A Uniquely Important Doberman Sport

Scent tracking is one of the oldest and most invaluable canine traits to mankind. Throughout the Doberman’s history of police and military work, his nose has been a valuable asset. Today we still benefit from their amazing ability. Not only is scent tracking an enjoyable spot, it also maintains a tradition of well trained scent tracking dog and handler teams. These teams are responsible for locating illegal drugs, explosives, and other contraband; more importantly, they also find lost, wounded, and missing people in situations where no other means of location is possible.

Unlike many dog sports, scent tracking is non-competitive. The Scent tracking community is known for its camaraderie. A failed trial is a loss to everyone and a pass, awarding a dog a new title, is a win for our entire society. Also unlike most dog sports where the dog follows instructions from the handler, in sent tracking the dog is in charge. Tracking requires a keen nose, a physic for endurance, and a take charge get-it-done attitude; all of which are on the Doberman’s list of attributes.

There are three levels at which a dog can title in AKC Scent Tracking trials: Tracking Dog (TD), Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX), and Variable Surface Tracker (VST). For the elite dogs that title in all three of these levels, the Champion Tracker (CT) title is available.

Tracking Dog (TD)
The TD trial is performed in an open field and is 440 to 500 yards in length with 3 to 5 direction changes. The trail is aged from one half to two hours, with the beginning market with a flag and an additional flag 30 yards away marking the direction of the trail. At the end is an article, a glove or a wallet, the dog must indicate when found.

Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX)
The trial for earning the TDX title increases in complexity with an 800 to 1000 yard trail, 5 to 7 direction changes, and is aged from 3 to 5 hours. The trail is also crossed by two diversionary trails and the field has some obstacles such as ditches or trees. There is only one flag at the beginning of the trail, leaving the dog to determine its direction. The articles number four and are dissimilar, with one at the beginning of the trail.

Variable Surface Tracking (VST)
The VST trial is shorter that the TDX trial and is aged the same amount of time, but has 4 to 8 direction changes. The article must be of a material each of leather, cloth, plastic, and metal. The big difference is that in this trial, the trail runs over three different surface types, with one change in direction on a non-vegetated surface such as concrete, testing the dog’s utility in an urban environment.

Dobermans reaching this level are prepared for further training and certification for canine Search and Rescue (SAR). SAR is a very demanding activity for both dog and handler but is extremely rewarding. The Doberman is ideal for this high demand work. Dobermans have a temperament that allows them to ignore distraction and focus intently on their trail. This intense dedication would be know as ‘stubbornness’ among those who neglect training their Doberman. Dobermans are also highly intelligent, able to learn quickly and apply knowledge learned to new situations.

Getting Started

One does not train a dog to follow a scent; dogs do this naturally from their first breath of life. Training involves motivating the dog to follow the scent to its source and to do so on command. Preparing a dog for scent tracking can start early. Puppies can start with a short track on the floor to find their food or treats.

Besides a dog’s nose being 100,000 times more sensitive than a human’s, they also interpret this sense differently. Scent is a dog’s primary sense. Similar to how we interpret sight, a dog interprets smell. When we smell tomato sauce simmering on the stove, a dog smells the tomatoes, each herb, the garlic and the mushrooms. It also sees that we got the tomatoes from the garden and brought them through the back door, the mushrooms from the refrigerator and cut them up on the cutting board, the herbs from the spice rack, and the tomato base from the pantry in the basement. Scent training hones and harnesses this ability.

The Doberman is highly intelligent and can find anything. They will learn from their mistakes and their handler’s mistake and apply these lessons in later searches. This makes the Doberman an especially adept tool for scent tracking but also makes our mistakes in training more costly, as they are difficult to un-train.

As with any new activity, it’s a good idea to do what you’re doing now and read up. There a plenty of good books on the subject and many people who have trained their dogs and achieved titles did so using methods available in books.

The next thing is finding a tracking class or club. AKC has a good resource for finding clubs on their club search page. Attending a tracking trial will allow you to network with other handlers and get involved in the sport. Tracking trials are an involved process and can usually use additional people willing to help. Just remember to dress for all weather, as tracking trials, like that which they are training for, occurs in all weather.

Trial setup begins the day before the even when the track layers plot a track for each dog. This track is marked in the field with flags at each turn. The judges draw a chart of each track including land marks, allowing them to determine its location during the trial and whether the dog is following it correctly.

On the trial day, the flags are removed and the participating handlers gather for a ‘draw’ that determines the order dogs will start. Then the track layers walk the track placing the articles. Once the track is allowed to age, the trial begins.

The dog must closely follow the track indicating each article. Two judges follow along watching to determine if the dog is on track. If the dog looses the scent or wanders off the track and the judges determine he is unable to find it, a whistle is blown signaling the dog has not passed the trial. There is no time limit; if the dog can follow the track finding all the articles, he has passed the trial and will earn the title for that trial level.