The best dogs for tracking have an unparalleled sense of smell that has made them a popular choice to fulfil a wide range of roles, from hunting and retrieving on land and in the sea to serving beside humans in the military and police force and being one of the most important members of any search and rescue crew.
It's not just their keen sense of smell that makes these canines great at tracking, they also have unbeatable levels of strength and stamina coupled with high levels of agility and intelligence that make them responsive to training and commands.
While tracking might be their first love, these pups are also some of the friendliest dog breeds with a genuine love of people that makes them great companions for both individuals and families.
So, if you're keen to find a dog you can go hunting with, are needing a new crew member for your wilderness rescue team, or you're just after a furkid who will happily fetch anything you throw, our list of the best tracking dogs has the forever friend you're looking for.
PetsRadar's guide to the best dogs for tracking
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
Much like the German Shepherd, the Belgian Malinois has a nose that can sniff out and track anything from people to explosives, which is why they’re such a popular choice for use in the military and police.
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
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
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.
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
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 is a freelance writer who has spent the past two 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 one very mischievous Cocker Spaniel, drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and attempting to set numerous world records for the longest ever FaceTime calls with her family back home in NZ.
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