When we got our German Shepherd, Misty (Showboat’s Parmour – TD, CD, TC, CGC – breeder, Kay Springer of Showboat Shepherds), we knew that this breed needs a job. Misty got her first obedience title but lost interest; too much of the same thing repeated over and over. So we tried tracking.
I gravitated toward tracking for one simple reason: I enjoy being outdoors. It also seemed to me that sniffing comes naturally to dogs (my late husband Don referred to dogs sniffing areas where other dogs have relieved themselves as, “Checking pee-mail”) and that the sport would be fun.
Tracking is fun for the handlers and the dogs. It only took us a few months to lay the foundation of what we wanted from Misty. Follow the scent of a human trail to something, like a glove, that has the same human’s scent and lie down. She thought that was easy and fun, and so did we. However, as you improve as a team, tracking involves traipsing up hills and down dales all over the countryside, often in the rain. Because we have such terrible foxtails around here, we trained and competed mostly in the winter. We were cold and wet but Misty loved it so we kept it up. All she knew is that she enjoyed the rewarding, positive experiences. So did we. She made us so proud of her.
Our trainers were methodical and patient with us as we learned how to handle the 40-foot lead, staying at least 20 feet behind Misty, and keeping it tight without hindering her forward movement. We learned how to wait as Misty got to a 90-degree corner and had to reestablish where the track went from there. Our girl was so smart that she soon figured out the difference between right and left when our trainer or track layer told us, “Turn right,” or “Turn left.”
As is the case with all dog performance sports, there are various levels and titles you can compete for sequentially. In tracking, the first title is Tracking Dog (TD). That’s followed by TDX, or Tracking Dog Excellent, and VST or Variable Surface Tracking. On Jan. 1, 2014, the American Kennel Club will add another tracking title, UDT for Urban Dog Tracking. If you compete for and get three tracking titles (TD or UDT, TDX and VST), your dog is eligible to have listed after its name “CT” for Champion Tracker.
Joan Nordstrom is a long-time, still active in the Diablo Valley German Shepherd Dog Club (board member) and the Mount Diablo Dog Training Club. Her young rescue GSD, Heidi, competes in rally obedience, obedience, and nose work. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.