How to Train Your Dog to Track Humans

Medium
3-6 Months
Work

Introduction

Your pup has a wonderfully sensitive nose that can smell things such as human scent and then follow it to its source. What you may not realize, is that your pup has been using his nose to track since the day he was born. How, you ask? When your pup was born, his eyes were closed, yet he still had to find his way to his mother in order to nurse. To do this, he used his sense of smell to locate his mother. The goal of this training is to take this natural skill, refine it, and teach your pup to use it for a particular purpose.

The early you start training your pup the better, but you can also teach this skill to older dogs. However, training older dogs can be more challenging and take longer. You can train your pup to track humans over grass, snow, and on hard surfaces such as tarmac or concrete. 

Defining Tasks

The task is a little different than most types of tracking in that you are going to be asking your pup to track humans. Unlike animals whose scents are very similar by species, humans all seem--at least to us-- to have extremely different smells. However, no matter how you look at it, training a dog to use his nose to track humans is really not that different than teaching him to track any other form of game. A well-trained dog can track humans via the trail they leave on the ground and by sniffing the air.

Once you teach your pup how to track by scent, you will be able to give him an item from the person to be tracked and he should have no problem tracking them down. However, just as you have probably seen on TV, your pup can only track via air or ground. If his quarry goes into water, your pup will not be able to track them anymore. 

Getting Started

You can teach most dogs to track, though some breeds are much better at it than others. When it comes to age, the earlier you can start training your pup to track the easier it will be for him to master this skill. However, there are a few supplies you need to gather, including:

  • Treats
  • A leash
  • A harness
  • A spray bottle
  • Several small flags
  • Some distilled water
  • Hot dogs

The key to this training is understanding that while your dog may be a natural sniffer, he still needs to be taught how to use that big snout to track down your quarry, which in this case just happens to be humans. Be patient, be consistent,  practice frequently, and keep practicing even after he seems to have mastered the skill. Remember, practice makes perfect. 

The Hotdog Method

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Step
1
Gather your training supplies
For this, you will need a few packages of cheap hot dogs, shoes you can use for training that you don't mind getting hot dog squished on the soles of, treats, and a large yard or field to work in.
Step
2
Get an early start
The best time to start training your dog to track is early in the morning when the grass is clear of other human smells. Tie your pup so he cannot follow you. Take two chunks of hot dog (about 1 inch long) and smash them into the ground, one piece per foot. Not only does this release the scent of the grass, but it smears the smell of the hot dogs on your feet.
Step
3
Turn and walk away
Turn and walk away from the spot, using the smell of the hot dogs and grass and your feet to create a trail. As you walk along, drop a small piece of hot dog every 6 to 10 feet. After your trail is about 20 to 30 feet long, place one of your gloves or a hat on the ground and place a treat on top of it.
Step
4
Release the hound
Go back to the starting point and release your pup. Take him over to the starting area and encourage him to sniff at the ground where you smashed the hot dogs. Give him a "find it" command as he sniffs around. If he starts following the trail on his own, quietly praise him with a " good boy!" and let him lead you down the trail. Repeat this until your pup will automatically start searching for your scent each time you create a new trail. By now he is tracking the combined smell of the crushed grass, the smell of the hot dogs, and the crushed grass you were stepping on later.
Step
5
Mix it up
Once your pup can track you on straight tracks, time to start mixing it up by making sharp turns, doubling back on yourself and trying to confuse him. As he masters his abilities, try having other people create starting points and trails without hot dogs. Give your pup time to "acquire" the scent of your assistant and then watch him track your friend to a hiding place.
Recommend training method?

The Spray Bottle Method

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Step
1
Create a bottle of your scent
This is the fun part, you need an article of clothing that contains a heavy concentration of your sweat. Try your gym clothes or a pair of work socks you have been wearing for several days so they are really stinky. Soak the item in a bowl filled with distilled water (distilled water has no odors, whereas tap water has plenty to confuse your pup) for a few days and then put this "disgusting" water in the spray bottle and label it clearly for everyone else.
Step
2
Get ready to go outside
Grab your rubber boots, spray bottle, treats, leash, some flags, and leave your dog inside or in a crate if you had to go somewhere else besides your backyard for training. One little trick, get your pup excited and ready to go tracking by asking him in an excited voice "are you ready to go tracking?" over and over again, getting him all riled up.
Step
3
Mark your starting point
Go out to an area of grass where no one else has been walking so far today, put your boots on and spray the soles and uppers with your special blend. Scuff your way around a 4-foot by 4-foot patch of grass, making sure to get spread your scent thoroughly in the grass. You may want to respray and go over the area a second time at first. While you are walking around, drop chunks of hot dog or puppy treats all over the place. Use flags to mark the corners so you know where they are.
Step
4
Bring on the dog
Bring your dog over to the patch on his leash and tell him to "find it" while he sniffs around and finds the treats you left for him. Each time he moves towards the next treat, quietly praise him, if he seems to be a bit confused, try helping him at first by pointing out the treats.
Step
5
Happy trails to you
Once he has mastered finding the treats in the scent patch, you can start using the same method to mark trails, making them longer and longer until he can track you easily. Try having other people make trails and give you a piece of clothing for your dog to sniff. He should automatically be able to follow that scent just like he does yours. The more practice, the better he will become at tracking humans.
Recommend training method?

