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Addicted to Tracking

by Ron Horn

There is no organization named Trackers Anonymous for people who are addicted to tracking. If there were, I would be a likely candidate for membership. My addiction started innocently enough. I noted an ad in a show catalog regarding tracking lessons and thought it sounded interesting, so I called the telephone number to inquire. I was surprised by the answer I received. The woman on the other end of the line said, "It's April and I'm not taking on a big black dog with summer coming." Fortunately, the second trainer I talked to said, "Come out, and we can give it a try." 

newfoundland dog tracking

newfoundland dog tracking

One year later the training paid off Ally entered her first test and earned her Tracking Dog (TD) title on April 26, 1992. I was hooked. She was the first Newfoundland in Colorado to earn her TD. Unfortunately, Ally's tracking career ended with an eye injury that was completely unrelated to tracking. The vet was able to treat the injury, but he said that the eye would be very vulnerable to re-injury and that I should keep her out of fields with brush and other sharp objects. 

When 12-week old Lucy came to be part of our family, tracking was back on our agenda. She had her first tracking lesson the next week and is now just as addicted as I am. She completed her TD on April 15, 2001, and requalified two weeks later. Some said, "She already has her title, why go out and try to re-qualify her?" Remember what I said about being addicted. 

Tracking is probably the most natural skill a dog can learn. Let's face it, Newfoundlands have a wonderful sense of smell and they use that sense constantly. Without that sense, they wouldn't survive beyond the first hours of life. As you know, puppies are born with their eyes closed. The only way that they can find their mother's nipples and their first meal is by using their olfactory sense. 

Teaching a dog to track really involves helping the dog understand that we want him to follow a certain scent, usually that of a specific person. The AKC states in their Tracking Regulations book, "The purpose of a tracking test is to demonstrate the dog's ability to recognize and follow human scent, a skill that is useful in the service of mankind." Certainly, we have all witnessed the work of scent-trained dogs in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. 


newfoundland dog tracking

When it is time for the dog to run the track, the handler knows where the track starts and the direction the first leg travels. The dog works on a leash that is between 20 and 40 feet in length. The leash is attached to a harness. With the handler required to be at least twenty feet out on the leash, there is little for the handler to do except to trust his dog's ability to find the article. Some say, "The handler is just the dope on the rope." 

One of the great thrills in working with your dog is to have him complete a track and find the article. When the handler holds the found article in the air for all to see, the judges come rushing up to congratulate the dog and handler and sign the glove. Cars in the spectator area honk their horns, and a wonderful spontaneous celebration takes place. It's quite a thrill. 

Reprinted from NewfTide 2002

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AKC Tracking Info





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