but nothing inside and the reward comes from my hand out of my waist pouch (fanny pack). Sometimes the reward is a piece of food and sometimes it is a drink of water offered in a small cup. (Water can actually be a more powerful reward than food and it is one that is allowed in competition.) Still later , the articles have no food scent, but only human scent, and all rewards come out of my pouch. Initially on early tracks the dog's main meal is in a sealed container underneath or inside the last article of the lesson. Later on , the container with the main meal will be in my pouch and I will be praising the dog as I dig it out. On trial day the meal will be back at the car, but I will still be carrying water to offer at each article on a TDX and at the final article on the TD. On early tracks there is plenty of food drops on the track itself, preferably right inside a footprint. Gradually there is less and less naked food on the track and it is more likely to be on the later parts of the track and to be right after some difficult part of the track. But as the dog gets more and more into knowing that an article is tradable for food and water, and thus the dog gets more and more joyful to find an article, I rely on using the articles as the primary on the track rewards and will often drop an extra article soon after an area of difficulty. Finally after the dog has become enthused about tracking and expects to find multiple articles, I will occasionally limit the reward for one of the intermediate articles on the track to merely warm verbal praise plus a caress. More rarely , two articles in a row might get mere praise plus petting. The next article after the praise only one or ones should get an especially good reward, preferably the final end of track full meal reward. That way on TDX trial day, the fact that the first three articles pay off only in praise or praise plus water will not discourage the dog from continuing, as he expects to come to the big payoff article any moment now.

After each article is found and you have taken it into your hand (and at a trial held it up over your head so the Judge sees you have it) and put it safely away in your pouch, you need to let the dog know that he has permission to resume tracking. For most dogs this is easy, as the dog is already used to working more than one track. Just use either his "begin tracking" phrase or some other such as "there's more !"

The manner in which the dog indicates an article for AKC trials can be absolutely anything that the handler can notice and react to : change of position (ie sit or down) , stopping and staring, barking, stopping and wagging the tail, or retrieving the article. In AKC , if you miss one article, including you the handler failing to see that your dog is telling you "here it is !", you have flunked the test. Because the retrieve is the method that is almost impossible for the handler to fail to notice, I prefer the retrieve if the dog is at all willing to do so. If the dog is a natural retriever , a dog who picks up anything that is not nailed down, this is probably what he will do on his own accord, so all you have to do is to reward him. Or if the dog already knows a cue such as "take" to pick up the article, then all you will need to do is use this to get him to pick up and retrieve, so you can reward him. However in other cases you may have to "shape" the response of retrieving the article, by building the full response one step at a time. Initially one can just encourage the dog to stop at the article, which he is likely to do when there is food inside, and the handler then immediately helps the dog to get the food out. Next the handler does not respond until the dog actually touches the article with his nose or mouth; then the handler reacts and helps the dog get the food. Next the handler waits untils the dog actually nudges the article or attempts to pick it up, whereupon you should show great joy in your praise and the first time he does this you might do well to give him his end of lesson reward (then either go over any remaining tracks yourself to pick up articles, or else let some other dog do it, one already past this stage of training). If the dog shows zero inclination to pick up the article then you have the choice to either teach him "take" for taking something into his mouth as a separate lesson using standard Obedience techniques (either inducive techniques or compulsive techniques according to how this dog will learn best) or else you can ask him to lie down next to his article instead of retrieving.

For Schutzhund, in the days I was active in it you had the choice of the dog "picking up" , ie retrieving, or "pointing out", ie lying down with article between his feet. You had to tell the judge which method you were using before beginning the track. Almost all Schutzhunders seemed to prefer pointing out, and many thought I was nuts for having my dogs pick up. Be sure to read the rulebook just in case the rules change.

For evidentiary tracking or forensic tracking, it is extremely important that the dog not touch the articles. The crime scene people would want to photograph the article in place and then do their fingerprint dusting and rubber gloved pickup and bag it routein. So the police dog would be trained to point out.

