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A Tracking trial is an event to encourage dogs to make use of their strongest facility, the ability to follow a scent trail. The competition emulates the finding of a lost person or article in a situation where the performance of the dog can be fairly assessed. Because of this, the tracks laid are straightforward, not the wanderings that may characterize a lost person, nor do they include deliberate attempts by the tracklayer to deceive the dog.
Although different organizations specify somewhat different rules, the basics of a tracking trial remain the same. The objective is for the dog to find the deliberately "lost" tracklayer and any articles they may have dropped along the track.
Generally, tracks are laid, marked, and mapped on the day previous to the tracking trial by the trial judge or steward. Tracks are chosen so that the judge or steward can easily determine where the track is located, and where articles are to be placed, even after the marks, ribbons, or flags have been removed. The length of the track, the number of corners, the number of articles left on the track depends on the level of difficulty of the track and the rules of the organization under which the trial is being run.
On the day of the trial, a tracklayer follows the marked track and removes any marks that have been placed on the track, then leaves articles of clothing on the track as specified by the steward or judge, including one at the end of the track. After a specified time, depending on the difficulty of the track and the requirements of the rules of the organization, the dog and handler are directed to the track and find the tracklayer and articles as required. The dog is usually worked on a 10-metre or (30-foot) lead, but the length of lead actually used depends on the terrain.
In general, a dog must work continually as if genuinely looking for a lost person without assistance from the handler, and find the required number of lost articles and the tracklayer at the end of the track, for the dog to be awarded a pass. This pass can also be graded on the quality of the work. After the required passes have been awarded, the dog may apply for a tracking title according to the rules of the organization the trials have been run under.
- ANKC Rules for the Conduct of Tracking Trials in Australia (Effective from 1 January 2009) - pdf
- AKC Tracking Regulations Amended to June 1 2005
- SBK Rules for Tracking Trials
- Service Dogs Of America SDA Tracking Rules
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