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Riley is on the rather large side. I mean, that is to be expected when you consider he's a Doberman. Having said that, you get used to it. So it isn’t until every now and then when you walk past small dogs that you realize quite how big he really is. But despite their somewhat conspicuous size, you want to put Riley to work. In fact, you want to train him to track. Dobermans have a fantastic sense of smell and you’re in need of a new hunting companion. Alternatively, maybe you want to train yours to be a working dog that needs to track.
Training a Doberman to track comes with a number of distinct advantages. Firstly, you’ll be able to sniff out whatever it is you’re after, be it another animal, cash or drugs. This type of training is also a fantastic way to channel the dog's energy into something productive, keeping them mentally stimulated. Finally, it’s a great way to strengthen the bond between you both and work as a team.
Training a Doberman to track requires consistent practice and concentration from both you and them. The first thing you will need to do is get them familiar with the item you want them to find. You will then need to get them excited by it. Finally, you will need to motivate them to find it and support them along the way. Obedience training will play a major part.
If your Doberman is a puppy then they should be raring to go and a quick learner. This means you could see results in just a few weeks. However, if your Doberman is older and more interested in lazing around than learning new skills, well then you’ll need months. If you can get training right you’ll be well on the way to training an efficient, working dog. If you want to take your pal out hunting, then you may find your results improve too.
Before you can start work, you will need to get together a few things. The item you want them to find is essential. If it’s an animal, then use decoys and scent spray. You will then need a decent supply of treats or the dog's favorite food broken into small pieces. A toy, clicker, friend and a training leash will also be needed.
Set aside 15 minutes each day for training. You can start by practicing in your house and local park, but then you will need access to local fields.
Once you have all of the above, just bring enthusiasm and an optimistic attitude, then work can begin!
The Verbal Cue Method
Get them familiar
The first thing to do is get your Doberman familiar with the sight and smell of the item you want them to find. So if you can, play fetch and roll around with it. If it’s too valuable, leave it around their bed and the house so they get used to it.
Once the Doberman is familiar with the item, head out into the yard. Stand 10 feet away from your dog and place the item in front of them. You can then point at the item and encourage them to head after it.
As you point, issue a ‘find it’ command. You can use any word or phrase you like for the instruction. In fact, Dobermans can learn hundreds of different commands. Just make sure you give it in a playful voice so they know it’s a game.
Encourage them to chase it down. Then as soon as they pick it up, give them a reward and some verbal praise. The better the reward, the more eager they will be to play again. If you use a clicker, now is the time to click.
Make it harder
Now your job is to simply make it harder. Next time place the item 20 yards away and then the time after that a bit farther. You can also gradually start hiding it so they have to keep working harder.
The Hide & Seek Method
Because of their size, the first thing to do is make sure you have a decent level of control and that your Doberman responds to your instructions. To help you to that end, take them to group obedience classes. This will help socialize them, teach them a range of basic commands, and increase your control.
Now spend a few minutes each day getting them familiar with the item they will need to track. You could also rub the item onto a favorite toy so they associate that toy with the smell.
Now secure Riley to a leash and head outside. Place the item a few feet away from them. Make sure they are watching you as you do it. You can then point and encourage the dog to run after it.
As soon as they pick it up, give them a reward within a few seconds. That reward could simply be playing around for a minute or so with it.
Hide it in front of the dog
Next time hide the toy under a box or a bush in front of the dog. Again encourage them to chase it and reward them when they do. Now simply practice several times a week in a range of situations. Just make it harder to find each time. Keep it as a game and your Doberman will always be keen to play.
The Pull Back Method
Your first job is getting your dog familiar with the scent. The trick is to play around with an item with the scent on. The more animated and worked up you can get the dog, the harder they will work to track it later on.
After a few days of getting Fido used to the smell, head out into the yard with your Doberman, a friend, the item you want the dog to find, and some treats. Then have the friend hold Riley’s collar while you walk 10 yards or so and place the item down.
Now you need to encourage your Doberman to find the item. Point, whisper and capture their attention. They will probably automatically go straight for it. However, have the friend keep hold of their collar for a few seconds. The very fact they can’t run straight for it will only make them want it more.
Release & reward
After a couple of seconds, have the friend let go and then shower the dog in praise when they do get the item. Give them treats, play around and really make sure they know they’ve done a good job.
Make it harder
Now all you need to do is make the scent trails harder. Make them more spread out and hide the item behind things. You can lose the friend and just keep your dog on a leash and guide them if you want. You can then pull them back onto the scent trail if they get distracted. Just continue to hand out a reward and they will continue to want to play.
By James Barra
Published: 03/29/2018, edited: 01/08/2021