10 best dogs for tracking with incredible sense of smell

Best tracking dogs: Two Labradors on a search and rescue mission in the snow
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The best dogs for tracking boast an unbeatable sense of smell which humans have depended on over the years to fulfill a variety of roles, including hunting and retrieving on both land and sea to supporting police and military operations, and often is the most crucial member amongst human search and rescue teams. They are certainly worthy of the best dog treats!

As well as being chief sniffers, the best tracking dogs often have impressive strength and stamina levels, and excellent skill in agility and intelligence, which impacts how well they respond to commands and training activities. Need more reason to admire these clever canines? They’re also some of the friendliest dog breeds who are loyal and loving towards humans and other pets.

But what breeds are identified as the best dogs for tracking? Read on to find out which dog could be the perfect match for your next hunting buddy, rescue services comrade, or your newest protective pooch for the fam.

PetsRadar's guide to the best dogs for tracking

1. Bloodhound

Best tracking dogs: Bloodhound at the beach

(Image credit: Getty Images)

He may be docile and lovey-dovey when he’s at home with his family, but don’t let that fool you - the Bloodhound is relentless and stubborn when he’s sent on a tracking mission.

There’s not a dog on earth that can match the Bloodhound when it comes to finding things and they were originally bred to hunt deer and wild boar before later learning to track people. Research published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences (opens in new tab) revealed that veteran bloodhounds are able to trail and correctly identify the scent of individual humans which explains why they’re sometimes seen with police being used as a tool for law enforcement personnel. 

Not only do they have extremely sensitive noses but they have high levels of motivation which means they won’t quit a scent until they’ve found what they’re looking for. They do well across all kinds of terrain, including rocky and wilderness areas.

They’re often used to track fugitives and are commonly used in search and rescue, and while they’re aggressive in their pursuit to find someone, when well trained, they’re not aggressive once they locate a person.

2. Beagle

Best tracking dogs: Wet Beagle standing outside

(Image credit: Getty Images)

One of the most gentle and happy-go-lucky dogs on the planet, the intelligent, determined, and warm-hearted Beagle makes for an excellent hunting dog and companion.

Being part of the hound family, these dogs have an incredibly keen sense of smell and because following scents is so deeply ingrained in them, they’re used all over the world to track animals.

Training your Beagle to track is a smart move because these energetic dogs need constant physical and mental stimulation, so giving them a challenge when you’re out together can help tire them out.

The only drawback is that their friendly nature can make them hard to train as adults because their social natures can lead them to become easily distracted. You’ll want to get in early with this breed and train them as a puppy if you want a manageable tracking dog.

3. German Shepherd

Best tracking dogs: German Shepherd lying on grass holding stick between paws

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The German Shepherd is full of the three C’s any good tracking dog needs to have - curiosity, courage, and confidence and it’s those traits, coupled with its high level of loyalty and alertness that make them excellent police and search and rescue dogs.

Training a German Shepherd to track has its challenges as they need the right incentives to keep them on task and you’ll also need to ensure you train them in such a way that makes it very clear you’re the leader of the pack.

The good news is that a German Shepherd that is trained as a puppy makes for a very keen student and their sponge-like brains mean they pick up commands quickly. 

German Shepherd’s have an exceptionally keen sense of smell and when mixed with their agile and muscular build it’s easy to see how they’ve earned their well-deserved reputation as the best all-purpose dog in the world.

4. Basset Hound

Best tracking dogs: Basset Hound

(Image credit: Getty Image)

Short and stocky, the ever-endearing Basset Hound is affectionate, tenacious, devoted, and gentle, which has forever made them a favorite amongst dog lovers.

They have heavy bones and powerful little legs that are matched with a scenting ability that’s almost unrivaled and the strength and stamina of a much bigger breed.  According to Hill’s Pet Nutrition (opens in new tab), Bassets were bred for hunting by scent but quickly evolved in the US to become a well-known family pet in many households. They socialize well with dogs and other pets as their ancestors started out hunting in packs.  

The Basset Hound can follow a scent uninterrupted for miles, but training them isn’t always the easiest of tasks. That’s because unlike some other breeds, Basset Hounds were bred to be independent hunters and that can make them more stubborn than dogs that were bred to work closely with people.

It’s not impossible though, after all, this dog loves to track scents and it’s a part of their DNA, you’ll just need to invest a little bit more time and energy to make sure they follow your commands and don’t just trot off and do their own thing.

