Tracking Secrets for you by K9 Ambassador Stefan Mueller

Patricia: Stefan, you are giving one tracking seminar after the other. When are you happy with a dog tracking?

SM: I want to have a motivated dog on the track. At the same time, I want a focused dog, a controlled dog while active at the same time. 

Patricia: Please explain your general concept of teaching! How do you start out with a puppy?

SM: I teach my dogs primarily with food. I try to use food as a resource right from the beginning, puppy age. I stomp puppy food into the field. I want the dog to find the destruction that I made first. From the beginning, I make sure that the food is not the predominant element on the track. The dog needs to find the foot step first and the piece of food later. 

I don't even use a lot of food in the first tracking squares. I only hide very few pieces of food. 

Well Hidden Food from the Start

Another important element is emotional support. 

That's where motivation grows. I want my dog to find fulfillment in searching. 

Patricia: When do you start reducing food on the track? 

SM: I start reducing the food relatively late. I want to see a very precise search behavior first. That is, my dog needs to search each individual step. Since I use very small pieces of food, it takes the dog time to search each step one after the other. I start controlling the dog from the first day on to ensure my dog works out each step. 

Distraction comes later in the Game

When the young dog understands and accepts this, I introduce distractions on the track. This includes various environmental distractions. For example, tracking next to a park or a playing children. 

I try to keep redirecting the dog's attention to its food throughout all of this distraction. If the dog accepts the distraction and continues to search careful and with motivation, then he is ready for less food. 

Patricia: Did you have a teacher? What made him special? 

SM: A lot I learned by trial and error tracking. 

My mentor, from whom I learned a great deal, was Jürgen Essers. It was truly impressive what a calm teacher he was and how the dogs responded to him, accordingly. 

Patricia: In your experience, what are the most common problems people face while tracking?

Often, I see unfocused dogs. They search superficially and don't work out every step. A lot of dogs are too fast, which is a problem at the corners. 

I often see dogs pulling the owner to the track.

Another issue is that they don't even get to the start point attentively; a lot of dogs start out with tremendous excitement. This reflects in a hectic and unfocused tracking. 

Has a dog ever pushed you to your limits where you almost didn't know what to do? 

Yes, my first dog. My first Boxer. I was a beginner at the time and worked in an old-school way. That is, I placed big chunks of sausage on the track. Later, I was surprised about how unfocused my dog was when I started reducing the food. Well, he always tracked for sausage not for my steps. I was told to use corrections from this point. With this approach, I completely ruined my dog, and I was never able to get back to decent tracking.

It was good for one thing: I realized that this could not be the right road to tracking.

I learned for good that things don't go well when you don't treat your dog in a fair way.

Things go downhill if you treat your dog unfair.

Dogs are in an entirely different state of mind compared to - for example - protection and it is much harder to guide him. 

Do you see breed-specific issues on the track (given your statement that you've had a Boxer and now have a Malinois)?

SM: Yes, in my opinion, the perfect breed for tracking is the German Shepherd. They can do excellent scent work without being overly hectic. 

A Malinois is also talented for tracking but they can become overly hectic as soon as distractions pop up. 

Aside from our working dogs, there are of course great hunting breeds for tracking. In my dog school, I see a lot of breeds. 

The German Shepherd is the ideal dog for tracking.

However, when talking about working dogs, I still believe that the German Shepherd has the best precondition for tracking. 

Patricia: Now, for my final question: Is there something unique in your training? 

SM: Searching backwards is something quite a few people seem to like. This means that on the track, I try to show the young dog or even puppies that once they don't find food in front of them, they might find food under their stomach. Of course, I secretly placed it there.

Technique for good corners

This is a technique from which I benefit in the corners. Once the dog has learned to concentrate on the steps, even if they lead beyond the corner, I use the technique to get him back on the track. I don't want the dog to circle around; I want it to regain orientation under its belly and attempt to sniff out the track again and re-enter it. I place great importance on it.

I use this technique quite often, and I place great importance on it. This allows me to regulate the pace, meaning I can approach the dog again and give it some rest by touching it and motivating it emotionally.  

Tracking is Teamwork

Tracking can and should be harmonious. It is teamwork.

That's why I stick to my resting points with bigger amounts of food and throwing food under the dog. 

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