The Clothing Method

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Step
1
Have a good sniff
Give your dog an article of your clothing such as your... ugh, dare I say it... underwear, or old stinky socks to play with, sleep with, chew on, for a few days. This is to give him plenty of time to get used to the scent so that he can recognize it anywhere.
Step
2
Play a little hide and seek
Place your pup in a room with the door closed. Take the item of clothing and hide it in plain sight for your pup to find. Now release your dog and tell him to go "find it". The first few times you may have to guide him to give him the idea. As he gets better at finding the easy to see item, start hiding it out of sight so that he has to use his nose to track down item by scent alone.
Step
3
Outdoor training
If necessary, use a different item of clothing with a fresher dose of your scent. Go outside without your pup and use the clothing item to create a trail by dragging it along the ground and then leaving it at the end for your pup to find. Walk back down the trail you just made to avoid creating a second trail.
Step
4
Let your pup out
Let your pup come out and give him the "find it" command. He should start looking for your scent at this point and take off down the trail, following it to the end where you left the item of clothing. Each time he does this reward him with a treat and praise.
Step
5
Work in progress
Keep repeating this training making the trails harder to find each time until he can follow your trail virtually anywhere. Start working with other people until you can give your pup an item of clothing and he can successfully track them down anywhere.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Amora
German Shepherd
3 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Amora
German Shepherd
3 Months

I am working with my dog to become a service dog. I want to train her to go find my mom and bring her to me when I need help in a store or at home or anywhere. I'm not entirely sure how to do this. Thank you!

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
666 Dog owners recommended

Hello Haelie, I suggest playing the "Find ____" game. First, clip a leash on your dog. Have your mom sit across the room or several feet away. Tell her to "Go Find Mom" and lead her over to your mom. When she gets to her, have your mom give her a treat. Repeat this until you can say "Go Find Mom" and she will go to your mom without being lead. Your mom can make a little noise as a hint if she seems confused. When she can go to your mom in the same room, practice this randomly throughout the day when your mom is close by. If she won't do it, have your mom make a noise as a hint or you walk her over to your mom, then have your mom reward her when she gets there. When she can consistently do this while your mom is within eye-sight, start practicing it while your mom is in another room close by or further away outside. Give her hints by having your mom make a little noise or walking Amora to her if she cannot figure it out after seven-seconds of trying on her own. When she can consistently find your mom in any room or the house or outside, and has learned how to persistently search for her until she locates her, then have your mom practice the same thing with you, telling Amora to "Go Find Haelie". Practice Amora finding you just like you did with your mom, starting in the same room with her first, and gradually adding more distance as she improves. When she has learned what "Go Find Mom" and "Go Find Haelie" mean and can do both well, then practice the commands on a long leash on walks, parks, fields, and dog-friendly stores. Have the person she is supposed to be finding hide somewhere nearby when she is not looking, like the next isle over or behind a bush. Tell her to "Go Find Mom" or "Go Find Haelie" and give her hints if she needs them. When she finds the person, give her lots or praise and rewards. When you need your mom, you can tell Amora to "Go Find Mom" and when Amora arrives without you, your mom can tell her to "Go Find Haelie" so that she will lead your mom back to you. If you practice having your mom automatically telling her to go find Haelie every time she finds your mom at this point, she will likely begin to lead your mom to you automatically, even before your mom tells her to. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Bailey
Beagle
3 Months
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Bailey
Beagle
3 Months

Hi, I would like to train my beagle to help with the search and rescue to find missing dogs as so many go missing every day, some are found with the help of search and trapping teams,some return on their own and some are never found because theve gone down a badger set or have got so lost they cant find their way home and some sadly die.
Could you advice on which is the best training method for this purpose please?
Thank you
Sadie

