Training A Dog To Track Scent – In 11 Steps
[Step-by-step guide]

Aaron Rice Expert Dog Trainer
Written: January 17, 2022

Before you begin to mimic the training followed for search and rescue dogs, there are a few things that we want you to take into account, which is essential for all dog owners who self train. Firstly, you need to know that all dogs do not follow the exact search and rescue pattern; some are tracking dogs while others follow an object or human scent through the air. So two german shepherds trained differently will have different tracking styles.

Professionals train these dogs to participate in missions carried out by the military or police. If you wish to train your dog for these tasks, then consider hiring a professional. However, if you are just doing this for fun, we can take you to a step-by-step process of dog training that will help you. Follow these simple techniques and watch your dog enthusiastically progress.

1) Choose A Time To Practice

If you commit to a cause, the first step is to prepare and create a schedule that you can follow. Pick a time of the day that suits you the best and makes it easy for your dog to train. We highly recommend training in the morning because that’s when most of us feel the most active, including our dogs. Early morning is best because you can have the playground or training area to yourself and practice without any disturbances.

2) Select An Area For The Training Session

Contrary to popular beliefs, you can also train your dog to recognize scents in your home by using various objects and proper commands. However, training outside is a different experience and essential for owners who want their dogs to pursue search and rescue professionally. Select a relatively quiet and easy to walk on; this is important in the beginning stage.

3) Creating A Treat Track

Here’s how you can train your dog to follow a scent using hot dog residue. First, take a piece of hot dog and crush it with your shoes on the grass. We also need the scent of the grass to linger on the hot dog, so smash it properly. Now walk in a straight line with the residue of the hot dog on the bottom of your shoe. Make sure that you drop some hot dog every ten feet and do this until you are at least twenty feet away. Now drop your dog’s favorite toy or a few dog treats so they can find something rewarding at the end of the track.

4) Play Time Before Scent Training

We love to warm up before a burning workout session, and so do dogs. So start the training sessions with some playtime. Most dogs love to do this and feel even more excited when you train them. Feed your pet some of the most nutritious food that goes easy on the dog’s belly before you begin any form of activity. After a few minutes of walking, you can hop right into the play session.

5) Using The Right Object For Training

Choosing the proper object for your dog’s training is a crucial part of the process; you need to select what your pet loves to toy around with. We hope that makes sense to you because your dog will refuse to cooperate if you choose something that they dislike, and your training might come to a halt, leaving you confused about why you failed so miserably.

6) Using Simple Commands

If your dog is not trained to follow commands, you need to start from scratch and teach them simple commands such as ‘sit’ or ‘stay.’ Start training only when they learn to sit patiently, and once your dog learns to do so, consider it the starting point of their scent training.

7) Commanding The Dog To Find Treats

Once your dog learns basic commands, encourage them to sniff and find the inch-long pieces of hot dogs. Ask them to “Find it!” and praise them with treats or your words for following your commands. Avoid leading your dog or getting in their way out out of excitement; this might distract them.

8) How To Properly Use Dog’s Toys

You can also teach them to track their favorite toys by following their scent. Give commands until they catch on and understand what to do. Use a long leash so you can help them whenever needed. Once your dog tracks the toy by its scent, run back to your original spot and call them out.

9) Short Searches

Once your dog gets the hang of scent tracking, you can start to search and rescue training with proper gear. You will need a long 20-foot harness along with scent articles and a scent pad. At this stage, you might need professional help, and there is no shame in asking for it. If you still feel you can carry it out on your own, props to you!

10) Increasing The Track Length

Start with three to four short tracks in one training session, then gradually shift to one long way. Use markings on these tracks, so you know when your dog is off track and needs to be helped. Air scenting and tracking are two skills that most search and rescue dogs have, so make sure your dog develops these in due time. Air scenting is used when the track is spoiled by people walking all over it, but your dog’s nose becomes strong enough to figure out the path. Once your dog completed this stage, you can move on to the next part of the training.

11) Training Hard

When your dog learns all the basics and can easily navigate a straight track, start adding curves to their search path and stop using track treats. Keep increasing the distance of the tracks as your dog gets better at the job. Use rubber boots when the terrains are hard on your dog’s paws, and they are ready to go! This shall train them well if for the test, which is compulsory for every dog whose owner wishes to enroll them as a search and rescue dog.


This amount of rigorous but fun dog training should be enough for your dog to search objects using scent pads and scent articles within no time.

If you succeed at your job, then your dog will perform these searches on nearly any terrain after several training sessions.

Finally, your dog will not need to treat track any longer.

In the last stage, your dog should not be distracted by any person or search subject.

The only way to succeed here is to train regularly so your dog’s tracking skills never go blunt. 

We find it necessary to inform you that this is not the comprehensive training guide used by professionals, but it is good enough to get you started.

We commend your effort to train your dog for scent recognition.

As a dog owner, you must remember that their abilities will vary by breed, and you need to be patient with them until your dog improves.

If you intend for your pet to become a search and rescue dog, prepare them for the test conducted before their selection.