Downeast Dog News

Training Your Performance Dog

TRACKING –The Importance of Starting Out Correctly
By Carolyn Fuhrer | Mar 01, 2017

One of the greatest games you can play with your dog is teaching him to use his sense of smell to find a great reward. Dogs like to use their noses; it is the first way they identify things – and what dog doesn’t like to find something which results in a reward for him, be it food, a toy or a game of tug or chase?

The sport of tracking uses the dog’s natural scenting ability to follow where a person has walked (the track) and find items that the person has dropped (articles). Our job is to teach the dog to use his nose to follow the “track” and find the “articles” at which point the dog in training will be rewarded. The only way he can find the “articles” which pay the reward is to use his nose to follow the track. Sounds like a relatively simple formula – then why do so many people have so much trouble when they start working?


The answers are the same as for any other type of training. To name a few:

Poor motivation

Lack of clarity on the part of the trainer

Dog does not understand the reward system

Increased difficulty too soon

Making it a job instead of an enjoyable, rewarding task

Poor understanding of the dog’s physical/mental stamina

Poorly planned tracks

Starting out right with a qualified trainer who is also a good teacher and understands various breeds of dogs can help avoid so many problems.

There are many good books on tracking, but if you don’t have a really solid foundation in training, they are not that helpful. Videos are fine, but usually show the finished product and not how to deal with problems or may not deal with the problems you are having.

Going to a beginner’s clinic is a very good start, but it can only take you so far and depending on the skill and expertise of the instructors, you may or may not come away with a plan.

Continuity, consistency, and motivation are the keys to developing a good tracking dog. If you are frustrated, it usually affects the dog. This is why follow up sessions that allow for individual needs are very important especially for new trackers. As in any dog sport, there is a lot for the handler to learn, and if the handler cannot obtain the help he needs, progress will be slow at best. To make progress, you need someone who cannot only identify the problems you may be having but who can also design training sessions to help you solve those problems and build the dog’s confidence and yours!

Mid Coast Maine Kennel Club had a wonderful program last year. It started in April with a beginner’s workshop, and students tracked several times a month throughout the mid coast area. The last session was held the first week in December! MCKC will also be hosting 7 tracking tests this year and will host an AKC Judges Seminar in July. If you are looking to learn to track in 2017, check out Mid Coast Kennel Club of Maine’s website for information. The club will also be hosting a Nose Work clinic on March 3rd.

Carolyn Fuhrer has earned over 90 AKC titles with her Golden Retrievers, including 2 Champion Tracker titles. Carolyn is the owner of North Star Dog Training School in Somerville, Maine. She has been teaching people to understand their dogs for over 25 years. You can contact her with questions, suggestions and ideas for her column by e-mailing