Tracking, by nature, is a vigorous, noncompetitive outdoor sport. Tracking tests demonstrate the willingness and enjoyment of the dog in its work, and should always represent the best in sportsmanship and camaraderie by the people involved."
The above quote from the American Kennel Club regulations defines tracking and explains it very simply. Tracking is a team effort, between the dog and his handler, to find the missing article at the end of the track. Tracking is a noncompetitive sport. Everyone encourages the team to find that article and be successful.
There are three levels of tracking, and all are noncompetitive, but have increasing levels of difficulty. The dog must be at least six months of age on the day of his first test. The team must pass a certification track prior to entering a tracking test. A tracking judge observes the team and award them the certification slips to send in with the entry for the tracking test.
The first level is the TD, Tracking Dog title. The team, composed of dog with the handler following behind on a 40 foot line, must follow an unknown track of between 440-500 yards which has been aged between 30 and 120 minutes, has three to five turns and find the glove at the end of the track. There is a start flag and another flag 30 yards down the first leg of the track to give the team the direction of the track. Upon successful completion of this test, the dog may add the initials, T.D. after his name for Tracking Dog.
The second level is the TDX, Tracking Dog Excellent title. This is substantially more difficult, being longer, having obstacles, more articles to find, and the track is aged from three to five hours. The team must follow the scent over extensive terrain and through obstacles such as woods, plowed fields, crossing roads, ravines and discriminating between tracks of other humans, and indicating the four articles that have been left on the track by the tracklayer. There is only one start flag so it is up to the dog and handler to find the correct direction. This track normally has five to seven turns and is from 700-900 yards long. The dog, upon successful completion of this test, adds the initials TDX after his name.
The third level is the VST, Variable Surface Tracking title. This is the newest test and is to simulate more of an urban search and rescue. The test requires the team to follow the scent over several surfaces, such as asphalt, concrete, vegetation, mulch, rocks, bricks, while indicating plastic, metal, leather, and fabric articles left on the track three to five hours before by the tracklayer. Upon completion of this test, the dog may add the initials VST after his name.
The dogs entering TDX and VST tests must have the TD title. Upon completion of all three titles, the dog may have the initials C T added in front of his name for Champion Tracker.
In Kansas City, we are lucky to have the large area at Smithville Lake for our tracking tests. This is a county park in Clay County with lovely fields available for TD and TDX tests. Our club holds a double TDX test (12 dogs) the last weekend in February, a double TD test (24 dogs) the first weekend in March and a combined test of 4 TD/4 TDX and a full TDX (6 dogs) the first weekend of November. We have a very close-knit group of folks involved in tracking and are always ready to welcome newcomers. There is assistance available for new trackers, and frequently there will be several informal groups of people tracking on weekends in this area.