I will never forget going to a board of directors meeting as we discussed a tracking standard. The first thing that happened was the discussion descended into defining tracking, trailing and splitting the hairs finer and finer.
Here is how the definitions went:
¨ Tracking is when the dog follows footstep to footstep directly on the path the subject took without using scent trapped in grassy verges or downwind of the path.
¨ Trailing allowed the dog to follow the scent where it was strongest, in a grassy verge along side a paved path, over shooting the scent to return to where it was strongest and cutting corners.
To make things even more interesting, there was high speed trailing and competition tracking and people were about ready to come to blows. The one thing they all agreed on was you couldn’t train a dog to do tracking more than one way. I’m really glad my current canine wasn’t listening.
It really wasn’t a bad exercise. Most competitions are for tracking and the track is aged in hours. For example for a schutzhund 1 title the track is run about 30-45 minutes after being laid. The schutzhund 3 is aged more as are TD and TDX exercises. The reason for this is more logistics than anything else.
Working a trailing dog you may age a trail for days that is contaminated by people and vehicles crossing it. I have regularly trained on a track that is 3 days old, at 5 days I start to forget exactly where I left it unless I draw it into my log with land marks immediately after laying it.
I have been preparing my dogs for a schutzhund competition. I made the mistake of laying tracks 2 days in a row in roughly the same area. It was very interesting to watch my dogs turn onto the fainter track from the day before especially since it had rained during the night. The trailing people had said the competition trained dogs would never pick up an aged track.
When I trained my first SAR dog to track I got some very interesting advice from a professional trainer. He told me that as soon as the dog understood to put her nose down and follow a scent, I should switch to tracking just on pavement. It worked, one day I went to train with some bloodhound people. A man dropped his car keys on the frozen parking lot, walked across it, across the median and across the next parking lot and then going off into the forest. Several hours later my dog amazed everyone when she followed his scent from the keys across the paved and frozen lots to go find the guy with her toy.
So what is the point of this? Don’t worry about the words. Decide what you want to accomplish and train for it. The dog doesn’t care what you call it as long as you make it fun.