Many dog competitions and sports are a fun way to train a dog to do a specific job. Herding trials are used to teach herding dogs to herd sheep, Schutzhund is used to teach police dogs how to detain criminals, and tracking trials are used to teach both search and rescue dogs and police dogs how to track. However, dogs sports and competitions like tracking trials are not limited to working dogs who will be using the skills for a job, dogs that are simply house pets can also participate and profit from the experience.
There are many organizations worldwide that specialize in teaching dogs to track and that hold trials and competitions. Unlike many of the other dog sports and competitions, there are no exact dates or founders of tracking trials. Due to dogs’ superior sense of smell, humans have been using dogs to track for hundreds of years and over the years have perfected training techniques. Dogs have a far superior sense of smell than humans do; they can track scents and trails that are days to even weeks old while, only accomplished human trackers or hunters can track a trail that's only at most a few days old. While all dogs have an incredible sense of smell, there are some breeds that are better for tracking than others such as the scent hound family. However, any pure or mixed breed dog can compete in a tracking trial.
The rules and difficulty of tracking trials differ between countries, and if the dogs are being trained for police or search and rescue work, or not. However, the basics for tracking trials always stay the same, no matter where it's held or how difficult the trial is. Tracking trials are always held outside, and the goal of the trial is for the dog guided by its handler to find a hidden person. Depending on the difficulty level of the trial, the dog may have one piece of clothing from the person to use as their scent base, or several; the person may be stationary or moving; the trail to the person may be moderately straight or have numerous twists and turns. In the more difficult tracking trial levels, the dog may have to follow the trail over running water or deal with other scents on the trail like wild animals or food. Judges score the canine on how well it tracked the missing person, if it become confused by different smells, became bored or distracted, and if the dog worked continually.
Tracking trials can be a lot of fun for both the owner and the dog; however, unlike some dog sports and competitions that are nothing more than good fun, socialization and exercise, tracking trials can actually teach a dog to help find lost people in an emergency situation. Most of the dogs that participate in tracking trials are hounds and gun dogs, but any dog can participate, just like any breed of dog can be trained to do search and rescue work. Even toy dogs can be trained to track; there is a Chihuahua in Japan that is a certified search and rescue dog. While the majority of people who participate in tracking trials are professions, any dog owner and dog can participate.