Canine Track and Trace Game
Dogs have wonderful noses and tracking games are great for all breeds. Whilst some may have a more naturally instinct than others, dogs of all breed, shape and size can have a great time tracking. It’s easy to teach and can be started off in the house with little distractions and built up.
Here’s how to get started:
Step 1: Find a clean area and teach your dog about a “Treat Path”
Start out in a clean area like a mowed lawn or cleaned patio or you may want to start inside the house if they become easily distracted. Try to find an area that is not used as often, maybe a spare room or after the kitchen floor has been cleaned.
Have your dog sit and watch you as you set up the game
Take 5 treats and working in a straight line, place one about every foot
1 foot after the last treat, place a jackpot pile (4 or 5 treats), a special treat like dried liver or your dog’s favourite toy if they are toy motivated
With your dog on lead, take them to the first treat in the line and give them a command to track. You can use any cue word you’d like — I use “Track it”. Walk as quietly as possible behind them, only using the lead to stop them from getting too far off of the track. If they get lost on the track, gently guide them back to the next treat in the line, but if they are working away, remain silent until they find the jackpot pile/toy – then you can go to town on the praise.
Repeat several times making the distance between treats slightly longer each time
If doing this inside to start with, go back to the beginning once you start outside as much more difficult with all those other distractions!
Step 2: Surprise Treat Path
Continue to set a straight treat path for your dog. If they are clear on what they are supposed to do and not getting lost on the track, you can lengthen it as much as you’d like but keep in mind that our goal is to keep them interested and working. If they are getting distracted on the treat path, you’ve moved too far, too quickly. Simplify it until they are sure of what they should be doing. Never be upset if you have to go back a few steps, much better to get it right rather than they keep making mistakes and everyone starts to get frustrated. Remember this is meant to be fun!
Set up your dog so that they are not be able to see you as you place the treat path. Start at the furthest distance you got to in Step 1
Set up your treat path — as you do, shuffle your feet in the grass to stamp in your scent
Take your dog to the start of the path and give your track cue
Step 3: Adding Corners
Once the dog is happily tracking in a straight line, it’s time to add some complications, like corners. Do this by placing a physical barrier where you want your dog to turn. For example, you may run your straight-line track into a wall or fence and then place treats close to each other along the barrier. Your dog should catch the scent and learn that sometimes they need to change direction. As they get better at this, place the turn further from the wall until you can fade out the wall completely. Again, lay a solid amount of your scent with the food.
Tip: Flags are a great way to mark corners for the handler’s benefit.
Step 4: Fading the treat path
As you build distance on your track, be sure you are stamping your scent between and along with the treats. Eventually, you will fade out the treats on the path so that your dog is following a scent path you have created and finding a jackpot, article or toy at the end. As your dog gets the idea, use a longer lead to allow them the freedom to follow the scent path. It’s amazing how quickly they pick up on this fun game and develop the skills needed to use their nose.