Dog trains man

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Training tracking and the holy treat

When we train dogs we use treats to reward them. That cannot be that different when you train tracking? Well, it is not that easy. The use of treats in tracking training is not as straight forward as it seems to be in something like obedience training. We can reward with treats when finding objects on the track or the person the track leads to. But what about laying down treats on the track itself?

Natural behavior

To follow a scent track is a natural thing to do for a dog. That explains how it can be possible to train tracking without treats. The dog is already doing what is natural, no reward needed. Much unlike obedience training where we want the dog to sit, lay down, heel, etc. Which is not natural behavior and we need treats to "lure" them in doing what we want them to do.

But although following a track is natural, there are those elements in tracking as a sport we humans added. They are not natural and we have to teach the dog. Moments like the initial finding of a track, marking objects that are found on a track, not getting distracted by crossing tracks, turns in tracks, etc. And here it sure is convenient to use treats. But they come with a downside. The dog is vulnerable to take the whole thing for a treat search. Using treats is a shortcut, allowing you to quickly overcome an issue. But using them too much or too long will set your dog back, and feeds his interest away from the track and towards the treats.

You can overdo it

Mea culpa. As shown in the next video I overdid it with treats on the track for Kenzo. I used treats in the start of the track a couple of times. This helped to make Kenzo eager to find a track in a starting area. Already after a few times, he got it. But I continued a couple of times more with treats although unnecessary. The result is that Kenzo now continues searching the start area for treats. When he is sure there are no tracks with treats he first starts to follow the track. And that is not good, he must choose the track, not the treats:

Treats are a shortcut, and they do offer a quick fix. But use them with care. Rather too little then too much. It is difficult to get a dog of the treats again when you took it too far. And you do not really need them. Breaking something up in smaller pieces is also a way, it just takes some more time. In Kenzo's case I could also have teached him to find a track by increasing the distance to the track with small intervals in each training session.


Treats are a controversial subject in tracking circles. If you would not know the subject, you could mistake a discussion about treats between tracking dog trainers into a holy grail discussion between religious fanatics. As always, the wisdom is right in the middle. What is your opinion on treats?


More tracking posts:
How to: Going your first track
Preparing to move beyond the first track: studying body language
Tracking: training turns
Training tracking with your dog, raising the bar



  1. Thanks for this interesting look into tracking work! I'm not a trainer, but I've always used treats to start training my own dogs, but then I slowly back off the goodies once I have consistent attention--then I use praise. Interesting to note how treats may get in the way of focus and natural ability.

  2. Treats depends on the dog AND what kind of training you are doing with that dog. Jersey is a very "what's in it for me?" dog and won't do anything without a treat, while some dogs work for the sheer love of it.

    Thanks for sharing the video, it was nice to see Kenzo in action :) BTW, I noticed that you blogrolled me and I have done the same for you on my blog. Thanks very much :) :)

  3. Thanks, although I will ask "the cameraman" to film a little more from the side so Kenzo is more visible :) And thanks for the blog link!

  4. Thank you for sharing this. I've thought about getting into tracking one day, maybe if we ever get bored of agility. It sounds very challenging. There is a lot more to the competitive side of things than I realised.

    I can definitely see how food would get in the way. As soon as I pull out a treat my dog's focus is immediately on me, which I want for agility but may not want for tracking.

    Interesting stuff.

  5. Maybe I let it look more complicated then it really is. I hope you give it a try somewhere in the non-agility future. There is also a post How to: Going your first track to get you started. If you get a taste for it, there maybe is a tracking class near you.

  6. Frankie doesn't have much of a sense of smell -- seriously! -- but it's fun watching the process with another dog. I also enjoyed the film for the nature shots --and sounds! Was that a duck (or several) in the background?

    I'm glad Karen reminded me to update my blogroll. Now you're both on it.

  7. Ha! It is not a duck :) but the dog of the camera man, a golden retriever. He always complains when he can see his dad far away and makes a very high pitched bark.

    And thanks for linking my blog! appreciate it a lot!

  8. I find your blog on tracking fascinating! Last yr the first Cavalier (in Canada anyways) got its Championship in tracking. Not a normal activity for a CKCS!

  9. Thank you! Great to hear about the first Cavalier King Charles getting his Championship. Every dog can track, regardless of breed. I hope it will inspire more people to start tracking with their dogs and don't think it can only be done by GSD's :)

  10. just wanted to say thanks for dropping by. although i've had many dogs, i've never had one quite like georgia. it's a steep learning curve! :)

  11. I don't know anything about Hovawarts! I'm glad I can learn from you.

    Nubbin wiggles,

  12. Hi Oskar, welcome to my blog. Glad we have aroused your interest in Hovawarts :)

  13. You too, georgia little pea. The difficult ones are the best, as they offer the greatest reward :)


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