Showsight November 2022

Doing It All

Performance Puppy: Tracking


I n honor of this month’s Performance theme, I am presenting an article on teaching puppies to track—since it’s a great time of year to track. I hope you decide to give it a try, as I think it’s fascinating. I will resume the series with Factors Affecting Learning next month. Enjoy! Tracking is a sport in which a tracklayer walks a predesigned trail, dropping articles such as bandanas, gloves or leather objects for a tracking dog (open to all breeds) to find. There are four different tracking titles a dog can earn, each with specific age, length, and obstacles for the dog to negotiate. Dogs love using their noses to find the hidden treasures for their handlers. Tracking is a sport that utilizes a dog’s best sense and most natural instinct. Besides that, it is a great way for owners to bond, enjoy the outdoors, and get some exercise. Many trackers talk among themselves about teaching their dogs how to track, but in all honesty, dogs don’t need our help learning how to follow a scent trail. Their experience begins in the whelping box, where blind and deaf newborns can be seen crawling in Mom’s direction any time they are hungry or cold. A warm, sated puppy separated from its mother will probably lie there and sleep. But a puppy that is hungry or cold will be stirred into action. Using the only sense it has at this age, pups can be seen “tracking” Mom. If one watches more closely, one can observe the pups swing- ing their heads and “sniffing” as they move in Mom’s direction. After watching this behavior multiple times, I have developed the routine of teaching puppies to track as young as eight weeks with much success. Since puppies have been tracking in the whelping box from birth, I capitalize on this skill and start my puppies as soon as the rest of the litter goes home. I like this plan, as puppies pick up AKC Tracking easily, gain confidence as they learn to work, build decision-making skills at a young age, burn up some of that puppy energy, and can engage in a sport that isn’t too hard on them physically. Puppies learn how to learn and become better Performance dogs when their “work” begins at an early age. It is not uncommon to watch these puppies progress and pass a certification test by six months, ready to enter their first Tracking Test. I have started puppies as young as eight weeks, and have had some take off and track quite well right away. Others don’t seem to be able to stay focused at this age, so I put tracking aside for 2-3 weeks—with noted improvement when they resume work. Here is one example (not the only puppy I have seen work this way) of an early tracking program and how well this young dog has done. “Carly,” a yellow Labrador Retriever, began tracking when she was eight weeks old. We did not track daily, but

‘Clipper’ and Sarah Cunningham with the final article on his TDX track.

Typical Judge’s Map of TDX track. This dog passed.


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