Fun Games to Play with Your Dog: Tracking - McCann Professional Dog Trainers

Fun Games to Play with Your Dog: Tracking

If you are looking for a great way to spend some time with your dog, why not try some tracking? Dogs have wonderful noses and tracking games are universal for all breeds. While some may be more naturally inclined than others, dogs of all breed, shape and size can have a great time tracking. Best of all, it's easy to teach and play with.

Here's how to get started:

Step 1: Find a clear area and teach your dog his "Treat Path"

Start out in a fresh, clean area like a mowed lawn. If you have a dog who's extremely distracted, you may want to start inside the house. Try to find an area that's as lightly travelled as possible.

  • Have your dog sit and watch you as you set up the game

  • Take 5 treats and working in a straight line, place one about every foot

  • 1 foot after the last treat, place a jackpot pile (4 or 5 treats), a special treat like a chunk of steak or your dog's favourite toy if they are toy motivated

  • With your dog on leash, take them to the first treat in the line and tell them to track. You can use any cue word you'd like - I use "Track it". Walk as quietly as possible behind them, only using the leash to stop them from getting too far off of the track. If they get lost on the track, gently guide them back to the next treat in the line, but if they are working away, remain silent until they find the jackpot pile - then, have a party!!!

  • Repeat several times making the distance between treats slightly broader each time

Step 2: Surprise Treat Path

Continue to set a straight treat path for your dog. If they are clear on what they are supposed to do and not getting lost on the track, you can lengthen it as much as you'd like. Keep in mind that our goal is to keep them interested and working. If they are getting distracted on the treat path, you've moved too far, too quickly. Simplify it until they are sure of what they should be doing.

  • Set up your dog so that they are not be able to see you as you place the treat path. Start at the furthest distance you got to in Step 1

  • Set up your treat path - as you do, shuffle your feet in the grass to stamp in your scent

  • Take your dog to the start of the path and give your track cue

Step 3: Adding corners

german shepherd 707044 1280Once the dog is happily tracking in a straight line, it's time to add some complications, like corners. Do this by placing a physical barrier where you want your dog to turn. For example, you may run your straight-line track into a wall and then place treats close to each other along the wall. Your dog should catch the scent and learn that sometimes they need to change direction. As they get better at this, place the turn further from the wall until you can fade out the wall completely. Again, lay a solid amount of your scent with the food.

Tip: Orange or Green landscaping flags are a great way to mark corners for the handler's benefit.

Step 4: Fading the treat path

As you build distance on your track, be sure you are stamping your scent between and along with the treats. Eventually, you'll want to fade out the treats on the path so that your dog is following the scent path you've created and finding a jackpot, article or toy at the end. As your dog gets the idea, use a longer leash to allow them the freedom to follow the scent path. It's amazing how quickly they pick up on this fun game and develop the skills needed to use their nose.

As always, Happy Training!


Hi! I'm Shannon and I joined the McCann team in 1999 while training Quincey, my wonderful and spirited Rottweiler, to have good listening skills. I'm the Director of Online Training and Content for McCann Professional Dog Trainers and I enjoy writing about dogs and dog training for the McCann blog. I currently share my life with 2 Tollers (Reggie & Ned) and I love helping people develop the best possible relationship with their 4-legged family members. 

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