How to Train Your Dog to Track

Tracking might be something instinctive to dogs, but that doesn't mean that you won't need to train him to do it properly. Find out how in this article.
How to Train Your Dog to Track

Last update: 18 April, 2019

Dogs love to do things like go for walks, fetch things for us, or look for hidden things. This latter is something which is innate in many animals and isn’t easy to teach. In fact, if you want to train your dog to track something, it can be quite hard.

However, it’s not impossible. In this post, we’ll give you some tips to try and wake up this dormant instinct.

How to train your dog to track

Training your dog to track is much more than just being able to show off to your friends. It’s about waking up an innate instinct that he already has, and it’s important for his development and socialization.

A small dog walking through a field.

Find a smell-free area

If you want to train your dog to track, the first thing you need to do is find an area where there aren’t already trails to follow. That is to say, there shouldn’t be too many traces of scents or other animals that have passed through.

As he learns, your dog will begin to differentiate the scent you want from all the others, but for the time being, you’ll have to start in a more neutral area. Of course, you should be outside. It’ll be hard for you to find an adequate place at home.

Think about his sense of smell

Dogs have a highly developed sense of smell but not all of them are as developed as others. Think carefully about your dog’s abilities when thinking about an area to practice in.

Some dogs can sniff and track longer distances, whilst others can only track short distances. Choose a place suited to your dog.

Games will also help this training to be a lot easier. Even though it’s an instinct, games can be used to develop it.

Get up early to train your dog to track

Tracking specialists recommend that you find a tracking area nice and early in the morning, preferably before 6 am. This is because the sun won’t have come up still, and caused the moisture from vegetation to start evaporating.

As well as this, there are less likely to be footprints or other scents in the area to distract your dog.

Find an open space

A park near your home is ideal. A large space is really important for developing tracking skills.

Rub some food in the grass. Have your dog tied up at this point so that he doesn’t eat it straight away. Form a trail with bits of food and, if you want to give him a surprise, place a toy covered in food at the end of the trail.

We recommend you use tinned food because it has a stronger smell and is easier to rub or spread on things. Later on, you can try dry food.


A Yorkshire terrier following food, one way to train your dog to track.

The time has come. Let your dog catch the scent and release him.

Use a command like “find”, “search”, or “go”, or anything similar to help your dog understand what it is you want him to do. Try to keep things simple at first. You can make things more complex as he learns.

For example, you could use something with a weaker smell or even just some random objects. You could then space them out further. You can even put in corners, hide things behind trees, or whatever you can think of.

Remember to use positive reinforcement. Shouting and nagging won’t get you anywhere.

Above all, you need to be consistent and persistent. If you only do this once in a while, your dog will soon forget what he’s learned, and then you’ll have to start all over again.

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