All breeds of dog can learn to track – it uses their natural scenting instincts which is enjoyable and rewarding.
Tracking involves training a dog to follow a ground scent trail and find any discarded articles of clothing along the track.
Dogs must wear a tracking harness, and must track at the end of a 10 metre lead, unless topography makes this difficult.
Tracking in NSW is done mostly in winter, due to the risk of snakes and heat of summer. A number of obedience and tracking clubs teach tracking, in which a dog and handler may learn how to track. Some of these clubs also run tracking trials, where dogs and handlers can enter to gain their tracking titles.
To be eligible for entry in Tracking Trials a dog must have passed the Preliminary Tracking qualification test.
A track is a scent trail or scent path left behind as a person or animal walks or moves, along the ground. There are a lot of varying views and theories on what forms the scent track and without becoming too complicated, it is generally accepted that the track is formed in two ways:
Partly from ground scent, that is the scent of the ground disturbance left where the person or tracklayer has walked, and composed of odours emanating from the bruising and damaging of grass and foliage, the crushing of roots and the scent of soil bacteria and moulds, released where the surface of the soil is broken. As the track ages, there is also the scent of the decay organisms working on the damaged roots and plants.
Then there is what we call body scent, this is the personal scent left by the tracklayer and formed by the normal body odour which he leaves in the air around him and where his hands or the skin of his legs or body have brushed against scrub or grass, and also from any particles of skin, hair, clothing, fluff or shoe leather that is shed along the track.
The trained tracking dog is expected to smell an article belonging to the tracklayer and from this scent, find the person's track and follow the track till he finds the end of the track. The dog must also find and indicate any object dropped along the track by the tracklayer. Under present rules, in a tracking trial, the track may be from twenty minutes to three hours old.
Track and Search is a newer component introduced to tracking to enable those people whose dog has gained it's Tracking Championship to continue to develop their skills. The tests are designed to mimic real life situations where a person has wandered off and become lost. The tracks are different in that they will cover many different surfaces and are designed to replicate the erratic behaviour of people when lost or confused. Some of the advanced tracks need to be worked out of daylight hours
The time limit for these types of tracks varies from one hour to four hours.