Tracking: Clock System
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A new clarity in the processing of negatives

By SMI Chris Aycock

Tracking is by far the most difficult operation to teach both dogs and handlers. Though tracking concepts are pure and simple, the realistic approach to carrying through on the training and making it stick while on the street, leading to captures, is another matter altogether. But tracking can be less stressful if the handler will apply negative processing techniques that allow for a greater understanding and improvement.

For quite a number of years, I have been instructing handlers on the proper methods of processing negatives during live tracks. We’ll cover those methods in a moment. Though easy to chew, processing negatives has to become a firm consistency so that the handler cannot only understand what to do but also why. Only once the handler understands the complete concept of negative processing, will he be capable of placing the dog in an optimal location should the track suddenly run cold.


Negatives are what the dog does (physically) when he loses scent. If the dog is on a hot track and the track suddenly changes, causing the dog to drift to the outer edges of the scent band, or run flat out of scent, the dog will begin to react to the scent change. This reaction is the negative. Negatives can be weak (slight look to the handler, slower speed, Etc.) or hard (stops, returns to the handler, casts in frantic movements, Etc.)

In order to recognize a good negative during a live track, the handler must assure that negatives are trained to be solid and easily recognizable for the handler.


So, the dog issues good negatives when the scent fades and the handler can read them. What then? When the handler is tracking an unknown route and the dog suddenly gives the prescribed negative, the handler must know what to do - how to process the track so that the dog can best be placed back into scent.

Step 1. Once the handler sees a negative, he should walk (never run - as the dog will assume he is still tracking and backtrack the handler - leading to definite failure) back to the last known track point. The handler should then cast the dog in different (from the original) directions. This will proof the track and make sure that the dog didn’t simply overshoot a turn.

Step 2. If the dog does not pick up a track in step 1, the handler will want to make sure that the scent didn’t simply break and cause the dog to hit a hole where the scent no longer remained. In this case, in order to make certain this didn’t occur, the handler should take the dog beyond the original negative. The handler should walk the dog about 30 - 50 yards ahead of the negative and cast. Many times, the dog will lock onto the track again and continue movement.

Step 3. If the dog doesn’t pick up the track in step 2, the handler should begin the clock process. Commonly called - SPOT CHECKING - the CLOCK process is a bit easier to understand for handlers and certainly easier to stay on target with.

CLOCK PROCESSING - is carried through by the handler staying at the 30 - 50 yard distance (step 2) and making eye contact with the original spot of the negative. The handler will then begin to move in a CLOCK formation, stopping at each hour and casting the dog. Thus, the first spot is 12, followed by 1, then 2, then 3, and so on until he returns to 12. It is important that the handler keeps his distance accurate and even, as well as maintaining correct visual reference to the spot of the negative.

This process is very stable and keeps the handler in a strategically sound position during a last track. With practice, the handler becomes quick with the steps and can carry through with the process in a matter of a couple of minutes.

The CLOCK allows a handler to fully grasp where he needs to go in order to try and pick up a lost track.

Simple techniques lead to fast recovery. However, even the simplest techniques must be practiced well in order to fully function during stress and time restraints. Therefore, a handler will want to practice the methods of the CLOCK processing with known tracks until he grasps the concept fully and sees it work time and again. Then, the handler can make the transition to unknown tracks in preparation for live tracks.

Though I would love to say that I simplified the spot-checking processing to the CLOCK process, I cannot. The CLOCK has been used and taught by Corporal Gary Araway of the Hampton Virginia Police K9 Division for a good while now and he recently enlightened me to the simplification reference. It’s an excellent training tool for handlers who need a clear understanding of what to do and where to move during the processing of negatives. Thanks Gary. I told you it was a great thing!

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