Many people who own German shepherds will never need or want them to track anything. But even if your German shepherd is just the family pet, there are still plenty of reasons to hone his tracking skills from a young age, the biggest of which being that tracking is a great way to build your puppy’s confidence. Your dog sees tracking as a game, and it is a relatively easy game, especially once they figure out what they are supposed to be doing. If you have a dog that suffers from anxiety, is nervous, or is just not very confident, tracking is a great way to combat those personality traits.
What Is Tracking?
Basically, tracking is having your dog find a scent and follow it. Even without training, you might see your German shepherd doing this naturally. One of the reasons these dogs are so often used in police and military work is because they naturally have strong sense of smell and the focus and drive to follow that sense of smell. Lots of different breeds are great at tracking and, in reality just about any breed can track perfectly well, German shepherds truly excel at this skill.
You have probably already seen your dog do a little bit of tracking. He’ll either put his nose to the ground or in the air, searching out a scent or following one left behind on the ground. Usually, these dogs are just smelling other dogs and animals that have been in the area or have marked the area. You might even notice how a dog seems to follow a scent back to his own home when you walk him to an unfamiliar place and then let him guide you for a while.
While tracking is also a competitive skill in the world of dog training, training your dog to be a tracker can be a good way for you and your dog to bond, to give him a useful skill, to build his confidence, and just to have a little bit of fun together. In this “game,” the dog is totally in charge, unlike in obedience, Schutzhund, and other similar activities.
How to Hone His Tracking Skills
One of the best ways to quickly build his tracking skills is simply to take a tracking class together. This will give you a structured way to learn the skills that he need in order to become great at this skill. However, if there are no tracking classes near you, you can always train him on your own time. You will need a helper, however, to act as the tracklayer. Starting off with very short tracks and then extending them as your dog starts to understand the game and take the lead when tracking will help develop his confidence and focus his skills.
Why bother with this skill? Dogs are not just companions—they can be valuable members of your family, especially if they have a few skills that they can fall back on. If you get lost in the woods while walking your German shepherd, for example, he can use his tracking skills to get you both back home quickly and safely. If someone wanders away from your house, your GSD can track them down.
In general, your German shepherd will love feeling like he has a job. These active, intelligent dogs need a hobby just as much as we humans do, and tracking is fun and active for both you and your dog!