Service Dog Tracking Problems
Do you have a problem with your departments tracking
program? Have you ever heard this statement "A friend or training
partner has a Police Service Dog or a Search & Rescue Dog that never
finds anyone when called out." If the truth were known most American
police departments do have problems with their tracking performance, but
the supervisors (and in most cases the handlers) don't know where to start
to correct this problem.
It's the same old story, "My dog could not track
the suspect because:"
- There were too many people running around and they contaminated the track.
- There was too much wind or they waited to long to call me.
- My dog got distracted by the other police dogs, they were too close to old MAX.
This list can go on and on.
If you are a supervisor and you are concerned about
the results of your tracking dogs, the place to start correcting the situation
is with the handler. He needs to be convinced that the problem lies with
him and his dog and more importantly, he needs to know that you know this.
He needs to understand that the excuses that he gives are not valid.
From a supervisors standpoint, the goal needs to be
to convince the handler of this without offending him (unless absolutely
necessary). It always works better to also motivate him to want to get
out and correct the situation.
The best way to accomplish this is by setting up "Unknown
Tracks." This is where a track layer goes out and lays a track in
the country by himself. The handler has no idea where the track goes.
The end of the track is always down wind of the dog, so the dog has to
follow a track to locate the suspect. If the track is into the wind, (this
means that the suspect is up wind - so the wind can carry his scent from
the suspect to the dog) many dogs can wind scent a hidden suspect 1/4
miles away - we don't want this in tracking training. Wind scenting is
an entirely different skill, it is not tracking.
With unknown tracks the handler is only taken to the
starting point and told that Forty five minutes ago a suspect fled
from this point, he left a vehicle on a side road and we don't know which
way he ran.
The handler is expected to locate the track (he has
a 360 degree option for a direction of travel - we don't tell him where
the suspect went), he is expected to find 3 or 4 well scented articles
that are left on the track (we use rags that the track layer slept with
the night before). If possible the track should cross fences one or two
roads and have a number of turns. The age of the track can be different
depending on the weather. In 85 to 90 degree temperature it is pretty
difficult to follow 45 minute old tracks, but if its nighttime and cool,
the track can be several hours old and no problem for a dog.
By starting in the country we accomplish a number of
things, first we eliminate a great deal of distractions for the dog. Country
tracks are the easiest tracks for a dog to follow. If a dog only works
in a city, the country tracks are a breeze. Also by laying these country
tracks we put a handler in a position where there are not any more excuses
to use. Either he and his dog can find the track and follow it or they
My feeling is if a service dog can not locate an unknown
country track and follow it a minimum of a mile then it should not be
used in call outs for tracking. I will restate this. If a dog can't find
unknown tracks in training, how can we expect it to find unknown tracks
in real work? If a dog can't find unknown tracks in the country, how can
we expect it to find them in the city where there are a thousand more
distractions? If a service dog's training records reflect that it can
not find unknown tracks in training, how can that dog be used in a court
room situation to testify in tracking cases?
The reason I even write this article is because I feel
that 90% of the American service dogs fall into this category. For years
I had the same problem. I did not know where to go to get out of it.
It's frustrating and embarrassing to be called out and consistently not
yet this is all to common with service dogs.
Usually when a handler knows he is going to be faced
with unknown track, he is going to get out and train. No one wants to
be put in a position of constantly failing and the only way to successfully
accomplish unknown tracks is to train. Just so everyone keeps the work
in perspective, it should only take 35 to 45 country tracks to get a
dog to track a one mile unknown track with articles. This is not a horrendous
job. It can be done in a month with a green dog tracking twice a day.
There are still too many instructors and vendors out
there telling people they need to train their dogs to track with food.
They want them to go out 3 or 4 times a week and lay a 400 yard track
and put a hot dogs down with a ball at the end. Handlers kill themselves
doing this, mistakenly thinking that their dogs are benefiting from this
training. When in fact the only thing they are doing is getting a little
exercise and some treats. If you are a handler that fits this profile,
the best advise I can give you is "DON'T EVER DO ANOTHER FOOD TRACK
IN YOUR LIFE - ITS A WASTE OF YOUR VALUABLE TIME."
If you want to be convinced of this, start running unknown
tracks. If you are lucky and have a natural tracker and he does it. Then
run an unknown track in the industrial park at the edge of town. If he
can do this (which food trackers can not - because of the roads and the
long periods of time required to search during a track loss situation)
then take him into the alleys and yards of a normal subdivision. I will
guarantee you that these dogs will NEVER follow unknown tracks in the
neighborhoods. They can't deal with the cats and dogs and kids and the
I just certified my service dog in RCMP
Level II tracking. This is a dog that has found people in 3 of the
last 4 call outs (all in rural situations). In the 4th one we tracked
the suspect about a mile to a truck stop. He was one hour ahead of us
and we saw his footsteps every now and then in the sand so I knew the
dog had his track. We did not catch him so I can't call it a successful
Last week I ran my first training track in the city
with this dog. It was a 15 minute old alley track that was 5 blocks long.
This is a super young tracking dog. He had loads of problems. He is not
dog aggressive, he is not a pig head and he had problems. What surprised
me here is that this dog is such a good tracker in the country and he
had so many problems in the city, I thought he would breeze through it.
He didn't because the distractions got him. There is too much dog piss
and to much dog shit for an inexperienced dog to ignore. It takes 25
to 35 of these tracks before the dogs come around and ignore the distractions.
It is worth mentioning that some dogs can never be trained to track in
the city because they are to distracted by other dogs and the smells
the city. These dogs are then very limited in their service, my feeling
is they should be washed from the program and a new dog started. Unfortunately
most departments will not go along with this from a financing standpoint.
This situation with my dog once again proves to me
is that there are not short cuts to good dog training.
So if you are a supervisor of a K-9 program or if you
are training director of a Search & Rescue team. Get
started on the RCMP tracking system. Look at the videos I have done
with these people. They now use these videos in their police dog training
center in Inesvail, Alberta. The RCMP are the best trainers in the world
for service dog tracking - no one anywhere can compare to them. People
talk about the Germans and their skills as trainers, the Germans can't
hold a candle to the RCMP in tracking. Heck, the Germans still certify
their police dogs with the DPO tracks which is the same as schutzhund.