Tracking refers to a dogs ability to detect, recognize and follow a specific scent. Possessing a heightened use of smell, dogs are able to detect, track and locate the source of certain odors. A deeper understanding of the mechanisms and the phases involved in canine scent tracking has allowed humans to utilize this animal behavior in a variety of professions. Through domestication and the application of dog behavior, different methods and influential factors on tracking ability have been discovered. While tracking was once considered a predatory technique of dogs in the wild, it has now become widely used by humans.
Although dogs are capable of following both visual and smell cues, scent is often their most effective source of information. Equipped with enhanced physical and neurological olfactory structures, a dogs sense of smell is much more advanced compared to that of humans. This, paired with a proportionally large segment of brain devoted to smell processing, results in the enhanced smelling ability of canines.
A scent group refers to a specific mixture of scents that comprise the overall odour of an individual. A dogs acuity to a scent group is so refined they are able to discriminate humans by odour and can even match certain scents to specific body parts of an individual. Scent discrimination is most proficient while a human odour is fresh and becomes more difficult once an odour starts to fade.
There are many different factors which influence a dogs ability to successfully determine the directionality of a track. The age, sex, and even personality of a dog can greatly influence tracking behaviour. Male dogs have smometimes been described to more accurately determine the direction of a trail than female dogs. Canine smell sensitivity is also found to diminish, therefore younger dogs tend to have superior tracking than older dogs. Personality traits of dogs affect both their ability to be successfully trained and their ability to successfully track. Dogs that are more active and confident tend to perform better during training activities and tracking activities.