Tracking is a dog sport and though it uses some of the techniques and abilities that search and rescue dogs use, it’s not search and rescue. I love tracking because it’s something to do with my dogs, something that we do as a team, and something that’s outside in all sorts of weather and in lots of different places.
What is tracking? In the kind of tracking I do, there are three levels or tests: TD–Tracking Dog, TDX–Tracking Dog Excellent, and VST–Variable Surface Tracking. A dog that passes all three of these tests receives a CT in front of their name–Champion Tracker.
All of these levels involve a dog following a track (the scent of a person who’s walked a mapped path) and finding and identifying articles along the track. A TD track is 450 to 500 yards long, 30 minutes to 2 hours old, and has a glove at the beginning and a glove at the end (test passing rate: 50%). A TDX track is 800 to 1000 yards long, 3 to 5 hours old, has two obstacles, changes of cover, crosstracks and 4 articles (gloves, scarves, socks, shoes, etc) (test pass rate: 17%). A VST track is 600 to 800 yards long, 1/3 to 1/2 non-vegetative (asphalt, concrete, gravel, etc.) and has 1 plastic, 1 cloth, 1 leather, and 1 metal article (test pass rate: 5%).
The thrill for me is learning to listen to my dog (they know how to track; I never will), watching them figure things out, and seeing what amazingly smart and difficult things they’re able to do. The thrill for the dogs (I think) is doing something they love with someone they love and, for once, getting to be the boss of the team. Also, food.