Dog trains man

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Preparing to move beyond the first track: studying body language

Did you enjoyed your first track? Hope you did well. When both of you are in for some more advanced tracking, the next exercise will help you to prepare.

The first track was in a straight line all downwind. Before adding more complexity by making turns on the track and let another person lay the track, how do we know if the dog followed the track correctly? We cannot pick up the scents on the track and cannot double check what he was doing. Adding distance, turns and another persons scent on the track will soon leave us clueless of whether the dog is still following the track or not.

Kenzo on track
When going downwind and meeting a turn, the scent will turn with the track but a part of it will be carried straight ahead by the wind in some distance. The dog can overshoot the turn, follow the scent carried by the wind, and then get lost. Here you come in the picture. Now is the time to show that tracking is team work. How can you recognize the overshoot and how can you help your dog back on track?

Her the dogs body language comes to the rescue and will tell you what is happening. Not all dogs use the same body language while tracking, unlike the universal body language used to communicate with other dogs and humans. You will have to study his individual body language. When you can recognize his body language, you are ready for more advanced tracks. What we need is a track with different wind directions where you know exactly where the track is. All the time.

Introducing the circle track. A track laid down in a circle covers wind from all directions. To lay a circle track put a flag/marker in the middle of the imaginary circle you are going to draw, attach a long line to it, and hold the end of the extended line in your hand and walk in a circle. Lay the circle track as if it was a first track: make a starting triangle, start downwind, walk heel-to-toe, a treat every other step, use a start and end flag, lay an object at the end.

When going the track hold the line at the same distance as when you laid the track. This will tell you exactly were the track is. You have to use a normal leash for this exercise, we don't want the dog to move to far off the track. You can move a little to the side of the dog so you better can study his body language. For the rest, go the track the same way as the first track. Remember: no commands and no talking :)

Kenzo on circle track
Now hope your dog has not already become so good that he follows the circle like a vacuum cleaner, but that changing wind directions throughout the circle force him to keep focus on the track in a subtle way. The circle shape will also support the transition from a straight line to real turns. Study his body language. What happens when he goes slightly off track. Look at his body posture, the tail position and if he is wagging his tail or not. Tail down, he probably lost the track. Head up? No clue yet, thinking about his next move. Tail up, found it again. Wagging? going on the track!

You are getting prepared. Hang in there, one more exercise to go before we start advanced tracking. Enjoy!



  1. After having finished the secton in Stanley Coren's book about how dogs' noses work, it's actually even moroe interesting to read this, because in my head I'm picturing little skin cells and bacteria running around, evading capture via the wind.
    So, when you train a dog to track, does he have to be trained to follow from oldest to newest scent...? I know that most dogs already know how to do this, but then again... I don't know. For me, you're the expert!!
    Why is it that while most dog body language is mostly universal but tracking language is individual? I'm thinking something among a dog's individual personality.
    But... are there any universal-type signals in tracking, such as your example tail wag/air sniff?
    I'm curious. My dog scents all the time, but I've never formally made a trail for him to follow, so I don't know what he's doing. (Although, he gets really intense and always looks back at me like "I'M DOING IT! I'M DOING IT!")
    I'm excited to try both of these installments. Hopefully I can actually set aside a whole dog-day this weekend.

  2. @JJ
    Isnt their scent great? They can distinguish the older from the newer scent and thereby know the direction of the track. We don't have to learn them anything here, they do it by nature. You hardly ever see a dog track the different way. Even when they have lost a track, Then re-find it after a turn or circle and walk the wrong way down the track, it takes just a couple of footsteps and they turn into the right direction. Love it when they do that, it is so exciting to see.

    Have to do some research on the universal signals, will come back to that.

    It is like you say when you dog looks back to you and say "i'm doing it" we don't have a clue what they are experiencing. When you lay a track you know where it is, and then also understand better what your dog is trying to tell.


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