A Quick Guide to Tracking Dog Sports

A Quick Guide to Tracking Dog Sports

Tracking dogs are used to find lost people and anything else that needs to be found. Tracking is generally done off-leash, with the dog working out in front of its handler. Tracking has several different styles, and some dogs enjoy one better than another.


Tracking for sport is generally done in either an urban (indoor) or natural (outdoor) environment. Some people do both, but there are specialized training techniques required for each type of surface and environment.


This is a great sport for dogs that are easily bored because there's always something interesting to find. Tracking draws from the dog's natural scenting ability and thus tends to be a favorite activity of all breeds used for hunting since they have an inherent interest in locating things by their sense of smell.


Tracking requires a high degree of obedience but it's not the same thing as obedience. The dog is much more independent in its work, and there are fewer restrictions on where or when it can sniff. The bond between tracking dog and handler is very strong since the dog must have absolute trust in his handler to be allowed to use his nose instead of coming back for direction from the handler.


Tips for Training a Tracking Dog

Even though the best tracking dogs have such a natural urge to track scents, training is still quite a bit of work and it can be frustrating. You need to understand that some dogs pick up these skills very quickly, while others take more time and patience. But once your dog learns how to track you'll both have lots of fun!


Before you begin training make sure your dog is in good physical condition since tracking puts a lot of stress on his body. Also, make sure he's up to date with all vaccinations. From there, it's a matter of choosing the right training techniques. Here are some tips to help you get started.


Start Training Early

When we say early, we mean both in terms of the time of day and the age of the dog. The best time of day to start scent tracking training is early in the morning, especially if you are training your dog in an area where there is frequent traffic, such as a park. By starting early in the morning, you can avoid getting your dog's scent tracking item confused with the scent of all the passersby. 


When it comes to age, most dogs are ready to begin training for tracking between 3 and 5 months of age. There are always exceptions to rules but this generally works best. The younger you start, the easier it is for your dog to imprint on the skills he needs.


Vary the Training Diet

Different dogs have different tastes, and it's important not to use the same treat for every training session. For example, if you are using hot dogs for your dog you should try switching up the type of meat during each training session. By varying the diet you can keep your dog interested in his tracking items even when they are the same type of item.


It's also a good idea to use two different food types for each training session, but make sure that both foods are equally desirable to your dog. Throw in a few dry treats along with some wet ones, and it will keep him interested. Protein is a great ingredient for a tracking treat since it makes it more likely for your dog to sniff out the food item.


Create a Tracking Track

Speaking of treats, the best way to get your pup into tracking mode is to lay out a track for him to follow. It's important not to make the track too easy for your dog; otherwise, he won't be challenged and won't see any reason to keep trying. Instead of creating a straight line for your dog to follow, think of something that makes the track more interesting.


For example, you can lay out a track that looks like an "S" or a "Z". You can also place the treat in one spot and then move it after a few minutes to make it seem as if the scent has disappeared. Once your dog is following the track, it will be easier to gauge his progress.


Use a Verbal Command as Opposed to Clicker Training

It's never recommended to use clicker training for scent tracking because it can be confusing for your dog. Dogs are used to associating words with commands, so using a verbal command will make more sense than using a clicker. A command like "Go get it!" or "Find it!" is a good choice for starting out with a verbal command.


Don't Stop Training Even After Success

Even after your dog has learned how to track, you should continue training him every now and then so he doesn't forget all his training. It's also a good idea to go back to square one once in a while so you can keep working on the basics.


By sticking with the tracking training program, your dog will soon become an expert at hunting down food items or other scented objects that you put into the track. It's a great way for bonding between you and your dog, and it can be fun for both of you to follow each other around as he sniffs out his treats!


Types of Tracking and Hunting Dog Sports

While this list is comprehensive, it is certainly not exhaustive. There are many other elements that can be added, depending on the organization. 


Barn Hunt 

Barn Hunting is a sport that helps to train dogs to sniff out rats. Handlers will enclose live rats in secure, aerated cages and hide them in a pile of hay inside of a barn. Barn Hunt clubs offer a variety of rules and regulations to increase the difficulty level of the competition. Points are awarded to dogs who successfully hunt and locate the hidden rats in the least amount of time.


Barn hunting takes place in enclosed arenas where several barns (each containing different types of distractions) are set up side by side. Barn Hunt is not to be confused with wild boar hunting or hunting for other wild animals that live in a barn such as a fox, coon, etc.


There are many different titles you and your barn hunter can pursue:


  • Novice Barn Hunt (RATN),
  • Open Barn Hunt (RATO),
  • Senior Barn Hunt (RATS),
  • Master Barn Hunt (RATM),
  • Barn Hunt Champion (RATCh),
  • Master Champion (RATChX),
  • Crazy 8s Bronze (CZ8B),
  • Crazy 8s Silver (CZ8S),
  • Crazy 8s Gold (CZ8G),
  • Crazy 8s Platinum (CZ8P)

Coon Hunting Field Trial

The Coon Hunting Field Trial is not the same as a traditional raccoon or coon hunt. The field trial is done for sport as opposed to hunting for the kill. In the trial, the handlers will drag an item with the scent of a coon along a track and up a tree. The dogs are then released to run the track in search of the coon. Dogs compete with each other in different-sized fields, with larger fields being more challenging for the dog. The first dog to pass the finish line is awarded points. The winner is determined by the number of total points gathered throughout the trial.


Drag Hunting

Similar to hound trailing (discussed below), dogs follow an artificial scent trail on a track that is laid over various types of terrain and manmade obstacles. Handlers follow the dogs on horseback and very closely resembles the sport of fox hunting. However, drag hunting is done primarily for sport and not as a hunting method.


