Following trails, or “tracking” a scent is an instinctive behavior for dogs. As well as an instinct, tracking is a noncompetitive sport. While scent hounds such as beagles and bloodhounds have the best sense of smell, personality type also determines which dogs are naturally good at tracking. German shepherds are great trackers because they are intelligent and loyal to their owner. You can teach your dog to follow trails from a very young age.
Hide and Seek
Have your dog sit. If he doesn’t yet know the sit command, have a friend or family member hold onto him.
Position yourself so you are just out of sight, with a treat ready. Call your dog, at which point your friend must let him go.
Give the treat to the dog as soon as he finds you. Due to his loyal nature and intelligence, he will soon get into the swing of this game. Each time you play the game, hide further away and make it more difficult to be found. This process teaches your dog that finding the hidden prize (you) brings a reward.
Take your German shepherd’s favorite toy. Play with him for a while and get him excited, then take the toy away and hide it. Have a friend hold your dog back as you do this. To start off, hide it in an obvious place, such as in the middle of the floor in the next room.
Return to the dog once you have hidden the toy and say “find it” before releasing him. If necessary, guide him to the toy by walking ahead of him. Once he finds it, lavish him with praise. Repeat this process a few times using easy hiding places until he gets used to the process.
Hide the toy under some pillows or an old sheet, so he smells it before he sees it. It’s important for him to rely on his nose, not his eyes, for locating the prize. Being herders, German shepherds are stimulated by movement, so you may need to encourage him to get his nose to the ground. They are highly intelligent, so should pick up new commands quickly.
Take your dog out into the yard or a secure park. Drop a hot dog on the ground and crush it into the ground with your shoe. This makes your shoe a highly scented object.
Walk away from your where your dog is playing. If necessary have a friend stay with him, or put him in the sit position. Walk in a predominantly straight line, but throw in a few side steps and curves to make the trail less obvious.
Hide the toy in the grass. Return to your dog and give the “find it” command. He will follow your tracks because of the smell of hot dog on the grass. Repeat this exercise until he is used to the exercise, then graduate to just relying on the scent of your shoes, rather than food, to attract your dog to follow the trail. As he gets the hang of the game, use elaborate trails, with curves, dead ends and loops, to make tracking more challenging.
Simon Foden has been a freelance writer and editor since 1999. He began his writing career after graduating with a Bachelors of Arts degree in music from Salford University. He has contributed to and written for various magazines including "K9 Magazine" and "Pet Friendly Magazine." He has also written for Dogmagazine.net.