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
666 Dog owners recommended

Hello Sadie, I would use a variation of both the clothing method and the spray bottle method. For the spray bottle method, I suggest using the fur of another dog instead of sweat and sprinkling that along a trail with rewards (practice with the same dogs fur until pup has learned that scent well before using a other dogs also to teach this). For the clothing method, work on teaching pup to also locate by sight by having another well mannered dog who will stay in place quietly hide for pup to find. Send the other dog out to their spot (preferably without having to walk the dog their so that your scent isn't on the trail), and then command the other dog to down stay and have pup track them by scent and sight. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Banjo
Hanover Hound
5 Months
0 found helpful
Question
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Banjo
Hanover Hound
5 Months

Hello banjo my puppy treat based can, track sniff find sit lay down speak, wait, again only with treat the whole show me the money thing but how do I get him to bark at what he's found because I can get him to find something I've hidden or dragged half a mile .

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
666 Dog owners recommended

Hello Morgan, First, teach him the Speak command. Check out the article linked below for methods to teach Speak: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-german-shepherd-to-speak Once pup knows that command, practice Find It games, and when he finds what he is looking for, command Speak and give a reward when he barks. Practice this over and over again, until pup is very good at it. Once pup is good at Speak in that context, when he finds something, wait seven seconds before saying Speak or offering a treat - to let pup start guessing how he can get the treat. If he speaks during that time on his own (in hopes of a treat), praise and reward with a treat. If he doesn't, after seven seconds, command Speak, then give the treat when he does. Practice finding something, pausing for seven seconds, then commanding Speak, until pup will consistently speak on their own before you command Speak; at that point, you can phase out the Speak command altogether - and pup bark on their own at the end of finding something. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Monet
Basset Hound
10 Weeks
0 found helpful
Question
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Monet
Basset Hound
10 Weeks

I want to teach my dog to track people to potentially help with search and rescue efforts. What would be the best route to take?

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
89 Dog owners recommended

Hi! You can begin yourself with the basics. I will give you the steps to get started. If you feel it is something you want to continue to do on your own, there are articles online about advanced tracking. It is also recommended you work with a trainer for advanced work. Your puppy is young enough that it should be fairly easy to get started with the basics. Although it is a good idea to have other commands mastered. Sit and stay at the least. Below are some steps to get started. Start Early in the Morning To teach scenting a track, you need some treats and a grassy area, such as a baseball field or park. Although hot dogs are not the most nutritious food, I find they work best, and you won’t over stuff your dog’s belly. Begin early; many people start by 6 a.m. before anyone has walked on the grass. Create a Treat Track Have your dog sit or lie down and stay. Take a couple of inch-long pieces of hot dog and use your shoe to mash them into the grass. Make sure to crush the grass under the hot dogs, which will release a grass scent. Then, with the hot dog residue on the bottom of your shoe, walk a straight line away from your dog. Every six or ten feet, drop a piece of hot dog. Stop after about 20 feet and drop one of your gloves or one of your dog’s toys; your dog needs to find something at the end of the track. Drop another piece of hot dog on top of the item. Command Your Dog to Find the Treats Go back to your dog and release him from his stay, encouraging him to smell the ground where the hot dogs were. Tell your dog “Find it!” and let him sniff. If he begins to follow the track, praise him quietly by saying, “Good dog!” and let him lead the way. Don’t be too enthusiastic or you may distract the dog from his sniffing. Also, don’t try to lead him; let your dog figure it out. At this point, your dog is following several scents: the trail of hot dogs, which helps motivate him, the crushed grass where you mashed the hot dogs and the crushed grass where you later stepped. Your dog is also following your individual scent, which he knows well because he smells your scent every day. But now your dog is learning to combine the scents, to follow them and to find the item at the end of the track. Start Increasing the Length of the Track When your dog successfully completes this trick, make another one by taking 10 steps to the side. If your dog is excited and having fun, you can do three or four short tracks per training session. As your dog improves over several sessions, make the track longer, add curves and corners, and drop several items along the way, but put the hot dog only on the one you want him to find. When making tracks longer or adding curves, use small pegs, stakes or flags to mark the track so you can tell if your dog is off track. Air scenting requires your dog to find someone by sniffing the scents wafting through the air instead of following a track. Most search-and-rescue dogs have both skills; they can follow a track, but if people walking over the track spoil it, they can also use their air-scenting skills. Please let me know if you have any additional questions. Thank you for writing in.

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