FOURTH LESSON SERIES : multiple articles, article indications, re-starts.

In the fourth lesson series , I can work simultaneously on creating a clear article indication and on getting the dog used to finding multiple articles with some variety in articles and in resuming the track after finding the article. I want the dog to be very tuned in to finding articles and to feel happy when he finds one before I start teaching turns, because the placement of an article after a turn then becomes a great way to let the dog know that he is really on the right track.

On the first day, the first track has two articles on it; the second one has an especially nice yummy prize inside it. The second track has three or four articles, and is probably twice as long as the first track. The third track has four to six articles and is about twice as long as the second track. The fourth track is short again and has just one or two intermediate articles and a full meal article at the end. The second day, all the tracks have more articles and fewer naked food drops, but the last track of the day is short and has just one or two intermediate articles and the final full meal article and no naked food drops. The third day would have more articles and very little naked food; again the last track would be easier than the preceeding ones. If the dog's enthusiasm or physical stamina does not allow him to do the four tracks and still be eager to do more, then cut these lessons down to fewer tracks per day but take more days to cover the material. Never hesitate to go back to an easier lesson if there is any doubt about the dog's understanding or his enthusiam.

Teaching TURNS

Johnson starts turns with a 90 degree (right angle) turn that goes directly into the wind. The first leg is in a cross-wind and the second heads into the wind. He lays that second leg as a triple lay, ie going out to the end and then back to the turn point and then out to the end. So you have two lays going foreward and one going backwards, and that is a potential source of confusion to the dog.

What I have used from Brown is primarily the method of introducing the turns with first very very shallow ones then less shallow and so on. One starts with a turn about 1/4 of a right angle, ie about 22.5 degrees for those of you who remember your high school geometry class. then 1/2 of a right angle = 45 degrees, then maybe 3/4 of a right angle , then a right angle and then the acute angles. Brown lays these tracks with the wind at your back at the start flag and thus it is pretty much at your back throughout the track for the shallow turns. Brown circles back to the start to do a double lay for the whole track. I instead will do a normal stride for most of the track, but do a heel to toe lay or a instep to toe lay for the section right after the turn.

THE FIFTH LESSON SERIES : introducing slight turns

For the fifth lesson series, the goal is to introduce turns by using at first very slight turns with a heavier laid track just after the turn and an article to confirm the dog's choice to follow the turn. The first track has one 20 to 25 degree turn , ie a quarter of a right angle turn, followed by maybe 10 or 15 feet of instep to toe laid track leading to an article , which is followed by a stretch of normal strided track and an end article. The second track has two of these quarter of a right angle turns, each followed by a stretch of instep to toe laid track and an article, but for the second turn the article is further away from the turn and is preceeded by normal stride track. The third track has four such turns, but the third and fourth are followed by only heel to toe laid track and an article. The fourth track has five turns, each followed by heel to toe laid track, except the last turn which is followed by normal stride track and is soon followed by the day's final article and the full meal reward. The second day, I might lay only three tracks , and the first one would follow each turn with a heel to toe laid section, the second would have heel to toe after the first turn and normal stride after the rest of the turns. The third day, I might lay only two or three tracks, taking care that the last one would be a shorter easier one, and all the turns would have normal stride throughout. If at any time during this series, you feel your dog is waning in enthusiasm on the last track, make the next lesson much easier with fewer tracks. You can cover this same set of tracks in smaller sets and taking more days to complete the series.

