Artwork illustration designed by Ann Priddy
Tracking is what our dogs often do when they are out for a walk. They detect the scents of various animals and people as they walk, and often they try to follow the ones that interest them. In tracking events, you train your dog to follow a scent you choose for them. Tracking is definitely a sport at which Westies can excel, because they were bred to hunt using their noses to help them find their quarry.
The AKC offers titles for the successful completion of tracks of increasing length and difficulty. There are now three titles in AKC tracking: TD (Tracking Dog), TDX (Tracking Dog Excellent), and most recently, VST (Variable Surface Tracking). If a dog gets all three titles, the initials CT (Champion Tracker) may be used before the dog's name. As of December 1996, there were 43 Westies with TD titles and 4 Westies with TDX titles.
A track in an AKC test consists of a path through the outdoors chosen and marked with flags by two judges and a tracklayer the day before the test, then walked the day of the test by the tracklayer. As the tracklayer walks, he/she leaves behind one or more personal articles from the handler (a glove, wallet or other item). The track is then aged a prescribed amount of time, and the dog and handler are brought to the start, and must follow the track to the end and find all of the articles left by the tracklayer.
Tracking is one sport where positive reinforcement is not just recommended, but required to train the dog. Because a dog's sense of smell is thousands of times better than ours, we really have no idea how a dog tracks, and if the dog decides not to track, we cannot "show" the dog how. The dogs are the experts, so we can only help them learn to enjoy it, trust them, and follow behind and marvel at their skill. Perhaps because of this, tracking is, for many people, the most engaging and fascinating of all of the dog sports.
Tracking is an excellent sport for people who enjoy the outdoors and who are in reasonably good physical condition. Tracking events are held in all but the most severe weather, so warm and waterproof clothes are a requirement. If you enjoy tracking and want to continue past your TD, however, you will find that advanced tracking work requires both you and your dog to be fit, since you may need to climb fences, ford shallow streams, and move through woods, high grass and dense cover in all types of weather, both in training and in competition.
Serpentine Tracks: A New Method of Introducing Dogs to Tracking (pdf) Revised, Copyright 2000 by Allison A. Platt
Four Essential Skills and Common Problems with Beginning Trackers (pdf) Copyright 1999 by Allison A. Platt
Sources of Information
AKC rules and regulations for tracking.