Downeast Dog News

Training Your Performance Dog

Variable Surface Tracking Test – Right Here in Maine
By Carolyn Fuhrer | Aug 01, 2018

On August 5, 2018 at Colby College in Waterville, ME, Mid Coast Kennel Club of Maine will put on a Variable Surface Tracking Test. The test begins at 5:00 a.m. – yes, that’s right – a.m! Track layers and judges have been out since 2:00 a.m. to put in tracks for those who are exhibiting. As you can imagine, it takes quite a dedicated and enthusiastic team of judges, track layers and other test officials as well as drivers for judges and track layers and hospitality people and dedicated exhibitors who travel from many parts of the United States for this test.

A Variable Surface Tracking Test (VST) is the most difficult of all the tracking tests. If you pass a VST and have achieved a TD or a TDU or a TDX, your dog has earned the title Champion Tracker.

According to AKC, The Variable Surface Tracking test (VST) is a test of credibility, verifying the dog’s ability to recognize and follow human scent while adapting to changing scenting conditions. The test is to be as practical as possible while demonstrating the dog’s willingness and ability to follow a specific scent given to the dog at the start of the test. The training and conditioning of the dog must be designed to develop the inner drive, motivation, and determination necessary for the dog to work with intensity and perseverance. The dog must show ability to work on a non-vegetated surface.

Tracking is a true team sport. The handler, to be successful, must have a deep understanding of his dog’s motivation and commitment to the job. The handler must be able to not only read his dog, but to be able to communicate with his dog to accomplish the goal. In VST, this team effort becomes even more critical due to the difficult nature of the test.

Dogs have a very keen sense of smell. 100,000 times stronger than humans! AKC Tracking is a canine sport that demonstrates a dog’s natural ability to recognize and follow a scent and is the foundation of canine search and rescue work. Unlike obedience and rally trials where dogs respond to the handler’s commands, in tracking, the dog is completely in charge, for only he knows how to use his nose to find and follow the track. For many, the greatest pleasure of tracking is the hours spent outside training and interacting with their dogs. The tracking community is known for its camaraderie, and they all share in the excitement of a “pass” and the disappointment of a “fail.”

Mid Coast Kennel Club of Maine has done a great service to the tracking community by providing more tracking opportunities right here in Maine. This year they are hosting 2 TD, TDX tests, one in the spring and one in the fall; 1 TDU test on July 29 and 1 VST test on August 5. Next year (2019) they will offer an additional VST test in August.

If you are interested in attending a test or learning to track with your dog, contact Mid Coast Kennel Club of Maine – call Kathy at 207-691-2332 for more information.

The tracking relationship with your dog is all about trust and creating a problem solving relationship based on careful observation and understanding what our dog is telling us. The end result of this kind of work is the development of a profound understanding that develops between dog and handler as you progress through tracking practice.

If you are interested in tracking, don’t miss the opportunities provided by Mid Coast Kennel Club of Maine.

Hope to see you at dawn on August 5!


Carolyn Fuhrer has earned over 100 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 30 years. You can contact her with questions, suggestions and ideas for her column by e-mailing