5. English Springer Spaniel

Best tracking dogs: English Springer Spaniel portrait

(Image credit: Getty Images)

With a sweet face that could melt butter and the kind of stamina that would give an Olympic athlete a run for their money, the English Springer Spaniel is a breed of gun dog popular amongst hunters.

This breed was historically used to ‘flush’ or ‘spring’ game, meaning they used to chase birds into flight so that hunters could then shoot them - hence the name ‘Springer Spaniel’.

Bred to work closely with humans, they’re extremely eager-to-please and highly obedient which makes them a joy to both train and work with. They excel at finding birds and game, both before and after they’ve been shot, and will even retrieve them, making a hunter’s life that much easier.

6. Belgian Malinois

Best tracking dogs: Belgian Malinois

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Much like the German Shepherd, the Belgian Malinois has a nose that can sniff out and track anything from people to explosives. One study published in the Polish Journal of Natural Science (opens in new tab) stated that German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois are the two most commonly trained dog breeds for police operations, with Malinois dogs performing slightly better in training exercises including searching and tracking. 

They have a level of loyalty that makes them bond deeply with the humans around them and they’re incredibly smart and hardworking, which makes them a great breed to train.

Belgian Malinois have all the characteristics that make up a good tracking dog. Not only are they intelligent and agile, but their high work drive and boundless energy mean they won’t rest until they’ve found what they’re looking for.

7. Black and Tan Coonhound

Best tracking dogs: Black and Tan Coonhound

(Image credit: @walesthecoonhound/Instagram)

The Black and Tan Coonhound is one of six types that fall under this breed, the other five being the Redbone, English, Treeing Walker, Bluetick and the Plott Hound - and every single one of them excels at tracking.

Known for being lovable and even-tempered, the Black and Tan Coonhound is a fairly old breed that descends from the Talbot Hound, a dog that was popular in England during the reign of William I, the Duke of Normandy.

Big, powerful, and a tenacious tracker, this breed is painstakingly persistent in the way it can track a scent long after the trail has seemingly gone cold. Labeled as having one of the best cold noses in the business, the Black and Tan Coonhound has saved many a life in search and rescue missions.

The only downside is that once they’re on a trail this breed is known to become so focused that they develop selective hearing, so you’ll need to take a firm and consistent hand with them to override their tendency to be independent thinkers.

8. German Shorthaired Pointer

Best tracking dogs: German Shorthaired Pointer standing in amongst tall grass

(Image credit: Getty Images)

One of the most versatile hunting dogs, the agile and lean German Shorthaired Pointer excels on both land and in the water and their cooperative and affectionate natures make them popular tracking dogs and family companions.

A real jack of all trades, there’s not much this dog can’t do proving to be equally skilled at hunting, pointing, and retrieving. It’s important to bear in mind that this breed is slower to mature than most, not reaching mental adulthood until they’re over the age of two, which can make the first few years of training rather entertaining!

Their excellent sense of smell makes the German Shorthaired Pointer another standout choice when it comes to search and rescue, but their most popular use is in hunting where they do an exceptional job of hunting gamebirds and retrieving waterfowl.

9. Dachshund

Best tracking dogs: Dachshund

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Hearts are constantly melting over this devoted, lively, and courageous little sausage dog which has a comical long body and short legs. Yet while their appearance can look comical they have a spunky personality and surprising level of endurance that make them hugely popular.

They may be small but what they lack in size they more than make up for with the area of their brain that’s dedicated to processing smells being forty times the size of a human’s. 

Their long bodies and short legs were designed deliberately to help them follow pests and animals down into their burrows, equipping them with a strong prey drive and making them great at scanning and tracking.

Dachshund’s have one major flaw though and that’s how easily distracted they get by competing scents, which can see them ditching one trail in favor of another. Thankfully, these little guys are massive foodies, so as long as you keep the rewards coming, they’ll stay on task.

10. Golden Retriever

Best tracking dogs: Golden Retriever sitting on rocks with mountains in background

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Invaluable in the field of search and rescue, Golden Retriever’s are often first on the scene of mass casualty events, natural disasters, and hunts for missing people. They excel at sniffing, are energetic, and have a natural need to please and their hearing and night vision is second to none.

A family favorite due to their kind and friendly natures, the Golden Retriever was originally bred to retrieve shot waterfowl and this breed continues to be a popular choice for hunting and field work.

Kathryn Rosenberg
Freelance writer

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has spent the past three years dividing her writing time between her two great loves - pets and health and wellness. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with a very mischievous Cocker Spaniel and a super sassy cat, drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and reading all the books.