Tracking vs. Trailing

by Jan Rothwell
There is always confusion and misunderstanding regarding the differences between
tracking and trailing. Although there similarities. They both require a dog, a harness
and a handler. They both have three levels of competition, but the sports differ from
The definition of tracking as stated in the AKC tracking regulations is as follows: The
purpose of the tracking test is to demonstrate the dog's ability to recognize and follow
human scent, a skill that is useful in the service of mankind.
The definition of trailing as stated in the ABC trailing standard is as follows: The
purpose of a trailing trial is to certify the Bloodhound's abilities for trailing and correctly
identifying a specific person in a field setting. I would probably amend the ABC trailing
standard to include the ability of a dog to "scent discriminate" as this is truly what our
Bloodhounds excel at.
I offer the following as my definitions of the two sports. It is important to remember we
are talking about the sport of tracking and trailing. I label myself as the ultimate
hobbyist when it comes to trailing!
Tracking is a test of the dog's ability to follow human scent and identify articles along
the way. A track (depending on the test level) can be from 1 hour old for a TD to 3-5
hours old for a TDX or VST. Tracks vary in length from 400 yards to 1,000 yards.
Tracking tests the precision of the working dog. Cross runners are used on the TDX
test but are not present at the end of the track. The measure and success of the test is
to find the articles (gloves, wallets, socks, etc.).
Trailing is a test of a dog's ability to distinguish and follow one person's scent and
identify that person. The trailing tests are 4-6 hours old for a MT, 8-18 hours old for a
MTI and 24-36 hours old for a MTX. The length varies from _ to _ of a mile long.
Contamination is key and the MTX trail should be laid in a congested area such as in a
public park or corporate center. Cross runners are used on the MTI and MTX trails and
the runners are located at the end of the trail. The dog must identify the correct runner.
A trailing dog can air scent, ground scent or use any other means to get from point "A"
to point "B" the quickest and most efficient way possible.
The big question? Can a Bloodhound do both? Yes, but it ain't easy! In my
experience, Bloodhounds CAN track and do so quite well when trained in that
discipline. I think those of us who try both tracking and trailing will tell you to have the
tracking aspects firmly established before you try trailing. The unspoken word is that a
tracking Bloodhound can trail but the trailing Bloodhound cannot always track,
although I believe cannot track should read "WILL NOT" track!
A wise person once told me to get my Bloodhound understanding "tracking" before
they turned into a Bloodhound! She was right. So, give one or both a try. My greatest
pleasure is seeing my dogs in harness doing what they do best! And they do love it!
After all, who's in charge at the end of a 30' lead? You got it baby...the NOSE with the
dog attached!