How to Teach a Dog to Track

Two Parts:Beginning Your Track TrainingTraining Your Dog to Track With a Track Line

When a dog tracks, he uses his nose to follow a particular scent.[1] Tracking comes naturally for dogs.[2] In fact, your dog likely started tracking when he was a very young puppy—because his eyes hadn’t yet opened, he needed to use his nose to locate his mother so that he could nurse.[3] Your job will be to refine his natural tracking instinct to follow a particular track.[4] Tracking is like a game to your dog,[5] so have fun with it!

Part 1
Beginning Your Track Training

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    Choose an area to train your dog. Training your dog to track can be done indoors or outdoors.[6] Because various weather elements (e.g., wind, temperature) can affect scent molecules,[7] you may want to start his training inside to keep the scent in one place, so to speak.
    • Whether you train inside or outside, try to eliminate potential distractions, such as other pets, people and loud noises.
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    Select an object for your dog to track. Although there are many ways to hone your dog’s natural tracking instincts, most dogs will enjoy following the scent of their favorite toy.[8] Choose your dog’s favorite toy, and use it for each training session.
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    Play fetch with your dog. Playing with your dog before your training session will get him warmed up and excited to train.[9] Fetch is a great game to get your dog warmed up because it is so similar to tracking. Play with your dog for about 10 to 15 minutes before beginning your training session.
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    Command your dog to sit and/or stay. Spend some time teaching your dog these commands if he is not yet familiar with them. Having him stay in one place will teach him patience and will help your track training go more smoothly.
    • Attach your dog’s leash to his collar when he is situated in one place.[10]
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    Hide your dog’s toy in plain sight. Although your dog’s tracking sense is likely very sharp,[11] his training should first involve him retrieving his toy when it is plain sight. While your dog is seated or standing in one place, hold the toy in front of him. Allow your dog to watch you as you place the toy where he can see it.[12]
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    Command your dog to retrieve the toy. Pick up your dog’s leash and give him a verbal cue to get the toy. Common cues include ‘search,’ ‘seek,’ and ‘find it.’[13]
    • Your dog may follow your command with ease the first time. On the other hand, your dog may not initially understand what you want him to do.[14]
    • If your dog needs extra help, guide him with his leash to the toy. When he has the toy in his mouth, run back to your starting position and encourage him to follow you with the toy still in his mouth.[15]
    • Tell your dog to drop his toy when you and he reach the starting position. You may need to practice hiding the toy and giving your dog the verbal cue several times until he can retrieve the toy without your guidance.[16]
    • Reward your dog immediately with verbal praise and a treat when he retrieves the toy.
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    Hide the toy where your dog cannot see it. To challenge your dog, hide your dog’s toy so that it is out of his line of sight. This will allow your dog to use his nose, rather than his eyes, to find his toy.[17] Examples of where you can hide his toy include a different room, under furniture, or under a cardboard box.[18]
    • As you did before, command your dog to sit or stay, hide the toy, then command him to find it.
    • Remember to allow him to sniff the toy before you hide it.
    • Reward him immediately when he finds the toy and brings it back to you.
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    Use the wind to improve your dog’s tracking skills. Once your dog has gotten good at using his nose to find his toy, challenge him even more by incorporating wind into your training. After you hide the toy, stand downwind of it with your dog. By facing downwind, the wind will carry the scent of your dog’s toy to his nose, allowing him to find it more easily.[19]
    • Downwind means that the wind will be in your face.[20]
    • If you stand upwind, your dog will actually have to run past the toy until he is downwind of it.[21] He probably won’t mind doing this, but it may increase your training time.
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    Have a helper hide the toy. This is another way to challenge your dog during your track training sessions. As you stand silently with your dog, have someone else hide the toy while your dog is watching him or her. Command your dog to retrieve the toy when the helper comes back to you.[22]
    • Your helper may need to initially hide the toy in an easy place so your dog can adjust to someone else hiding the toy. Your helper can then escalate the difficulty by hiding the toy in a harder place to find and not having the dog follow his or her movements.[23]
    • Make sure not to verbally encourage your dog to follow your helper’s movements. Your dog will probably look at you rather than your helper.[24]

Part 2
Training Your Dog to Track With a Track Line

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    Purchase a track line and track harness. A track line is used for more advanced track training. The line serves as a means of communication between you and your dog as he tracks. Track lines are typically made of rope, leather, or webbing and attach to your dog’s collar or track harness.[25]
    • Rope is strong and inexpensive, but can burn your hands if you are not wearing gloves. Leather has a natural feel and is less likely to burn your hands, but can stretch over time.[26]
    • A track line made of webbing is durable and long lasting. The ideal webbing is 3/8 to 1/2 inch thick.[27]
    • Track lines vary in length, but 20 feet should be a sufficient length for your training purposes.[28]
    • You can purchase a track line and track harness at your local pet store.
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    Lay the track. You will need a large outdoor space to lay the track.[29] You will also need a few items to create the track: several flags, food morsels, and two objects. The first object will be the object your dog needs to find, and the second object will be the one you allow your dog to sniff before he begins tracking.[30]
    • Fabric objects (e.g., socks, gloves) are ideal to use, since they hold a scent fairly well.[31]
    • To prevent scent contamination, place the second object in a plastic bag until you give your dog the command to track.[32]
    • Place one flag at the beginning of the track, and another one at the end (about 10 to 15 feet away). Place several flags in between so your dog knows to walk in a straight line.[33]
    • Spread food morsels along the length of the track. Starting at the beginning of the track, take small steps and place the morsels where you step. The morsels should only be a few inches away from each other.[34]
    • The food morsels should be a tasty treat that you know your dog will want to eat.
    • Place the first object at end of the track.[35]
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    Return to your dog. After you finish laying the track, walk back to your dog without walking back down the track. This will likely confuse the scent along the track, thus confusing your dog. Rather, hop sideways off the track and walk back to your dog.[36]
    • Attach your track line to your dog’s harness when you are at the start of the track.[37]
    • If you have to walk him to track, attach the track line to your dog’s collar first. You want to make sure your dog associates the track line-track harness attachment with only tracking.[38]
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    Command your dog to track. After you have attached your track line to your dog’s track harness, pull the second object out of the plastic bag and allow your dog to sniff it. Then, give your dog your verbal cue and let him move out in front of you as he begins to track. Use your hands to feed him more track line as he progresses down the track.[39]
    • When he retrieves the second object at the end of the track, walk up to him and reward him immediately with verbal praise and a treat.[40]
    • Shorten the distance of your track line as you walk up to him.
    • Detach your track line from his track harness and attach it back to his collar as you lead him away from the track.[41]
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    Challenge your dog with more advanced tracks. It may not take long for your dog to master a short, straight track. You can challenge his tracking even more by adding distance to the track, or adding twists and turns. You can also increase the distance between the food morsels along the track.[42]


  • It is ideal to start track training when your dog is a puppy.[43]
  • You can practice with your dog each day, but keep your training sessions short—about 10 to 15 minutes.
  • You can make your track training as complex as you can think of. Because your dog has a natural ability to track and sees tracking as a game, he will likely enjoy the physical and mental challenges of your training sessions.[44]
  • Track training has many benefits, such as improving your dog’s problem-solving skills.[45] This type of training is also a good way to bond with your dog.[46]
  • Track training is also useful for more advanced and serious purposes, such as hunting game and finding missing persons.[47]

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Categories: Dog Tricks