THE SIXTH LESSON SERIES : increasing the angle of the turns

The goal of the sixth lesson series is to increase the angle of the turns untill the dog is doing 90 degree turns easily. The first day , I would start with a track with the same 20 to 25 degree turns done in the previous series. The second track would have turns from 35 to 40 degrees, ie about 2/8 of a right angle turn. The third track would be shorter and would have two or three 45 degree turns, ie half of a right angle. On all these tracks the first turn or two would be followed by a stretch laid heel to toe and the remaining turns would be followed by normal stride track. If the dog had difficulty on any of these tracks, I would step back and lay the next one with the turns being followed by instep to toe tracking. The next day, the first track would have 35 to 40 degree turns, with the first turn having a stretch of heel to toe and the rest laid in normal stride. The second track would have 45 degree turns, with the first turn having a stretch of heel to toe and the rest laid in normal stride. The third track would have 65 to 70 degree turns, with the first turn having a stretch of heel to toe and the rest laid in normal stride. The third day would have the first track having 45 degree turns, the second one having 65 to 70 degree turns, and the third track having the full glorious 90 degree right angle turns. Throughout this sequence most of the turns would have articles placed 30 feet or more beyond the turn. On my drawings , due to lack of space, everything seems croweded together but in reality each straight section (called a "leg") would be much longer, ie the turns further apart. If the dog is a young puppy or an elderly dog or a dog who for any reason seems to be finding doing three tracks too much to do with enthusiasm, then cut back to two tracks and take more days to cover this same material.

After completing this sequence , you might want to do a few days in which you only run one track but it has a variety of turns in it.

Johnson's method of laying and running the "acute angle" turn to teach dog and handler how to handle situations where the next leg is located to the rear is a method that could not be improved upon. It is an essential lesson for teaching the handler how to line handle if the dog should overshoot a turn, which can easily happen with a strong tailwind. This lesson is usually introduced after the dog is running multiple turn tracks with some age on them.

The START : taking good scent and finding the foreward direction.

I also go over to single flag starts and approaching the flag from various angles to the track relatively early. I do it pretty soon after I am convinced that the dog is handling corners (changes of direction) well and is really tracking. I would also do some of my tracks without making a "scent pad" (well trampled area) at the start, making only a slightly trampled area or none at all.

As mentioned above, an important goal is to have the dog pick out the foreward direction of the track to follow. In a TD test the two flag start tells you the handler which direction is foreward; but in TDX the single flag start and unknown angle of approach gives you no idea. You have to rely on the dog. That is why I prefer either Brown's method of circle back so second lay is foreward method or my own instep to toe heavy lay method over Johnson's out and back double lay with conflicing directions method. There is no doubt at all that dogs inherrently can distinguish foreward from backward , as any predator that could not do so would miss a lot of potential meals, but some tracking people are concerned that we could confuse the dog about which direction we want him to follow. So I want the dog to start choosing the foreward direction from day one. For competition , he will never be asked to choose anything other than the foreward direction.

Dogs also have the ability to backtrack and may well use this to find their way home again or back to some other area. (By the way with a really smart dog, it is possible to teach a second command for backward tracking : I taught Bones to "look back" and backwards track on command, but I waited until after he had earned his TDX and FH. )

THE SEVENTH LESSON SERIES : single flag starts with varied approaches.

For the seventh lesson series, the goal is to get the dog used to finding the direction of the track no matter where it might be relative to the angle from which the dog and handler approach the start flag. To do a lesson on starts, I would lay several short easy tracks and approach each start from a different angle. During most of these lessons , the wind should be blowing the track scent away from the direction of approach, but at some point the dog should also experience having the wind blow the scent right towards him. After several days of lessons on this , the dog should have mastered it. Indeed, you may have noticed during earlier lessons that the dog often has picked up the track long before you arrive at the flag. I often start varying my approach to the flag during earlier lesson series if I can see that the dog is ready for it.

Another aspect of making a good start that may be worth emphasizing in a systematic way is getting the dog into the habit of taking in enough scent at the start flag. In the earliest lessons, by putting a few tiny shreds of food in the scent pad, I encourage the dog to explore and linger at the scent pad. Later I rub food on a few spots on the scent pad but then remove it and place it further down the track. Still another way to get the dog to take in more scent at the start is to require the dog to lie down on the scent pad and wait until you give a word of permission to actually take up the track. This is advised for dogs who take off impetuously and then get lost later on the track because they never took enough scent at the start. However not every dog who takes only brief scent is failing to get enough of it into his brain. Schutzhund judges however will take off a few points for a "hasty" start, so if you want to compete in this venue, do teach your dog to lie down and wait at least a dozen heartbeats. I would wait to teach this down until after I was sure that it would not inhibit the dog from being enthusiastic in tracking. In an AKC TDX , there will be an article at the start flag. Supposedly taking scent from this helps the dog to track, but that is probably irrelevant. Do pick up that article and put it into your pouch to present to the Judge at the end of the track.