Earthdog Trial

This trial is typically reserved for smaller breeds, such as terriers. In this hunt, a number of rats are enclosed within a winding trail of manmade tunnels and pits that have been dug into the ground. Each dog will attempt to navigate through an underground tunnel and locate each rat. While this may sound dangerous, the rats are housed within their own separate cages and the dog is unable to reach it, only smell and hear it. 


There are two governing bodies for the competition and each one has a list of specific breeds that are allowed to participate. Depending on the organization, the only breeds allowed to participate in the earthdog trial are:


  • American Hairless Terrier
  • Australian Terrier
  • Bedlington Terrier
  • Border TerrierCairn TerrierCesky TerrierDachshundDandie Dinmont Terrier
  • Fell TerrierGlen of Imaal Terrier
  • Jack Russell Terrier
  • JagdterrierLakeland TerrierManchester Terrier
  • Miniature Bull Terrier
  • Miniature Pinschers
  • Miniature Schnauzer
  • Norfolk TerrierNorwich TerrierParson Russell Terrier
  • Patterdale Terrier
  • Rat TerrierRussell TerrierScottish TerrierSealyham Terrier
  • Silky TerrierSkye TerrierSmooth Fox Terrier
  • Welsh TerrierWest Highland White Terrier
  • Wire Fox TerrierYorkshire Terrier


Field Trial

There are several different types of field trials that are open to specific breeds of gundogs, which include:


  • Pointer and setter trials
  • Spaniel trials
  • Retriever trials
  • Basset trials
  • Beagle trials
  • Dachshund trials


Depending on the specific trial, dogs are usually required to track a scent for a specific time and find either game birds or fallen game. Each of the trials has the dogs track live prey and some end with taking the prey, while others simply allow the dog to find the prey and hold it until called off by the handler.


Hare Coursing

In hare coursing, dogs are required to track a hare by sight only, not by smell. Therefore, sighthounds are usually the best breeds to enter into this trial. There are many different variations of hare coursing trials throughout the world. These include the US, Ireland, Pakistan, Portugal, and Spain. It is a rather controversial sport in many areas of the world. So much so, that the UK banned it in 2004, however, some trials continue to this day in the country, despite being illegal.


There are 3 types of hare coursing that are still legal, which include:


  • Formal coursing - This is the most competitive type of hare coursing trial. The dogs will run in an open field and attempt to capture the hare. 
  • Informal coursing - This is the oldest variation of the sport. Typically, it involves two dogs running after a hare, with the winner being the one who catches it. 
  • Lure coursing (discussed more below)- In this variation, instead of using a live hare, dogs chase a mechanical one. It is mainly used in training exercises, rather than competitively.


Hound Trailing

Hound trailing, also known as hound racing, uses an artificial scent trail that has been spread out over a long course, typically in a cross-country style. It is very similar to drag hunting, except instead of spectators and handlers riding along with the dogs on horseback, they are usually positioned in an area where they can observe the hounds from afar with binoculars. 


Lure Coursing

Another popular purebred sighthound trial is lure coursing. The dogs chase after a fake rabbit or other small, fast-moving object. The main difference between this and hare coursing is that the lure is not real.


Depending on the trial competition, the track can be anywhere from 500 to 1,000 meters and simulates a real-life coursing situation, with the addition of jumps. There are three governing authorities, of which two are in the United States and the other in Europe:


  • American Sighthound Field Association (ASFA)
  • American Kennel Club (AKC)
  • Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI)


Depending on the organization, either two (Europe) or three dogs (US) are allowed to compete at a time and each dog must wear a specific color of jacket while competing. The winner is the first one to catch the lure when it comes to an end. Also, depending on the organization, the only breeds allowed to compete include:


  • Afghan Hound
  • Azawakh
  • Basenji
  • Borzoi Polski
  • Cirneco dell'Etna
  • Deerhound
  • Galgo Espanol
  • Greyhound
  • Hortaya Borzaya
  • Ibizan Hound
  • Irish Wolfhound
  • Italian Greyhound
  • Magyar AgarNorrbottenspets (AKC only)
  • Peruvian Inca Orchid
  • Pharaoh HoundPodenco Canario
  • Podenco Ibicenco (Ibizan Hound)
  • Portuguese Podengo (3 varieties that are to be run separately)
  • Rhodesian Ridgeback
  • SalukiSilken Windhound(ASFA Only)
  • SloughiThai Ridgeback (AKC only)
  • Whippet



Nosework, also known as scent work or scent detection, emulates professional dog tracking duties. The dog must avoid distractions and find the source of the target scent in order to get its reward. It is a relatively new sport that some advocates believe can be a useful tool in solving behavioral problems in dogs. However, more research needs to be done to prove this idea.


There are numerous governing bodies around the world that regulate the sport, including:


  • American Kennel Club (AKC) Scent Work
  • Australian Canine Scent Work (ACSW)
  • Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) Scent Detection
  • National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW)
  • Sporting Detection Dogs Association (SDDA)
  • United Kennel Club (UKC) Nosework
  • United States Canine Scent Sports (USCSS)
  • Canine - Work And Games (C-WAGS)


The elements of the sport have several different variations, each with its own set of rules and trials. The most common include:


  • Buried searches
  • Container searches
  • Exterior area searches
  • Handler discrimination
  • Interior building searches
  • Vehicle searches

Become close with your Dog

Daniel Barrett’s emotionally intelligent approach to dog training has created a large following of dog owners who feel that their relationship with their dog has transformed substantially.

Become close with your Dog

Daniel Barrett’s emotionally intelligent approach to dog training has created a large following of dog owners who feel that their relationship with their dog has transformed substantially.

Payment in Progress