Learning to track with your Leonberger

You'll need very little to get started:

  • A 20-to-40 foot lead
  • A few flags to mark your track
  • An open grassy area free of obstacles such as roads, ditches or woods
  • A good attitude and a happy voice that is ready to encourage, encourage, encourage

With a keen sense of smell—100,000 times stronger than humans—dogs are often used to find lost people and animals, drugs, avalanche and disaster victims, and even to detect cancer. Tracking is a canine sport that demonstrates a dog’s natural ability to recognize and follow a scent and is the foundation of canine search and rescue work. Unlike obedience and agility trials, where dogs respond to the owner’s commands, in tracking a dog is completely in charge, for only he knows how to use his nose to find and follow the track. For many, the greatest pleasure of tracking is the hours spent outside training and interacting with their dogs. The tracking community is known for its camaraderie, and they all share in the excitement of a “pass” and the disappointment of a “fail.” As stated in the AKC Tracking Regulations, "Tracking, by its nature is a vigorous non-competitive outdoor sport. Tracking Tests should demonstrate willingness and enjoyment by the dog in his work, and should always represent the best in sportsmanship and camaraderie by the people involved."

Unlike obedience and agility trials, where dogs respond to the owner’s commands, in tracking a dog is completely in charge, for only he knows how to use his nose to find and follow the track."

How Do I Get Started in Tracking?

Getting started in tracking is easy, and you won’t find a more willing participant! A puppy instinctively uses his nose—training your dog to track simply hones his natural ability. And since all dogs have a natural ability to follow a scent, any breed is capable of learning to track. First, find a tracking class. Many AKC-affiliated clubs offer tracking classes and some are “Tracking Only” clubs. To find a club in your area, go to the AKC website, Club Search or Training Resources.

Tracking requires very little equipment. You just need a harness, a 20-to-40 foot lead, a few flags to mark your track and an open grassy area free of obstacles such as roads, ditches or woods.

There are some great reference books that provide step-by-step instruction to help you train your dog for tracking. Many of the people who have followed these educational programs have gone on to earn tracking titles.

Before you enter a Tracking Dog Test (TD), you must have the dog certified by an AKC-approved or provisional judge. This certification form must accompany the entry form.

Once you and your dog are ready, find a tracking event in your area by going to the AKC Events Calendar on the AKC website. Contact the club to get a premium list, which details all relevant event information, including the entry form. You may also download entry forms from the AKC website. Complete the form and send it to the test secretary.

Once the entries have closed, a draw will determine who will be in the test. There is a great demand for tracking tests, and the number of dogs that can be judged in one day is limited. As a result, there are more entries than spaces available.

*Adopted from American Kennel Club website

Leo Tracking

Loki at the start flag (Margi Nowak).

Getting Started

Am I Eligible?

To be eligible to exhibit a dog in tracking tests, a dog must be:

  • Registered with the AKC, enrolled in the AKC Indefinite Listing Privilege (ILP) program, or be a Foundation Stock Service (FSS) recorded breed that meets the eligibility requirements for competition.
  • 6 months of age or older Indefinite Listing Privilege (ILP) Dogs of any breed recognized by the AKC that do not have registration papers or known parents may qualify for an ILP. These dogs may participate in certain AKC events, such as obedience, agility, rally, tracking and many types of performance events. Photos are required to prove the dog is an AKC registrable breed. The dog must also be spayed or neutered.

Tracking Titles

A dog can earn three AKC Tracking titles, each has an increased degree of difficulty. The TD (Tracking Dog) title must be earned before competing for a TDX (Tracking Dog Excellent) or VST (Variable Surface Tracker) title. A Champion Tracker (CT) is awarded only to those dogs that have earned all three tracking titles—TD, TDX and VST. If a dog is awarded the CT title, he is among the elite of those dogs active in tracking. To earn a tracking title, a dog needs to pass the test in which he is exhibiting only once.

Tracking Dog (TD)

The TD track is from 440-to-500 yards long with 3-to-5 turns (or change in direction) and aged from a half-hour to two hours. A dog must indicate a glove or wallet placed at the end of the track. Tracks are plotted in an open field with uniform cover. There are no obstacles such as roads, ditches or woods. The start of the track will be marked with a flag. A second flag is placed 30 yards from the start flag to indicate the direction of the first leg of the track. There are no other flags in the field.

Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX)

The TDX track is 800-to-1000 yards long, with 5-to-7 turns and aged from 3-to-5 hours. The track also has two sets of cross (diversionary) tracks and has some of the aforementioned obstacles. The start is marked with a single flag and the dog must determine the direction of the first leg. There are four dissimilar articles for each track, one at the start and three more on the track.

Variable Surface Tracking (VST)

A VST track is from 600-to-800 yards long, with 4-to-8 turns, and aged from 3-to-5 hours. The articles must be one each of leather, cloth, plastic and metal. The VST track must also contain three different surfaces with one turn on a non-vegetated surface such as concrete. This test demonstrates the utility of the tracking dog to work in an urban environment.