I basically follow Johson's method of bringing the age up to one hour by doing two simple tracks a day that are about 10 minutes apart in age. Actually the less aged track could be longer and more complex, perhaps four turns, and the more aged track could be a fairly short two turn track. The more aged track is laid first and run second; the less aged track is laid second and run first. The two should be planned so that the start of the older track is fairly close to the end of the younger track.

The first day , the younger track is fresh and the older one is 5 minutes. The second day, the younger track is 5 minutes and the older one is 10 minutes. The third day the younger track is 10 minutes and the older one is 20 minutes. And so on, progressing 10 minutes a day. Now of course if the dog is having trouble at any point , the next day's lesson would drop back 10 minutes instead of advancing ; then for the next four or five lessons , I would progress at only 5 minutes a day, then I might try a 10 minute increment. Eventually the dog would be running one hour tracks with confidence.

Once my dog has gotten to easily running hour old tracks, I would want to finish preparing to enter a TD test. At this point I would probably run just one track a day and alternate (a) days of running one fairly easy track with only one or two articles and anywhere from 200 yards to 600 yards that is an hour old or older (working up to two hours, but only increasing the age about 10 or 15 minutes from one such lesson to the next) with (b) days of running increasingly long (500 to 800 yard) and complex muli-article multi-turn tracks (including the acute angle turn as taught by Johnson) that are aged only 30 to 45 minutes. By this method I would be building both distance stamina and age of track by alternating between the two aspects. This also build the dog's belief that he will conquer the track. (I used this method of alternating between old short tracks and really long relatively fresh tracks when I was trying to build Chelsea's physical and mental stamina for TDX at a time in her life when age and arthritis were impairing her ability to pull hard.)


By the time I enter a test I want to be sure that the dog has expereinced and successfully dealt with every difficulty I could anticipate encountering and ideally has dealt with versions of these difficulties more extreme than those the test rules allow. I want my dog to find the test track very easy and I want my dog to be utterly secure from start to finish.

So by the time I get to a TD test with a talented dog, my dog has had tracks up to 2 hours old (which is the max allowable at a test), at least 200 yards longer than is allowed for a TD, multiple articles of wide variety, changes of cover (changes of vegetation and some bare spots), some obstacles (fallen trees, fences, road crossings, creek crossings if available), and single flag starts from any angle of approach. So the test TD track should be laughably easy for a dog with good olfactory capability. However for a less scent talented dog, like my Sweetie , for whom a TD is as hard a track as this dog is capable of ever handling, I would settle for being able to do a one hour (slightly longer than TD test track is really likely to be) with variety of articles, minor changes of cover and minor obstacles.

To progress onward to TDX tracks, which I would only do with a dog of genuinely good to excellent capability and enthusiasm, the main aspects to be covered are systematic teaching of cross-track discrimination (which I would cover in another article: basically I use a method similar to Johnson's except that of nescessity I have to lay my own cross-tracks or use an unskilled friend to do so by following flags) , exposure to a wide variety of obstacles (every whacko obstacle I can find) and wide variety of vegetations and sparcely vegetated areas, further aging of the tracks to a minimum of 3 hours (minimum TDX age) and preferably to at least 5 hours (the legal maximum for TDX tests), and development of tracking stamina to at least 150 % of the maximum legal TDX length.

Have I CONFUSED you ?

To those of you who are interested in tracking but who find some of this article hard to understand, print it out and re-read it after you have read some tracking books, preferably starting with Glen Johnson. What I have written here will make sense in context.


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 10/10/03 revised 11/01/03
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