AKC Tracking: Put Your Dog's Nose to Work

| Penny Leigh

Learn more information on AKC Tracking to decide if it is the right sport for you and your dog to enjoy together. Then, learn how to get started!


Tracking is an amazing sport.  Dogs are trained to follow a track to locate an article, usually a glove, allowing them to use their powerful sense of smell. It is a great way to get outside with your dog and enjoy an activity together.

Who can participate?

The sport of AKC Tracking is open to most any dog that is more than 6 months old: old dogs, young dogs, big dogs, little dogs, purebreds and mixed breeds. Deaf and physically challenged dogs can enter tracking tests too!

Equipment for tracking

At a tracking test, dogs are required to wear a non-restrictive harness.  They may wear jackets to keep them warm or jackets to repel the sun and may have tags on their collars.  You also need a long line so your dog can get ahead of you on the track. You are not allowed to have food or toys at the competitions, but you are allowed, and it is a good idea, to bring water for you and your dog. Also, at a tracking test, the dog is not penalized for “fouling in the ring!” You can use food and toys during training.

Getting started with tracking

Tracking is a sport that can’t easily be learned by reading a book; it is best learned by DOING.  But, of course, there are some tried and true exercises that will help you and your dog learn to track. One popular method involves having one person hold the dog while he watches the handler put a toy (or food if that is your dog’s preference) approximately 15 feet away.  The handler returns and takes the dog, on lead, and tells him “Go find your track.”  Every day, you put the toy further and further away, so the dog quickly learns how to find his toy!

Another popular beginning technique is to put pieces of hot dog in every other footstep.  As the dogs learn how to get to the next morsel, you spread out the number of treats to maybe every 10th footstep.  Once the dog learns the game, you can place rewards much further apart.

Get help

If you can find a mentor or a tracking group, that is a very valuable asset to have.  Everyone in the tracking community is always happy to share their knowledge and information.  Not only is it important to run tracks with your dog, it is very important to learn how to lay a track. With a tracking group, you will be provided with many opportunities to lay tracks.

Watch your dog

Tracking is a sport where the dog is in charge.  Your job, as the handler, is to watch your dog and learn what your dog is telling you.  Every dog will have a different style of tracking.  Some dogs can race through a 500-yard track in less than three minutes.  Others will be very methodical and sniff every footstep.  Either way is acceptable as there is not a time limit in tracking. 

But, again, it is very important to watch and learn your dog and determine what his body language is telling you. The tension on the line is another indication of how well the dog is following the scent.

AKC Tracking titles

Different levels of tracking will have different numbers of articles for the dog to find. In the first Tracking Dog (TD) level, there will only be a start article and an end article. Once a dog earns his TD, he may advance to competition in the Variable Surface Tracking (VST) and the Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX) tests. In the TDX and VST levels, there will be additional articles along the track that the dog must find. So, even if you have a great tracking dog, it is very important that they find all the articles. In addition, there is a new optional AKC Tracking titling test – Tracking Dog Urban (TDU). Your dog also can advance to VST and/or TDX by earning a TDU. If your dog earns a TD or TDU, VST and TDX, he will receive the prestigious Champion Tracker (CT) honor.


Dogs will have different ways that they indicate that they found the article. There is not a rule as to how the dog indicates. Many people will train their dog to lay down on or sit at an article.  Some dogs find that demotivating, and others may appreciate it as a much-needed rest stop.  Often people will train article indication separate from the actual tracking.

While dogs find that tracking is a fun and rewarding sport, it is also good for the human as it provides exercise and fresh air.

Learn more information on AKC Tracking to decide if it’s the right sport for you and your dog!                 

This article is brought to you by the AKC GoodDog! Helpline, a seven day a week support service staffed by professional dog trainers who provide individualized help for your training and behavioral issues.

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Penny Leigh

Penny Leigh CPDT-KA is the program manager of the AKC GoodDog! Helpline, a seven-day-a-week telephone support service staffed by dog trainers. A certified dog trainer, Penny has bred, trained and competed with dogs for more than 30 years. Her dogs have earned hundreds of titles at the top level in numerous sports, including conformation, agility, rally, obedience, dock diving, flyball, Barn Hunt, and more. She and her All-American Dog, Cameo, have earned the AKC Master Agility Championship and AKC Preferred Agility Championship and made the finals of the AKC National Agility Championship and the Westminster Kennel Club Master Agility Championship.


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