River and I have been taking a tracking class at SkyDogs in Columbus over the last several weeks. She does a lot with scent work and barn hunting and seems to like to use her nose but tracking classes are not really popular and hard to find. However, one of the owners of SkyDogs lost their dog who is both blind and deaf a few months back and she thought a tracking dog might have been able to find her but there wasn't any available. Thankfully, she did find her dog about a mile away from her house, but this experience gave her the idea to start a tracking class in the hopes that some dogs could be trained enough that if someone has lost their pet, a group of tracking dogs could try to find them.
The group of people who are currently in the tracking class, already has some good experience with scent. Now, we just have to teach the dog to track a certain scent over a distance and outside.
Over the last few weeks, we started slowly. We did simple easy finds with lots of rewards and treats. Every dog in our group did well once they figured out the game. After several classes, we finally moved outside where the challenge increased significantly. The heat, wind, varying surfaces (pavement, grass etc) and other scents from dumpsters, people, animals all make tracking one scent very difficult.
The person who is hiding, drops a scent article and then walks a large distance and hides behind the corner of a building, dumpster or large shrub or car in the parking lot. The handler and dog team then have to find the person hiding. River has done really well so far.
I also decided to do a bit of practicing on our own. We did two searches for my husband. One morning he walked .3 miles to our local elementary school and sat next to a light post behind the building. Our normal walk never takes us near the school but River seemed to know exactly where he was. Although she didn't follow in his exact footsteps, which is technically the goal, she didn't have any trouble finding him.
Our second search took my husband .5 miles from the house and ended at one of the ponds in the neighborhood. He was hiding behind a really big pine tree. I noted all the places River seemed really interested in and on our way back home, my husband mentioned places he touched. Sure enough, those locations were the same.
We'll keep working on tracking longer and longer distances and with each time she'll learn more and soon we'll start tracking other dogs.