Dogs have amazing noses. Nature has equipped them with the ability to recognize even the most difficult of smells that we humans cannot even detect. And it’s not uncommon for them to have this ability. Dogs have 300 million olfactory receptors in the nose, while humans have only 6 million.
Any dog can participate in Trailing and Locating. Variety – or mix of varieties – does not matter. As long as you have a dog that likes to track its nose and locate “prey”, you can join.
How tracking and positioning works
The test’s course manager emits the scent over an outdoor area that spans anywhere between 1,000 and 40,000 square feet, depending on the classroom. In most cases, the scent is created by dragging rat scent (sometimes created with a drip bag of “rat tea”, a lucky mixture of water, rat droppings and litter ) or by spreading commercial wildlife scents across the test area. The track was placed in the end resulting in two mice or other small rodents being hidden and securely secured in a small cage.
The goal is for the dog to use its nose to find the rodents in the cage within 1 to 4 minutes, depending on the class. (No rodents are harmed in this sport. The rules require rodents to be treated humane and taken care of throughout their natural lives.)
Dogs 6 to 9 months of age begin with the Puppies Tracking and Locating Capability Test. The first Tracking and Positioning Level for dogs over 9 months of age is Level I (TL-I). At Level I, dogs work on courtyards between 7,500 and 10,000 square feet. On a long leash (30 feet or less) the dog starts on a “scent pad” – a flat pad about 1 meter wide is placed at the top of the search area. The gasket is sprayed or dragged with the scent for at least 15 seconds and marks the start of the path the dog will follow.
The clock starts when the dog and the handler pass the start line. The handler knows where to hide the quarry, but is not allowed to lead the dog in that direction. When the manager keeps the dog on a loose leash, the dog must start monitoring the scent, either on the ground or in the air. The dog has two minutes to find the quarry without any instructions from the manager.
Dogs that find a quarry successfully within two minutes will receive a qualifying score. The absolute score is 25 points. However, it can be difficult to achieve that number when you are just starting out. The examiner deducts points for errors, such as letting the dog be chained, touching the dog or dropping food on the field. Dogs with qualifying points at an event will be eligible to enter the contest as long as there are at least three dogs competing at the same level. The positions are based on the number of points scored, with the dog and handler with the highest score getting the ribbon in the first place.
When the nose knows that
The great thing about Tracking and Positioning is that your dog doesn’t need any special training to take part. He needs to show an aptitude to follow the creature with his nose. Without a desire to trace the scent to its source, your dog will end up wandering aimlessly around the search area without knowing why it is there.
If you see your dog scouting for squirrels in the backyard or tracking rabbits to their burrows, it could be a candidate for Tracking and Locating. Attend an event as a spectator to understand what these competitions are like and if it could be something your dog will enjoy.
For more information on upcoming Tracking and Positioning events in your area and how to participate in this exciting sport visit the North American Sport Dog Association website at nasda.dog or on Facebook @nasdadog.
Award-winning writer and editor Audrey Pavia is a former managing editor of Dog Fancy magazine and former senior editor of The AKC Gazette. As the author of the Labrador Retriever Handbook, she has written extensively about horses and other pets. She shares a house with Pittie mixing Mookie and Winnie.