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The American Kennel Club (AKC) defines the purpose of a tracking test is “to demonstrate the dog's ability to recognize and follow human scent, a skill that is useful in the service of mankind.” In another publication, the AKC illustrates that “AKC tracking events are the competition form of canine search and rescue. These Tracking events provide experience for dogs and their handlers to meet some needs for tracking and finding lost humans or other animals, as well as, demonstrating the extremely high level of scent capability that dogs possess.” Having worked dogs in Search And Rescue (SAR) situations and having found lost children and adults I can understand the “service to mankind” position, however most handlers and their dogs involved in the sport of tracking will never be called out to assist in a search. A different set of rules and training apply when preparing for the sport of tracking. When we decide to begin tracking with our dog it is important we understand that organizations such as the AKC, the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) and
others require our dogs to modify their natural hunting and tracking skills to comply with a set of man-made regulations. Your dog’s nose can identify the location of the end article on your TD track or the intermediate and end article on your TDU track while standing at the start flag; however, to pass the test, he must still negotiate the track as plotted by the judges and indicate those articles when the dog arrives at their placed location. Regulation [reg-yuh-ley-shuhn] a law, rule, or other order prescribed by authority, especially to regulate conduct. For many years the common theme was that dogs could track anywhere, under any weather conditions and for seemingly unlimited distances to locate the “bad guy”. The movies populated this idea by showing dogs following criminals through fields, across fences, and over streams or rivers without a break in almost unbelievable weather, whether it be drought or horizontal rain. Can a dog do this, yes. Can your dog do this, perhaps. Do you want to do this with your dog? Perhaps not. It all depends on the conditioning, training and teamwork you are prepared to do and understanding that your dog will need a set pattern to start, short breaks, refreshment of both water and scent and a quiet cheerleader following along to help when required. The regulations further state that, “tracking, by nature, is a vigorous, noncompetitive outdoor sport.” To play this game will require a lot of walking, bending and thinking. If you are like me, any time I spend with my dog is both enjoyable and fun. Rarely do I get frustrated over something my dog did during training or something stupid that I did whether in training or a test. I think about the positive things that happened on the track and know that there will be another day to find the solution to the challenge. Tracking is a sport that allows you to spend time with your dog, work together to reach specific goals and operate as a working team. When you start training your dog you can expect to walk hundreds of yards in the beginning and what may seem like miles as your training progresses. The walking exercise is an excellent conditioning program that will help keep you and your dog fit and trim. “Tracking is a team sport in the truest sense. In true team effort, a handler working as a team with his or her dog exhibits a real understanding of the dog's motivation and commitment to the task at hand. The handler is able to read his or her dog and communicate with it to accomplish their goal.” To many, this camaraderie with our dog is the most enjoyable part of tracking. Working with a dog to become a “team” and knowing when to follow because you trust the actions of your dog or when to help should be your goal. Teamwork will assure you reach your goal. The fundamental features of a tracking test is the dog's ability to follow a track in a field laid by a unknown person under a variety of conditions on moderate terrain and find an article, in TD, about 500 yards in length, or in the case of a TDX that ranges from 800 to 1,000 yards in length, multiple articles, dropped by that person. In urban tracking it is testing a dog's ability to follow a track at a college, university, city park or public place laid by an unknown person under a variety of conditions on various surfaces, terrain and find multiple articles, dropped by that person. The TDU test (USA) and the UTD (Canadian) are about 400 to 500 yards in length while the VST (USA) and the UTDX (Canadian) tracks range from 600 to 800 yards in length. The dog detects and follows a unique combination of smells, a multitude of emissions, from people, plants, ground cover and the environment. Included within this unique scent combination is the tracklayer’s body scent, DNA, traces of soap or other toiletries, the scent of their clothes, and the smell of the vegetation crushed underfoot. Each person has a unique scent pattern that our dogs can easily follow. "Tracking Tests should demonstrate willingness and enjoyment by the dog in his work.” There are few things in life more enjoyable than watching a dog that truly loves his job. In tracking we have the unique opportunity to both participate and see our dog’s enthusiasm while he overcomes the challenges along the track. Once you have started this journey, your life and that of your dog will change forever. The mere sight of a harness will make your dog whine, spin, wag their tail and bark at the knowledge they are going to get to “play” the tracking game. Tracking should be a game that always ends with the dog and handler having fun. Ed Presnall & Debbie Maheu Ed has been a professional trainer and coach for the past 25 years and has been involved in breeding, raising and training purebred dogs for over 40 years. Ed is an International authority on training dogs and their handlers to track. He has authored 8 books, including Component TrainingTM for TDX, Mastering Variable Surface Tracking: The Component TrainingTM Approach and over 200 short stories, articles and columns for a variety of dog publications. The Dog Writer's Association of America has awarded Ed two Maxwell Awards for his publications. He is the creator of the Component TrainingTM method, founder of Component Training Camps, The Ultimate Tracking ExperienceTM, and an American Kennel Club and Canadian Kennel Club Tracking Judge for all levels. Ed was one of only 5 participants in the original AKC Tracking Exposition with his Field Spaniel and has participated in two AKC Tracking Invitationals with his Border Collie and Irish Water Spaniel. His Border Collie was the first dog to pass at any Invitational. Additionally, one of his Field Spaniels was the first Champion Tracker to win at both the Westminster Kennel Club and AKC / Eukanuba National Championship. Debbie has been involved in the sport of purebred dogs since 1980. Her first purebred dog was an American Cocker Spaniel. Debbie started tracking with an English Springer Spaniel and has achieved numerous TD, TDU, TDX, VST & CT and Obedience, Rally and Agility titles on her dogs. She is an AKC Tracking Judge for TD & TDU and VST. Ed, Debbie and their dogs have earned over 70 tracking titles including 7 VST titles on five different breeds of dogs. They have earned titles on twelve different breeds of dogs and hold the distinction of earning two TDX titles and two VST titles on two different breeds at the same tests. Ed and Debbie are recognized by many as being the leading and most innovative trainers in the sport. They are known by their ability to create solutions to their student's problems. They teach weekend and week-long workshops across the country and internationally at major Universities to simulate the urban environment of testing. For over 25 years they have worked with thousands of dogs and their handlers encompassing 140 different breeds. To date, their students have earned over 600 tracking titles, including over 120 VST titles. They are proud to think “outside of the box”, find innovative methods to coach and teach, develop training methods such as Components, routines and mental preparation while always searching for solutions to their student’s problems. Using Component TrainingTM methods, Ed and Debbie have trained dozens of other breeds and their handlers to attain advanced titles. They have worked with thousands of dogs in urban tracking through national and international seminars and workshops. Their years of experience in this field, while working with over 140 different breeds of dogs, brings a refreshing motivational outlook on dog training to this sport. In addition to their passion of tracking, Ed and Debbie participate with their dogs in obedience, agility, rally, tricks and lure coursing events.